PowerColor R9 290X PCS+ Reviewccokeman - March 17, 2014
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PowerColor R9 290X PCS+ Closer Look:
PowerColor's R9 290X PCS+ is built around the AMD 28nm Hawaii core packed into a custom PCB that uses the Gold Power Kit seven phase power circuit and PCS+ (Professional Cooling System) cooling solution. When you look at PowerColor's custom version of the R9 290X, you do not get the raw sexy look that we got with XFX's Double Dissipation cooled card. What you get is that unpolished in-your-face industrial look that just says raw performance. Kind of like that street sleeper that will take all the rich kids' money in those late night unsanctioned... speed tests. Not the prettiest car on the block, but damn is it fast.
To go with the rest of the form follows function goodies, the back of the PCB is covered with a backplate that features a lot of decorative cutouts along with the PowerColor logo. The backplate keeps the PCB stable with the large heat pipe-based cooler slapped on the front side, so you have less of a chance of the PCB cracking or delaminating, effectively rendering it a candidate for the scrap heap. The cooling solution is going to physically occupy up to three slots worth of space, while only actually using just a single 16x PCIe 3.0 slot. By comparison to the aforementioned XFX card, we can take a look at the differences between a two and three slot cooling solution. How that impacts cooling performance will be interesting.
Display connectivity on the PowerColor R9 290X PCS+ is standard for the R9 290X, with a pair of Dual Link DVI outputs, a single HDMI output, and a full size DisplayPort that combined can output to a quartet of displays. Using an MST hub will allow the card to output to up to six displays. On the back end of the card, one of the dual fin arrays overhangs the back of the PCB by an inch to fit that third fan into the cooling equation. PowerColor ships the PCS+ card with plugs or caps over all of the connection points, except the PCIe power sockets. You can leave these in if you are not using the ports to reduce dust intrusion onto the ports.
On the spine of the card there is added connectivity in the form of a 6-pin and an 8-pin PCIe power connections to team with the 16x PCIe slot to deliver up to 300 watts worth of power to this card. With that kind of load from the GPU alone, a power supply with a capacity of at least 750 watts is one of the system requirements for problem-free operation. Where the CrossfireX bridge connections normally reside is just bare PCB with the remnants of the pin outs for the connections labeled on the PCB.
A dual position switch is employed on the top side of the PCB and can support dual BIOS profiles. I found in my testing that when set to one side or the other there was no difference in fan speed or clock speed on the card. The maximum fan speed on both was roughly 65% under load when tested in each position. It more than likely functions to ensure Windows 8 and UEFI BIOS compatibility for improved resume and start up times.
Pulling the Professional Cooling System off the PCB is as simple as removing four screws and slowly rotating the assembly back and forth. A little heat makes this go faster by softening up the thermal tape and TIM on the core. Under the PCS+ cooling solution you can see that the Gold Power Kit seven phase digital power circuits DirectFET components are covered with large aluminum heat sinks that use airflow from the PCS cooling solution to keep the power circuit temperatures from escalating under load. The TIM application was a bit overdone on this card, but the cooling performance was spectacular just the same.
Removing the triple fan shroud from the actual heat sink allows us the opportunity to view how it is constructed as well as find out who supplies the fans used to provide the airflow through the heat sink. In this case there are a trio of 80x15mm high speed fans from Power Logic under part number PLA08015D12HH. All three PWM fans are powered from a single header on the PCB.
Stripped bare, the heat sink is an imposing part of this card. It uses a pure copper base with five copper heat pipes running to a pair of massive (for a video card) aluminum fin arrays. The heat pipe configuration consists of four 6mm heat pipes with a single large 8mm pipe that feeds into the middle of the rear fin array. The contact surface is fairly smooth for a milled part and has consistent thermal paste coverage across the core. Thick blue thermal pads are used to transfer the thermal load of the GDDR5 memory ICs to the PCS+ heat sink. It is truly large and does the job it is designed to do.
The R9 290X PCS+ is built around the 28nm Hawaii XT core. Specifications for the core include 6.2 billion transistors packed into a 438mm2 sized die, 2816 streaming processors, 176 texture units, 64 ROPs, and 4GB of GDDR5 memory running through a 512-bit bus. Overclocked from the factory, the Boost clock speed on this card comes in at 1050MHz on the core with the memory jacked up to 1350MHz, or 100MHz higher than the reference cards for added memory bandwidth. Hynix memory, part number H5GQ2H24AFR R0C, is used on this card. Rated for use at 6Gbps, this should leave some overclocking headroom on the table for bumping up bandwidth.
The hardware specs on this card from PowerColor look pretty strong, with a nice factory overclock that should drive performance up and over the reference design and closer to competing with the GTX 780 Ti.