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AMD Radeon R9 290 4GB Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
Hitman Absolution / Max Payne 3

Hitman Absolution (DX11)


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/8UXx0gbkUl0?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Hitman is arguably one of the most popular FPS (first person “sneaking”) franchises around and this time around Agent 47 goes rogue so mayhem soon follows. Our benchmark sequence is taken from the beginning of the Terminus level which is one of the most graphically-intensive areas of the entire game. It features an environment virtually bathed in rain and puddles making for numerous reflections and complicated lighting effects.


2560 x 1440





Max Payne 3 (DX11)


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/ZdiYTGHhG-k?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

When Rockstar released Max Payne 3, it quickly became known as a resource hog and that isn’t surprising considering its top-shelf graphics quality. This benchmark sequence is taken from Chapter 2, Scene 14 and includes a run-through of a rooftop level featuring expansive views. Due to its random nature, combat is kept to a minimum so as to not overly impact the final result.


2560 x 1440


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
Metro: Last Light / Tomb Raider

Metro: Last Light (DX11)


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/40Rip9szroU" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

The latest iteration of the Metro franchise once again sets high water marks for graphics fidelity and making use of advanced DX11 features. In this benchmark, we use the Torchling level which represents a scene you’ll be intimately familiar with after playing this game: a murky sewer underground.


2560 x 1440




Tomb Raider (DX11)


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/okFRgtsbPWE" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Tomb Raider is one of the most iconic brands in PC gaming and this iteration brings Lara Croft back in DX11 glory. This happens to not only be one of the most popular games around but it is also one of the best looking by using the entire bag of DX11 tricks to properly deliver an atmospheric gaming experience.

In this run-through we use a section of the Shanty Town level. While it may not represent the caves, tunnels and tombs of many other levels, it is one of the most demanding sequences in Tomb Raider.


2560 x 1440


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
Onscreen Frame Times w/FCAT

Onscreen Frame Times w/FCAT


When capturing output frames in real-time, there are a number of eccentricities which wouldn’t normally be picked up by FRAPS but are nonetheless important to take into account. For example, some graphics solutions can either partially display a frame or drop it altogether. While both situations may sound horrible, these so-called “runts” and dropped frames will be completely invisible to someone sitting in front of a monitor. However, since these are counted by its software as full frames, FRAPS tends to factor them into the equation nonetheless, potentially giving results that don’t reflect what’s actually being displayed.

With certain frame types being non-threatening to the overall gaming experience, we’re presented with a simple question: should the fine-grain details of these invisible runts and dropped frames be displayed outright or should we show a more realistic representation of what you’ll see on the screen? Since Hardware Canucks is striving to evaluate cards based upon and end-user experience rather than from a purely scientific standpoint, we decided on the latter of these two methods.

With this in mind, we’ve used the FCAT tools to add the timing of partially rendered frames to the latency of successive frames. Dropped frames meanwhile are ignored as their value is zero. This provides a more realistic snapshot of visible fluidity.





 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
Onscreen Frame Times w/FCAT (pg.2)

Onscreen Frame Times w/FCAT (pg.2)


When capturing output frames in real-time, there are a number of eccentricities which wouldn’t normally be picked up by FRAPS but are nonetheless important to take into account. For example, some graphics solutions can either partially display a frame or drop it altogether. While both situations may sound horrible, these so-called “runts” and dropped frames will be completely invisible to someone sitting in front of a monitor. However, since these are counted by its software as full frames, FRAPS tends to factor them into the equation nonetheless, potentially giving results that don’t reflect what’s actually being displayed.

With certain frame types being non-threatening to the overall gaming experience, we’re presented with a simple question: should the fine-grain details of these invisible runts and dropped frames be displayed outright or should we show a more realistic representation of what you’ll see on the screen? Since Hardware Canucks is striving to evaluate cards based upon and end-user experience rather than from a purely scientific standpoint, we decided on the latter of these two methods. With this in mind, we’ve used the FCAT tools to add the timing of runted to the latency of successive frames. Dropped frames meanwhile are ignored as their value is zero. This provides a more realistic snapshot of visible fluidity.





 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
Temperatures & Acoustics / Power Consumption

Temperature Analysis


For all temperature testing, the cards were placed on an open test bench with a single 120mm 1200RPM fan placed ~8” away from the heatsink. The ambient temperature was kept at a constant 22°C (+/- 0.5°C). If the ambient temperatures rose above 23°C at any time throughout the test, all benchmarking was stopped..

For Idle tests, we let the system idle at the Windows 7 desktop for 15 minutes and recorded the peak temperature.



As we explained in the R9 290X review, PowerTune strives to balance clock speeds with temperatures and power input. At its default settings the R9 290 remains at a constant 94°C which is rather high based on previous architectures but AMD claims this won’t have an adverse effect upon ASIC longevity.


Acoustical Testing


What you see below are the baseline idle dB(A) results attained for a relatively quiet open-case system (specs are in the Methodology section) sans GPU along with the attained results for each individual card in idle and load scenarios. The meter we use has been calibrated and is placed at seated ear-level exactly 12” away from the GPU’s fan. For the load scenarios, a loop of Unigine Valley is used in order to generate a constant load on the GPU(s) over the course of 15 minutes.


This is where the R9 290 falls on its face. With the core pumping out a ton of heat, the heatsink just can’t keep up and fan speeds remain at pegged at AMD’s maximum 47% mark. This may not sound like much but from an acoustics standpoint, the R9 290 is one of the loudest cards we come across. Granted, this can be lowered but expect decreased performance since the core will need to throttle to ensure thermal limits are maintained.


System Power Consumption


For this test we hooked up our power supply to a UPM power meter that will log the power consumption of the whole system twice every second. In order to stress the GPU as much as possible we used 15 minutes of Unigine Valley running on a loop while letting the card sit at a stable Windows desktop for 15 minutes to determine the peak idle power consumption.

Please note that after extensive testing, we have found that simply plugging in a power meter to a wall outlet or UPS will NOT give you accurate power consumption numbers due to slight changes in the input voltage. Thus we use a Tripp-Lite 1800W line conditioner between the 120V outlet and the power meter.


The R9 290X was a power hungry card and the R9 290 is no different. It consumes slightly less power than its bigger brother but, with a total system draw of 468W, it still requires almost as much juice as NVIDIA’s GTX 690. This was expected since as we saw earlier, PowerTune allows clock speeds to creep upwards past those achieved by an R9 290 when it’s in Silent Mode.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
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Montreal
Overclocking Results

Overclocking Results


Before the R9 290X, AMD’s previous architectures typically featured very good overclocking results but things have changed a bit. With Hawaii-based cards running so close to the limits of their respective reference cooling solutions, it goes without saying that overclocking will be severely constrained unless you either wait for board partners to launch their custom versions The R9 290 doesn’t change this equation one iota but there is some light at the end of the tunnel since our particular sample was able to hit some reasonable frequencies without any additional voltage.

Actually overclocking the R9 290 4GB follows very much the same course as we saw in the R9 290X review. Due to Powertune’s new algorithms, any increase to the main engine clocks has to be balanced out within AMD’s preset board limits. This means you can set a frequency but it will ultimately be PowerTune that decides whether or not there is sufficient thermal or power overhead to achieve those speeds. For example, we’ve already seen plenty of instances where an overclock will be perfectly stable in 3DMark but it will throttle back in games. You can read more about our observations here.


With a slightly lower operating TDP than its faster sibling, the R9 290 actually overclocked better from a percentage standpoint. Our sample hit a constant speed of 1129MHz on the core which is nearly 20% higher than the default speeds even though it required much higher fan speeds and a significant boost in the Power Limit settings. If anything, this makes us even more anxious to see what these cards can do once equipped with a third party cooling solution.

The overclocking ability of the GDDR5 on our R9 290X wasn’t that impressive and while 5848MHz may be somewhat higher than that, the R9 290 isn’t winning any overclocking awards with this result. However, it is important to remember that AMD’s latest cards certainly aren’t starved for bandwidth so higher memory speeds will have limited returns.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
Conclusion

Conclusion


The R9 290 has been on the books since AMD’s Hawaii event but, from our standpoint, it has the distinction of having one of the most confusing launches in recent memory. There have been launch date revisions, multiple driver updates and an eleventh hour change to the card’s fan speeds which positively impacted achievable in-game framerates. With that being said, what AMD has created here extremely enticing and meshes well with the expectations of today’s gamers.

When we first completed benchmarking the R9 290 about a week ago, it seemed to be an excellent card. It was also quiet, matching the R9 290X’s Silent Mode. That changed as AMD made some last-minute driver changes in reaction to NVIDIA’s aggressive price cuts. These upped the fan’s rotational speed to 47% which unsurprisingly leveled out frequencies and boosted the card’s performance metrics in several TDP-limited games. Ironically, such a move could also spell trouble for anyone who bought an R9 290X so if you have one, you may want to turn away right about now.


While the R9 290X surprised many with its ability to consistently outperform NVIDIA’s ultra-expensive TITAN, AMD’s positioning of the R9 290 is nothing short of stunning. The performance on tap is beyond impressive and in many ways it is reminiscent of NVIDIA’s 8800GT; a card that nearly matched the 8800GTX but cost significantly less. This is critical for AMD since, if they can maintain availability, the 290 has nearly every other card beat clean in most respects.

The main comparison most gamers will focus on is the 290X versus 290 battle and what a tight race it is! In most games, the 290X in Silent Mode remains just out of reach for its younger sibling but in any application where the 290X hits a power or temperature roadblock, the less expensive 290 is able to surge ahead. Naturally, the Uber Mode option (which the 290 lacks) is untouchable but PowerTune’s algorithms still have a way of making things interesting. This whole situation goes to show how much of the 290X’s potential is left untapped, ready for custom heatsinks and waterblocks.

Before its well-timed driver update, AMD had the R9 290 4GB primed as a strong GTX 770 competitor. It now demolishes that card, pulls ahead of the GTX 780 and flirts with the once-mighty TITAN. This impressive showing isn’t in a few outlier instances either as the R9 290 consistently thrashes similarly-priced GeForce cards in every instance.


The R9 290 not only performs well but it simply has no competition in the dollar per FPS realm. It easily beats all comers, be they from NVIDIA or AMD. Even the new value-oriented R9 290X looks overpriced by comparison considering the R9 290 remains very close to its performance metrics while costing some $150 less. AMD may have a hard time justifying the 290X’s price in the face of these numbers.

While NVIDIA’s free game bundles and SHIELD discount additions to the GTX 770 and GTX 780 are certainly enticing, from a raw value perspective, they just can’t compete against the R9 290. At just $399, it’s simply untouchable.

Unfortunately, much of this performance hinges on the fan operating at 47% and at that speed the reference R9 290 makes a bloody racket. The 290X had every reason to be boisterous in its search for class-leading performance but the R9 290’s high thermals, low efficiency and extreme noise output are disappointing. AMD would like you to believe these aspects are completely modifiable on their newest architecture and they are, but in order to achieve the strong results we’ve seen here, you’ll need to sacrifice at least part of your sanity.

At this point in time we would normally recommend waiting for the custom cooled versions from ASUS, Gigabyte and others. But you know what? We shouldn’t have to. NVIDIA has proven that high performance and maximizing frequencies can be achieved without massive thermal buildup or a high acoustical profile. Look no further than the TITAN or upcoming GTX 780 Ti for proof of that. AMD meanwhile seems to have a penchant for equipping their cards with barely adequate cooling solutions and the 290-series continues this tradition. Simply put, the heatsink’s ability to cool off the core while operating within reasonable acoustic boundaries should never, ever play such a large role in limiting performance as it does with these products.

From a features perspective the Radeon versus GeForce argument can swing either way since many of the new items AMD and NVIDIA have been discussing are either in their infancy or unreleased. That goes for G-Sync, ShadowPlay, Mantle, TrueAudio and so on but with all of these emerging technologies, the next year should be very interesting and could mark a distinct change in the GPU landscape.

Sometimes, being an early adopter isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Proud owners of the R9 290X will probably know exactly what we’re talking about since their new purchase has nearly been matched by a card that is much more affordable and can overclock quite well. This is nonetheless great news for gamers who can now buy a $399 R9 290 that has no problem competing against NVIDIA cards that cost upwards of $649 just a few weeks ago. The amount of value on tap here is simply astounding provided you’re willing to put up with higher noise, heat and power consumption.

 
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