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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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  • Sandcat - Friday, October 25, 2013 - link

    That depends on what you define as 'acceptable frame rates'. Yeah, you do need a $500 card if you have a high refresh rate monitor and use it for 3d games, or just improved smoothness in non-3d games. A single 780 with my brothers' 144hz Asus monitor is required to get ~90 fps (i7-930 @ 4.0) in BF3 on Ultra with MSAA.

    The 290x almost requires liduid...the noise is offensive. Kudos to those with the equipment, but really, AMD cheaped out on the cooler in order to hit the price point. Good move, imho, but too loud for me.
    Reply
  • hoboville - Thursday, October 24, 2013 - link

    Yup, and it's hot. It will be worth buying once the manufacturers can add their own coolers and heat pipes.

    AMD has always been slower at lower res, but better in the 3x1080p to 6x1080p arena. They have always aimed for high-bandwidth memory, which is always performs better at high res. This is good for you as a buyer because it means you'll get better scaling at high res. It's essentially forward-looking tech, which is good for those who will be upgrading monitors in the new few years when 1440p IPS starts to be more affordable. At low res the bottleneck isn't RAM, but computer power. Regardless, buying a Titan / 780 / 290X for anything less than 1440p is silly, you'll be way past the 60-70 fps human eye limit anyway.
    Reply
  • eddieveenstra - Sunday, October 27, 2013 - link

    Maybe 60-70fps is the limit. but at 120Hz 60FPS will give noticable lag. 75 is about the minimum. That or i'm having eagle eyes. The 780gtx still dips in the low framerates at 120Hz (1920x1080). So the whole debate about titan or 780 being overkill @1080P is just nonsense. (780gtx 120Hz gamer here) Reply
  • hoboville - Sunday, October 27, 2013 - link

    That really depends a lot on your monitor. When they talked about Gsync and frame lag and smoothness, they mentioned when FPS doesn't exactly match the refresh rate you get latency and bad frame timing. That you have this problem with a 120 Hz monitor is no surprise as at anything less than 120 FPS you'll see some form of stuttering. When we talk about FPS > refresh rate then you won't notice this. At home I use a 2048x1152 @ 60 Hz and beyond 60 FPS all the extra frames are dropped, where as in your case you'll have some frames "hang" when you are getting less than 120 FPS, because the frames have to "sit" on the screen for an interval until the next one is displayed. This appears to be stuttering, and you need to get a higher FPS from the game in order for the frame delivery to appear smoother. This is because apparent delay decreases as a ratio of [delivered frames (FPS) / monitor refresh speed]. Once the ratio is small enough, you can no longer detect apparent delay. In essence 120 Hz was a bad idea, unless you get Gsync (which means a new monitor).

    Get a good 1440p IPS at 60 Hz and you won't have that problem, and the image fidelity will make you wonder why you ever bought a monitor with 56% of 1440p pixels in the first place...
    Reply
  • eddieveenstra - Sunday, October 27, 2013 - link

    To be honnest. I would never think about going back to 60Hz. I love 120Hz but don't know a thing about IPS monitors. Thanks for the response....

    Just checked it and that sounds good. When becoming more affordable i will start thinking about that. Seems like the IPS monitors are better with colors and have less blur@60Hz than TN. link:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPS_panel
    Reply
  • Spunjji - Friday, October 25, 2013 - link

    Step 1) Take data irrespective of different collection methods.

    Step 2) Perform average of data.

    Step 3) Completely useless results!

    Congratulations, sir; you have broken Science.
    Reply
  • nutingut - Saturday, October 26, 2013 - link

    But who cares if you can play at 90 vs 100 fps? Reply
  • MousE007 - Thursday, October 24, 2013 - link

    Very true, but remember, the only reason nvidia prices their cards where they are is because they could. (Eg Intel CPUs v AMD) Having said that, I truly welcome the competition as it makes it better for all of us, regardless of which side of the fence you sit. Reply
  • valkyrie743 - Thursday, October 24, 2013 - link

    the card runs at 95C and sucks power like no tomorrow. only only beats the 780 by a very little. does not overclock well.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-lZ3Z6Niir4
    and
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OHKWMgBhvA

    http://www.overclock3d.net/reviews/gpu_displays/am...

    i like his review. its pure honest and shows the facts. im not a nvidia fanboy nore am i a amd fanboy. but ill take nvidia right how over amd.

    i do like how this card is priced and the performance for the price. makes the titan not worth 1000 bucks (or the 850 bucks it goes used on forums) but as for the 780. if you get a non reference 780. it will be faster than the 290x and put out LESS heat and LESS noise. as well as use less power.

    plus gtx 780 TI is coming out in mid November which will probably cut the cost of the current 780 too 550 and and this card would be probably aorund 600 and beat this card even more.
    Reply
  • jljaynes - Friday, October 25, 2013 - link

    you say the review sticks with the facts - he starts off talking about how ugly the card is so it needs to beat a titan. and then the next sentence he says the R9-290X will cost $699.

    he sure seems to stick with the facts.
    Reply

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