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Radeon R9 290X Performance Analysis

Written on November 21, 2013 by Matt Bach


AMD Radeon R9 290XAMD's new Radeon R9 290X is a new video card that is being heavy discussed in the enthusiast PC community as it gives performance that is close to or better than the NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan, but at roughly half the cost. One of the features of the R9 290X is the inclusion of a hardware switch that changes the card between two fan profiles called "Quiet" and "Uber". The differences between these profiles is only evident when the GPU is under load and works by changing how the GPU keeps itself cool when it starts running hot.

In our testing, we found that these two profiles change the fan speed and core clock speed by the following rules:

Quiet Profile Uber Profile
  1. Fan ramps up to a maximum speed of 2200 RPM
  2. Once the fan hits 2200 RPM, the card throttles down the core clock speed to keep from overheating
  3. If the card throttles all the way down to 730 MHz, the Quiet profile is overridden and the fan starts ramping up above 2200 RPM. At this point, the card can clock back up somewhat, but appears to stay below ~850 MHz
  1. Fan ramps up to near maximum RPM before throttling the GPU clock
  2. Once the card hits the maximum fan RPM, the card starts throttling down the core clock speed

AMD Radeon R9 290X Quiet Uber Switch

Since the Quiet profile only ramps the fan up 2200 RPM (which on our cards is about 44%) before reducing the core clock, there is obviously going to be a performance hit in many situations if you use the Quiet profile. This has been shown in almost every R9 290X review currently published, but the most of the benchmarks show very little performance difference between the Quiet and Uber profiles. However, when we started our own testing, we saw a much larger difference. To understand what might be causing our results to vary so much from other published reviews, we decided to expand beyond our normal testing.

Test Setup

To examine the performance of the AMD Radeon R9 290X, we performed successive benchmark runs with the following hardware:

Testing Hardware
Motherboard: ASUS P9X79 Deluxe
CPU: Intel Core i7 4960X 3.6GHz Six Core
CPU Cooler: Corsair Hydro Series H60 CPU Cooler (Rev. 2)
Video Card: 1-2x AMD Radeon R9 290X 4GB
PSU: Seasonic X-1050 1050 Watt
RAM: 4x Kingston HyperX DDR3-1600 4GB LoVo
Hard Drive: Samsung 840 Pro 256GB
OS: Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit
Chassis: Fractal Design Define R4 
Front and side 140mm intake fans
Top 140mm exhaust fan
AMD Radeon R9 290X Computer

We suspect that the chassis cooling is impacting our results, so in addition to comparing the Quiet and Uber fan profiles we will also be switching the chassis fans between 5v and 12v to simulate both a quieter, low airflow system and a louder, high airflow system. To see how these cards perform when cooling is not an issue, we will be also be liquid cooling the cards in order to test the R9 290X in a best-case cooling scenario. Although it shouldn't matter with the cards being liquid cooled, we will be leaving the cards on Uber mode to make sure they do not throttle the clock speed.

AMD Radeon R9 290X Liquid Cooled

Since the R9 290X is becoming increasingly popular and debated online, we wanted to get initial results out as quickly as possible. In the future, we may benchmark more titles but for right now we will only be using two benchmarks. In addition, we will only be using a single R9 290X while benchmarking at 1080p, and a pair of R9 290X cards in Crossfire for testing at 4k resolutions. 

This does mean that our results won't be 100% accurate for every game currently available, but it will still be a very good indication of how the performance of the Radeon R9 290X is affected by the overall cooling of the system in both Uber and Quiet mode. Since we are running multiple, successive benchmark runs, we will also be able to see the performance difference from when a benchmark first runs and when the system has reached full load temperatures.

The two benchmarks we will be using are Unigine Heaven Pro 4.0 and Metro: Last Light. Both are very modern benchmarks that are easy to setup for successive benchmark runs with little to no time in between each run.

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Tags: Radeon, R9 290X, Quiet, Uber, Performance