DisplayPort to Save the Day?
During an impromptu meeting with AMD this week, the company's Corporate Vice President for Visual Computing, Raja Koduri, presented me with an interesting demonstration of a technology that allowed the refresh rate of a display on a Toshiba notebook to perfectly match with the render rate of the game demo being shown. The result was an image that was smooth and with no tearing effects. If that sounds familiar, it should. NVIDIA's G-Sync was announced in November of last year and does just that for desktop systems and PC gamers.
Since that November unveiling, I knew that AMD would need to respond in some way. The company had basically been silent since learning of NVIDIA's release but that changed for me today and the information discussed is quite extraordinary. AMD is jokingly calling the technology demonstration "FreeSync".
Variable refresh rates as discussed by NVIDIA.
During the demonstration AMD's Koduri had two identical systems side by side based on a Kabini APU . Both were running a basic graphics demo of a rotating windmill. One was a standard software configuration while the other model had a modified driver that communicated with the panel to enable variable refresh rates. As you likely know from our various discussions about variable refresh rates an G-Sync technology from NVIDIA, this setup results in a much better gaming experience as it produces smoother animation on the screen without the horizontal tearing associated with v-sync disabled.
Obviously AMD wasn't using the same controller module that NVIDIA is using on its current G-Sync displays, several of which were announced this week at CES. Instead, the internal connection on the Toshiba notebook was the key factor: Embedded Display Port (eDP) apparently has a feature to support variable refresh rates on LCD panels. This feature was included for power savings on mobile and integrated devices as refreshing the screen without new content can be a waste of valuable battery resources. But, for performance and gaming considerations, this feature can be used to initiate a variable refresh rate meant to smooth out game play, as AMD's Koduri said.
Sapphire Triple Fan Hawaii
It was mid-December when the very first custom cooled AMD Radeon R9 290X card hit our offices in the form of the ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II. It was cooler, quieter, and faster than the reference model; this is a combination that is hard to pass up (if you could buy it yet). More and more of these custom models, both in the R9 290 and R9 290X flavor, are filtering their way into PC Perspective. Next on the chopping block is the Sapphire Tri-X model of the R9 290X.
Sapphire's triple fan cooler already made quite an impression on me when we tested a version of it on the R9 280X retail round up from October. It kept the GPU cool but it was also the loudest of the retail cards tested at the time. For the R9 290X model, Sapphire has made some tweaks to the fan speeds and the design of the cooler which makes it a better overall solution as you will soon see.
The key tenets for any AMD R9 290/290X custom cooled card is to beat AMD's reference cooler in performance, noise, and variable clock rates. Does Sapphire meet these goals?
The Sapphire R9 290X Tri-X 4GB
While the ASUS DirectCU II card was taller and more menacing than the reference design, the Sapphire Tri-X cooler is longer and appears to be more sleek than the competition thus far. The bright yellow and black color scheme is both attractive and unique though it does lack the LED light that the 280X showcased.
Sapphire has overclocked this model slightly, to 1040 MHz on the GPU clock, which puts it in good company.
|AMD Radeon R9 290X||ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II||Sapphire R9 290X Tri-X|
|Rated Clock||1000 MHz||1050 MHz||1040 MHz|
|Memory Clock||5000 MHz||5400 MHz||5200 MHz|
|TDP||~300 watts||~300 watts||~300 watts|
|Peak Compute||5.6 TFLOPS||5.6+ TFLOPS||5.6T TFLOPS|
There are three fans on the Tri-X design, as the name would imply, but each are the same size unlike the smaller central fan design of the R9 280X.
The First Custom R9 290X
It has been a crazy launch for the AMD Radeon R9 series of graphics cards. When we first reviewed both the R9 290X and the R9 290, we came away very impressed with the GPU and the performance it provided. Our reviews of both products resulted in awards of the Gold class. The 290X was a new class of single GPU performance while the R9 290 nearly matched performance at a crazy $399 price tag.
But there were issues. Big, glaring issues. Clock speeds had a huge amount of variance depending on the game and we saw a GPU that was rated as "up to 1000 MHz" running at 899 MHz in Skyrim and 821 MHz in Bioshock Infinite. Those are not insignificant deltas in clock rate that nearly perfectly match deltas in performance. These speeds also changed based on the "hot" or "cold" status of the graphics card - had it warmed up and been active for 10 minutes prior to testing? If so, the performance was measurably lower than with a "cold" GPU that was just started.
That issue was not necessarily a deal killer; rather, it just made us rethink how we test GPUs. The fact that many people were seeing lower performance on retail purchased cards than with the reference cards sent to press for reviews was a much bigger deal. In our testing in November the retail card we purchased, that was using the exact same cooler as the reference model, was running 6.5% slower than we expected.
The obvious hope was the retail cards with custom PCBs and coolers would be released from AMD partners and somehow fix this whole dilemma. Today we see if that was correct.
Subject: Graphics Cards | December 12, 2013 - 05:20 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: video, amd, radeon, hawaii, r9 290, R9 290X, bitcoin, litecoin, mining
If you already listened to this weeks PC Perspective Podcast, then feel free to disregard this post. For the rest of you - subscribe to our damned weekly podcast would you already?!?
In any event, I thought it might be interesting to extract this 6 minute discussion we had during last nights live streamed podcast about how the emergence of Litecoin mining operations is driving up prices of GPUs, particularly the compute-capable R9 290 and R9 290X Hawaii-based cards from AMD.
Check out these prices currently on Amazon!
- Radeon R9 290X - $725+
- Radeon R9 290 - $499+
- Radeon R9 280X - $429+
- GeForce GTX 770 - $409+
- GeForce GTX 780 - $509+
- GeForce GTX 780 Ti - $699+
The price of the GTX 770 is a bit higher than it should be while the GTX 780 and GTX 780 Ti are priced in the same range they have been for the last month or so. The same cannot be said for the AMD cards listed here - the R9 280X is selling for $130 more than its expected MSRP at a minimum but you'll see quite a few going for much higher on Amazon, Ebay (thanks TR) and others. The Radeon R9 290 has an MSRP of $399 from AMD but the lowest price we found on Amazon was $499 and anything on Newegg.com is showing at the same price, but sold out. The R9 290X is even more obnoxiously priced when you can find them.
Do you have any thoughts on this? Do you think Litecoin mining is really causing these price inflations and what does that mean for AMD, NVIDIA and the gamer?
Subject: Graphics Cards | November 27, 2013 - 04:44 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: sapphire, radeon, R9 290X, hawaii, amd, 290x
Ryan is not the only one who felt it necessary to investigate the reports of differing performance between retail R9 290X cards and the ones sent out for review. Legit Reviews also ordered a retail card made by Sapphire and tested it against the card sent to them by AMD. As with our results, ambient temperature had more effect on the frequency of the retail card than it did on the press sample with a 14% difference being common. Legit had another idea after they noticed that while the BIOS version was the same on both cards the part numbers differed. Find out what happened when they flashed the retail card to exactly match the press sample.
"The AMD Radeon R9 290X and R9 290 have been getting a ton of attention lately due to a number of reports that the retail cards are performing differently than the press cards that the media sites received. We have been following these stories for the past few weeks and finally decided to look into the situation ourselves."
Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:
- HIS R9 270X IceQ X² Turbo Boost 2 GB @ techPowerUp
- Sapphire Toxic Edition R9 280X Video Card Review @HiTech Legion
- ASUS R9 270 Direct CU II OC 2 GB @ techPowerUp
- Powercolor Radeon R9-270X Devil @ Bjorn3D
- AMD Radeon R9 290 Review On Linux @ Phoronix
- PowerColor Devil R9 270X 2GB @ Custom PC Review
- 2560×1600: GeForce GTX 780 Ti vs Radeon R9 290X @ Benchmark Reviews
- ASUS GTX 760 MARS @ Kitguru
- Gigabyte GeForce GTX 760 4GB Video Card Review – 2GB or 4GB of VRAM @ Legit Reviews
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Ti Steams Ahead On Linux @ Phoronix
- Palit GTX 780 Ti JetStream OC @ Kitguru
- EVGA GTX 780 Ti SC ACX Review @ Hardware Canucks
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX TITAN: Windows 8.1 vs. Ubuntu 13.10 @ Phoronix
Another retail card reveals the results
Since the release of the new AMD Radeon R9 290X and R9 290 graphics cards, we have been very curious about the latest implementation of AMD's PowerTune technology and its scaling of clock frequency as a result of the thermal levels of each graphics card. In the first article covering this topic, I addressed the questions from AMD's point of view - is this really a "configurable" GPU as AMD claims or are there issues that need to be addressed by the company?
The biggest problems I found were in the highly variable clock speeds from game to game and from a "cold" GPU to a "hot" GPU. This affects the way many people in the industry test and benchmark graphics cards as running a game for just a couple of minutes could result in average and reported frame rates that are much higher than what you see 10-20 minutes into gameplay. This was rarely something that had to be dealt with before (especially on AMD graphics cards) so to many it caught them off-guard.
Because of the new PowerTune technology, as I have discussed several times before, clock speeds are starting off quite high on the R9 290X (at or near the 1000 MHz quoted speed) and then slowly drifting down over time.
Another wrinkle occurred when Tom's Hardware reported that retail graphics cards they had seen were showing markedly lower performance than the reference samples sent to reviewers. As a result, AMD quickly released a new driver that attempted to address the problem by normalizing to fan speeds (RPM) rather than fan voltage (percentage). The result was consistent fan speeds on different cards and thus much closer performance.
However, with all that being said, I was still testing retail AMD Radeon R9 290X and R9 290 cards that were PURCHASED rather than sampled, to keep tabs on the situation.
An issue of variance
AMD just sent along an email to the press with a new driver to use for Radeon R9 290X and Radeon R9 290 testing going forward. Here is the note:
We’ve identified that there’s variability in fan speeds across AMD R9 290 series boards. This variability in fan speed translates into variability of the cooling capacity of the fan-sink.
The flexibility of AMD PowerTune technology enables us to correct this variability in a driver update. This update will normalize the fan RPMs to the correct values.
The correct target RPM values are 2200RPM for the AMD Radeon R9 290X ‘Quiet mode’, and 2650RPM for the R9 290. You can verify these in GPU-Z.
If you’re working on stories relating to R9 290 series products, please use this driver as it will reduce any variability in fan speeds. This driver will be posted publicly tonight.
Great! This is good news! Except it also creates some questions.
When we first tested the R9 290X and the R9 290, we discussed the latest iteration of AMD's PowerTune technology. That feature attempts to keep clocks as high as possible under the constraints of temperature and power. I took issue with the high variability of clock speeds on our R9 290X sample, citing this graph:
I then did some digging into the variance and the claims that AMD was building a "configurable" GPU. In that article we found that there were significant performance deltas between "hot" and "cold" GPUs; we noticed that doing simple, quick benchmarks would produce certain results that were definitely not real-world in nature. At the default 40% fan speed, Crysis 3 showed 10% variance with the 290X at 2560x1440:
Subject: General Tech | November 5, 2013 - 01:22 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: radeon, r9 290, hawaii, crossfire, amd, 290x, powertune
How does all the power of a GTX 780 for a price tag $100 lower sound to you? Honestly it might sound a little loud as the reference cooler on the R9 290 can be a little loud at 50% which is the speed you need to be able to keep this card running full out. As long as you don't mind the sound or are willing to wait for custom air or water cooling solutions there are no negatives about the 290. Frame pacing makes Crossfire much smoother and it sports the hardware improvements for EyeFinity to improve your experience in 4K and multi-monitor usage. [H]ard|OCP actually uses the word epic just before giving this card a Gold Award, check out their full review here.
Ryan's review, including Frame Rating can be found by clicking here.
"It is time now to look at AMD's Radeon R9 290. This lower-cost R9 290 series video card packs a punch, not only in performance, but also in price. Watch it compete with the GeForce GTX 780, and win while being priced lower. This is the value you have been waiting for with gaming performance."
Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:
- AMD's Radeon R9 290 @ The Tech Report
- AMD Radeon R9 290 @ Legion Hardware
- AMD Radeon R9 290 @ Hardware.info
- AMD Radeon R9 290 4GB Video Card Review @ Legit Reviews
- AMD Radeon R9 290 @ Techspot
- AMD Radeon R9 290 4GB Review @ Hardware Canucks
- AMD R9 290 @ Kitguru
- AMD Radeon R9 290 4 GB @ techPowerUp
- AMD Radeon R9 290X CrossFire @ [H]ard|OCP
- Powercolor R9 290X OC Review @ OCC
- PowerColor R9 290X OC 4 GB @ techPowerUp
- HIS R9 270X IceQ X² Turbo Boost Clock 2GB GDDR5 Video Card Review @ Madshrimps
- AMD Radeon R9 290X 4GB @ eTeknix
- 4K Gaming Showdown – AMD R9 290X & R9 280X Vs Nvidia GTX Titan & GTX 780 @ eTeknix
- AMD Radeon R9 290X vs NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 at 4K @ Legit Reviews
- Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Review @ OCC
- MSI R9 280X GAMING @ [H]ard|OCP
- VisionTek Radeon R9 280X Video Card Review @ Modders-Inc
- HIS R7 260X iPower IceQ X² 2 GB @ techPowerUp
- Sapphire Radeon R9 270X Vapor-X Video Card Review @ TechwareLabs
- AMD's Radeon Gallium3D Starts Posing A Threat To Catalyst @ Phoronix
- Three GeForce GTX 780 Graphics Cards @ X-bit Labs
- GeForce GTX 770 Graphics Cards Roundup @ X-bit Labs
- Gigabyte GTX 780 WindForce OC @ eTeknix
More of the same for a lot less cash
The week before Halloween, AMD unleashed a trick on the GPU world under the guise of the Radeon R9 290X and it was the fastest single GPU graphics card we had tested to date. With a surprising price point of $549, it was able to outperform the GeForce GTX 780 (and GTX TITAN in most cases) while under cutting the competitions price by $100. Not too bad!
Today's release might be more surprising (and somewhat confusing). The AMD Radeon R9 290 4GB card is based on the same Hawaii GPU with a few less compute units enabled (CUs) and an even more aggressive price and performance placement. Seriously, has AMD lost its mind?
Can a card with a $399 price tag cut into the same performance levels as the JUST DROPPED price of $499 for the GeForce GTX 780?? And, if so, what sacrifices are being made by users that adopt it? Why do so many of our introduction sentences end in question marks?
The R9 290 GPU - Hawaii loses a small island
If you are new to the Hawaii GPU and you missed our first review of the Radeon R9 290X from last month, you should probably start back there. The architecture is very similar to that of the HD 7000-series Tahiti GPUs with some modest changes to improve efficiency with the biggest jump in raw primitives per second to 4/clock over 2/clock.
The R9 290 is based on Hawaii though it has four fewer compute units (CUs) than the R9 290X. When I asked AMD if that meant there was one fewer CU per Shader Engine or if they were all removed from a single Engine, they refused to really answer. Instead, several "I'm not allowed to comment on the specific configuration" lines were given. This seems pretty odd as NVIDIA has been upfront about the dual options for its derivative GPU models. Oh well.
Subject: General Tech | October 31, 2013 - 03:48 PM | Ken Addison
Tagged: podcast, video, R9 290X, amd, radeon, 290x crossfire, 280x, r9 280x, gtx 770, gtx 780, arm, mali, Altera
PC Perspective Podcast #275 - 10/31/2013
Join us this week as we discuss the AMD Radeon R9 290X, ARMTechCon 2013, NVIDIA Pricedrops and more!
The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!
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Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, and Allyn Malventano