AMD’s flagship Radeon R9 290X graphics card with the new Hawaii XT core was released a few months ago. Since then there have been released several beta and one official version of the Catalyst driver suite that were supposed not only to improve the new Radeon's performance but also optimize its cooling and noise parameters which had been criticized in early reviews.
The graphics card market has changed, too. Nvidia seems to have been prepared for AMD’s Radeon R9 290X/290 release, so besides cutting the price of the GeForce GTX 780 and GTX 770 they rolled out the faster GeForce GTX 780 Ti. The market situation for nearly all of the Radeons has also been worsened by the cryptocurrency craze. Coupled with the traditional Christmas excitement, it has provoked a considerable rise in prices and even shortage of AMD-based products. So the bottom price of a reference Radeon R9 290X is about one fourth higher than the price of an original GeForce GTX 780 with high-efficiency cooler and factory overclocking as of the time of our writing this.
Anyway, AMD fans don’t lose hope that the prices will stabilize and the shortage will end. We are also looking forward to getting original versions of AMD’s new cards with better and quieter coolers. Until then we have to content ourselves with testing the reference Radeon R9 290X and comparing it with its current market opponents using new drivers and an extended set of benchmarks.
Specifications and Recommended Price
The following table helps you compare the AMD Radeon R9 290X specifications with the reference versions of AMD Radeon R9 280X, Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 and Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 Ti:
This review has been late due to the sheer lack of test samples, so we won’t delve into details about the architectural differences of the new GPU and the whole graphics card from their predecessors. Suffice it to say that the new Hawaii XT features the same Graphics Core Next architecture as the Tahiti XT but has more muscle. To be specific, it incorporates 2816 instead of 2048 unified shader processors, 176 instead of 128 texture-mapping units, and 64 instead of 32 raster operators. Still manufactured on 28nm tech process, the GPU consists of about 6.2 billion transistors (instead of 4.313 billion) and has grown in size from 365 to 438 sq. mm. The clock rate has remained the same at 1000 MHz (in 3D mode). The memory frequency is lower compared to the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition: 5000 vs. 6000 MHz. However, the memory bus is 512-bit now, so the memory bandwidth has grown from 288 to 320 GB/s. Instead of 3 GB, the AMD Radeon R9 290X comes with 4 GB of onboard memory.
In the software department, the new Mantle API must be noted in the first place. It is supposed to minimize the effect of the API on the game engine code and reduce CPU load, yet its benefits are still debatable. Time will show how useful it really is. Besides it, we can note the DirectX 11.2 support, the exclusive TrueAudio technology and the well-known AMD Eyefinity feature.