The AMD Radeon R9 295X2 Reviewby Ryan Smith on April 8, 2014 8:00 AM EST
Bringing this review to a close, when I first heard that AMD was going to build a full performance dual Hawaii GPU solution, I was admittedly unsure about what to expect. The power requirements for a dual Hawaii card would pose an interesting set of challenges for AMD, and AMD’s most recent high-end air coolers were not as effective as they should have been.
In that context AMD’s decision to build a card around a closed loop liquid cooling solution makes a lot of sense for what they wanted to achieve. Like any uncommon cooling solution, the semi-exotic nature of a CLLC is a double edged sword that brings with it both benefits and drawbacks; the benefits being enhanced cooling performance, and the drawbacks being complexity and size. So it was clear from the start that given AMD’s goals and their chips, the benefits they could stand to gain could very well outweigh the drawbacks of going so far off of the beaten path.
To that end the Radeon R9 295X2 is a beast, and that goes for every sense of the word. From a performance standpoint AMD has delivered on their goals of offering the full, unthrottled performance of a Radeon R9 290X Crossfire solution. AMD has called the 295X2 an “uncompromised” card and that’s exactly what they have put together, making absolutely no performance compromises in putting a pair of Hawaii GPUs on to a single video card. In a sense it’s almost too simple – there are no real edge cases or other performance bottlenecks to discuss – but then again that’s exactly what it means to offer uncompromised performance.
“Beastly” is just as fitting for the card when it comes to its cooling too. With a maximum noise level of 50dB the 295X2’s CLLC is unlike anything we’re reviewed before, offering acoustic performance as good as or better than some of the best high end cards of this generation despite the heavy cooling workloads such a product calls for. Which brings us to the other beastly aspect, which is the card’s 500W TDP. AMD has put together a card that can put out 500W of heat and still keep itself cooled, but there’s no getting around the fact that at half a kilowatt in power consumption the 295X2 draws more power than any other single card we’ve reviewed before.
Taken altogether this puts the 295X2 in a very interesting spot. The performance offered by the 295X2 is the same performance offered by the 290X in Crossfire, no more and no less. This means that depending on whether we’re looking at 2K or 4K resolutions the 295X2 either trails a cheaper set of GTX 780 Tis in SLI by 5%, or at the kinds of resolutions that most require this much performance it can now exceed those very same GeForce cards by 5%. On the other hand NVIDIA still holds a consistent edge over AMD in frame pacing. But thanks to their XDMA engine AMD's frame pacing performance is vastly improved compared to their prior dual-GPU cards and is now good enough overall (though there's definitely room for further improvement).
But more significantly, by its very nature as a CLLC equipped dual-GPU video card the 295X2 stands alone among current video cards. There’s nothing else like it in terms of design, and that admittedly makes it difficult to properly place the 295X2 in reference to other video cards. Do we talk about how it’s one of only a handful of dual-GPU cards? Or do we talk about the price? Or do we talk about the unconventional cooler?
However perhaps it’s best to frame the 295X2 with respect to its competition, or rather the lack thereof. For all the benefits and drawbacks of AMD’s card perhaps the most unexpected thing they have going for them is that they won’t be facing any real competition from NVIDIA. NVIDIA has announced their own dual-GPU card for later this month, the GeForce GTX Titan Z, but priced at $3000 and targeted more heavily at compute users than it is gamers, the GTX Titan Z is going to reside in its own little niche, leaving the 295X2 alone in the market at half the price. We’ll see what GTX Titan Z brings to the table later this month, but no matter what AMD is going to have an incredible edge on price that we expect will make most potential buyers think twice, despite the 295X2’s own $1500 price tag.
Ultimately while this outcome does put the 295X2 in something of a “winner by default” position, it does not change the fact that AMD has put together a very solid card, and what’s by far their best dual-GPU card yet. Between the price tag and the unconventional cooler it’s certainly a departure from the norm, but for those buyers who can afford and fit this beastly card, it sets a new and very high standard for just what a dual-GPU should do.