AMD's Radeon R9 290X high-end graphics card finally hit the road. When NVIDIA launched the GeForce GTX TITAN this March, and at a time when the GeForce GTX 690 had already established a performance lead over AMD, it wasn't just an effort by the company to step up profit margins, but to also dominate AMD's product stack with an unassailable performance lead for a single-GPU product, and then go on to charge a bitter $999 for it. NVIDIA pulled that off for seven months running and is now faced with AMD's response, the $549 Radeon R9 290X we review today.
The Radeon R9 290X is an important product for AMD because it's the first truly new high-end graphics chip from the company in a very long time (21 months). AMD's other late 2013 graphics card launches, led by the Radeon R9 280X, are merely rebrands of the company's close to two-year old HD 7000 series, with price adjustments and repositioning within the product-stack. We must point out that NVIDIA didn't handle its lineup any differently. Barring the GTX TITAN and its cut-down GTX 780, the rest of the GTX 700 lineup is largely derived from the previous generation GTX 600 series. Under the Radeon R9 290X's skin is the swanky new 6.2 billion-transistor "Hawaii" silicon. Built on the existing 28 nanometer silicon fabrication process, it has solid credentials on paper, looking NVIDIA's GTX TITAN and the GK110 silicon it's based on right in the eye.
AMD is also harping about two technological extras over the GTX TITAN: Hardware support for Direct3D 11.2 and a new game audio hardware acceleration technology it calls TrueAudio. Among the two, Direct3D 11.2 stands a lesser chance of being labeled "gimmicky" because a few top PC game developers have expressed interest in the performance-enhancing features the API brings to the table, and it's the standard 3D graphics API for the Xbox One entertainment system. We're not nearly as enthusiastic about TrueAudio because we're not adequately convinced of it being any different from something sound card manufacturers already tried and failed to cash in on.
At $549.99, the Radeon R9 290X is priced "high" by AMD's standards, as the company's high-end, single-GPU products are typically priced in the $399 to $549 range. However, its pricing could be appealing to those contemplating a $620 GTX 780 or, worse still, the $999 GTX TITAN. We will then also put the Radeon R9 290X through its paces to see if AMD's pricing is defensive or offensive (against NVIDIA).
| HD 7970|
| Radeon |
| Radeon |
|Shader Units||2048||1536||2048||1536||2304||2816||2x 2048||2688||2x 1536|
|ROPs||32||32||32||32||48||64||2x 32||48||2x 32|
|Graphics Processor||Tahiti||GK104||Tahiti||GK104||GK110||Hawaii||2x Tahiti||GK110||2x GK104|
|Transistors||4310M||3500M||4310M||3500M||7100M||6200M||2x 4310M||7100M||2x 3500M|
|Memory Size||3072 MB||2048 MB||3072 MB||2048 MB||3072 MB||4096 MB||2x 3072 MB||6144 MB||2x 2048 MB|
|Memory Bus Width||384 bit||256 bit||384 bit||256 bit||384 bit||512 bit||2x 384 bit||384 bit||2x 256 bit|
|Core Clock||1000 MHz||1046 MHz+||1050 MHz||1006 MHz+||863 MHz+||1000 MHz||1000 MHz||837 MHz+||915 MHz+|
|Memory Clock||1500 MHz||1753 MHz||1500 MHz||1502 MHz||1502 MHz||1250 MHz||1500 MHz||1502 MHz||1502 MHz|