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XFX R9 290 Double Dissipation Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
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Montreal
XFX’s R9 290 Double Dissipation is supposed to offer gamers a good combination of affordability and performance. While some may debate the “affordability” part of that equation due to the present mark-ups for every AMD graphics card, there’s no doubt about the gaming potential of these new Radeon GPUs.

There has been some heated debate about how the R9 290X and R9 290 react to the reference design’s rampant thermal issues since they tend to throttle core frequencies quite drastically. This leads to reduced performance under load or a bit more overhead provided the heatsink’s fan is increased to ear-splitting levels. In short, AMD’s PowerTune hates high temperatures. As a result most board partners have moved away from standard coolers and are utilizing their own designs in an effort to tame the extreme heat produced by the Hawaii core and hopefully deliver stable performance. That’s exactly what XFX has done with the Double Dissipation edition.


For all intents and purposes, the R9 290 Double Dissipation is a reference card with a better heatsink slapped onto the PCB. In keeping with the R9 290X version’s outlay, it operates at stock clocks but is able to hit a consistent Boost clock of 947MHz, narrowly beating the average frequency we saw with AMD’s launch day samples. More importantly, as we will see on the next page, it doesn’t exhibit any variation from that level so framerates should be considerably more stable over the long term.

Other than the heatsink, there’s really nothing to distinguish this card from those of the competition since XFX has long since done away with its lifetime warranty. That’s an issue since with a price of $520 ($550 in Canada) it plays with some of the big boys in this industry. Competitors like ASUS, MSI, Sapphire, PowerColor, HIS and Gigabyte all offer comparably priced solutions but come bundled with upgraded components, their own custom cooling solutions and higher clock speeds. XFX does offer the Double Dissipation Black Edition for those who want a higher out-of-box performance threshold but expect to pay another $30 premium for that one. So XFX is fighting an uphill battle right from the start but they have demonstrated a willingness to deeply discount their wares so it’s entirely possible that the R9 290 Double Dissipation will be found for less than $520.


For all intents and purposes the design of XFX’s 11” long R9 290 Double Dissipation mirrors that of their R9 290X version down to the last detail. If you have already read that review, you may as well go on to the next page since there’s really nothing new here.

With that bit of housecleaning out of the way, it’s really hard not to fall in love with this card’s exceedingly clean design. The GHOST 2 thermal solution has been covered in a stealth-like shroud that neatly wraps around the PCB and provides a perfect counter-point to its illuminated XFX logo. The width is atypical though; it has been upsized by about ¾” to accommodate a more extensive heatsink assembly.


After absorbing the brunt of criticisms about their first generation GHOST design’s propensity for relatively high VRM temperatures, XFX went back to the drawing board. Their second iteration uses a number of internal baffles and an expanded footprint to better direct airflow from its two 80mm fans to better address its predecessor’s limitations. The end result not only looks good but also allows for better performance and lower acoustics.


The one downside to XFX’s newly engineered heatsink is the way its wrap-around section partially blocks the R9 290’s BIOS switch. Instead of being housed in an easily accessible area the switch now has to be accessed with a pencil or pin. This likely won’t be of much concern for most gamers since the Double Dissipation only houses a single default BIOS but enthusiasts who like switching between two profiles may find reason to criticize.


Other than the usual XFX backplate, there’s nothing different going on with this card’s connectors. Since it uses a reference design there’s an 8+6 pin combo for power and DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort outputs.


XFX does use their own PCB design but from what we can gather, there aren’t any upgraded components. If anything, the layout has been simplified. We can also see that the heatsink’s length has necessitated the inclusion of a small “lip” at the PCB’s outer edge in order to maintain a fluid looking design.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Looking at the Double Dissipation’s Clock Speeds

Looking at the Double Dissipation’s Clock Speeds


With the introduction of their R9 290 cards, reference AMD cards have exhibited some serious issues sticking to their stated Boost clocks. So much so that AMD moved away from publishing what their actual frequencies may be and instead giving gamers a nebulous “up to” figure to go by.

The result of this is a lack of clock speed stability due to the obscenely high temperatures a standard R9 290 operates at in order to achieve somewhat acceptable acoustic results. Board partners like XFX have been addressing this via upgraded heatsinks.


With its GHOST 2 thermal technology the XFX R9 290 Double Dissipation is able to achieve some stunning temperatures which isn’t surprising considering how well this heatsink performance on the R9 290X. It even manages to beat Sapphire’s substantially larger design. For those keeping track at home, the VRM temperatures never made it above the 86°C mark which is more than acceptable in our books.


The result of these low temperatures is frequencies which are rock stable even after the card has been subjected to continual load. As a matter of fact, XFX has designed their fan speed profiles to keep this speed regardless of the core’s heat output. Unfortunately, as is the case with all AMD cards, this one is unable to take advantage of the copious amounts of thermal overhead so clock speeds aren’t increased further.


In terms of raw framerates, XFX’s card is able to achieve slightly faster performance than a reference design operating at its default (read: loud) fan settings. There’s absolutely no fluctuation here which means you get exactly what you pay for: a card that operates at 947MHz.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Assassin’s Creed III / Crysis 3

Assassin’s Creed III (DX11)


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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)


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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.


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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Dirt: Showdown / Far Cry 3

Dirt: Showdown (DX11)


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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.


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Far Cry 3 (DX11)


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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.



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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Hitman Absolution / Max Payne 3

Hitman Absolution (DX11)


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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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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.


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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
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.


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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.


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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
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.



XFX has come a long way with their heatsink design and this perfectly demonstrates their newfound prowess. Quite simply, the R9 290 Double Dissipation is the coolest running R9 290 we’ve come across thus far.


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.


Alongside those amazing thermal results is an envious acoustical profile. While not quite able to hit the levels of Sapphire’s Tri-X design, it’s highly doubtful you’d hear this card over even the quietest 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
12,857
Location
Montreal
Overclocking Results

Overclocking Results


XFX may not have their own suite of overclocking tools but that doesn’t mean their R9 290 DD is incapable of higher frequencies. On the contrary; this is one of the best (percentage-wise at least) overclocking GPUs we’ve come across in a long time. That bodes well for other R9 290’s which are in desperate need of a bit more performance as board partners seem to avoiding equipping them with higher clocks in an effort to protect R9 290X sales. Will your sample hit these levels? Possibly but from our research, this one is a rarity.

Using MSI’s AfterBurner tool, we added .085V of extra voltage which allowed the core to hit a blistering 1277MHz while the memory finally plateaued at 5604MHz. The end results are nothing short of spectacular.


 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Conclusion

Conclusion


It feels like we’ve already said all there is to say about AMD’s R9 290, its current outrageous pricing structure (no fault of AMD or their board partners), the performance it brings to the table and what’s being offered by AIBs. XFX’s Double Dissipation is an interesting, though certainly not unique, take on this design which offers up a high performance heatsink and suitably stable clock speeds, two features the reference cards sorely lack.

Improvements brought to the table by XFX’s GHOST 2 thermal solution are far-reaching. It is the real star of this particular show since it offers up spectacular temperature results and a noise profile that is so low, gamers will never hear it. High performance, low noise cooling from a custom heatsink may not be particularly noteworthy these days but in this case, they highlight the benefits and deficiencies of AMD’s updated PowerTune algorithms. It is great to see stable clock speeds from an R9 290 since it can provide some flashes of absolute brilliance. However, even with all the cooling provided by XFX, PowerTune is incapable of benefiting from the additional thermal overhead. This means core frequencies are locked at 947MHz despite very low temperatures and can only be pushed higher through manual overclocking. Luckily, our sample had plenty of additional overhead on that front.

The XFX R9 290 Double Dissipation is a good card with an excellent cooling solution but other than its striking good looks, there really isn’t anything that stands out here. While ASUS, MSI, PowerColor and others have their shticks, be it drastically upgraded components, high clock speeds and adaptable overclocking software, the DD uses a standard PWM design, features reference frequencies and needs a third party application for overclocking. As a result, without the distinctive, aggressive pricing structure and lifetime warranty XFX has been known for, their card sort of blends into the background.

Maybe normalcy is a good, safe place to be but there’s only so much a brand’s reputation can accomplish, particularly when their solution’s cost is perfectly aligned with cards that offer more. For example, for the same $520 spent on the Double Dissipation you can buy an MSI R9 290 GAMING, ASUS’ R9 290 DirectCU II OC or Gigabyte’s R9 290 Windforce OC, all of which have higher clock speeds, manufacturer-specific tuning applications and PWMs that are supposed to offer better longevity. Sure XFX also has the Black Edition which takes care of the clock speed part of that equation but it commands a $25 premium, making it even more expensive.

There are plenty of reasons to recommend the XFX R9 290 Double Dissipation. It is fast, runs cool, has the capability for some amazing frequencies when overclocked and is very, very quiet. We just can’t help but feel that XFX played it a bit too safe with this one since there’s not all that much to distinguish it from similarly-priced competitors. With that being said, if rebates and other incentives are used to lower its cost, XFX could have a winner on their hands in the price / performance segment.
 
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