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A Note On Crossfire, 4K Compatibility, Power, & The Test

Before we dive into our formal testing, there are a few brief testing notes that bear mentioning.

First and foremost, on top of our normal testing we did some additional Crossfire compatibility testing to see if AMD’s new XDMA Crossfire implementation ran into any artifacting or other issues that we didn’t experience elsewhere.  The good news there is that outside of the typical scenarios where games simply don’t scale with AFR – something that affects SLI and CF equally – we didn’t see any artifacts in the games themselves. The closest we came to a problem was with the intro videos for Total War: Rome 2, which have black horizontal lines due to the cards trying to AFR render said video at a higher framerate than it played at. Once in-game Rome was relatively fine; relatively because it’s one of the games we have that doesn’t see any performance benefit from AFR.

Unfortunately AMD’s drivers for 290X are a bit raw when it comes to Crossfire. Of note, when running at a 4K resolution, we had a few instances of loading a game triggering an immediate system reboot. Now we’ve had crashes before, but nothing quite like this. After reporting it to AMD, AMD tells us that they’ve been able to reproduce the issue and have fixed it for the 290X launch drivers, which will be newer than the press drivers we used. Once those drivers are released we’ll be checking to confirm, but we have no reason to doubt AMD at this time.

Speaking of 4K, due to the two controller nature of the PQ321 monitor we use there are some teething issues related to using 4K right now. Most games are fine at 4K, however we have found games that both NVIDIA and AMD have trouble with at one point or another. On the NVIDIA side Metro will occasionally lock up after switching resolutions, and on the AMD side GRID 2 will immediately crash if using the two controller (4K@60Hz) setup. In the case of the latter dropping down to a single controller (4K@30Hz) satisfies GRID while allowing us to test at 4K resolutions, and with V-sync off it doesn’t have a performance impact versus 60Hz, but it is something AMD and Codemasters will need to fix.

Furthermore we also wanted to offer a quick update on the state of Crossfire on AMD’s existing bridge based (non-XDMA) cards. The launch drivers for the 290X do not contain any further Crossfire improvements for bridge based cards, which means Eyefinity Crossfire frame pacing is still broken for all APIs. Of particular note for our testing, the 280X Crossfire setup ends up in a particularly nasty failure mode, simply dropping every other frame. It’s being rendered, as evidenced by the consumption of the Present call, however as our FCAT testing shows it’s apparently not making it to the master card. This has the humorous outcome of making the frame times rather smooth, but it makes Crossfire all but worthless as the additional frames are never displayed. Hopefully AMD can put a fork in the matter once and for all next month.

A Note On Testing Methodologies & Sustained Performance

Moving on to the matter of our testing methodology, we want to make note of some changes since our 280X review earlier this month. After having initially settled on Metro: Last Light for our gaming power/temp/noise benchmark, in a spot of poor planning on our part we have discovered that Metro scales poorly on SLI/CF setups, and as a result doesn't push those setups very hard. As such we have switched from Metro to Crysis 3 for our power/temp/noise benchmarking, as Crysis 3 was our second choice and has a similar degree of consistency to it as Metro while scaling very nicely across both AMD and NVIDIA multi-GPU setups. For single-GPU cards the impact on noise is measurably minor, as the workloads are similar, however power consumption will be a bit different due to the difference in CPU workloads between the benchmarks.

We also want to make quick note of our testing methodologies and how they are or are not impacted by temperature based throttling. For years we have done all of our GPU benchmarking by looping gaming benchmarks multiple times, both to combat the inherent run-to-run variation that we see in benchmarking, and more recently to serve as a warm-up activity for cards with temperature based throttling. While these methods have proved sufficient for the Radeon 7000 series, the GeForce 600 series, and even the GeForce 700 series, due to the laws of physics AMD's 95C throttle point takes longer to get to than NVIDIA's 80C throttle point. As a result it's harder to bring the 290X up to its sustained temperatures before the end of our benchmark runs. It will inevitably hit 95C in quiet mode, but not every benchmark runs long enough to reach that before the 3rd or 4th loop.

For the sake of consistency with past results we have not altered our benchmark methodology. However we wanted to be sure to point out this fact before getting to benchmarking, so that there’s no confusion over how we’re handling the matter. Consequently we believe our looping benchmarks run long enough to generally reach sustained performance numbers, but in all likelihood some of our numbers on the shortest benchmarks will skew low. For the next iteration of our benchmark suite we’re most likely going to need to institute a pre-heating phase for all cards to counter AMD’s 95C throttle point.

The Drivers

The press drivers for the 290X are Catalyst 13.11 Beta v5 (The “v” is AMD’s nomenclature), which identify themselves as being from the driver branch 13.250. These are technically still in the 200 branch of AMD’s drivers, but this is the first appearance of 250, as Catalyst 13.11 Beta v1 was still 13.200. AMD doesn’t offer release notes on these beta drivers, but we found that they offered distinct improvements in GRID 2 and to a lesser extent Battlefield 3, and have updated our earlier results accordingly.

Meanwhile for NVIDIA we’re using the recently released “game ready” 331.58 WHQL drivers.

CPU: Intel Core i7-4960X @ 4.2GHz
Motherboard: ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200i
Hard Disk: Samsung SSD 840 EVO (750GB)
Memory: G.Skill RipjawZ DDR3-1866 4 x 8GB (9-10-9-26)
Case: NZXT Phantom 630 Windowed Edition
Monitor: Asus PQ321
Video Cards: AMD Radeon R9 290X
XFX Radeon R9 280X Double Dissipation
AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition
AMD Radeon HD 7970
AMD Radeon HD 6970
AMD Radeon HD 5870
NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770
Video Drivers: NVIDIA Release 331.58
AMD Catalyst 13.11 Beta v1
AMD Catalyst 13.11 Beta v5
OS: Windows 8.1 Pro

 

Meet The Radeon R9 290X Metro: Last Light
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  • kyuu - Friday, October 25, 2013 - link

    I agree. Ignore at all the complainers; it's great to have the benchmark data available without having to wait for all the rest of the article to be complete. Those who don't want anything at all until it's 100% done can always just come back later. Reply
  • AnotherGuy - Friday, October 25, 2013 - link

    What a beast Reply
  • zodiacsoulmate - Friday, October 25, 2013 - link

    Donno, all the geforce cards looks like sh!t in this review, and 280x/7970 290x looks like haven's god...
    but my 6990 7970 never really make me happier than my gtx 670 system...
    well, whatever
    Reply
  • TheJian - Friday, October 25, 2013 - link

    While we have a great card here, it appears it doesn't always beat 780, and gets toppled consistently by Titan in OTHER games:
    http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/AMD/R9_290X/24....
    World of Warcraft (spanked again all resolutions by both 780/titan even at 5760x1080)
    Splinter Cell Blacklist (smacked by 780 even, of course titan)
    StarCraft 2 (by both 780/titan, even 5760x1080)
    Titan adds more victories (780 also depending on res, remember 98.75% of us run 1920x1200 or less):
    Skyrim (all res, titan victory at techpowerup) Ooops, 780 wins all res but 1600p also skyrim.
    Assassins creed3, COD Black Ops2, Diablo3, FarCry3 (though uber ekes a victory at 1600p, reg gets beat handily in fc3, however hardocp shows 780 & titan winning apples-apples min & avg, techspot shows loss to 780/titan also in fc3)
    Hardocp & guru3d both show Bioshock infinite, Crysis 3 (titan 10% faster all res) and BF3 winning on Titan. Hardocp also show in apples-apples Tombraider and MetroLL winning on titan.
    http://www.guru3d.com/articles_pages/radeon_r9_290...
    http://hardocp.com/article/2013/10/23/amd_radeon_r...
    http://techreport.com/review/25509/amd-radeon-r9-2...
    Guild wars 2 at techreport win for both 780/titan big also (both over 12%).
    Also tweaktown shows lost planet 2 loss to the lowly 770, let alone 780/titan.
    I guess there's a reason why most of these quite popular games are NOT tested here :)

    So while it's a great card, again not overwhelming and quite the loser depending on what you play. In UBER mode as compared above I wouldn't even want the card (heat, noise, watts loser). Down it to regular and there are far more losses than I'm listing above to 780 and titan especially. Considering the overclocks from all sites, you are pretty much getting almost everything in uber mode (sites have hit 6-12% max for OCing, I think that means they'll be shipping uber as OC cards, not much more). So NV just needs to kick up 780TI which should knock out almost all 290x uber wins, and just make the wins they already have even worse, thus keeping $620-650 price. Also drop 780 to $500-550 (they do have great games now 3 AAA worth $100 or more on it).

    Looking at 1080p here (a res 98.75% of us play at 1920x1200 or lower remember that), 780 does pretty well already even at anandtech. Most people playing above this have 2 cards or more. While you can jockey your settings around all day per game to play above 1920x1200, you won't be MAXING much stuff out at 1600p with any single card. It's just not going to happen until maybe 20nm (big maybe). Most of us don't have large monitors YET or 1600p+ and I'm guessing all new purchases will be looking at gsync monitors now anyway. Very few of us will fork over $550 and have the cash for a new 1440p/1600p monitor ALSO. So a good portion of us would buy this card and still be 1920x1200 or lower until we have another $550-700 for a good 1440/1600p monitor (and I say $550+ since I don't believe in these korean junk no-namers and the cheapest 1440p newegg itself sells is $550 acer). Do you have $1100 in your pocket? Making that kind of monitor investment right now I wait out Gsync no matter what. If they get it AMD compatible before 20nm maxwell hits, maybe AMD gets my money for a card. Otherwise Gsync wins hands down for NV for me. I have no interest in anything but a Gsync monitor at this point and a card that works with it.

    Guru3D OC: 1075/6000
    Hardwarecanucks OC: 1115/5684
    Hardwareheaven OC: 1100/5500
    PCPerspective OC: 1100/5000
    TweakTown OC: 1065/5252
    TechpowerUp OC: 1125/6300
    Techspot OC: 1090/6400
    Bit-tech OC: 1120/5600
    Left off direct links to these sites regarding OCing but I'm sure you can all figure out how to get there (don't want post flagged as spam with too many links).
    Reply
  • b3nzint - Friday, October 25, 2013 - link

    "So NV just needs to kick up 780TI which should knock out almost all 290x uber wins, and just make the wins they already have even worse, thus keeping $620-650 price. Also drop 780 to $500-550"

    we're talking about titan killer here.
    titan vs titan killer, at res 3840, at high or ultra :

    coh2 - 30%
    metro - 30%
    bio - (10%) but win 3% at medium
    bf3 - 15%
    crysis 3 - tie
    crysis - 10
    totalwar - tie
    hitman - 20%
    grid 2 - 10%+

    2816 sp, 64rop, 176tmu, 4gb 512bit. 780 or 780ti won't stand a chance. this is titan killer dude wake up. only then then we're talking CF, SLi and res 5760. But for single card i go for this titan killer. good luck with gsync, im not gave up my dell u2711 yet.
    Reply
  • just4U - Friday, October 25, 2013 - link

    Well.. you have to put this in context. Those guys gave it their editor's choice award and a overall score of 9.3 They summed it up with this..

    "
    The real highlight of AMD's R9 290X is certainly the price. What has been rumored to cost around $700 (and got people excited at that price), will actually retail for $549! $549 is an amazing price for this card, making it the price/performance king in the high-end segment. NVIDIA's $1000 GTX Titan is completely irrelevant now, even the GTX 780 with its $625 price will be a tough sale."
    Reply
  • theuglyman0war - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    the flagship gtx *80 $msrp has been $499 for every upgrade I have ever made. After waiting out the 104 fer the 110 chip only to have the insult of the previous 780 pricing meant I will be holding off to see if everything returns to normal with Maxwell. Kind of depressing when others are excited for $550? As far as I know the market still dictates pricing and my price iz $499 if AMD is offering up decent competition to keep the market healthy and respectful. Reply
  • ToTTenTranz - Friday, October 25, 2013 - link

    How isn't this viral? Reply
  • nader21007 - Friday, October 25, 2013 - link

    Radeon R9 290X received Tom’s Hardware’s Elite award—the first time a graphics card has received this honor. Nvidia: Why?
    Wiseman: Because it Outperformed a card that is nearly double it's price (your Titan).
    Do you hear me Nvidia? Please don't gouge consumers again.
    Viva AMD.
    Reply
  • doggghouse - Friday, October 25, 2013 - link

    I don't think the Titan was ever considered to be a gamer's card... it was more like "prosumer" card for compute. But it was also marketed to people who build EXTREME! machines for maximum OC scores. The 780 was basically the gamer's card... it has 90-95% of the Titan's gaming capability, but for only $650 (still expensive).

    If you want to compare the R9 290X to the Titan, I would look at the compute benchmarks. And in that, it seems to be an apples to oranges comparison... AMD and nVIDIA seem to trade blows depending on the type of compute.

    Compared to the 780, the 290X pretty much beats it hands down in performance. If I hadn't already purchased a 780 last month ($595 yay), I would consider the 290X... though I'd definitely wait for 3rd party cards with better heat solutions. A stock card on "Uber" setting is simply way too hot, and too loud!
    Reply

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