AMD Radeon R9 290X 4 GB Review 591

AMD Radeon R9 290X 4 GB Review

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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).

Radeon R9 290X Market Segment Analysis
R9 280X
GTX 770
HD 7970
GHz Ed.
GTX 680
GTX 780
R9 290X
HD 7990
GTX Titan
GTX 690
Shader Units2048153620481536230428162x 204826882x 1536
ROPs3232323248642x 32482x 32
Graphics ProcessorTahitiGK104TahitiGK104GK110Hawaii2x Tahiti GK1102x GK104
Transistors4310M3500M4310M3500M7100M6200M2x 4310M7100M2x 3500M
Memory Size3072 MB2048 MB3072 MB2048 MB3072 MB4096 MB2x 3072 MB6144 MB2x 2048 MB
Memory Bus Width384 bit256 bit384 bit256 bit384 bit512 bit2x 384 bit384 bit2x 256 bit
Core Clock1000 MHz1046 MHz+1050 MHz1006 MHz+863 MHz+1000 MHz1000 MHz837 MHz+915 MHz+
Memory Clock1500 MHz1753 MHz1500 MHz1502 MHz1502 MHz1250 MHz1500 MHz1502 MHz1502 MHz
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