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AMD Radeon R9 290 4GB Review - Trip to Hawaii for $399

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Manufacturer: AMD

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! 

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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.

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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.

Continue reading our review of the AMD Radeon R9 290 4GB Graphics Card Review!!!

Because we are losing CUs, we obviously have fewer stream processors and fewer texture units on the 290 compared to the 290X.  The R9 290 has 2,560 shader cores and 160 texture units.  That is a drop of 256 stream processors (10%) and a drop of 16 texture units (10%) when going head to head with the 290X flagship.

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Interestingly, everything else stays the same.  We are still looking at a 512-bit memory bus along with the 64 ROPs and 4GB of GDDR5 memory running at 5.0 Gbps.  So, while the top compute performance and the texture fill rate see small declines, I expect the performance of the R9 290 to be relatively similar to that of the 290X.  The rated maximum clock rate of the R9 290 (947 MHz) is also within 5% of the R9 290X and there are some other considerations that may make the average clock rate of the 290 higher overall.

A Last Minute Swap

In a rather interesting move, AMD made a last minute change to the R9 290 (via a software update) very close to the NDA release of this article.  Originally, the R9 290 had the same default setting for the maximum fan speed as the R9 290X, 40%.  However, after another driver revision, the R9 290 was actually bumped up to 47% which will obviously increase performance thanks to the new version of PowerTune AMD has implemented on Hawaii.

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If you haven't already seen my article that looks at the configurable nature of the Hawaii GPU thanks to PowerTune, you will definitely want to read that article that went up yesterday.  In it, I look at the R9 290X with various maximum fan speed settings in the control panel to see how performance, power, noise and heat are actually affected.  Obviously it should go without saying that the R9 290 will be affected in nearly exactly the same fashion and thus the bump from 40% to 47% maximum fan speeds will result in better sustained performance for AMD. 

AMD's reasons for the last minute change are still somewhat of a mystery, though it likely has to do with NVIDIA's significant price drop response to the R9/R8 launch.  The GTX 780 was dropped from $649 to $499 with that release in order to respond to the performance advantages the R9 290X had over the GK110-based graphics card.  AMD has definitely been attempting to take an aggressive stance with the Hawaii release and push its advantages; the additional performance we'll get with the 47% fan speed setting might be in that same vein.

The Radeon R9 290 4GB Graphics Card

If you've seen the R9 290X, you've seen the R9 290 reference card as well.  They are virtually identical - coolers, output configuration, etc.

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We are still looking at a 8+6 pin power configuration and a 290mm board length.  There is 4GB of memory on the card for lots of growing space for users making the jump to 4K gaming.

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The output configuration remains as a pair of dual-link DVI ports, a full-sized HDMI and a full-sized DisplayPort and users will no longer have to worry about getting a DP to HDMI/DVI adapter to enable Eyefinity on a single card. 

There are no CrossFire connections on the R9 290, just as we saw with the R9 290X, as the multi-GPU communication now goes completely through the PCI Express bus on the motherboard.  You can check out our first look at the update AMD CrossFire technology that I posted along with our R9 290X review though we do have CrossFire results for the R9 290 in this review as well. 

November 4, 2013 | 09:21 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Why aren't these available yet on newegg?

November 4, 2013 | 09:24 PM - Posted by arbiter

Its a bit of an odd move for AMD. This card is priced to undercut it owns self. Yea its faster then a gtx770, and around same as 100$ more 780. With nvidia cards you get games with them and cooler and quieter cards. So AMD cards have their upsides but also their down side.

November 4, 2013 | 09:44 PM - Posted by Humanitarian

Yeah, really uneven distribution of their cards has made the 290x obsolete in a way.

November 5, 2013 | 06:14 AM - Posted by Mac (not verified)

Yeah, but only in regards to reference cards. After market cards that allow the 290X to stay closer to the 1GHz clock should allow it pull away a fair bit, especially were the game is shader bound. Anyways, stunning value, I would not have been disappointed if this came in at the rumoured 450$

November 4, 2013 | 10:30 PM - Posted by biohazard918

I'm guessing its yield issues that they are getting a lot of cards with a few bad compute units and they expect to sell all of the 290x's they can make similar to what nvidia does with the titian. Or they could just be happy with the margins on the 290 and are making a grab for increased market share. I'll be interested so see what the board partners do in the way of custom coolers and I look forward to Joshtekk's reviews.

EDIT tom's strapped an arctic accelero xtreme III after market gpu cooler on there 290 and got an almost 13% improvement in performance now i REALLY want to see those custom coolers.

November 5, 2013 | 04:59 AM - Posted by arbiter

titan is a 2688 cuda core gpu, the new 780ti is supposed to be according to leaked PDF from galaxy a 2880 cuda core gpu.

November 4, 2013 | 10:26 PM - Posted by TechZombie (not verified)

I am more interested in an apples to apples of the 290 and 290x. If Ryan can find a little time I would love to see a few benchmarks of them running at the same maximum fan speed to show the actual performance difference one would get for the extra $150.

November 4, 2013 | 10:43 PM - Posted by arbiter

givin the heat this gpu makes it won't be much, there will be some but your talking 100% fan and no one will use it at that. Even at 100% ammount of air pushed through vs say 75% is not that much more.

November 4, 2013 | 11:00 PM - Posted by TechZombie

Let me clarify when I said "same maximum fan speed" I was referring to manually setting both cards to either 47% or 55% fan speed and performing benchmarks to show a direct performance comparison.

November 4, 2013 | 11:10 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

While not exact, we use set the 290X to 20%, 30%, 40%, 50% and 60% fan speeds.  

http://www.pcper.com/reviews/Graphics-Cards/AMD-Radeon-R9-290X-Hawaii-Configurable-GPU

November 5, 2013 | 12:50 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

GRID 2 single card 4K results appear to be missing?

November 5, 2013 | 07:16 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

GRID 2 has some compatibility issues at 4K with crashing back to desktop.

November 5, 2013 | 01:04 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I almost bought one just now on Newegg. 399 is a good deal. Then I saw you can get a 780 lightning for $529 plus a 15$ rebate and 3 games. 729 for the shield combo. You can sell the shield and games for over 300 and you have a lightning for the same price as a 290 without the heat and noise.

November 5, 2013 | 03:55 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I'm going to wait for the R9 290 with a 3rd party cooler. Forget the 780 - it's obsolete now unless it drops to $350 tops.

November 5, 2013 | 04:36 AM - Posted by Howie Doohan (not verified)

Agreed. Nvidia's entire line up from 770 to Titan is virtually obsolete now, glad I didn't waste my money on any of those Nvidia GPU's.

November 5, 2013 | 04:44 AM - Posted by arbiter

funny how its "obsolete" when amd card is 6 months late to the game. Funny how back 1 year ago one first things people jumped on difference between nvidia and amd card was amd had game bundle with it. Yet NOW its nvidia that has the games with it and AMD has 0 with it yet not a peep about that is even thought of? Sadly though biggest missed part is heat made by this card is terrible as a gamer. Yea amd says its made to run at that temp but sure a lot of people agree with me that just cause it can run 95c all day long doesn't mean we want that kinda heat in our computer. If it got 95c on an open air test bench its gonna be quite a bit worse when you stick it in an inclosed case. temp diff is usually a good what around 5-10c warmer even with good air flow cause well some that air is stuck in case for short time.

November 5, 2013 | 06:50 AM - Posted by Squijji (not verified)

You demonstrate several times in that one paragraph how little you understand about the fundamentals of building a solid system. System heat is defined by the amount of power going into the GPU, not by the temperature said GPU runs at... It's also going to run at 95c in a case because it is thermally limited.

So, yeah, keep attacking those imaginary fanboys flying around your head all day. It's fun to watch. :D

November 5, 2013 | 01:45 AM - Posted by Steve Doxakis (not verified)

Ryan as the chart says i think with a corsair ax 860 i will be fine for 2 of these bad boys.

November 5, 2013 | 04:12 AM - Posted by Daniel Nielsen (not verified)

I really want to see how third party vendors improves on the fan,heat and noise aspects of these cards.

I could see my self switching my GTX 680 out for a 290 or a 290x, but not a reference version though.

November 5, 2013 | 04:45 AM - Posted by arbiter

that is hopes atm, is the AMD reference cooler is just that bad and its not that gpu makes that much heat. would be interesting to see how well it tests in an enclosed case with more on avg air flow and not open air bench which does kinda mess with results compared to real world use.

November 5, 2013 | 04:26 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Tom's Hardware showed that the cards for press are MUCH faster than the retail cards... what do you think?

November 5, 2013 | 05:01 AM - Posted by arbiter

if it was ever proven that they sent out cards were faster then retail, would be a pretty big PR nightmare later.

edit: i am lookin at toms's review now and that is very suspect to me. difference between Press card and retail is around 15-20%. if it was ~5% could call within spec of slight differences in the cards but that is a little to much. since 290 on their test is almost same wonder if that is a press card as well? Love to get Ryans thoughts on that data though.

November 5, 2013 | 07:18 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

I have purchased some retail cards last night to investigate just this. We will find the truth!

November 5, 2013 | 07:33 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

thank you
AMD deserves to be shamed if the story is truly as it seems

November 6, 2013 | 09:00 AM - Posted by nobody special (not verified)

Make sure to run a LONG test inside a case also please. Part of their findings show it tanked more in speed as it got hotter (well duh I guess). Running open air is one thing, but how hot does it get running loops in a pc (or like you would see say, playing BF3/4 for hours)? Does it get so hot that it's dropping core speed to stay at 95 temps? Toms saw speeds drop into the 700's (~750 if memory serves) and he wasn't running his retails in a closed case either.

We need to start seeing tests running in a closed box if this is really what happens. I'm also wondering how a card like this affects your OC'ed CPU. If everything inside the box is hotter, wouldn't it affect your OC at least some (those not on water I'd guess).

One more point: It seems to me all NV has to do is release the same type of driver adding 10-12DB's of noise with a higher default clock speed and call it a day. That is all AMD did here right? I wouldn't be surprised by them doing this to get 780 speeds up just enough to top AMD, then 780TI on top of everything, though there are those 3 AAA games and lower tempts/noise that will mean something to some.
http://www.chiphell.com/thread-891408-1-1.html
780 TI scores above, 2880 cores, and faster clocks takes down a 690 is some stuff. Clock frequencies of 876MHz/928 MHz for the core/boost and 7GHz for the memory are specified. OCing 780TI will produce some fantastic perf with FULL SMX's on. I rather like NV's way here, of adding more resources than clocking it to death to win.

November 5, 2013 | 06:26 AM - Posted by spigzone (not verified)

Not that confusing, Rory Read wants to HURT Nvidia's high end gaming position and he now has the tools to do it.

Oxide Games -> "which lets us see dramatic increases in performance on Mantle-enabled systems" - is another indication Mantle is indeed going to bring, well, dramatic performance increases.

Eidos Montreal is implementing Mantle and is part of Square Enix ...

Just to stay competitive with the 290 Nvidia will need to drop the price of the 780 to $400.

What's Nvidia going to do in a week when APU13 reveals the full extent of AAA Mantle games in the pipeline and a working demo shows what Mantle is really capable of?

And aftermarket 290 and 290x cards start arriving to unlock even more power with much less noise and better temps?

Nvidia will be in a position it cannot be competitive with AMD 2xx cards without selling at a loss.

Rory Read is about to put a 4x4 up against Nvidia's head.

November 5, 2013 | 01:18 PM - Posted by arbiter

the 780/titan OC'ed to 1ghz is on about same level as the amd card.

November 5, 2013 | 07:58 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

At some point in time, with all the driver issues and bandwith constraints, of communicating data GPU to CPU over a 64 bit bus, or even uHSA over a 64 bit, designed for general purpose computing data bus, to regular memory is going to become too restraing for future games. At what point in time will GPUs with much larger data buses, available bandwidth, and much faster dedicated GPU memory, have to include a CPU/s on die with the GPU, a CPU that shares the same fat data bus with the GPU. Whould having a dedicated gaming CPU/GPU gaming box, on a PCI card be the way to go in the future? Imagine if AMD had the freedom to do with its x86 IP license, and its GPU IP, the same thing it does with the dedicated console hardware, unconstrained by the limited gaming compute/hardware restraints of the motherboard general purpose CPU.

November 5, 2013 | 08:01 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Stupid question, but do any of those DVI ports output to the old VGA just incase you need to hook up to a monitor with VGA (temporarily)?

It looks like the dvi ports are DVI-D, which do not output analog signal for the VGA cable...

November 5, 2013 | 09:54 AM - Posted by snook

It is odd to me that one of the arguments is how much cooler 80C is...176F, that is still toasty :P

Tom's has a R9 290 with an aftermarket cooler modded to fit.
temps weren't discussed, but quiet was, and it was quiet and overclock to 1.15Ghz. That quiet R9 290 destroyed the GTX 780.

I'll make a prediction that the non-reference cards are gonna be better and that the GTX 780Ti is gonna need a price drop when the numbers post.

Nv has too much riding on the 780Ti. It can't just "beat" the 290 and 290X it has to rip them apart, not likely.

edit: also. gsync is NEVER going to work with AMD cards EVER.

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