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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  • 46andtool - Thursday, October 24, 2013 - link

    I dont know where your getting your information but your obviously nvidia biased because its all wrong. AMD is known for using poor reference coolers, once manufactures like sapphire and HIS roll out there cards in a couple weeks Im sure the noise and heat wont be a problem. and the 780ti is poised to be between a 780gtx and a titan, it will not be faster than a 290x, sorry. We already have the 780ti's specs..what Nvidia needs to focus on is dropping its insane pricing. Reply
  • SolMiester - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    Sorry bud, but the Ti will be much faster than Titan, otherwise there is no point, hell even the 780OC is enough to edge the Titan. Why are people going on about Titan, its a once in a blue moon product to fill a void that AMD left open with CUDA dev for prosumers...Full monty with perhaps 7ghz memory, wahey! Reply
  • Samus - Friday, October 25, 2013 - link

    What in the world makes you think the 780Ti will be faster than Titan? That's ridiculous. What's next, a statement that the 760Ti will be faster than the 770? Reply
  • TheJian - Friday, October 25, 2013 - link

    http://www.techradar.com/us/news/computing-compone...
    Another shader and more mhz.
    http://news.softpedia.com/news/NVIDIA-GeForce-GTX-...
    If the specs are true quite a few sites think it will be faster than titan.
    http://hexus.net/tech/news/graphics/61445-nvidia-g...
    Check the table. 780TI would win in gflops if leak is true. The extra 80mhz+1SMX mean it should either tie or barely beat it in nearly everything.

    Even a tie at $650 would be quite awesome at less watts/heat/noise possibly. Of course it will be beat a week later buy a fully unlocked titan ultra or more mhz, or mhz+fully unlocked. NV won't just drop titan. They will make a better one easily. It's not like NV just sat on their butts for the last 8 months. It's comic anyone thinks AMD has won. OK, for a few weeks tops (and not really even now other than price looking at 1080p and the games I mentioned previously).
    Reply
  • ShieTar - Thursday, October 24, 2013 - link

    It doesn't cost less than a GTX780, it only has a lower MSRP. The actual price for which you can buy a GTX780 is already below 549$ today, so as usual you pay the same price for the same performance with both companies.

    And testing 4K gaming is important right now, but it should be another 3-5 years before 4K performance actually impacts sales figures in any relevant way.

    And about Titan? Keep in mind that it is 8 months old, still has one SMX disabled (unlike the Quadro K6000), and still uses less power in games than the 290X. So I wouldn't be surprised to see a Titan+ come out soon, with 15 SMX and higher base clocks, and as Ryan puts it in this article "building a refined GPU against a much more mature 28nm process". That should be enough to gain 10%-15% performance in anything restricted by computing power, thus showing a much more clear lead over the 290X.

    The only games that the 290X will clearly win are those that are restricted by memory bandwidth. But nVidia have proven with the 770 that they can operate memory at 7GHz as well, so they can increase Titans bandwidth by 16% through clocks alone.

    Don't get me wrong, the 290X looks like a very nice card, with a very good price to it. I just don't think nVidia has any reason to worry, this is just competition as usual, AMD have made their move, nVidia will follow.
    Reply
  • Drumsticks - Thursday, October 24, 2013 - link

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Sub...

    Searched on Newegg, sorted by lowest price, lowest one was surprise! $650. I don't think Newegg is over $100 off in their pricing with competitors.
    Reply
  • 46andtool - Thursday, October 24, 2013 - link

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    your clearly horrible at searching
    Reply
  • TheJian - Friday, October 25, 2013 - link

    $580 isn't $550 though right? And out of stock. I wonder how many of these they can actually make seeing how hot it is already in every review pegged 94c. Nobody was able to OC it past 1125. They're clearly pushing this thing a lot already. Reply
  • ShieTar - Friday, October 25, 2013 - link

    Well, color me surprised. I admittedly didn't check the US market, because for more than a decade now, electronics used to be sold in the Euro-Region with a price conversion assumption of 1€=1$, so everything was about 35% more expensive over here (but including 19% VAT of course).

    So for this discussion I used our German comparison engines. Both the GTX780 and the R290X are sold for the same price of just over 500€ over here, which is basically 560$+19%VAT. I figured the same price policies would apply in the US, it basically always does.

    Well, as international shipping is rarely more that 15$, it would seem like your cheapest way to get a 780 right now is to actually import it from Germany. Its always been the other way around with electronics, interesting to see it the other way around for once.
    Reply
  • 46andtool - Thursday, October 24, 2013 - link

    the price of a 780gtx is not below $649 unless you are talking about a refurbished or open box card. Reply

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