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ASUS R9 390X STRIX OC Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
AMD’s R9 390X may not exactly be a headline-grabbing card anymore but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked either. As a matter of fact it represents a perfect bridge product between the higher end Fury series and lower-performing models in the Radeon lineup. For value-focused gamers this card also happens to be in a “sweet zone” at around $399USD, making it quite affordable for the performance it brings to the table. Meanwhile, AMD’s new Radeon Crimson software has taken a much-maligned driver stack to truly next level status with significant updates to its functionality and stability.

All of this means gamers who are searching for an upgrade to keep up with the holiday season’s latest titles may be taking a closer look at what AMD is offering. One of the most likely candidates within that search with likely be ASUS R9 390X STRIX OC which happens to be, in my opinion at least, one of the better looking cards available right now.

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ASUS’ take on the R9 390X is an interesting one but it isn’t necessarily unique in its capabilities. Unfortunately, it looks like AMD’s partners have constrained themselves when it comes to offering overclocked SKUs as of late. Much of that is likely due to the fact that the Hawaii-based cores on these cards have already seen their frequencies boosted from AMD’s factory leaving very little room for additional performance without potential sacrifices to longevity.

With that being said, something is better than nothing and that is what ASUS is offering: higher frequencies but not by all that much. When the card is plugged into your system, it defaults to the so-called Gaming Mode which hits a core clock of 1070MHz. Meanwhile, installing the GPU Tweak II utility moves the bar up a bit with the 1090MHz OC Mode which can be enabled with the click of a button. In all presets, the memory frequencies remain in their reference form of 6Gbps.

While this may all seem a bit disappointing, this card’s main claim to fame is the inclusion of several ASUS-exclusive technologies like Auto Extreme that utilizes a completely automated fabrication process, eliminating quality control issues and enhancing overall durability. There’s also Super Alloy II components which also enhances longevity and can boost overclocking headroom in extreme situations. Naturally, there’s a premium to pay here and the STRIX OC is a good $15 more expensive than alternatives from PowerColor and Sapphire.

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The R9 390X STRIX OC is quite literally a physical copy / paste of ASUS’ R9 Fury and GTX 980 Ti we reviewed a while ago. There’s a good reason for this though: the DirectCU III cooler has more than enough thermal capacity to pull duty in all of today’s high-end cards. In this case it is actually needed though since the overclocked Hawaii-based core puts out a ridiculous amount of heat. There have even been some people complaining this card gets too hot….something we’ll put to the test a bit later.

As usual, the end result is quite stunning with the cooler sporting a black and red color scheme which happens to be a perfect companion for AMD’s architectures. Unfortunately it is quite long at about 12.25” so don’t expect it to fit into every single case on the market.

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Atop that massive cooler sits a trio of wing-blade fans that turn completely off when the card is in idle or low output mode. Supposedly they are also three times quieter than the reference card (though AMD never launched the R9 390X in reference form) and also double the static pressure specifications from ASUS’ previous DirectCU II design.

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Drilling a bit further into the heatsink’s overall design, as the DirectCU name suggests ASUS has engineered it with copper-based heatpipes which make direct contact with the GPU core. This is supposed to speed up heat transfer and keep temperatures cool. The quick movement of heat also requires an expansive fin array to properly dissipate that heat, hence the STRIX’s large footprint.

Speaking of heatpipes, ASUS included what they call an industry-first: a pair of 10mm heatpipes backed up by two smaller 8mm units. For those wondering, the STRIX logo on the card’s side typically glows constantly and pulses when the STRIX is overclocked.

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Part of the STRIX’s extreme length is taken up by a heatsink extension that is pushed out past the PCB’s edge. This approach of taking up every available inch has long been as ASUS tradition and once again they protect this protrusion with a cantilevered backplate section.

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That blackplate is a pretty extensive affair too with only a few perforations for ventilation. Past the obvious clean looks, it also includes a secondary stiffening plate to insure the PCB doesn’t sag due to the cooler’s excess weight.

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Power input is handled by a pair of 8-pin connectors which are tucked away but still within reach. These feature small LEDs which glow red to advise you of an unsuccessful power connection and white when the 8-pin is properly attached.

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Output connectors are pretty much pat for the course with a trio of DisplayPort 1.2, one HDMI 1.3 and a long dual link DVI.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Performance Consistency & Temperatures Over Time

Performance Consistency & Temperatures Over Time


There’s no denying AMD’s R9 390X features one of the hottest-running graphics cores currently available on the market. Based on the Hawaii core, the Grenada XT architecture may be a slightly revised and optimized version of its predecessor but it still retains all the hallmarks of a relatively inefficient (comparatively speaking of course) design. In addition, the clock speeds have been significantly boosted so ASUS’ DirectCU III heatsink needs to dissipate an epic amount of heat to achieve reasonable temperature levels.

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The first test shows us temperatures that are a bit high considering the results achieved by Sapphire and PowerColor cards. That rapid rise in heat is tied directly to the card’s 0dB fan technology which idles the fans until core temperatures hit about 75°C, after which their rotational speeds are gradually increased until a constant level is achieved. After that point, the RPM levels plateau and retain an 82°C temperature.

While this is indeed a higher result than other R9 390X’s we’ve reviewed, it is still far away from the core’s throttle temperature though as we will see a bit later in this review, a higher ASIC heat signature does lead to increased power consumption.

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Regardless of the temperatures, clock speeds are actually quite constant at the 1090MHz mark with only a few very minimal adjustments as AMD’s PowerTune algorithms insure their present current input specs are retained.

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Framerates are also fairly consistent and come ahead of the other two R9 390X’s by a hair due to the STRIX’s higher core frequency.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
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Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Thermal Imaging / Acoustics / Power Consumption

Thermal Imaging


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Despite there being a buildup of core heat, ASUS has obviously finely balanced their card’s cooling powers so the heatsink isn’t anywhere close to reaching its thermal capacity. While there are some areas which do get slightly warmer, there’s certainly no reason to worry.


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, Hitman Absolution is used in order to generate a constant load on the GPU(s) over the course of 15 minutes.

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This is an interesting metric for ASUS since they’re actually being beaten by a small amount by Sapphire’s TRI-X design. To make matters even more interesting, Sapphire’s card operates at a substantially lower temperature as well. This wasn’t necessarily unexpected since the TRI-X cooler is larger than ASUS’ DirectCU III so its fans can rotate at slower speeds.

The STRIX OC is one ridiculously quiet card but there’s one other factor to take into account: inductor whine. It doesn’t show up during any gameplay but in menus where framerates find themselves in the 200FPS+ level, it does become apparent if you listen for it. Luckily, silence reigns supreme when actually playing.



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.

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With its higher temperatures and high clock speeds it shouldn’t come as a shock that the ASUS STRIX is one of the more power hungry cards we have come across in a while.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Test Sytem & Setup

Test System & Setup



Processor: Intel i7 4930K @ 4.7GHz
Memory: G.Skill Trident 16GB @ 2133MHz 10-10-12-29-1T
Motherboard: ASUS P9X79-E WS
Cooling: NH-U14S
SSD: 2x Kingston HyperX 3K 480GB
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Monitor: Dell U2713HM (1440P) / ASUS PQ321Q (4K)
OS: Windows 8.1 Professional


Drivers:
AMD Radeon Software Crimson (Public release)
NVIDIA 358.91 WHQL


*Notes:

- All games tested have been patched to their latest version

- The OS has had all the latest hotfixes and updates installed

- All scores you see are the averages after 2 benchmark runs

All IQ settings were adjusted in-game and all GPU control panels were set to use application settings


The Methodology of Frame Testing, Distilled


How do you benchmark an onscreen experience? That question has plagued graphics card evaluations for years. While framerates give an accurate measurement of raw performance , there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes which a basic frames per second measurement by FRAPS or a similar application just can’t show. A good example of this is how “stuttering” can occur but may not be picked up by typical min/max/average benchmarking.

Before we go on, a basic explanation of FRAPS’ frames per second benchmarking method is important. FRAPS determines FPS rates by simply logging and averaging out how many frames are rendered within a single second. The average framerate measurement is taken by dividing the total number of rendered frames by the length of the benchmark being run. For example, if a 60 second sequence is used and the GPU renders 4,000 frames over the course of that time, the average result will be 66.67FPS. The minimum and maximum values meanwhile are simply two data points representing single second intervals which took the longest and shortest amount of time to render. Combining these values together gives an accurate, albeit very narrow snapshot of graphics subsystem performance and it isn’t quite representative of what you’ll actually see on the screen.

FCAT on the other hand has the capability to log onscreen average framerates for each second of a benchmark sequence, resulting in the “FPS over time” graphs. It does this by simply logging the reported framerate result once per second. However, in real world applications, a single second is actually a long period of time, meaning the human eye can pick up on onscreen deviations much quicker than this method can actually report them. So what can actually happens within each second of time? A whole lot since each second of gameplay time can consist of dozens or even hundreds (if your graphics card is fast enough) of frames. This brings us to frame time testing and where the Frame Time Analysis Tool gets factored into this equation.

Frame times simply represent the length of time (in milliseconds) it takes the graphics card to render and display each individual frame. Measuring the interval between frames allows for a detailed millisecond by millisecond evaluation of frame times rather than averaging things out over a full second. The larger the amount of time, the longer each frame takes to render. This detailed reporting just isn’t possible with standard benchmark methods.

We are now using FCAT for ALL benchmark results, other than 4K.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
1440P: AC:Unity / Battlefield 4

Assassin’s Creed: Unity


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/8V96SFIvFKg?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

While it may not be the newest game around and it had its fair share of embarrassing hiccups at launch, Assassin's Creed: Unity is still one heck of a good looking DX11 title. In this benchmark we run through a typical gameplay sequence outside in Paris.

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Battlefield 4


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/y9nwvLwltqk?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

In this sequence, we use the Singapore level which combines three of the game’s major elements: a decayed urban environment, a water-inundated city and finally a forested area. We chose not to include multiplayer results simply due to their randomness injecting results that make apples to apples comparisons impossible.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
1440P: Dragon Age: Inquisition / Dying Light

Dragon Age: Inquisition


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/z7wRSmle-DY" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Dragon Age: Inquisition is one of the most popular games around due to its engaging gameplay and open-world style. In our benchmark sequence we run through two typical areas: a busy town and through an outdoor environment.

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Dying Light


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/MHc6Vq-1ins" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Dying Light is a relatively late addition to our benchmarking process but with good reason: it required multiple patches to optimize performance. While one of the patches handicapped viewing distance, this is still one of the most demanding games available.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
1440P: Far Cry 4 / Grand Theft Auto V

Far Cry 4


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/sC7-_Q1cSro" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

The latest game in Ubisoft’s Far Cry series takes up where the others left off by boasting some of the most impressive visuals we’ve seen. In order to emulate typical gameplay we run through the game’s main village, head out through an open area and then transition to the lower areas via a zipline.

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Grand Theft Auto V


In GTA V we take a simple approach to benchmarking: the in-game benchmark tool is used. However, due to the randomness within the game itself, only the last sequence is actually used since it best represents gameplay mechanics.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
1440P: Hitman Absolution / Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Hitman Absolution


<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.

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Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/U1MHjhIxTGE?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

With its high resolution textures and several other visual tweaks, Shadow of Mordor’s open world is also one of the most detailed around. This means it puts massive load on graphics cards and should help point towards which GPUs will excel at next generation titles.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
1440P: Thief / Tomb Raider

Thief


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/p-a-8mr00rY?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

When it was released, Thief was arguably one of the most anticipated games around. From a graphics standpoint, it is something of a tour de force. Not only does it look great but the engine combines several advanced lighting and shading techniques that are among the best we’ve seen. One of the most demanding sections is actually within the first level where you must scale rooftops amidst a thunder storm. The rain and lightning flashes add to the graphics load, though the lightning flashes occur randomly so you will likely see interspersed dips in the charts below due to this.

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Tomb Raider


<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.


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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
1440P: Total War: Attila / Witcher 3

Total War: Attila


Total War: Attila is the only strategy title in our benchmarking suite simply because it is one of the most resource-hungry. It gobbles resources with good reason too: this game happens to be one the best looking of the series thus far. Our benchmark sequence uses the in-game tool since, after hours of gameplay, it seems to show a perfect blend of in-game elements.

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Witcher 3


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EBSQMEqpqro?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Other than being one of 2015’s most highly regarded games, The Witcher 3 also happens to be one of the most visually stunning as well. This benchmark sequence has us riding through a town and running through the woods; two elements that will likely take up the vast majority of in-game time.

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