Review Index:

AMD Driver Update Changes Performance, Fan Speeds of R9 290X and R9 290

Manufacturer: AMD

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:

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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:

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Continue reading our coverage of the most recent driver changes and how they affect the R9 290X and R9 290!!

I found also that increasing the fan speed reduced (or completely eliminated) the variance but only at the expensive of additional cooler noise and overall power consumption.

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This original intent of this new driver, Catalyst 13.11 V9.2, was actually targetting another issue that was cropping up at outlets like Tom's Hardware

The card that AMD sent to me is a stallion. Even if you get it nice and hot before running a test, bringing it down off of that 1000 MHz “wishful thinking” spec, it’s still faster than GeForce GTX 780, and oftentimes GeForce GTX Titan. But the Radeon R9 290X I bought from Newegg is a dud. It’ll drop to 727 MHz and stay there…and the reference cooler still can’t cool it fast enough. The result is that it violates its 40% fan speed ceiling as well. The craziness, then, is that my R9 290 press board is typically faster than my R9 290X retail card. In the benchmarks, you’re going to see numbers for all three.

The claim here was that press sample cards were running at higher sustained clocks, and higher performance as a result, than the retail cards our readers were actually buying.  I was currently in the process of getting retail versions of both the R9 290 and the R9 290X from retailers, not partners or AMD, when AMD starting talking about this driver fix they were working on.

Part of the problem for the retail cards appeared to be that fan speeds (measured by RPM rather than percentage) were different from card to card.  This graph shows how (before today's driver) the press sample R9 290 card compared to the retail MSI R9 290 card we received today compared in fan RPM, out of the box.  We also added in a "normalized" fan speed: increasing the fan speed percentage on the MSI card to 50% that closely matched what our press sample card was spinning at.

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The MSI card was running at 2350 RPM under a full gaming load (driver claiming 47%) while the press sample was instead running at nearly 2550 RPM under the same 47% indication.  Clearly a 200 RPM difference means a lot!  It allows the Hawaii GPU to stay cooler, longer, to create higher sustained clock speeds at 95C and that will result in better overall gaming performance. 

Keep in mind that even though both the MSI and press sample card shown here are reporting 47% fan speeds, they are clearly NOT running at the same speed.  In fact, that delta is about 15%. It concerns me that this was able to slip through the cracks of AMD's QA process.  And, be assured, this is not an isolated occurance. I have many reports of other retail cards showing similar (and occasionally lower) fan speeds.

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This graphic shows the clock speed comparisons (again, BEFORE today's driver).  The green line represents the press sample we were given and shows a flat 947 MHz clock rate - the maximum rated clock of the R9 290.  But the R9 290 from MSI, even when running at the same fan RPM speed, was dropping to ~850 MHz after just 5-7 mins of gaming.  Out of the box, the MSI card was hitting as low as 660 MHz core clock.

So what does the driver today change?  I installed it with both the MSI retail card and our press sample of the R9 290 to find out. 

Video News

November 8, 2013 | 04:42 PM - Posted by mAxius


November 8, 2013 | 04:46 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

If all cards use the same fan model there is only one logical conclusion.

MSI makes one heavy fan sticker.

Possible to take them apart and check if the fan is the same and test with sticker on or off.

November 8, 2013 | 07:03 PM - Posted by Mechromancer (not verified)

All this means that the R9 290X will be SPECTACULAR with factory upgraded and aftermarket coolers! Getting a cooler will amp up performance big time.

November 8, 2013 | 07:47 PM - Posted by bchiker

Thanks for the update. As usualy very timely and thorough with the news.

November 9, 2013 | 03:56 AM - Posted by ThorAxe

Hot and Loud. Do not want.

November 9, 2013 | 06:05 AM - Posted by rrr (not verified)

So I guess ear plugs should be added with every 290(x) purchase then.

November 9, 2013 | 07:55 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Not unless you're smart enough to wait and buy a card with third party coolers.

November 9, 2013 | 07:27 AM - Posted by HyperMinimalism

I really don't see the reason to buy one of these unless it has an aftermarket cooler or waterblock attached. Why mess with these retarded fan speeds when one could just use a much better cooler? Three fans are better than one right?

November 9, 2013 | 05:02 PM - Posted by ea1985 (not verified)

>>Three fans are better than one right?<<

This brings to mind the 7990. AMD actually possess a heatsink/fan solution capable of cooling Hawaii (after all, did it not effectively cool dual GCNs?). So why didnt AMD make use of that cooler?

Do they have some sort of silly single-GPU reference design code that they're adhering to?

November 12, 2013 | 11:34 AM - Posted by The Common Cold (not verified)

You make a great point, that cooler was very impressive. I had almost forgotten about that thing.

I'm guessing the reason they didn't use that exact cooler is that it's too long, but it shouldn't have been hard to downsize it by a few inches.

My personal theory (bear in mind that I haven't poured a tonne of thought or research into this) is that AMD wanted to make good first impressions with a better looking reference cooler. It worked for me, I think it looks fantastic; certainly better than their old design. Unfortunately for AMD, I don't buy based solely on appearance.

November 10, 2013 | 02:13 AM - Posted by arbiter

then will come the real question of how much heat the card really makes. if aftermarket cards only drop it to mid 80's then it shows the gpu does make a ton of heat.

November 9, 2013 | 08:41 PM - Posted by mLocke

If this card's performance is directly related to the amount of heat it can dissipate, why wouldn't you use these cards, while gaming, with the fan speed between 80-100%?

November 9, 2013 | 09:28 PM - Posted by ea1985 (not verified)

You can, if you use noise canceling/isolating headphones. Otherwise you would have to turn your speakers up to drown out the sound from that inefficient blower.

I imagine that at 80-100% fan speed the chip will remain at 1GHz with temps around 90C.

November 10, 2013 | 02:14 AM - Posted by arbiter

at 47% the fan is putting out 50dB, and at 80-100% is probably mid 60dB to 70. As ea1985 said, less you have noise canceling headphones on that is gonna drown out audio of a game. My desktop about 1 ft away is about 38dB of noise which is pretty quiet. turning fans to 100% on my card it goes up to 56-57dB, this is an enclosed case and it was pretty loud. My 780 for reference is eVGA gtx780 ACX. i used driod app on my asus tf300 tablet so how correct the numbers are, are iffy.

November 10, 2013 | 02:54 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Why do you have your desktop 1ft way. Your suppose to sit at least 18in away from your monitor.

You need a better case if that much noise is coming. These numbers are from a test bed with no case just out in the open.

If your card is that loud while in a case something is wrong.

November 10, 2013 | 03:21 AM - Posted by arbiter

i ment where the tablet mic was only about a foot away from the tower. that dB is system as a whole with case fans included. gpu fans rarely ever get louder then overall noise of the system fans cept in high end game like crysis3 with settings all cranked up

November 9, 2013 | 11:02 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Same thing with the Nvidia cards.

You need to run the fan almost on max so they wont down clock.

November 10, 2013 | 08:45 PM - Posted by EndTimeKeeper

Hey guy I just made a rough video about the performance that I'm have been getting with my R9-290x here is the link. Sorry for the low quality I shot it with my Iphone, but I think that I was able to get my point across I hope any way.

November 11, 2013 | 04:23 AM - Posted by snook


November 11, 2013 | 09:11 PM - Posted by EndTimeKeeper

Hey guys here is a follow up video to the one I posted yesterday. This time I'm demonstrating the performance of my R9 290x using the newest beta driver from AMD in a Multiplayer macth in Battle Field 4.

November 12, 2013 | 11:19 PM - Posted by nabokovfan87

I think we should all REALLY get into grasps on the whole DB comparison.

I'm running 2 lightnings, on max, and i get loud cards by DB standards. I also have an h100i in push/pull. The CPU under load is what I hear, not the gpu.

by going from 40-50 DB it's classified as:

"Library, bird calls (44 dB)"


"quiet suburb, large electrical transformer at 100 ft"

Then if it gets WORSE, you're looking at:

60 dB: "1/2 as loud as 70 dB. Fairly quiet."

June 28, 2014 | 10:20 PM - Posted by vivi (not verified)

I upgraded a HP Pavilion dv8010 from 98 to XP to Vista now 7. I also had done a clean install. Not being a Tech, found that installing the AMD and ATI drivers there surfaced a problem. I did get it correct at one point and the fan came on and went off. Now something is amiss. When using a "config" utility for AMD get window "up to date" but the installation before had the fan going off now stays on; a bit low, then high to cool. Came across this post and wonder if anyone knows how to find exactly which AMD installation this PC requires. Been fooling around trying to get sound. Not yet though. Thanks for any insight

July 17, 2015 | 08:02 PM - Posted by alikali1203 (not verified)

The solution to this fucking annoying noise is a high flow bracket. fanspeed went down from 51% at load to 44% at max. The difference it made was huge.

September 15, 2015 | 10:04 PM - Posted by Anonymous Harry (not verified)

Makes me wonder why people always wanna park their pc within arms reach.
I have my PC in the kitchen with a few meters cables & some wireless stuff.
Yes my PC with MSI R9 290 can be loud but .. I DON'T HEAR IT.
It goes into sleep when unused, and if occasionally it needs a DVD I walk a few meters
... Pfffff

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