A Civ for a New Generation
Turn-based strategy games have long been defined by the Civilization series. Civ 5 took up hours and hours of the PC Perspective team's non-working hours (and likely the working ones too) and it looks like the new Civilization: Beyond Earth has the chance to do the same. Early reviews of the game from Gamespot, IGN, and Polygon are quite positive, and that's great news for a PC-only release; they can sometimes get overlooked in the games' media.
For us, the game offers an interesting opportunity to discuss performance. Beyond Earth is definitely going to be more CPU-bound than the other games that we tend to use in our benchmark suite, but the fact that this game is new, shiny, and even has a Mantle implementation (AMD's custom API) makes interesting for at least a look at the current state of performance. Both NVIDIA and AMD sent have released drivers with specific optimization for Beyond Earth as well. This game is likely to be popular and it deserves the attention it gets.
Civilization: Beyond Earth, a turn-based strategy game that can take a very long time to complete, ships with an integrated benchmark mode to help users and the industry test performance under different settings and hardware configurations. To enable it, you simple add "-benchmark results.csv" to the Steam game launch options and then start up the game normally. Rather than taking you to the main menu, you'll be transported into a view of a map that represents a somewhat typical gaming state for a long term session. The game will use the last settings you ran the game at to measure your system's performance, without the modified launch options, so be sure to configure that before you prepare to benchmark.
The output of this is the "result.csv" file, saved to your Steam game install root folder. In there, you'll find a list of numbers, separated by commas, representing the frame times for each frame rendering during the run. You don't get averages, a minimum, or a maximum without doing a little work. Fire up Excel or Google Docs and remember the formula:
1000 / Average (All Frame Times) = Avg FPS
It's a crude measurement that doesn't take into account any errors, spikes, or other interesting statistical data, but at least you'll have something to compare with your friends.
Our testing settings
Just as I have done in recent weeks with Shadow of Mordor and Sniper Elite 3, I ran some graphics cards through the testing process with Civilization: Beyond Earth. These include the GeForce GTX 980 and Radeon R9 290X only, along with SLI and CrossFire configurations. The R9 290X was run in both DX11 and Mantle.
- Core i7-3960X
- ASUS Rampage IV Extreme X79
- 16GB DDR3-1600
- GeForce GTX 980 Reference (344.48)
- ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II (14.9.2 Beta)
Mantle Additions and Improvements
AMD is proud of this release as it introduces a few interesting things alongside the inclusion of the Mantle API.
- Enhanced-quality Anti-Aliasing (EQAA): Improves anti-aliasing quality by doubling the coverage samples (vs. MSAA) at each AA level. This is automatically enabled for AMD users when AA is enabled in the game.
- Multi-threaded command buffering: Utilizing Mantle allows a game developer to queue a much wider flow of information between the graphics card and the CPU. This communication channel is especially good for multi-core CPUs, which have historically gone underutilized in higher-level APIs. You’ll see in your testing that Mantle makes a notable difference in smoothness and performance high-draw-call late game testing.
- Split-frame rendering: Mantle empowers a game developer with total control of multi-GPU systems. That “total control” allows them to design an mGPU renderer that best matches the design of their game. In the case of Civilization: Beyond Earth, Firaxis has selected a split-frame rendering (SFR) subsystem. SFR eliminates the latency penalties typically encountered by AFR configurations.
EQAA is an interesting feature as it improves on the quality of MSAA (somewhat) by doubling the coverage sample count while maintaining the same color sample count as MSAA. So 4xEQAA will have 4 color samples and 8 coverage samples while 4xMSAA would have 4 of each. Interestingly, Firaxis has decided the EQAA will be enabled on Beyond Earth anytime a Radeon card is detected (running in Mantle or DX11) and AA is enabled at all. So even though in the menus you might see 4xMSAA enabled, you are actually running at 4xEQAA. For NVIDIA users, 4xMSAA means 4xMSAA. Performance differences should be negligible though, according to AMD (who would actually be "hurt" by this decision if it brought down FPS).
Subject: Graphics Cards | October 6, 2014 - 07:21 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: radeon, R9 290X, r9 290, hawaii, GTX 980, GTX 970, geforce, amd
On Saturday while finishing up the writing on our Shadow of Mordor performance story, I noticed something quite interesting. The prices of AMD's flagship Radeon products had all come down quite a bit. In an obvious response to the release of NVIDIA's new GeForce GTX 980 and GTX 970, the Radeon R9 290X and the Radeon R9 290 have lowered prices in a very aggressive fashion.
UPDATE: A couple of individual cards appear to be showing up as $360 and $369 on Newegg!
Amazon.com is showing some R9 290X cards at $399
For now, Amazon.com is only listing the triple-fan Gigabyte R9 290X Windforce card at $399, though Newegg.com has a couple as well.
Amazon.com also has several R9 290 cards for $299
- Gigabyte R9 290 Windforce - $299
- Powercolor AX R9 290 - $299
- ASUS R9 290 DirectCU II - $329
- More R9 290 Card on Amazon.com
And again, Newegg.com has some other options for R9 290 cards at these lower prices.
Let's assume that these price drops are going to be permanent which seems likely based on the history of AMD and market adjustments. That shifts the high end GPU market considerably.
|GeForce GTX 980 4GB||$549|
|$399||Radeon R9 290X 4GB|
|GeForce GTX 970 4GB||$329|
|$299||Radeon R9 290 4GB|
The battle for that lower end spot between the GTX 970 and R9 290 is now quite a bit tighter though NVIDIA's Maxwell architecture still has a positive outlook against the slightly older Hawaii GPU. Our review of the GTX 970 shows that it is indeed faster than the R9 290 though it no longer has the significant cost advantage it did upon release. The GTX 980, however, is much tougher sell over the Radeon R9 290X for PC gamers that are concerned with price per dollar over all else. I would still consider the GTX 980 faster than the R9 290X...but is it $150 faster? That's a 35% price difference NVIDIA now has to contend with.
NVIDIA has proven that is it comfortable staying in this position against AMD as it maintained it during essentially the entire life of the GTX 680 and GTX 780 product lines. AMD is more willing to make price cuts to pull the Radeon lineup back into the spotlight. Though the market share between the competitors didn't change much over the previous 6 months, I'll be very curious to see how these two strategies continue to play out.
With the GPU landscape mostly settled for 2014, we have the ability to really dig in and evaluate the retail models that continue to pop up from NVIDIA and AMD board partners. One of our favorite series of graphics cards over the years comes from MSI in the form of the Lightning brand. These cards tend to take the engineering levels to a point other designers simply won't do - and we love it! Obviously the target of this capability is additional overclocking headroom and stability, but what if the GPU target has issues scaling already?
That is more or less the premise of the Radeon R9 290X Lightning from MSI. AMD's Radeon R9 290X Hawaii GPU is definitely a hot and power hungry part and that caused quite a few issues at the initial release. Since then though, both AMD and its add-in card partners have worked to improve the coolers installed on these cards to improve performance reliability and decrease the LOUD NOISES produced by the stock, reference cooler.
Let's dive into the latest to hit our test bench, the MSI Radeon R9 290X Lightning.
The MSI Radeon R9 290X Lightning
MSI continues to utilize the yellow and black color scheme that many of the company's high end parts integrate and I love the combination. I know that both NVIDIA and AMD disapprove of the distinct lack of "green" and "red" in the cooler and box designs, but good on MSI for sticking to its own thing.
The box for the Lightning card is equal to the prominence of the card itself and you even get a nifty drawer for all of the included accessories.
We originally spotted the MSI R9 290X Lightning at CES in January and the design remains the same. The cooler is quite large (and damn heavy) and is cooled by a set of three fans. The yellow fan in the center is smaller and spins a bit faster, creating more noise than I would prefer. All fan speeds can be adjusted with MSI's included fan control software.
Subject: Graphics Cards | May 6, 2014 - 07:36 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: r9 295x2, powercolor, hawaii, dual gpu, devil 13
PowerColor has been teasing a new graphics card on its Facebook page. The photos show a macro shot of the Devil 13 logo along with captions hitting at the new card being a dual GPU monster including one caption referring the upcoming Devil 13 as a "dual beast."
PowerColor's previous Devil 13 branded graphics card was the Radeon HD 7990 Devil 13 which contained two HD 7970 "Tahiti" GPUs on one PCB. Coincidentally, AMD recently launched a new dual GPU reference design based around two R9 290x "Hawaii" GPUs called the R9 295x2. It is still rumor and speculation at this point, but the timing and leaked photos seem to point squarely at the upcoming Devil 13 card being the first air cooled custom R9 295x2!
Adding credence to the rumors, leaked photos have appeared online with a PCB backplate that appears to match the backplate shown in the official teaser photo. The leaked photos show an absolutely beastly triple slot graphics card that places two GPUs in CrossFire on a single custom PCB powered by four 8-pin PCI-E power connectors and cooled by a gargantuan HSF comprised of an aluminum fin stack and multiple large diameter copper heatpipes along with three fans. The cooler and PCB are reinforced with brackets and a metal backplate to help keep the air cooler in pace and the PCB from bending.
If the rumors hold true, PowerColor will be unveiling the first air cooled dual GPU R9 295X2 graphics card which is an impressive feat of engineering! Using four 8-pin PCI-E power connectors definitely suggests that aftermarket overclocking is encouraged and supported even if PowerColor does not end up factory overclocking their dual GPU beast.
For reference, the stock AMD R9 295X2 features two full Hawaii GPUs with 5,632 stream processors clocked at up to 1018 MHz interfaced with 8GB of total GDDR5 memory over a 512-bit bus (each GPU has 4GB of memory and a 512-bit bus). AMD rates this configuration at 11.5 TFLOPS of single precision performance. The reference R9 295X2 has a 500W TDP and uses two 8-pin PCI-E power connectors.
Please excuse me while I wipe the drool off of my keyboard...
Stay tuned to PC Perspective for more details on the mysterious dual GPU Devil 13 from PowerColor!
In the meantime, check out our full review of the R9 295X2 (and the Hawaii architecture) and what happens when you put two R9 295X2s in Quad CrossFire into a single system for 4K gaming goodness!
Subject: General Tech | May 2, 2014 - 02:57 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: sapphire, factory overclocked, r9 295x2, 4k, gaming, hawaii, dual gpu
Early last month, AMD launched a new flagship dual GPU graphics card called the Radeon R9 295X2. This new card features two Hawaii-based GPUs paired with 8GB of GDDR5 memory. Since the launch, several partners have come forward with reference cards of their own. One piece of the "world's fastest graphics card" puzzle that has been missing, until now, is a vendor daring enough to take the beastly R9 295X2 and push it even further by offering up a factory overclocked edition. It looks like Sapphire is the first to attempt such a feat by offering up the factory overclocked Sapphire R9 295X2 OC.
The upcoming Sapphire card will join the existing reference design R9 295X2 and ratchets up both the GPU and memory clockspeeds. Sapphire is clocking both Hawaii GPUs at up to 1030 MHz and running the 8GB of GDDR5 memory at 5.2 GHz. These factory overclocks are modest from a numerical standpoint, but considering cards running at stock clocks of 1018 MHz for the GPU and 5.0 GHz for the memory are already pushing a 500W TDP and over the ATX PSU spec, seeing any overclock is notable.
In all, we are looking at 5,632 stream processors (Hawaii architecture), 128 ROPs, and 352 TMUs. Each GPU uses a 512-bit bus to 4GB of graphics memory. This factory overclocked graphics horsepower rounds out to a smidgen more than 11.5 TFLOPS of single precision performance.
Sapphire is utilizing the same hybrid heatsink design as the reference cards which uses a centered fan and fin stack along with a AIO water cooler with a 120mm radiator.
Sapphire has not released pricing or availability on the overclocked model, but the stock-clocked R9 295X2 has an MSRP of $1,499. You can expect the R9 295X2 OC to come in at a premium, especially considering it is the first factory overclocked version that should hit the streets.
I'm excited to see this card come to market and push the boundaries of performance.
In the meantime, Ryan got a bit crazy with two stock R9 295X2 cards in quad crossfire and two power supplies. If you've got a few grand burning a hole in your pocket (or only wish you did), see what such a drool-worthy setup can get you in terms 4K gaming at PC Perspective!
A Powerful Architecture
AMD likes to toot its own horn. Just a take a look at the not-so-subtle marketing buildup to the Radeon R9 295X2 dual-Hawaii graphics card, released today. I had photos of me shipped to…me…overnight. My hotel room at GDC was also given a package which included a pair of small Pringles cans (chips) and a bottle of volcanic water. You may have also seen some photos posted of a mysterious briefcase with its side stickered by with the silhouette of a Radeon add-in board.
This tooting is not without some validity though. The Radeon R9 295X2 is easily the fastest graphics card we have ever tested and that says a lot based on the last 24 months of hardware releases. It’s big, it comes with an integrated water cooler, and it requires some pretty damn specific power supply specifications. But AMD did not compromise on the R9 295X2 and, for that, I am sure that many enthusiasts will be elated. Get your wallets ready, though, this puppy will run you $1499.
Both AMD and NVIDIA have a history of producing high quality dual-GPU graphics cards late in the product life cycle. The most recent entry from AMD was the Radeon HD 7990, a pair of Tahiti GPUs on a single PCB with a triple fan cooler. While a solid performing card, the product was released in a time when AMD CrossFire technology was well behind the curve and, as a result, real-world performance suffered considerably. By the time the drivers and ecosystem were fixed, the HD 7990 was more or less on the way out. It was also notorious for some intermittent, but severe, overheating issues, documented by Tom’s Hardware in one of the most harshly titled articles I’ve ever read. (Hey, Game of Thrones started again this week!)
The Hawaii GPU, first revealed back in September and selling today under the guise of the R9 290X and R9 290 products, is even more power hungry than Tahiti. Many in the industry doubted that AMD would ever release a dual-GPU product based on Hawaii as the power and thermal requirements would be just too high. AMD has worked around many of these issues with a custom water cooler and placing specific power supply requirements on buyers. Still, all without compromising on performance. This is the real McCoy.
Subject: Graphics Cards | April 7, 2014 - 11:14 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: msi, R9 290X GAMING 4G, amd, hawaii, R9 290X, Twin Frozr IV, factory overclocked
The familiar Twin Frozr IV cooler has been added to the R9 290X GPU on MSI's latest AMD graphics card. The R9 290X GAMING 4G sports 4GB of GDDR5 running at an even 5GHz and a GPU that has three separate top speeds depending on the profile you choose; 1040 MHz with OC Mode, 1030 MHz for Gaming Mode and 1000 MHz in Silent Mode. [H]ard|OCP also tried manually overclocking and ended up with a peak of 1130MHz GPU and 5.4GHz for the GDDR5, not a bad bump over the factory overclock. Check out the performance of the various speeds in their full review.
"On our test bench today is MSI's newest high-end GAMING series graphics cards in the form of the MSI Radeon R9 290X GAMING 4G video card. We will strap it to our test bench and compare it to the MSI GeForce GTX 780 Ti GAMING 3G card out-of-box and overclocked to determine which card provides the best gameplay experience."
Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:
- HIS Radeon R7 250 iCooler Boost Clock 1GB GDDR5 @ eTeknix
- AMD XFX Radeon R7 250 Core Edition Passive 1GB GDDR5 @ eTeknix
- XFX Radeon R9 290 Double Dissipation Video Card Review @ Legit Reviews
- AMD XFX Radeon R7 240 Core Edition Passive 2GB @ eTeknix
- Sapphire Radeon R7-240 Dual HDMI Review @ Bjorn3d
- AMD Radeon: Windows 8.1 Catalyst vs. Linux Gallium3D vs. Linux Catalyst @ Phoronix
- AMD R9 290X CrossFire Vs Nvidia GTX 780 Ti SLI @ eTeknix
- PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X 4GB Video Card Review @ Legit Reviews
- Sapphire Radeon R9 270 2GB Dual-X Edition Video Card Review @HiTech Legion
- Sapphire R9 290X Tri-X Edition Review @ TechwareLab
- NVIDIA's GeForce Driver On Ubuntu 14.04 Runs The Same As Windows 8.1 @ Phoronix
- NVIDIA GeForce 700 Series: Stick To The Binary Linux Drivers @ Phoronix
- ASUS Poseidon GTX 780 Video Card Review @ Legit Reviews
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Ti Video Card Roundup @ Legit Reviews
- Gigabyte GTX780 Ti Windforce OC @ Kitguru
- MSI R9 270X HAWK & MSI GTX 760 HAWK @ Nitroware
- ASUS ROG POSEIDON GTX 780 @ [H]ard|OCP
When the Radeon R9 290 and R9 290X first launched last year, they were plagued by issues of overheating and variable clock speeds. We looked at the situation several times over the course of a couple months and AMD tried to address the problem with newer drivers. These drivers did help stabilize clock speeds (and thus performance) of the reference built R9 290 and R9 290X cards but caused noise levels to increase as well.
The real solution was the release of custom cooled versions of the R9 290 and R9 290X from AMD partners like ASUS, MSI and others. The ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II model for example, ran cooler, quieter and more consistently than any of the numerous reference models we had our hands on.
But what about all those buyers that are still purchasing, or have already purchased, reference style R9 290 and 290X cards? Replacing the cooler on the card is the best choice and thanks to our friends at NZXT we have a unique solution that combines standard self contained water coolers meant for CPUs with a custom built GPU bracket.
Our quick test will utilize one of the reference R9 290 cards AMD sent along at launch and two specific NZXT products. The Kraken X40 is a standard CPU self contained water cooler that sells for $100 on Amazon.com. For our purposes though we are going to team it up with the Kraken G10, a $30 GPU-specific bracket that allows you to use the X40 (and other water coolers) on the Radeon R9 290.
Inside the box of the G10 you'll find an 80mm fan, a back plate, the bracket to attach the cooler to the GPU and all necessary installation hardware. The G10 will support a wide range of GPUs, though they are targeted towards the reference designs of each:
NVIDIA : GTX 780 Ti, 780, 770, 760, Titan, 680, 670, 660Ti, 660, 580, 570, 560Ti, 560, 560SE
AMD : R9 290X, 290, 280X*, 280*, 270X, 270 HD7970*, 7950*, 7870, 7850, 6970, 6950, 6870, 6850, 6790, 6770, 5870, 5850, 5830
That is pretty impressive but NZXT will caution you that custom designed boards may interfere.
The installation process begins by removing the original cooler which in this case just means a lot of small screws. Be careful when removing the screws on the actual heatsink retention bracket and alternate between screws to take it off evenly.
Subject: Graphics Cards | March 4, 2014 - 08:38 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: radeon, R9 290X, hawaii, amd, 290x
Yes, I know it is only one card. And yes I know that this could sell out in the next 10 minutes and be nothing, but I was so interested, excited and curious about this that I wanted to put together a news post. I just found a Radeon R9 290X card selling for $549 on Newegg.com. That is the normal, regular, non-inflated, expected retail price.
You can get a Powercolor AXR9 290X with 4GB of memory for $549 right now, likely only if you hurry. That same GPU on Amazon.com will cost you $676. This same card at Newegg.com has been as high as $699:
Again - this is only one card on one site, but the implications are positive. This is also a reference design card, rather than one of the superior offerings with a custom cooler. After that single card, the next lowest price is $629, followed by a couple at $649 and then more at $699. We are still waiting to hear from AMD on the issue, what its response is and if it can actually even do anything to fix it. It seems plausible, but maybe not likely, that the draw of coin mining is reached a peak (and who can blame them) and the pricing of AMD GPUs could stabilize. Maybe. It's classified.
But for now, if you want an R9 290X, Newegg.com has at least one option that makes sense.
Subject: General Tech | January 10, 2014 - 05:45 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: radeon, R9 290X, r9 290, hawaii, catalyst, amd
Confirming the results that Ryan and other sites have seen are the results of [H]ard|OCP's testing of two different retail R9 290X GPUs against a pair of press sample cards. Much as with Ryan's findings even using the newer Catalyst 13.11 Beta 5 driver, Quiet mode performance varies far more than Uber mode does but even Uber mode displays some differences between models. However they draw a slightly different conclusion based on their experiences, determining that the variance is not just a matter of press samples versus retail cards but a variance between any and all 290X GPUs. The complexity of this huge chip is such that the differences in manufacturing process and tolerances are to blame and some cards will simply be better than others. They also are disappointed by AMD's marketing team, citing that the key is 'With NVIDIA GTX 600 and 700 series the video cards are "running faster than advertised" and with AMD R9 290X the video card is running "slower than advertised."'
"The AMD Radeon R9 290X arrived recently with a high level of performance, and a high level of controversy. There have been reports of performance variance between Radeon R9 290X video cards. We have two purchased retail cards today with stock cooling that we will test and see if performance variances exist."
Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:
- Asus R9 290X Direct CU II OC @ Kitguru
- ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II and Sapphire R9 290X Tri-X Video Card Reviews @ Legit Reviews
- HIS R7 240 iCooler Boost Clock 2GB GDDR3 Video Card Review @ Madshrimps
- NZXT Kraken G10 GPU Bracket Review @ Techgage
- EVGA GTX 780 Ti Classified Motherboard Review @ Hardware Asylum
- MSI GTX 780 Ti Gaming 3 GB @ techPowerUp
- Gigabyte R9 290X OC WindForce @ Kitguru
- Palit GTX 780 Ti JetStream @ Legion Hardware