PowerColor R9 290X OC Reviewccokeman - November 4, 2013
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PowerColor R9 290X OC Closer Look:
PowerColor's R9 290X OC is built off the reference design from AMD. As such it is equipped with a reference cooling solution and is for all intents and purposes a reference card. As a full size card the R9 290X OC measures just under 11 inches in length. At this size fitting the card into just about any mid tower chassis and even some of the high end SFF designs is possible. Standard for the form factor, the card will occupy up to two slots worth of space in the chassis while only physically occupying a single 16x PCIe 3.0 slot. PowerColor's logo occupies the hub on the centrifugal fan and is the only company logo on the card. Visually the R9 290X OC is more appealing than many of the last high end cards from AMD and its partners. There is something in the design that just screams look at me! And not in a train wreck kind of way! The back side of the card shows plenty of surface mount components without much else but the X bracket that holds the vapor chamber-based cooling solution in place.
Display connectivity includes a pair of DVI ports, a single HDMI port and a single full size DisplayPort 1.2 port that allows support for up to a six panel Eyefinity configuration using all of the available display outputs coupled with an MST hub. What's interesting is that AMD finally got rid of the need for an absurd number of adapers by setting up the display outputs so that in a three monitor Eyefinity setup you can use any combination of three ports to feed the monitors. No more active adapters will be needed. The bulk of the thermal load is discharged through the opening in the I/O plate above the DisplayPort and HDMI ports. The back side of the card features an interesting configuration with a series of air inlets to feed the fan when running in a Crossfire configuration with up to four cards should your motherboard support it. This seems like a novel approach but brings to mind some questions of how much noise does this create?
Auxiliary power is supplied to the R9 290X OC by way of a single 6-pin and single 8-pin PCIe power connection providing an additional 225W on top of the 75W supplied by the 16x PCIe slot for a total of 300W. The recommended power supply of 750W shows that you will need a beefy power supply to keep the R9 290X fed. When overclocked we used right up to that 300W commitment. A major change in how Crossfire connectivity is handled occurs with the R9 290X. No longer will an external bridge connection or dongle be needed, as the communication through the PCIe slots can be accomplished without introducing added latency to the equation. Ever since I had a pair of X1900XT cards with an external dongle and a required "master" card to complete the set I have waited for this solution to arrive. Let's hope it works as well or better than the current solution. Just behind where the Crossfire bridge connections were is a two position switch that in the past has been used to mange clock speed profiles. But on the R9 290X it toggles between Quiet mode and Uber mode. In Quiet mode the card uses all of the PowerTune tuning to keep the card as quiet as possible without exceeding the thermal limits, while Uber mode is a relaxed version that allows a higher maximum fan speed.
Peeling the shroud off the card we can see the large vapor chamber cooling solution and centrifugal fan used to cool the massive die and power circuit on the R9 290X OC. Removing the large aluminum heat sink used to cool the VRM and memory ICs from the PCB gets us down and dirty with the PCB. At the rear of the card is the six phase power circuit controlled by a new SVI2 interface. This new controller offers more granularity with 255 voltage 6.25mv steps between 0 and 1.55v.
The cooling for this R9 290X from PowerColor is the reference cooling solution. Similar designs in the past have been rated to disperse up to 400 watts of thermal loading. The design is a hybrid vapor chamber design that uses a massive vapor chamber that is covered by the aluminum fin array. The fins are oriented to allow airflow through the heat sink and out through the I/O plate. The all too familiar squirrel cage fan is used to push air through the card and comes with all of the baggage associated with a reference cooling solution. The vapor chamber is attached to an aluminum plate that is used to manage the heat load from the VRM circuit and 4GB of GDDR5 memory.
AMD's newest GPU is built starting with a Hawaii core built on TSMC's 28nm process. The Hawaii core is an improvement to AMD's Graphics Core Next architecture equipped with up to 44 compute units, four geometry porcessors, and 1MB of shared L2 read/write cache. By using the 28nm process and packing 6.2 billion transistors into the 1.24x bigger 438 mm2 die you have one seriously big chip. Inside the die are 2816 streaming processors,176 texture units, 64 ROPs, and a 512-bit memory controller to increase bandwidth up to 320GB/s using the 4GB of GDDR5. The standard clock speed for the GCN core is 1GHz, but PowerColor adds a little tune to the mix with a bump in clock speed to 1030MHz while the GDDR5 memory on this sample is rated to run at 1250MHz or 5000MHz effective. Elpida memory ICs rated to run at up to 1500MHz or 6000MHz effective are used to allow some overclocking headroom.
The new GCN architecture and general specifications lead us to the fact that this card could be the one that pushes AMD back up to the top of the GPU performance heap. Let's see if all the numbers play out in the end with killer performance.