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Radeon R9 290X Performance Analysis

Written on November 21, 2013 by Matt Bach
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Performance - R9 290X @ 1080p

Max GPU Temperature Max GPU Fan Speed Avg. GPU Frequency Max GPU Frequency


Our very first benchmark - Unigine Heaven 4.0 running at 1080p - already shows that in some instances the performance of the Radeon R9 290X decreases after the initial benchmark run. The liquid cooled setup and Uber profiles did not show any variation, but both of the Quiet profile setups show a very noticeable performance drop after the very first benchmark run. 

Although the Quiet profile does perform slower than the Uber profile, if you look at the fan speed logs you can see the benefit of using the Quiet profile. With the chassis fans at 5v, the Quiet profile keeps the fan running about 20% slower than the Uber profile, which is a very large and audibly noticeable difference. One other thing to point out is that with the exception of the liquid cooled setup, each configuration runs pretty much constantly at 94 °C. So if you are planning on purchasing a R9 290X, don't have a heart attack when you find that you can almost boil water on your video card while gaming.

Max GPU Temperature Max GPU Fan Speed Avg. GPU Frequency Max GPU Frequency


Metro: Last Light gives us very similar results to Unigine Heaven, although we actually see a very slight performance drop after the first run even with the Uber profile and Liquid cooled setups. It's not much (between .43FPS and .69FPS), but the fact that it happens on every single configuration indicates that there is a very small performance drop even in the best cooling scenarios.

The Quiet profile again shows a performance loss over time, but the difference is much larger than what we saw with Unigine Heaven.

Analysis - R9 290X @ 1080p

There are two different ways we can use to examine our results in more detail depending on what you are interested in. The first is to compare the result from the fifth benchmark run to the result from the first benchmark run. This will show how large the potential performance difference is for each profile and cooling setup and should indicate how much of a difference there is between a review that only used a single benchmark run to a review that used multiple, sequential benchmark runs, discarding the first four or so runs.
 
The second way to interpret the results is to compare the fifth benchmark result (or the result once the system has reached full load temperature) to the highest result we saw for that benchmark/setting regardless of the fan profile and chassis cooling. This will show what kind of performance you should expect in each cooling configuration relative to the maximum performance possible from the Radeon R9 290X.
 
Starting with the comparison of the fifth benchmark run to the first benchmark run, let's take a look at the performance of the R9 290X in each cooling configuration:
 

As expected from the graphs in the previous section, the Uber profile and liquid cooled configurations don't show much of a performance drop in either Unigine Heaven or Metro: Last Light at 1080p. This means that for a single R9 290X using the Uber profile, online benchmarks should pretty much always be accurate - at least at 1080p.

The Quiet profiles, on the other hand, showed a performance drop of about 5.5% with the chassis fans at 5v. In other words, when using the Quiet profile there is the possibility that online benchmarks may be off by as much as 5.5% at 1080p if the reviewer did not perform multiple benchmark runs, discarding the first four or so benchmark runs.

This brings up the question of how much of the maximum performance possible you should you actually expect when using the Quiet or Uber profiles in various cooling setups. The good news is that with the Uber profile, you are likely to see pretty much full performance regardless of your cooling setup (within reason of course).

However, if you use the Quiet profile even in a very high airflow chassis with the fans running at 12v - which is actually louder than the Uber profile with the chassis fans at 5v - you should only expect about 95.3-97.6% of the maximum possible performance of the R9 290X. If you want to use the Quiet profile in a quieter chassis with the fans at a much more reasonable 5v, you should expect to only see about 93.2-93.7% of the maximum performance. This is a significant performance loss, but is actually not bad considering that the GPU fan runs about 20% slower when in Quiet mode.


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Tags: Radeon, R9 290X, Quiet, Uber, Performance
EricG - Futurelooks

So I had a chance to see a reference card with a stock cooler playing a few game demos. The video card was cranking out enough noise to interfere with a casual discussion next to the system. I doubt this card was at full load mind you since it was in a high frame rate area of the game, yet the fan was maxed out.

Have you experienced the same 50+dB noise? If so, I wouldn't recommend anyone buy an R290 unless it has a GIGABYTE WindForce3X, MSI Tri-Frozr III, or ASUS DirectCU III series GPU cooler. At least those coolers can manage heat without the raging noise. Or, I suppose consumers order a system from you guys with custom liquid cooling. Are you guys still featuring Koolance cooling blocks?

Posted on 2013-11-23 00:12:49

Honestly, it didn't sound as loud as I expected with all the talk about the noise, but it certainly is louder than any other card on the market right now. I think if you have the computer under your desk and always game with headphones the noise isn't ever going to be a problem. It's just fine at idle or low load, and if you use headphones that should block our the noise while gaming.

Right now the ASUS DirectCU II is the card we are planning on using since the DirectCU series has just been great for us in the past. I know at least a couple guys here that are waiting for all the different manufacturer and third party coolers become available. And yes, we are still using Koolance blocks on our liquid cooled systems. We only got the video cards a few days ago, and one of the reasons we were able to get this done as fast as we did is because Koolance is actually right across the street from us. Makes it really easy to get parts and work with them on custom solutions.

Posted on 2013-11-23 01:28:45
Guest

I noticed that Puget Systems is pretty good at integrating the best GPU option (or any component option for that matter) available which sometimes means waiting for the right components. Your CEO and production manager always seem to have their finger on the pulse of what is consumer worthy and what is not.

That said, I didn't realize ASUS was using the DCU II cooler. I assumed since the R270/290 were so hot that they would use a bigger cooler like the rest of the AMD partners. Either way, the DCU II is pretty well proven. Still, I'm curious to see how Koolance's water blocks and your loop manages the R270/290 temperatures. Part 2?

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone at Puget Systems!

Posted on 2013-11-24 19:07:59
EricG - Futurelooks

I noticed that Puget Systems is pretty good at integrating the best GPU option (or any component option for that matter) available which sometimes means waiting for the right components. Your CEO and production manager always seem to have their finger on the pulse of what is consumer worthy and what is not.

That said, I didn't realize ASUS was using the DCU II cooler. I assumed since the R270/290 were so hot that they would use a bigger cooler like the rest of the AMD partners. Either way, the DCU II is pretty well proven. Still, I'm curious to see how Koolance's water blocks and your loop manages the R270/290 temperatures. Part 2?

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone at Puget Systems!

Posted on 2013-11-24 19:09:18
Angel Stewart

I'm confused about adding this card to a system. In my view, from what I have been reading, it just runs too hot. You are going to have to spend a lot more in terms of cooling to have this in your machine.

Compare this to the Titan or the 780i, and why would someone choose the 290x over one of these cards? Is the difference in performance so much better with the 290x?

Posted on 2013-11-25 22:01:01

For a brief period of time, before the GTX 780 Ti came out, the 290X was the fastest single-GPU card on the market... and at a much lower price than the Titan. It still comes in at a lower cost than the 780 Ti, but given the heat and noise issues I can't recommend it in good faith. Liquid-cooling might solve that, but with the amount of cost and complexity that adds the GTX 780 Ti is suddenly a much better value as well as being faster.

Posted on 2013-11-25 22:07:23

The 290X does run hot, but you have to remember that this is the temperature the card is designed to run at. Just like how the NVIDIA cards are designed to run around 80C, the amount of cooling you have in your chassis won't greatly affect that unless you replace the cooler itself. If you have more airflow than is needed, all that is going to happen is that the GPU fan is going to run a little slower, not that the GPU will actually run at a lower temperature. So yes, 94C is hot, but thats the temperature AMD decided was safe. Whether it is a safe temperature to run at for prolonged periods of time is something that cannot be known until we have some longer-term reliability numbers.

The main benefit of the R9 290X over the 780 Ti is simply cost. If you are on a budget and don't mind that it is louder (or you are planning on liquid cooling anyway), then it is a great value. It also tends to score a little better at high resolutions like 4k, although I'm not convinced the 4GB of video memory is going to be enough for games in a year or two.

So personally I see the R9 290X as the budget or price-conscience option, whereas the GTX 780 Ti or GTX Titan is the safer, cooler, quieter option.

Posted on 2013-11-25 22:19:01
Christian

If I understand you correctly, it means that improved airflow inside the case has reduced returns when it comes to Radeon R9 290X reference model fan speeds? I have a 290X reference card and i am currently running an open case as I thought it would help the card. But if the case temp has a limited impact on the GPU I might aswell close the case to get a little less of the noise.

Posted on 2014-04-11 19:30:29