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ASUS Radeon R9 290X DirectCU II Graphics Card Review

Author: Ryan Shrout
Manufacturer: ASUS

Testing Setup and Frame Rating Info

Testing Configuration

The specifications for our testing system haven't changed much.

Test System Setup
CPU Intel Core i7-3960X Sandy Bridge-E
Motherboard ASUS P9X79 Deluxe
Memory Corsair Dominator DDR3-1600 16GB
Hard Drive OCZ Agility 4 256GB SSD
Sound Card On-board
Graphics Card ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II 4GB
AMD Radeon R9 290X 4GB
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Ti 3GB
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 3GB
Graphics Drivers AMD: 13.11 V9.5
NVIDIA: 331.80
Power Supply Corsair AX1200i
Operating System Windows 8 Pro x64

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What you should be watching for

  1. ASUS R9 290X vs Reference R9 290X - This is the most important and obvious comparison to make.  How much faster is the ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II card than the reference models with its 50 MHz higher clock speed and much more consistent clock speeds?
     
  2. ASUS R9 290X vs GTX 780 Ti - With this improved performacne does the ASUS card help AMD reclaim the performance crown for single GPU graphics cards?

Frame Rating: Our Testing Process

If you aren't familiar with it, you should probably do a little research into our testing methodology as it is quite different than others you may see online.  Rather than using FRAPS to measure frame rates or frame times, we are using an secondary PC to capture the output from the tested graphics card directly and then use post processing on the resulting video to determine frame rates, frame times, frame variance and much more. 

This amount of data can be pretty confusing if you attempting to read it without proper background, but I strongly believe that the results we present paint a much more thorough picture of performance than other options.  So please, read up on the full discussion about our Frame Rating methods before moving forward!!

While there are literally dozens of file created for each “run” of benchmarks, there are several resulting graphs that FCAT produces, as well as several more that we are generating with additional code of our own. 

If you don't need the example graphs and explanations below, you can jump straight to the benchmark results now!!

 

The PCPER FRAPS File

While the graphs above are produced by the default version of the scripts from NVIDIA, I have modified and added to them in a few ways to produce additional data for our readers.  The first file shows a sub-set of the data from the RUN file above, the average frame rate over time as defined by FRAPS, though we are combining all of the GPUs we are comparing into a single graph.  This will basically emulate the data we have been showing you for the past several years.

 

The PCPER Observed FPS File

This graph takes a different subset of data points and plots them similarly to the FRAPS file above, but this time we are look at the “observed” average frame rates, shown previously as the blue bars in the RUN file above.  This takes out the dropped and runts frames, giving you the performance metrics that actually matter – how many frames are being shown to the gamer to improve the animation sequences. 

As you’ll see in our full results on the coming pages, seeing a big difference between the FRAPS FPS graphic and the Observed FPS will indicate cases where it is likely the gamer is not getting the full benefit of the hardware investment in their PC.

 

The PLOT File

The primary file that is generated from the extracted data is a plot of calculated frame times including runts.  The numbers here represent the amount of time that frames appear on the screen for the user, a “thinner” line across the time span represents frame times that are consistent and thus should produce the smoothest animation to the gamer.  A “wider” line or one with a lot of peaks and valleys indicates a lot more variance and is likely caused by a lot of runts being displayed.

 

The RUN File

While the two graphs above show combined results for a set of cards being compared, the RUN file will show you the results from a single card on that particular result.  It is in this graph that you can see interesting data about runts, drops, average frame rate and the actual frame rate of your gaming experience. 

For tests that show no runts or drops, the data is pretty clean.  This is the standard frame rate per second over a span of time graph that has become the standard for performance evaluation on graphics cards.

A test that does have runts and drops will look much different.  The black bar labeled FRAPS indicates the average frame rate over time that traditional testing would show if you counted the drops and runts in the equation – as FRAPS FPS measurement does.  Any area in red is a dropped frame – the wider the amount of red you see, the more colored bars from our overlay were missing in the captured video file, indicating the gamer never saw those frames in any form.

The wide yellow area is the representation of runts, the thin bands of color in our captured video, that we have determined do not add to the animation of the image on the screen.  The larger the area of yellow the more often those runts are appearing.

Finally, the blue line is the measured FPS over each second after removing the runts and drops.  We are going to be calling this metric the “observed frame rate” as it measures the actual speed of the animation that the gamer experiences.

 

The PERcentile File

Scott introduced the idea of frame time percentiles months ago but now that we have some different data using direct capture as opposed to FRAPS, the results might be even more telling.  In this case, FCAT is showing percentiles not by frame time but instead by instantaneous FPS.  This will tell you the minimum frame rate that will appear on the screen at any given percent of time during our benchmark run.  The 50th percentile should be very close to the average total frame rate of the benchmark but as we creep closer to the 100% we see how the frame rate will be affected. 

The closer this line is to being perfectly flat the better as that would mean we are running at a constant frame rate the entire time.  A steep decline on the right hand side tells us that frame times are varying more and more frequently and might indicate potential stutter in the animation.

 

The PCPER Frame Time Variance File

Of all the data we are presenting, this is probably the one that needs the most discussion.  In an attempt to create a new metric for gaming and graphics performance, I wanted to try to find a way to define stutter based on the data sets we had collected.  As I mentioned earlier, we can define a single stutter as a variance level between t_game and t_display. This variance can be introduced in t_game, t_display, or on both levels.  Since we can currently only reliably test the t_display rate, how can we create a definition of stutter that makes sense and that can be applied across multiple games and platforms?

We define a single frame variance as the difference between the current frame time and the previous frame time – how consistent the two frames presented to the gamer.  However, as I found in my testing plotting the value of this frame variance is nearly a perfect match to the data presented by the minimum FPS (PER) file created by FCAT.  To be more specific, stutter is only perceived when there is a break from the previous animation frame rates. 

Our current running theory for a stutter evaluation is this: find the current frame time variance by comparing the current frame time to the running average of the frame times of the previous 20 frames.  Then, by sorting these frame times and plotting them in a percentile form we can get an interesting look at potential stutter.  Comparing the frame times to a running average rather than just to the previous frame should prevent potential problems from legitimate performance peaks or valleys found when moving from a highly compute intensive scene to a lower one.

While we are still trying to figure out if this is the best way to visualize stutter in a game, we have seen enough evidence in our game play testing and by comparing the above graphic to other data generated through our Frame rating system to be reasonably confident in our assertions.  So much in fact that I am going to going this data the PCPER ISU, which beer fans will appreciate the acronym of International Stutter Units.

To compare these results you want to see a line that is as close the 0ms mark as possible indicating very little frame rate variance when compared to a running average of previous frames.  There will be some inevitable incline as we reach the 90+ percentile but that is expected with any game play sequence that varies from scene to scene.  What we do not want to see is a sharper line up that would indicate higher frame variance (ISU) and could be an indication that the game sees microstuttering and hitching problems.

December 19, 2013 | 10:53 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

It would be great if you guys could do a review of this card in comparison to the Gigabyte 780 ti GHZ edition once you get your hands on an actual card. There's talk about that version of the ti murdering the performance charts for only a little more than a reference 780 ti.

July 5, 2014 | 01:31 AM - Posted by Sherlyn (not verified)

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I am sure there are many more examples and the above can include both ready made
and those crafted by loving owners too. Jo Han Mok is the #1 International bestselling author of the E-code.

Here is my blog post; my site (Sherlyn)

December 19, 2013 | 11:54 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

why are you still testing on BF3 , next to no one is still playing it. Battlefield 4 has been out for a few months at this stage , any chance you could get some benchmarks with that instead ?

December 19, 2013 | 12:15 PM - Posted by bburnham37 (not verified)

Error in the article.

"To put it in a different perspective, the average frame rate of the ASUS card was 1047.57 MHz over the 25 minute period"

Should be:

To put it in a different perspective, the average CLOCK SPEED of the ASUS card was 1047.57 MHz over the 25 minute period

December 19, 2013 | 01:10 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Thanks!!

December 19, 2013 | 12:55 PM - Posted by Absolute0 (not verified)

I would still like to see the 780 ti at it's maximum overclocking potential (1200MHz core seems easily achievable, and 1250-1300MHz is possible) compared to the overclocked ASUS R9 290X @1150MHz. Then the benchmarking results will be fair. Maybe Linus will cover this in one of his videos.

I would also like to point out that the AMD cards are selling well above their MSRP's, perhaps due to the bitcoin miners right now. So the $570 R9 290X actually costs $620-$630 (if you can even find it). The 780 ti, MSRP @$700 comes with $170 worth of free games this holiday season. Overall the 780 ti still offers better price/performance ratio.

December 20, 2013 | 11:21 AM - Posted by Niabureth (not verified)

In sweden we have high availability of the R9 290X, and the prices has gone down somewhat.

December 20, 2013 | 11:41 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Interesting, I'll keep an eye on it for sure.

December 20, 2013 | 11:23 AM - Posted by Niabureth (not verified)

Availability of the reference model shouldn't be a problem anymore? Well at least not here in sweden. The prices has gone down to (somewhat).

December 19, 2013 | 02:30 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

What monitoring software are you using to record the gpu load differences? I ask since I have a custom cooling solution on my 290x and during gameplay of current games, the hottest the gpu ever gets is 70 degrees but the gpu load goes from 0% to 100% literally hundreds of times during a gaming session (looks like a seismograph). Never do I see a solid line at 1000Mhz. Never! I wonder if it is the software that I am using (MSI Afterburner) to monitor or my card. Please note that my gampeplay is silky smooth but the reporting numbers that concern me. So if I could get some insight on the software you are using, that would be great.

December 20, 2013 | 11:41 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

We use GPU-Z.

December 20, 2013 | 01:41 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Snook:

The throtteling isn't an issue really. First you have to consider that the fan is only running 59% in Ryan's bench. Second the powertarget and temp target can easily be up'ed by flashing the bios to one of skyn3t's rev's.

I have a 780 Classy running completely stable (with ACX air cooler) @ 1270/1750 with max temp 75C (skyn3t ln2 rev.3).

As from what I have read/seen; the 780Ti (specially the Evga classy/SC versions) hits about the same clock speeds as mine on air.

December 21, 2013 | 08:28 AM - Posted by snook

thanks for the response sans the "buddy???".

those are really good speeds too. my question was just what is happening to limit it to 1006.2? so powertarget seems as good as anything.

thanks again.

December 20, 2013 | 03:41 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

hmmm.. i wish the price is too good to be true.. in Malaysia all these price are inrease a titan will cost u as much as 1125.79$ and this radeon R9 290x will cost 852.18$.. we do not know even why they cost so much.. i wish they were cheap like other countries.. the price of gtx 770 can buy a gtx 780 in other countries. and a gtx 680 still cost 608.70$ if guys dont believe me just go to any online retail shop pages.. and also gtx 760 is the same price of a gtx 660 ti that is 369$ thats a rip offf!!!!!

December 20, 2013 | 08:35 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Why do you compare a non-reference AMD to a reference Nvidia card. Would it not be better to compare non-reference to non-reference? It would make it easier to see which is the better card and by how much.

December 20, 2013 | 11:43 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Yah, we are waiting for some more custom GTX 780 Ti cards to arrive.

December 20, 2013 | 09:31 AM - Posted by Niabureth (not verified)

Good review!

December 20, 2013 | 11:44 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Thank you!

December 20, 2013 | 01:26 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Its takes a custom cooled overclocked 290x to match a stock reference 780ti. We all know how well a 780ti overclocks so they should of tested with apples against apples. anyway still a fail on Amd part.

December 21, 2013 | 06:03 PM - Posted by snook

with that huge 44Mhz OC :/ yea, them apples. sour apples.
it didn't match it beat it BTW

December 22, 2013 | 01:26 PM - Posted by KrishnanKaoz (not verified)

Exactly. You should be able to hot 1150 mhz without issues so add another 100 mhz on the factory OC. Even if 780 ti hits 1250 stable, it is still 130 dollars more expensive. And as a previous Swede explained, the price gouging is a US-centric issue. And I do not even think it is that related to mining. We have seen a similar mining craze here in Sweden.

Anyway, this card crushes the stock Ti on price/perf ratio. Custom coolers will narrow the gap but unlikely to close it. But Maxwell for desktops is coming in 3 months! Hoprfully AMD can counter faster and prevent Nvidia from taking their customary high prices.

December 22, 2013 | 01:26 PM - Posted by KrishnanKaoz (not verified)

Exactly. You should be able to hot 1150 mhz without issues so add another 100 mhz on the factory OC. Even if 780 ti hits 1250 stable, it is still 130 dollars more expensive. And as a previous Swede explained, the price gouging is a US-centric issue. And I do not even think it is that related to mining. We have seen a similar mining craze here in Sweden.

Anyway, this card crushes the stock Ti on price/perf ratio. Custom coolers will narrow the gap but unlikely to close it. But Maxwell for desktops is coming in 3 months! Hoprfully AMD can counter faster and prevent Nvidia from taking their customary high prices.

December 21, 2013 | 08:04 AM - Posted by Willmore (not verified)

http://www.pcper.com/image/view/35024?return=node%2F59148

The graph with the temps comparing the Quiet mode and the Performance mode idle and load temps is mislabeled. Idle is labeled as Load.

December 21, 2013 | 08:05 AM - Posted by Willmore (not verified)

Oh, darn, that's the Sound level graph, not the temp one. Sorry!

December 21, 2013 | 08:06 AM - Posted by Willmore (not verified)

Oh, darn, that's the Sound level graph, not the temp one. Sorry!

December 21, 2013 | 11:41 AM - Posted by Marco (not verified)

How many nVidia fanboys here. Here I'am switching from ASUS GTX670 DCII to the Asus 290 (probably not X) when available

December 21, 2013 | 06:52 PM - Posted by Principle (not verified)

What would be really nice is to see how quiet we could get the fans if the target temp was set at say 90C, because the GPU is meant to handle 95C without a hitch, for the life of it. So it seems we are either leaving performance or quietness on the table by limiting the temp under 80C in stock settings.

December 22, 2013 | 12:29 AM - Posted by purple (not verified)

when will this be available?

I was thinking about getting a 780, but this is changing my mind completely for multiple reasons.

December 22, 2013 | 06:22 PM - Posted by darkly (not verified)

I was going to buy a GPU this month since I am in america right now and ofcourse booya euro vs dollar shit.

I might of been interested in this card but eh I am not going to pay 200-300 dollars more just because I live in europe so I think I will be buying a 780 Ti then.

the ONLY 290X non ref that is for sale is on newegg right now and it's the gigabyte one.

and that one is 699 dollars so there is no point to buy it over say a MSI 780Ti or hell a 749 EVGA classified which has been proven to overclock to 1300+ easily on air (with some bios fiddling)

Bluh this sucks. replacing my 680 is turning out to be a pain in the ass.

December 28, 2013 | 02:09 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

One thing that would really interest me since Sapphire is the biggest contender for Asus in the AMD custom cooling sector:

How does the db(A) of the Asus r9 290x in performance/quiet mode compare to the Sapphire r9 290x or the Asus r9 280x?

Thanks in advance!

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