AMD Radeon R9 290X Video Card Review

AMD is launching the Radeon R9 290X today. The R9 290X represents AMD's fastest single-GPU video card ever produced. It is priced to be less expensive than the GeForce GTX 780, but packs a punch on the level of GTX TITAN. We look at performance, the two BIOS mode options, and even some 4K gaming.

Introduction and Price

After what seems like several long weeks, the video card we have all been waiting for finally gets the veil pulled back, and its bits exposed. The AMD Radeon R9 290X is here, and we get to show you what it can do.

Let's start with the information you want most, cost. The official AMD MSRP on the AMD Radeon R9 290X will be $549. This places it $100 below the cost of the GTX 780, which is $649. Radeon R9 290 (non-X) pricing, has not yet been revealed.

The R9 290X is AMD's fastest single-GPU video card to date, and represents the highest-end single-GPU video card being offered in this new series.

AMD Radeon R9 and R7 Re-branding Summary

Let's backtrack just a little, as we need to summarize what AMD has already announced on October 7th. In our AMD Radeon R9 and R7 Series Re-branding Introduction (which we highly suggest you read first) we laid out AMD's new product naming scheme.

AMD has created a new naming scheme known as the Radeon R7 and Radeon R9 series of graphics cards. The R7 series is more value to mainstream, and the R9 series is more high-end to enthusiast level. However, only two of the R9 models are truly the "next generation Hawaii" GPUs. That would be the R9 290 and R9 290X, of which the latter we are looking at today.

We laid out each video card that was announced under the R9 and R7 series that were direct re-brands of the Radeon HD 7000 series. On page 3 of that article we list, with full specifications and pricing the complete re-branded R9 and R7 lineup, consisting of the: R9 280X, R9 270X, R7 260X, R7 250 and R7 240.

AMD Radeon R9 and R7 Common Technologies

The AMD Radeon R9 and R7 Series Re-branding Introduction article also covers some key new technologies on page 2. Some are general to all cards, and some are specific to just a few.

Mantle, as discussed in the article, is common to all GCN based video cards and is a thin graphics API developed by AMD. This is software that can benefit all GCN based video cards, from Radeon HD 7000 series, to R7 and R9 series, including the new R9 290 and R9 290X.

Second, AMD is introducing a new audio technology called TruAudio. TruAudio is only supported on R7 260X and R9 290 and R9 290X. Therefore, the Radeon R9 290X we are showing today does support this new technology, but currently no games take advantage of it, but there are games that are coming.

Third is DirectX support. All of the R9 and R7 and Radeon HD 7000 series support DirectX 11.1 and DirectX 11.2 Tier 1 under Windows 8.1. This 11.2 Tier 1 support is added as a driver update. However, only the R7 260X, R9 290 and R9 290X will support DirectX 11.2 Tier 2 under Windows 8.1. The different tier's represent the level of Tiled Resources feature supported under DX 11.2. R7 260X, R9 290 and R9 290X will have the ability to support the entire feature set, both tiers of Tiled Resources under DX 11.2 in Windows 8.1. Remember also, DX 11.2 is only available under Windows 8.1, not Windows 8.

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AMD Radeon R9 290X Specifications

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One of AMD's goals with the Radeon R9 290 and R9 290X was to increase the stream processor and ROP count to match the growing demand in display resolution. AMD has seen that the pixel count is doubling from 2560x1600 display resolutions, to now the coming UltraHD wave of 4K displays at 3840x2160. Double the pixels, needs double the ROPs, at the very least.

The AMD Radeon R9 290 and R9 290X are code named "Hawaii" and are Graphics Core Next (GCN) 2.0 GPUs. Though these are next generation GPUs, with an upgraded GCN architecture, these are still based on the 28nm process. We are still far away from the 22nm technology, hopefully it will be ready for new GPUs in 2014.

Therefore, keep this in mind, AMD is dealing with a fairly complex GPU based on a manufacturing technology that is pushing the limits with what can be done in terms of power, leakage, and die size. Hawaii will probably benefit a lot more from a tighter manufacturing process; this new architecture begs for that better process, but it just isn't ready yet.

The AMD Radeon R9 290X contains 6.2 billion transistors, compare this to 4.3 billion in the Radeon HD 7970/280X. The engine clock will run up to 1GHz. We will talk about what we mean by "up to" on the next page. The Radeon R9 290X and 290 can do 4 primitives per clock, versus 2 primitives per clock on the Radeon HD 7970/280X.

There are 2,816 stream processors on the Radeon R9 290X and 2,560 on the Radeon R9 290. Compare this to 2,048 on the Radeon HD 7970/280X. There are 64 ROPs on the Radeon R9 290X, compare this to 32 ROPs on the Radeon HD 7970/280X. There are 176 texture units on the Radeon R9 290X versus 128 on the Radeon HD 7970/280X. The Radeon R9 290X can do 256 Z/Stencil while the Radeon HD 7970/280X does 128.

The Radeon R9 290X and 290 have a 512-bit memory bus versus 384-bit on the Radeon HD 7970/280X. This means that it can get away with lower frequency RAM modules, making the whole board less expensive, and still get the needed bandwidth. The memory runs at 5GHz on the R9 290X and 290 but delivers 320GB/sec of bandwidth due to the bus. The memory on the Radeon HD 7970 GE/280X runs at 6GHz, but delivers a lower 288GB/sec because of the narrower bus.

Therefore, the R9 290X and 290 has 11% more memory bandwidth, with 250MHz slower RAM. This also means increasing the RAM frequency will give a bigger boost to the memory bandwidth because you are multiplying it with a higher memory bus width.

Both the R9 290X and R9 290 will require a 6-pin and an 8-pin power connector. Both support PCIe 3.0. Both support TrueAudio. DirectX 11.2 Tier 2, OpenGL 4.3 and Mantle are supported. On the display side of things AMD has seen fit to give us back two dual-link DVI connectors, in addition to HDMI 1.4b and DisplayPort 1.2 with Multi-Streaming. We will talk more about display support later on.