What's new
  • Please do not post any links until you have 3 posts as they will automatically be rejected to prevent SPAM. Many words are also blocked due to being used in SPAM Messages. Thanks!

PowerColor R9 290X PCS+ 4GB Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
In our whirlwind tour of R9 290X cards, one thing is becoming evident: with the right amount of attention to cooling, AMD’s flagship GPU is truly able to shine. We’ve seen the likes of XFX, Gigabyte and ASUS equip their wares with increasingly impressive heatsinks and the results have been nothing short of spectacular. Now PowerColor is about the join their ranks with their R9 290X PCS+ and at the risk of preempting our own conclusion, this might very well be the best Hawaii-based graphics card around.

There have been a large number of complains that AMD’s GPU sales are being dominated by folks using their cards for crypto currency mining. From the epic price premiums being commanded by the entire Radeon lineup to some pretty drastic stock shortages, there are a huge number of reasons for concern but AMD and their board partners have been reaping the short-term benefits. This situation has also resulted in perks for end users as some companies have begun over-building their cards in an effort to improve longevity under the constant stresses of mining. PowerColor’s aims are exactly that; design the PCS+ for optimal performance in games but also reinforced its design with heavily upgraded components in an effort to reduce RMA frequency.


The component selection isn’t really something that will impact gamers’ initial opinion about the PCS+, other than having some peace of mind. What will impact their purchasing decision is likely the clock speeds which PowerColor managed to squeeze out of their latest custom card. We saw a constant core frequency of 1050MHz, equaling ASUS’ excellent DirectCU II OC and one upping all other R9 290X cards we’ve come across thus far. Memory also gets a boost to 5.4Gbps which is a nice change from the ordinary since most board partners have decided to forego the binning process necessary to insure their GDDR5 modules consistently operate at higher speeds.

Time hasn’t exactly been kind to the price of AMD’s Radeon cards but as of the last few weeks, we’ve seen a wave of stabilization hit the market. While mining is still driving up prices, the days of $200 to $300 retailer markups on custom cards are a thing of the past….for now. On average we are now seeing a $50 premium on most SKUs while the custom, overclocked cards like PowerColor’s PCS+ typically command $100 more than AMD launched the R9 290X at. Does $650 for this card represent decent value? That’s what we’re hoping to find out.


PowerColor’s focus for this card was evident from the moment we saw it; performance and cooling above all else. Not two damns were given about length or the perception some may have about the two and a half slot heatsink. The R9 290X PCS+ basically turns up its middle finger to all the board partners who played it safe and says “I’m not ashamed of what I am”. And yet, somehow, the gargantuan heatsink still manages to look relatively sleek.

With that being said, there are a few epic dimensions you’ll need to be aware of before running out to buy PowerColor’s flagship GPU. It’s 11 ¾” long, 2” high and tips the scales at a hefty 1000 grams or 2.2 lbs. This means compatibility may be limited to higher end cases and it may constrict your available expansion slots, eliminating the possibility of a secondary sound card or other add-in depending on the motherboard.


PowerColor’s latest generation PCS+ heatsink uses a trio of 80mm fans which push air down onto a massive heatsink but unfortunately, most of the expelled hot air remains within your case. The rear exhaust vent on this card doesn’t really serve a purpose since we could only detect the most miniscule amount of air movement from it.

Another interesting addition is the rear heatsink’s extension past the PCB so it lines up with the upper side’s shroud. This does create a few raw edges but it does make the design look a bit more complete.


The actual heatsink itself is simply a brute force affair with four 6mm copper heatpipes and a vapor chamber baseplate. This setup feeds the core’s heat into a thick dual stage fin array which is designed for maximum efficiency without requiring high RPM fans. The memory modules also get their own cooling with blue heat pads and a stand-alone secondary aluminum heatsink.

The components for this R9 290X’s all digital 7-phase also receive linear heatsinks but that isn’t really needed since they’re built to military grade specs with thermal envelopes of at least 125°C.


PowerColor’s full coverage backplate certainly looks impressive but it’s all for show. For whatever reason, it has been cantilevered upwards with nickel spacers so there is no direct contact with the PCB’s rear-facing components. This causes some installation issues since the PCI-E slot locking mechanisms on some motherboards can’t be accessed. In addition, it will cause conflicts on boards which have the topmost PCI-E slot close to the memory slots’ locking tabs.


There really isn’t anything different going on with the power inputs or rear output panel. However, it’s important to note that PowerColor has equipped the R9 290X PCS+ with a single default BIOS since, as you’ll see on the next page, there’s really no need for Silent and Uber modes. For tweakers, there is a switch but as far as we can tell, it is equipped with two identical BIOSes.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
Exploring Clock Speed Boundaries & Temperatures

Exploring Clock Speed Boundaries & Temperatures


The R9 290X’s use of an “upgraded” PowerTune algorithm with additional monitoring and clock speed manipulation properties has been received with quite a bit of controversy. It causes reference cards to throttle their frequencies or hit insanely high temperature levels, or a combination of both. This situation means that without proper cooling, AMD’s flagship card will never reach its full potential unless a gamer is able to put up with a turbine-like noise profile.

With these aspects taken into account, AMD’s board partners have been releasing increasingly complex heatsink designs in an effort to take the Hawaii core’s rampant temperatures. PowerColor’s approach is pretty straightforward: they build a damn big cooler. However, as we’ve seen in the past, even good looking designs like this one can ultimately fail when they’re presented with the R9 290X. The last thing we want to see is a $650 card not performing up to expectations.


Starting off with core temperatures, it’s more than evident that PowerColor has something impressive on their hands. The PCS+ heatsink returns some phenomenal results; they’re actually the best we’ve ever seen from an R9 290X. Also take into account that we’re looking at temperatures that have been achieved with an overclocked core.


Core temperatures are only one of the aspects which govern an R9 290X’s clock speeds. VRM heat also plays a large role in PowerTune’s determination of achievable performance so they’re critical to framerates, not to mention that high temperatures here can have a detrimental effect upon a card’s longevity. As with the core results, these are nothing short of spectacular.


With both the core temperature and VRMs well under their throttle limits, PowerColor’s R9 290X PCS+ has absolutely no trouble hitting its advertised speed of 1050MHz. However, what these numbers tell us is that AMD’s algorithms may be a bit too strict since they don’t allow a well-cooled card to take advantage of additional thermal overhead for increase performance. There’s a hard cap of 1050MHz and even with astonishing temperatures, the core refuses to go one iota above that point unless the user is willing to delve into manual overclocking.


With stable temperatures comes framerate stability. This represents a drastic improvement over the reference card and goes a long way towards justifying the PCS+’s premium.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,410
Location
Montreal
Assassin’s Creed III / Crysis 3

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
13,410
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
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
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’ve already seen, the temperatures achieved by PowerColor’s heatsink are nothing short of incredible. It handily beats the likes of ASUS, Gigabyte and XFX.


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.


While the R9 290X PCS+ may not be the quietest card we’ve tested, you’ll be extremely hard pressed to distinguish the noise it makes from what’s produced by most case fans.


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.

 

SKYMTL

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

Overclocking Results


Unlike some other board partners, PowerColor doesn’t have their own in-house overclocking software which is unfortunate considering how well every other aspect of their PCS+ is done. Nonetheless, we used MSI’s AfterBurner tool and as usual put in place a 1.35V limit to core voltage.

As you might expect, with its amazing heatsink the R9 290X PCS+ proved to be a giant among men when it came to stability under extreme heat conditions. This is actually the first heatsink we didn’t have to increase fan speed to compensate for the overclocked (and over-voltaged) core’s thermal output.

Core speeds topped out at 1219MHz while the memory modules, which seem to be very well binned hit a plateau at 6144MHz.


 
Last edited:

SKYMTL

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

Conclusion


PowerColor’s R9 290X PCS+ is everything we were hoping for and then some. Expectations were understandably high when it turned out this card ate up more than two expansion slots and was nearly as long as AMD’s HD 7990 but if you have the space to spare and money to burn, there isn’t a better choice available in the Radeon stable.

The most talked about feature this time around likely won’t be performance (which is phenomenal by the way) or any of the usual suspects for that matter. Rather, it is how PowerColor has achieved this R9 290X’s high framerates that is so impressive. While some board partners have resorted to towing the usual dual BIOS line to achieve silent or “uber” settings, this card has been able to hit both of those points without resorting to ham-fisted features. The PCS+ is one of the fastest cards available for AMD users while also being the quietest, coolest-running example we’ve tested to date. That’s a ringing endorsement considering the best ASUS, XFX and Gigabyte have to offer already made their way though out lab.

These spectacular results are a byproduct of the brute-force PCS+ cooler. There’s nothing fancy going on here like advanced fin design, overdesigned fans or other predominant items that look good as marketing points. Rather, PowerColor simply slapped the biggest cooler possible on one of the hottest running cores on the market. There’s something sexy about that philosophy but that doesn’t mean it is for everyone.

Naturally, there are some sacrifices to take into account before slapping a “best evar!” sticker on this card. PowerColor may have thrown caution into the wind by equipping their flagship R9 290X with a massive heatsink but their approach may cause compatibility issues with some motherboards and could limit future expansion plans. The PCS+ is a giant and you need to realize that before taking the plunge.

The raw power of the PCS+ heatsink also exposes AMD’s PowerTune as nothing more than an artificial inhibitor which isn’t even close to situationally aware. It puts a hard lock on maximum clock speeds without taking TDP or current into account, thus limiting the potential of cards like PowerColor’s which have more than enough thermal room to spare for even higher out-of-box performance.

PowerColor may not have the household name status of ASUS, XFX, Gigabyte or MSI but with the R9 290X PCS+, they’ve designed one hell of a card. Currently this is one of a scant few R9 290X’s that offer such a near-perfect combination of performance, near-silence, ultra low temperatures and impressive overclocking headroom.


 

Latest posts

Twitter

Top