AMD Radeon R9 290 review

The AMD Radeon R9 290 offers virtually the same features and performance of higher-end graphics cards for much less money.
Photo of AMD Radeon R9 290

The AMD Radeon R9 290 ($399 list) graphics card is a slightly slower, significantly cheaper version of the AMD Radeon R9 290X, with virtually all of that GPU’s features and performance, but for $150 less. It occupies a nearly unbeatable position in the overall stack between AMD and Nvidia, provided you’re willing to spend $400 on a GPU in the first place.

Visually, the R9 290 is identical to the AMD 290X, right down to the style of the cooler and the external outputs. Thermal and power targets for the card are identical as well—it uses one 6-pin plus one 8-pin input, and has a double-spaced cooler, two DVI outputs, an HDMI output, and a DisplayPort. Crossfire multi-GPU configurations are supported and, like the AMD R9 290X, there’s no need for an external cable—all Crossfire communication is handled by the PCIe bus.

The differences between the R9 290 and AMD R9 290X are relatively small, as such things are reckoned. Where the AMD R9 290X offered 2,816 GPU cores, 176 texture mapping units, and 64 raster output units (ROPs), the R9 290 offers 2,560 cores, 160 texture units, and the same 64 raster outputs. Besides that, the two cards are identical—both have 512-bit memory busses, up to 320GBps of memory bandwidth, and 4GB of onboard GDDR5. In practical terms, that means the R9 290 packs 85 percent of the AMD R9 290X’s compute performance and texture capability, 95 percent of its pixel throughput, and 100 percent of everything else, except its price tag.

With 85 to 95 percent of the horsepower of the AMD R9 290X, the AMD R9 290 hit shelves at $400, compared with $550 for the full AMD R9 290X. That’s an amazingly good deal for a GPU this powerful. The R9290 is based on the same GPU (codenamed Hawaii) as the AMD R9 290X. That means it offers the same flexible set of display options, support for AMD’s Mantle API, which is meant to significantly boost performance over DirectX 11, and the company’s TrueAudio technology, which will deliver better 3D positional audio and more realistic sound effects. Up until now, the only game known to support AMD’s Mantle was Battlefield 4, but the company has has announced that the upcoming Thief game from Eidos and Chris Roberts’s Star Citizen will both support Mantle as well. Thief is a reboot of the classic “first-person sneaker” franchise, while Chris Roberts is the creator of Origin’s immensely popular “Wing Commander” series of space combat games from the mid-1990s. Both titles should be well received.

Performance

We tested the card on an Intel DZ77GA-70K motherboard with an Intel Core i7-3770K CPU and 8GB of DDR3-1600. Windows 7 64-bit w/ SP1 and all available patches were used. All games were tested in 1,920 by 1,080, with maximum detail settings and 8xMSAA enabled, save where noted otherwise. While AMD is marketing the AMD R9 290X as essentially 4K ready, the number of 4K displays actually on the market are few and far between; 1,920 by 1,080 remains by far the most popular and pertinent resolution. We compare the R9 290 against both the MSI R9 280X Gaming 3G and Nvidia GeForce GTX 770, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 780, and the AMD R9 290X. These cards are currently priced at approximately $300 for the MSI R9 280X, $330 for the Nvidia GTX 770, $399 for the AMD R9 290, $500 for the Nvidia GTX 780, and $550 for the AMD R9 290X.

In Civilization V’s Late Game View benchmark test, the AMD R9 290X and R9 290 both came in at 98 frames per second (fps), right behind the Nvidia GTX 780, which scored 100fps. The R9 280X punched out 93fps and the Nvidia GTX 770 came in at just 90fps. Civ V isn’t a particularly demanding game for a high-end video card, so there was just a 10-percent spread at most between the various solutions.

In Shogun 2: Total War, the GeForce GTX 780 was the fastest card we tested, at 69fps, with the AMD R9 290X a whisker behind at 68fps. The R9 290 followed, in third place with 64fps, and the MSI R9 280X hit 53fps. The Nvidia GTX 770 again trailed the pack, at 50fps. Scores like this drive home the R9 290′s price/performance ratio—it’s just 5 percent slower than the AMD R9 290X, but costs almost 30 percent less. In the older, but still GPU-straining Metro 2033, (4x MSAA, not 8x, due to limitations of the game engine) we see the AMD R9 290X win the test at 51fps, the R9 290 hot on its heels at 49fps, the GTX 780 at 45fps, and the MSI R9 280X is at 39fps. The Nvidia GTX 770 pulled 33fps.

In BioShock Infinite (benchmarked in DX11 mode, ultra detail, with the alternate depth-of-field option), the AMD R9 290X is again led the pack at 96fps, the R9 290 hit 91fps, the Nvidia GTX 780 scored 82fps, the MSI R9 280X came in at 77fps, and the GTX 770 scored 71fps. Last of all, in Hitman: Absolution, the R9 290X crossed the line at 55fps, compared with 52fps for the R9 290, 48fps for the GTX 780, 44fps for the Nvidia GTX 770, and a loss for the MSI R9 280X, which brought up the rear at 42fps.

Specifications
Memory Clock Speed 1125 MHz
GPU Engine Clock Speed 947 MHz
No. DVI Output(s) 2
System Interface PCIe
No. VGA Output(s) 0
Card Width double
Requires Power Connector? yes
Video Outputs DVI, HDMI

Verdict
The AMD Radeon R9 290 offers virtually the same features and performance of higher-end graphics cards for much less money.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc