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GIGABYTE R9 290X WindForce OC Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
AMD’s R9 290X is without a doubt one of the most popular graphics cards currently on the market. Be it crypto currency miners or gamers who want access to technologies like Mantle and TrueAudio, these GPUs have become a hot commodity. Board partners are struggling to keep pace with demand while at the same time developing and launching their own custom designs. Gigabyte’s R9 290X WindForce OC is a prime example of this; it’s a ground-up redesign on Gigabyte’s part and it carries one heck of a price premium.

Let’s start with the obvious first. In order to cut down on the rampant heat of AMD’s reference design and maximize clock speeds, this particular R9 290X is decked out with Gigabyte’s excellent WindForce 3X heatsink design. We’ve had excellent results with this in the past and this one will surely be no different.


In terms of specifications, this particular model uses higher than reference frequencies though Gigabyte has also launched a sibling card with the same design equipped with standard clock speeds. As we’ve mentioned time and again, what these custom designs bring to the table is consistency; a feature sorely lacking from AMD’s bone stock cards. Gigabyte has given this card a 40MHz core overclock while the memory remains at a default 5Gbps.

With the R9 290X WindForce OC, Gigabyte is introducing a middle-of-the-pack performer which doesn’t have the slightly higher engine frequency and substantially overclocked memory of the ASUS DirectCU II OC but doesn’t run at the XFX DD’s lower speeds either. Ironically, if you can actually find them in-stock, all of these cards are priced within spitting distance of one another at about $699USD. That’s a good $100 over MSRP but with demand reaching ridiculous highs and stock being hard to come by, retailers have begun adding substantial markups to these products.


At exactly 11” or 280mm long, the Gigabyte R9 290X WindForce OC shouldn’t have any problem fitting into the vast majority of ATX chassis. However, the upraised nameplate with its “WindForce” logo may cause issues in the close confines of certain mATX and micro ITX cases.


Widely regarded as one of the best heatsink designs on the market, the WindForce 3X is a dominating presence on this card. It consists of three 80mm fans and is capable of dissipating up to 450W of thermal output. This should be more than enough for even AMD’s hot-running R9 290X core.

Gigabyte has also included a Dual BIOS option but as far as we can tell, both settings are the same since the cooler has no trouble keeping up with the core’s heat output, negating any benefits from having Uber and Silent modes.


One of the secrets behind the WindForce’s success is what Gigabyte calls their “Triangle Cool” technology which essentially adds turbulence-reducing features to the internal fin structure. This allows airflow to quickly proceed through the fins, increasing the speed at which any built up heat is dissipated.

Gigabyte has also added two 8mm and four 6mm copper heatpipes which make direct contact with the core through an integrated copper contact plate. Naturally, the VRMs and memory get their own cooling by way of an extensive secondary heatsink. PCB flex has been taken care of with a well-integrated retention bracket running the card’s entire length.


Gigabyte hasn’t seen a need to change AMD’s default power and video output connectors. This means the card receives a pair of DVIs, an HDMI and a single DisplayPort output alongside a simple 8+6 pin power connector layout.


At first glance, there really isn’t much to distinguish Gigabyte’s card from its competitors but a closer inspection shows us some interesting differences. The card above is XFX’s R9 290X Double Dissipation and its more than obvious that the WindForce OC features heavily upgraded components. There are secondary digital VR modules at strategic locations, guaranteeing cleaner power delivery while the area directly behind the core is designed to deliver increased capacitance.

While it may not boast XFX’s awesome matte PCB, Gigabyte’s card is impressive from a hardware standpoint and this may have a positive effect upon its longevity.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Assassin’s Creed III / Crysis 3

Main Test System

Processor: Intel i7 3930K @ 4.5GHz
Memory: Corsair Vengeance 32GB @ 1866MHz
Motherboard: ASUS P9X79 WS
Cooling: Corsair H80
SSD: 2x Corsair Performance Pro 256GB
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Monitor: Samsung 305T / 3x Acer 235Hz
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate N x64 SP1


Acoustical Test System

Processor: Intel 2600K @ stock
Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB 1600MHz
Motherboard: Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3
Cooling: Thermalright TRUE Passive
SSD: Corsair Performance Pro 256GB
Power Supply: Seasonic X-Series Gold 800W


Drivers:
NVIDIA 331.70 Beta / AMD 13.11 v8 Beta


Assassin’s Creed III (DX11)


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

The third iteration of the Assassin’s Creed franchise is the first to make extensive use of DX11 graphics technology. In this benchmark sequence, we proceed through a run-through of the Boston area which features plenty of NPCs, distant views and high levels of detail.


2560 x 1440




Crysis 3 (DX11)


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

Simply put, Crysis 3 is one of the best looking PC games of all time and it demands a heavy system investment before even trying to enable higher detail settings. Our benchmark sequence for this one replicates a typical gameplay condition within the New York dome and consists of a run-through interspersed with a few explosions for good measure Due to the hefty system resource needs of this game, post-process FXAA was used in the place of MSAA.


2560 x 1440


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Dirt: Showdown / Far Cry 3

Dirt: Showdown (DX11)


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/IFeuOhk14h0?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Among racing games, Dirt: Showdown is somewhat unique since it deals with demolition-derby type racing where the player is actually rewarded for wrecking other cars. It is also one of the many titles which falls under the Gaming Evolved umbrella so the development team has worked hard with AMD to implement DX11 features. In this case, we set up a custom 1-lap circuit using the in-game benchmark tool within the Nevada level.


2560 x 1440





Far Cry 3 (DX11)


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/mGvwWHzn6qY?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

One of the best looking games in recent memory, Far Cry 3 has the capability to bring even the fastest systems to their knees. Its use of nearly the entire repertoire of DX11’s tricks may come at a high cost but with the proper GPU, the visuals will be absolutely stunning.

To benchmark Far Cry 3, we used a typical run-through which includes several in-game environments such as a jungle, in-vehicle and in-town areas.



2560 x 1440


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
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
12,861
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
12,861
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.



This is a section which typically plays to the WindForce 3X’s strengths and that’s exactly what we see here. Gigabyte’s card boasts incredibly low temperatures which are made all the more impressive when you consider how much heat the R9 290X core is pumping out.


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.


It is incredible to see how poised this heatsink design is. Even when coping with the slightly overclocked R9 290X core, the three fans remain nearly silent or essentially so quiet that you won’t be able to hear them over the sound of most case fans. It even manages to beat ASUS’ DirectCU II OC in Performance configuration and XFX’s own Double Dissipation.


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.


There’s really not much to see here. The WindForce OC is an overclocked R9 290X but the heatsink on this particular example keeps temperatures low which in effect keeps power consumption under strict control as well. This means it consumes ever so slightly more than a reference card.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Overclocking Results

Overclocking Results


With an excellent cooler, plenty of thermal overhead and what looks like upgraded components, The R9 290X WindForce OC is a prime overclocking candidate. Gigabyte also includes an updated version of their OC Guru software:


Unlike its competitors like ASUS’ GPU Tweak and MSI’s AfterBurner, Gigabyte has designed their software’s interface in a straightforward manner where additional functions aren’t hidden under countless sub-menus. Every one of the options is right at your fingertips while a monitoring tab can be enabled by simply pressing on the “More” button below Monitoring.

All of the usual functions are present and accounted for with one major omission: there’s no control over AMD’s critical Power Target. Considering our final clock speeds, we’re guessing that OC Guru dynamically adjusts the Target upwards as frequencies are increased but it would be nice to have some control over it.

Our overclock was actually a few ticks higher than what the DirectCU II OC achieved. At 1.35V, we hit 1202MHz and 6060MHz on the core and memory respectively.


 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Conclusion

Conclusion


Gigabyte’s R9 290X WindForce 3X OC is certainly an impressive card with all the key ingredients necessary to become one of the greats. From gamers to the crypto currency miners who are snapping these up quicker than you can blink, finding fault with Gigabyte’s flagship AMD GPU is extremely hard.

In-game framerates are one of the highlights of AMD’s R9 290X and the WindForce OC does nothing but improve upon them. The consistency granted by Gigabyte’s cooler design is exactly what gamers have been waiting for after seeing the reference card throttle in an effort to keep thermals within a semi-reasonable range. Unfortunately, even with its awesome heatsink, AMD’s PowerTune Boost feature doesn’t allow the WindForce OC to take advantage of the additional thermal overhead. This leads to the card topping out at 1040MHz even though acoustics remained at crazy-low levels.

The near silent noise profile and excellent performance results are particularly impressive when you consider the WindForce OC never made it above the 71°C mark (yes, you read that right). Even its VRM cooling was quite good with temperatures leveling out at 83°C after 30 minutes of intense 3D load.

Many of you will likely look at the performance benchmarks and think “well, there’s not that much difference between the Gigabyte and XFX cards”. From what we have seen, that couldn’t be further from the truth. While there are no visible framerate benefits from going the Gigabyte route, their card has substantial advantages in other areas. Their component selection quite obviously targets a more demanding crowd with upgraded hardware being evident throughout the PCB’s exposed surface. Its heatsink is also much better than XFX’s offering.

As we make our way through the various R9 290X cards from AMD’s board partners, one thing is becoming obvious: while they are impressive, it looks like the best is yet to come. Right now there’s a lot of cookie-cutter sameness permeating the Radeon product stack. Take Gigabyte’s R9 290X WindForce OC for example; we can’t help but feel there’s just so much left in the tank despite it performing within spitting distance of its competitors.

While we may be running the risk of beating a dead horse, it should be mentioned that due to current retailer markups it’s impossible to consider the R9 290X WindForce OC a good value right now. Like all R9 290X cards, its current average online price of $699 is just far too high. For those concerned about performance per dollar, the $749 GTX 780 Ti will offer better in-game framerates, though lower mining throughput.

When price is set aside we’re left with one of the best R9 290X cards currently available. The WindForce OC can achieve consistent clock speeds, includes a respectable overclocking suite, one-ups the competition by utilizing an enhanced component layout and remains whisper quiet regardless of what’s thrown at it. What's not to like?

 

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