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XFX Radeon R9 290X Double Dissipation Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
With the excitement surrounding custom versions of AMD’s R9 290X, the amount of time between the initial release and availability of board partner designs came as a surprise to some. It’s taken well over two months but there’s good reason for that: much like gamers have been looking for lower temperatures and reduced acoustics, actually engineering a heatsink that’s capable of delivering on those expectations is easier said than done. This is why it has taken XFX and their competition so long to release their respective solutions.

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The star of this particular show is the R9 290X Double Dissipation or “DD” for short which happens to be the mid-tier card in XFX’s current R9 290X lineup. While they have a completely reference design and the higher end, overclocked and custom cooled Black Edition, the DD is equipped with stock clock speeds and the same GHOST 2 heatsink as the Black Edition.

Some of you may be looking at these specifications and wondering what’s so special about this particular card, especially in the face of competition from the likes of ASUS' R9 290X DirectCU II OC. As we mentioned in the original R9 290X review, AMD’s reference design is held back by its cooler design which causes temperatures to rise to extreme levels. This has a trickle-down effect upon clock speeds which never hit 1GHz unless the fan was working at ear-splitting speeds. XFX’s GHOST 2 meanwhile helps to keep things under tight control so the core is able to hit its maximum frequency on a more consistent basis, thus boosting in-game framerates. Unfortunately, the memory hasn’t been touched by XFX but considering there’s 4GB operating at 5Gbps, the R9 290X Double Dissipation is anything but starved for bandwidth.

One contentious point about this card and pretty much every R9 290X on the market today will be its price. XFX officially lists it at $599 or $50 more than the reference version but with the crypto currency movement in full swing, actually finding an AMD card has become exceedingly difficult. This has lead to a drastic shortage of most SKUs, particularly any one which has a custom cooler attached. Hence retailers can charge whatever they want for these cards without impacting their appeal so XFX’s R9 290X Double Dissipation currently goes for an average of $649 if you can actually find it. To put this into perspective, most custom NVIDIA GTX 780 Ti’s can be found for just $50 to $65 more and offer significantly higher performance metrics.

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XFX’s R9 290X Double Dissipation boasts a unique design but we also have to remember that it also takes up a bit more room than the reference version. At 11” long we’re only talking about ½” more but in smaller cases, that extra length can make a world of difference. This is the price you have to pay with upgraded R9 290X cards since board partners needed to take all the space they could for the cooling assembly, even if that meant extending their shroud and risk some incompatibilities.

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XFX’s Double Dissipation heatsink and its GHOST thermal technology has come under its fair share of criticism in the past few years for high VRM and core temperatures. However, in this iteration, XFX has addressed these issues with what’s called their “GHOST 2” design which increases airflow towards critical components, upsizes heatpipe size and adds extensive VRM cooling. All of this was accomplished without upping the acoustical footprint over previous generations.

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With its clean lines, illuminated XFX logo and stealth-like exterior, I personally think this is one of the best looking heatsinks ever created. It doesn’t scream out loud like the latest ASUS, MSI and Gigabyte coolers but rather goes down the thoroughly understated route and doesn’t look like a cobbled-together industrial workhorse. Does its performance live up to the stunning exterior façade? That will be addressed in the Cooling section a bit later in this review.

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There is only one drawback to XFX’s stunning design: all of those well-incorporated surfaces make accessing the R9 290X’s dual BIOS switch extremely hard. You’ll likely need a pencil or safety pin to change the default selection but, with the upgraded heatsink, there’s really no reason to switch between Silent and Uber modes. In addition, based on our testing, there’s absolutely no difference in performance, acoustics or power consumption between the two switch positions.

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On the connector front, there isn’t really anything to differentiate XFX’s Double Dissipation Edition from the numerous other R9 290X’s on the market. However, they have added an XFX logo to the card’s backplate which not only looks good but it also increases exhaust airflow.

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Flipping the card over reveals a custom matte black XFX PCB which boasts slightly upgraded components for increased longevity and better current delivery. None of this is visible and getting the heatsink off is a multi-stage, warranty destroying process so proceed at your own risk.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
A Deep Dive into the DD Edition's Clock Speeds

A Deep Dive into the DD Edition's Clock Speeds


As is becoming a usual occurrence in these GPU reviews, we’re going to take a closer look at how well the XFX R9 290X Double Dissipation Edition attains its clock speeds. The reason for this is simple: as temperatures on these next-gen cards increases, their Boost features turn into anchors and have the capability to drag down performance as they balance clock speeds, temperatures and power consumption. This can lead to lower than expected performance if these factors aren’t properly handled.

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Within our intensive test, the Double Dissipation was able to maintain one of the lowest constant temperatures we’ve ever seen from a high end graphics card. With a maximum reading of just 73°C, it remains well below AMD’s PowerTune threshold of 95°C so throttling shouldn’t occur unless voltage or power consumption becomes a limiting factor.

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The XFX R9 290X DD is the picture of consistency on the clock speed front as well but that shouldn’t be a surprise considering its temperatures. It hits that 1GHz mark and stays there. However, what’s obvious is that unlike NVIDIA’s GeForce Boost, AMD’s algorithms haven’t been designed to take advantage of any additional overhead granted by the heatsink’s superior cooling potential. That’s a bit disappointing but it avoids having cards hit performance levels of higher-priced units.

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Framerates remain on a pretty level footing as well, though the DD does fall behind as the R9 290X reference design’s fan picks up speed. However, XFX’s card achieves these results without the wailing, ear-splitting drama of the reference design’s Uber Mode.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
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

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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

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
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

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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

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
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

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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.


2560 x 1440

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
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

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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.


2560 x 1440

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
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.


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Considering the amount of heat put out by AMD’s R9 290X core, these results are nothing short of incredible and really do highlight how well XFX’s GHOST 2 thermal solution can handle high TDP scenarios. We should also mention that the VRM temperatures –a longtime issue for XFX heatsinks- remained at 76°C throughout the test which is well below safe operating temperatures for these devices.


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.

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While it may not have the whisper quiet acoustical profile of some ASUS, Gigabyte and EVGA cards, XFX’s Double Dissipation is nonetheless able to maintain low operational noise levels. It won’t be heard over the usual in-game soundtrack but subjectively speaking, you’re more likely to hear it than its competitors when used in situations where silence is paramount.

From our perspective, it looks like XFX has sacrificed a bit in this department in an effort to provide the lowest possible temperatures without creating an annoyingly loud heatsink. The difference between the R9 290X DD and a reference card is like night and day.


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.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Overclocking Results

Overclocking Results


Since XFX doesn’t have their own overclocking suite like MSI’s AfterBurner, Gigabyte’s OC GURU or ASUS’ GPU Tweak, this section will be a bit shorter than usual.

To overclock the R9 290X DD Edition, we used MSI’s AfterBurner, upped the core voltage to 1.3V while the Power Limit was pushed to 150%. Memory voltage remained at reference levels. With these settings we were able to hit a 24/7 stable speed of 1184MHz and 5808MHz on the core and memory respectively. Compared against the results achieved with the DirectCU II OC, XFX’s card was a behind in both respects but we can’t conclusively say that it allows for less overclocking headroom with a single sample.

The performance results are below and they’re pretty impressive.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Conclusion

Conclusion


XFX’s R9 290X Double Dissipation Edition is a great all-round graphics card which can offer bucket loads of performance. In many ways, this is what the reference R9 290X should have been: sleek, well cooled, quiet and more importantly, able to hit 1GHz on a consistent basis. But that doesn’t make it a perfect solution for everyone.

The R9 290X DD doesn’t offer all that much more performance than an Uber Mode reference card but what it does bring to the table is continuity. Instead of wildly fluctuating frequencies, XFX’s card is able to hit that 1GHz mark and stay there, which is more than can be said of the reference design. The resulting 1-3 FPS increase is better than nothing but it will go completely unnoticed by gamers. However, there is an impressive amount of overclocking headroom so those framerates can go through the roof.

Considering this isn’t XFX’s overclocked SKU, we can’t expect miracles in the performance department. What we have here is a card which overcomes the reference design’s thermal and acoustical limitations in every way imaginable. The R9 290X DD’s cooling assembly was able to bring temperatures down to a level that actually managed to beat ASUS’ excellent (albeit overclocked) DirectCU II model. More importantly, XFX seems to have found a way to solve the previous generation’s problems with overly high VRM heat; our sample’s readings never went above the 76°C mark.

Our one engineering-related concern is that XFX may have sacrificed some noise output for those ultra-low temperatures. Granted, it is nowhere near as loud as AMD’s reference R9 290X (not many things are….) but it is noticeably louder than other custom cooled R9 290-series cards despite the DD’s lower clock speeds and slightly larger fans. Those fans topped 2500RPM which was more than enough to produce a huge amount of air movement alongside a muted “whoooosh”. Don’t mistake this with being loud since the card was inaudible when gaming and could easily have its fan speeds adjusted downwards without hitting AMD’s thermal limiter. That just goes to show how well XFX designed the new GHOST 2 heatsink.

One thing which we can’t overlook is price. Like the Sapphire R9 290 card we reviewed last week, due to rising demand and limited availability retailers have substantially increased the cost of nearly every AMD-based GPU. This has led to XFX’s R9 290X Double Dissipation going for $750 here in Canada or $700 south of the border which makes it an extremely hard sell for gamers who can pick up a higher performing GTX 780 Ti for the same amount of money. Even with this in mind, it will be interesting to see where things finally fall once prices stabilize since the R9 290X DD’s MSRP is dangerously close to ASUS’ faster DirectCU II model.

With stunning good looks, excellent temperatures, respectable overclocking headroom and very good performance, there’s a lot to like about the R9 290X Double Dissipation. Despite its current over inflated price, XFX’s card is certainly on our short list of “must have” GPUs for gamers and crypto currency miners alike.

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