Final Words

Bringing this review to a close, going into this launch AMD has been especially excited about the 290X and it’s easy to see why. Traditionally AMD has not been able to compete with NVIDIA’s big flagship GPUs, and while that hasn’t stopped AMD from creating a comfortable spot for themselves, it does mean that NVIDIA gets left to their own devices. As such while the sub-$500 market has been heavily competitive this entire generation, the same could not be said about the market over $500 until now. And although a niche of a niche in terms of volume, this market segment is where the most powerful of video cards reside, so fierce competition here not only brings down the price of these flagship cards sooner, but in the process it inevitably pushes prices down across the board. So seeing AMD performance competitive with GTX Titan and GTX 780 with their own single-GPU card is absolutely a breath of fresh air.

Getting down to business then, AMD has clearly positioned the 290X as a price/performance monster, and while that’s not the be all and end all of evaluating video cards it’s certainly going to be the biggest factor to most buyers. To that end at 2560x1440 – what I expect will be the most common resolution used with such a card for the time being – AMD is essentially tied with GTX Titan, delivering an average of 99% of the performance of NVIDIA’s prosumer-level flagship. Against NVIDIA’s cheaper and more gaming oriented GTX 780 that becomes an outright lead, with the 290X leading by an average of 9% and never falling behind the GTX 780.

Consequently against NVIDIA’s pricing structure the 290X is by every definition a steal at $549. Even if it were merely equal to the GTX 780 it would still be $100 cheaper, but instead it’s both faster and cheaper, something that has proven time and again to be a winning combination in this industry. Elsewhere the fact that it can even tie GTX Titan is mostly icing on the cake – for traditional gamers Titan hasn’t made a lot of sense since GTX 780 came out – but nevertheless it’s an important milestone for AMD since it’s a degree of parity they haven’t achieved in years.

But with that said, although the 290X has a clear grip on performance and price it does come at the cost of power and cooling. With GTX Titan and GTX 780 NVIDIA set the bar for power efficiency and cooling performance on a high-end card, and while it’s not necessarily something that’s out of AMD’s reach it’s the kind of thing that’s only sustainable with high video card prices, which is not where AMD has decided to take the 290X. By focusing on high performance AMD has had to push quite a bit of power through 290X, and by focusing on price they had to do so without blowing their budget on cooling. The end result is that the 290X is more power hungry than any comparable high-end card, and while AMD is able to effectively dissipate that much heat the resulting cooling performance (as measured by noise) is at best mediocre. It’s not so loud as to be intolerable for a single-GPU setup, but it’s as loud as can be called reasonable, never mind preferable.

On that note, while this specific cooler implementation leaves room for improvement the underlying technology has turned out rather well thanks to AMD’s PowerTune improvements. Now that AMD has fine grained control over GPU clockspeeds and voltages and the necessary hardware to monitor and control the full spectrum of power/temp/noise, it opens up the door to more meaningful ways of adjusting the card and monitoring its status. Admittedly a lot of this is a retread of ground NVIDIA already covered with GPU Boost 2, but AMD’s idea for fan throttling is in particular a more intuitive method of controlling GPU noise than trying to operate by proxy via temperature and/or power.

Meanwhile 290X Crossfire performance also ended up being a much welcomed surprise thanks in large part to AMD’s XDMA engine. The idea of exclusively using the PCI-Express bus for inter-GPU communication on a high-end video card was worrying at first given the inherent latency that comes PCIe, but to the credit of AMD’s engineers they have shown that it can work and that it works well. AMD is finally in a position where their multi-GPU frame pacing is up to snuff in all scenarios, and while there’s still some room for improvement in further reducing overall variance we’re to the point where everything up to and including 4K is working well. AMD still faces a reckoning next month when they attempt to resolve their frame pacing issues on their existing products, but at the very least going forward AMD has the hardware and the tools they need to keep the issue under control. Plus this gets rid of Crossfire bridges, which is a small but welcome improvement.

Wrapping things up, it’s looking like neither NVIDIA nor AMD are going to let today’s launch set a new status quo. NVIDIA for their part has already announced a GTX 780 Ti for next month, and while we can only speculate on performance we certainly don’t expect NVIDIA to let the 290X go unchallenged. The bigger question is whether they’re willing to compete with AMD on price.

GTX Titan and its prosumer status aside, even with NVIDIA’s upcoming game bundle it’s very hard right now to justify GTX 780 over the cheaper 290X, except on acoustic grounds. For some buyers that will be enough, but for 9% more performance and $100 less there are certainly buyers who are going to shift their gaze over to the 290X. For those buyers NVIDIA can’t afford to be both slower and more expensive than 290X. Unless NVIDIA does something totally off the wall like discontinuing GTX 780 entirely, then they have to bring prices down in response to the launch of 290X. 290X is simply too disruptive to GTX 780, and even GTX 770 is going to feel the pinch between that and 280X. Bundles will help, but what NVIDIA really needs to compete with the Radeon 200 series is a simple price cut.

Meanwhile AMD for their part would appear to have one more piece to play. Today we’ve seen the Big Kahuna, but retailers are already listing the R9 290, which based on AMD’s new naming scheme would be AMD’s lower tier Hawaii card. How that will pan out remains to be seen, but as a product clearly intended to fill in the $250 gap between 290X and 280X while also making Hawaii a bit more affordable, we certainly have high expectations for its performance. And if nothing else we’d certainly expect it to further ratchet up the pressure on NVIDIA.

Power, Temperature, & Noise
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  • SolMiester - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    So you can OC a 780 on stock, but not the 290x to sustain the OC, which means 780 wins!, especially after the price drop to $500!, oh dear AMD 290x just went from hero to zero... Reply
  • TheJian - Friday, October 25, 2013 - link

    I gave links and named the games previously...See my post. At 1080p 780 trades blows depending on the games. Considering 98.75% of us are 1920x1200 or less, that is important and you get 3 AAA games with 780, on top of the fact that it's using far less watts, less noise and less heat. A simple drop in price of $50-100 and 780 seems like a no brainer to me (disregarding the 780TI which should keep the same price as now I'd guess). Granted Titan needs a dunk in price now too, which I'm sure will come or they'll just replace it with a full SMX up-clocked titan to keep that price. I'm guessing old titan just died as 780TI will likely beat it in nearly everything if the rumored clock speed and extra smx are true. They will have to release a new titan ULTRA or something with another smx or up the mhz to 1ghz or something. OR hopefully BOTH.

    I'm guessing it's easier to just up the 100mhz or put it to 1ghz as surely manufacturing has gotten them to where all will do this now, more than having all SMX's defect free. Then again if you have a bad SMX just turn a few more off and it's a 780TI anyway. They've had 8 months to either pile up cherry picked ones, or just improve totally anyway so more can do this easily. Clearly 780ti was just waiting in the wings already. They were just waiting to see 290x perf and estimates.
    Reply
  • eddieveenstra - Sunday, October 27, 2013 - link

    Titan died when 780gtx entered the room at 600 Euro. I'm betting Nvidia only brings a 780gtx ti and that's it. Titan goes EOL. Reply
  • anubis44 - Thursday, October 24, 2013 - link

    This is the reference card. It's not loud unless you set it to 'Uber' mode, and even then, HardOCP thought the max fan speed should be set to 100% rather than 55%. Imagine how quiet an Asus Direct CUIII or Gigabyte Windforce or Sapphire Toxic custom cooled R9 290x will be.

    Crossfire and frame pacing all working, and R9 290X crushes Titan in 4K gaming (read HardOCP's review of this 4K section), all while costing $100 less than GTX780, and the R9 280X (7970) is priced at $299, and the R9 270X (7870) is now going for $180, and now Mantle API could be the next 3dfx Glide, and boost all 7000-series cards and higher dramatically for free...

    It's like AMD just pulled out a light sabre and cut nVidia right in half while Jsen Hsun just stares dumbly at them in disbelief. He should have merged nVidia with AMD when he had the chance. Could be too late now.
    Reply
  • Shark321 - Thursday, October 24, 2013 - link

    There will be no custom cooling solution for the time being. It's the loudest card ever released. Twice as loud as 780/Titan in BF3 after 10 minutes of playing. Also Nvidia will bringt the 780Ti in 3 weeks, a faster cart at a comparable price, but quiet. AMD releases the 290x one year after NVidia, 2 years after NVidias tipeout. Nvidia will be able to counter this with a wink. Reply
  • just4U - Thursday, October 24, 2013 - link

    Shark Writes: "It's the loudest card ever released."

    Guess you weren't around for the Geforce5...
    Reply
  • HisDivineOrder - Thursday, October 24, 2013 - link

    The FX5800 is not ever dead. Not if we remember the shrill sound of its fans...

    ...or if the sound burned itself into our brains for all time.
    Reply
  • Samus - Friday, October 25, 2013 - link

    I think the 65nm GeForce 280 takes the cake for loudest card ever made. It was the first card with a blower. Reply
  • ninjaquick - Thursday, October 24, 2013 - link

    lol, the Ti can only do so much, there is no smaller node for either company to jump to, not until March for enough shipments to have stock for sales. The 290X just proves AMD's GCN design is a keeper. It is getting massively throttled by heat and still manages to pull a slight lead over the titan, at sometimes 15% lower clocks than reference. AMD needed a brand for this release season, and they have it.

    Both Nvidia and AMD are jumping to the next node in 2014. Nvidia will not release Maxwell on the current node. And there is no other node they would invest in going to.
    Reply
  • HisDivineOrder - Thursday, October 24, 2013 - link

    The Ti could theoretically open up all the disabled parts of the current GK110 part. Doing that, who knows what might happen? We've yet to see a fully enabled GK110. I suspect that might eat away some of the Titan's efficiency advantage, though. Reply

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