How to gain 15% of performance in video games and save $149 or more without significant investments or special skills? If you have an AMD Radeon R9 290 graphics card, it seems to be an easy thing to do.
Although the dissimilarity between two models – 290 and 290X – of Radeon R9 product family is represented by only one letter, the actual performance difference between the two graphics cards is rather significant, up to 14%. The price difference between the two – $399 and $549 – is even more substantial, around 37%. At the same time, both graphics cards are based on the same Hawaii chip and on the same printed-circuit board. As it appears, the more affordable graphics adapter can be rather easily transformed into a higher-performance model by flashing a BIOS version of the former.
After a series of posts on various PC enthusiast forums regarding possibilities to re-flash AMD Radeon R9 290 into AMD Radeon R9 290X, specialists from Overclockers.co.uk store decided to try such re-flashing. To their surprise, the mod not only worked, but worked in 100% of cases. As a result, Overclockers.co.uk is now offering pre-flashed Radeon R9 290 to R9 290X with voltage control graphics cards with 2 years warranty.
The technicians from Overclockers.co.uk used a special voltage unlocked R9 290X BIOS to unlock all 2816 stream processors (the model R9 290 features 2560 stream processors) and boost clock-speed of the graphics chip slightly on a Radeon R290 graphics card. Since both boards feature 4GB of GDDR5 memory clocked at 5GHz, there is no difference in performance between the re-flashed R9 290 and original R9 290X.
Early in the lifecycles of graphics cards designers of graphics processing units pick up fully-functional GPUs, build high-end graphics cards and then artificially lock certain execution units in a bid to obtain lower-cost models. Later in the cycle chip developers find enough chips with malfunction units that are deactivated and installed onto lower-cost graphics cards models.
As it appears, all, or at least a lot of, currently available AMD Radeon R9 290-series graphics cards are based on the fully-fledged Hawaii chip and therefore model R9 290 can be re-flashed into model R9 290X. While this may be true at press time, it may not be true with future batches of AMD Radeon R9 290.
AMD did not comment on the news-story. Re-flashing BIOS can in certain cases void warranty.
One reader said in the comments bellow that he could "attest that most 290's do not unlock" and provided a proof link.
"It seems that 20% of XFX cards do and most PowerVolor, Club3D, VTX3D do. No other vendor cards unlock. The current theory is that these vendors weren't able to get their hands on 290 laser cut chips due to supply so they bios locked off a few," said Thrall, an X-bit-labs reader.