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AMD Radeon R9 290 Review: Fast And $400, But Is It Consistent?

Test Setup And Benchmarks

Because Radeon R9 290X can be so bipolar, it’s important to spell out how we’re testing all of these cards today.

Typically, we run benchmarks in rapid succession. This means that the GPU remains warm after its first run. This matters very little to cards that operate at one clock rate. But it makes more of a difference on boards with Nvidia’s GPU Boost technology, which won’t stretch up as high when certain limits are exceeded. AMD’s clocking mechanism is even more sensitive to thermal and power conditions, necessitating an even more regimented approach to testing.

For every test we run, we spend five minutes in-game, playing, before launching our benchmark sequence. In a metric like Metro: Last Light, where we use a benchmark tool, we run multiple iterations prior to starting the measurement.

In this way, we’re sure the card is at its maximum operating temperature, yielding the lowest benchmark results, but best representing the experience you’d get from these cards after just a few minutes of playing your favorite title.

We’re also changing up the benchmarking a bit. In preparation for today’s piece, we re-ran every single test. We standardized settings across resolutions to better track scaling, and, again, we’re subjecting every board to five minutes of in-game time before firing up our testing sequence. As a result, we're presenting slightly different numbers from our 290X review, but the data should be more precise, too.

Test Hardware And Software

Test Hardware
ProcessorsIntel Core i7-3970X (Sandy Bridge-E) 3.5 GHz Base Clock Rate, Overclocked to 4.3 GHz, LGA 2011, 15 MB Shared L3, Hyper-Threading enabled, Power-savings enabled
MotherboardMSI X79A-GD45 Plus (LGA 2011) X79 Express Chipset, BIOS 17.5
MemoryG.Skill 32 GB (8 x 4 GB) DDR3-2133, F3-17000CL9Q-16GBXM x2 @ 9-11-10-28 and 1.65 V
Hard DriveSamsung 840 Pro SSD 256 GB SATA 6Gb/s
GraphicsAMD Radeon R9 290 4 GB
AMD Radeon R9 290X 4 GB
AMD Radeon R9 280X 3 GB
AMD Radeon HD 7990 6 GB
Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan 6 GB
Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 3 GB
Nvidia GeForce GTX 690 4 GB
Power SupplyCorsair AX860i 860 W
System Software And Drivers
Operating SystemWindows 8 Professional 64-bit
DirectXDirectX 11
Graphics DriverAMD Catalyst 13.11 Beta 8 (Radeon R9 290)
AMD Catalyst 13.11 Beta 7 (All Other AMD cards)
Nvidia GeForce 331.65 Beta (All Nvidia cards)
Benchmarks And Settings
Battlefield 41920x1080, 2560x1440, and 3840x2160: Ultra Quality Preset, v-sync off, 100-second Tashgar playback. FCAT for 1920x1080 and 2560x1440; Fraps for 3840x2160
Arma III1920x1080, 2560x1440, and 3840x2160: Ultra Quality Preset, 8x FSAA, Anisotropic Filtering: Ultra, v-sync off, Infantry Showcase, 30-second playback, FCAT and Fraps
Metro: Last Light1920x1080, 2560x1440, and 3840x2160: Very High Quality Preset, 16x Anisotropic Filtering, Low Motion Blur, v-sync off, Built-In Benchmark, FCAT and Fraps
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim1920x1080, 2560x1440, and 3840x2160: Ultra Quality Preset, FXAA Disabled, 25-second Custom Run-Through, FCAT and Fraps
BioShock Infinite1920x1080, 2560x1440, and 3840x2160: Very High Quality Preset, 75-second Opening Game Sequence, FCAT and Fraps
Crysis 31920x1080, 2560x1440, and 3840x2160: High System Spec, High Texture Resolution, MSAA Low (2X), 60-second Custom Run-Through, FCAT and Fraps
Tomb Raider1920x1080, 2560x1440, and 3840x2160: Ultimate Quality Preset, FXAA, 16x Anisotropic Filtering, TressFX Hair, 45-second Custom Run-Through, FCAT and Fraps