MSI Radeon R9-290X Gaming OC review

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A New Island & Technology

Them Islands Again

So over the past two years you have been hearing about several codenames and that can be a little confusing. It's simple really, in the market we have entry level, mainstream and high-end products. When you notice "Cape Verde" that's entry level, such as the current 7700 series. Pitcairn would be the codename the mainstream products like the 7800 hides under, and Tahiti is the codename for the GPUs used on AMD's most high-end graphics cards. 

  • Entry level = Cape Verde = Radeon HD 7700 series / R5 series
  • Mainstream level = Pitcairn = Radeon HD 7800 series / R7 series
  • High-end level = Tahiti = Radeon HD 7900 series / R9 series
New are the Volcanic Islands
  • Enthusiast level Hawaii = Radeon R9-290 and 290X

The entire segment from top to bottom was released in Q1 2012, but most of the 2013 models are respins, the exception being the R7-260X and the R9-290/290X graphics cards.

R7 240

  • Stream Processors 320
  • Clock Frequency up-to 780 GHz
  • 499 GFLOPS compute performance
  • 1 or 2 GB memory at 4.6 Gbps / 128-bit
  • 30W TDP
  • PCI-E 3.0
  • API - DirectX 11.2 / OpenGL 4.3 / Mantle

R7 250

  • Stream Processors 384
  • Clock Frequency up-to 1.05 GHz
  • 806 GFLOPS compute performance
  • 1 or 2 GB memory at 4.6 Gbps
  • 65W TDP
  • PCI-E 3.0
  • API - DirectX 11.2 / OpenGL 4.3 / Mantle

R7 260X

  • Stream Processors 896
  • Clock Frequency up-to 1.1 GHz
  • 1.97 TFLOPS compute performance
  • 2 GB memory at 6.5 Gbps / 128-bit
  • 115W TDP
  • PCI-E 3.0
  • API - DirectX 11.2 / OpenGl 4.3 / Mantle

R9 270X (previously the R7870 GHz / Pitcairn)

  • Stream Processors 1280
  • Clock Frequency up-to 1.05 GHz
  • 2.69 TFLOPS compute performance
  • 2 or 4 GB memory at 5.6 Gbps
  • 180W TDP
  • PCI-E 3.0
  • API - DirectX 11.2 / OpenGL 4.3 / Mantle

R9 280X (previously the R7970 GHz / Tahiti)

  • Stream Processors 2048
  • Clock Frequency up-to 1 GHz
  • 4.1 TFLOPS compute performance
  • 3 GB memory at 5.6 Gbps / 384-bit
  • 250W TDP
  • PCI-E 3.0
  • API - DirectX 11.2 / OpenGL 4.3 / Mantle

R9 290 (Hawaii Pro)

  • Stream Processors 2560
  • Clock Frequency up-to 947 MHz
  • 4.9 TFLOPS compute performance
  • 4 GB memory at 5.0 Gbps / 512-bit
  • 250W TDP
  • PCI-E 3.0
  • API - DirectX 11.2 / OpenGL 4.3 / Mantle

R9 290X (Hawaii XT)

  • Stream Processors 2816
  • Clock Frequency up-to 1 GHz
  • 5.6 TFLOPS compute performance
  • 4 GB memory at 5.0 Gbps / 512-bit
  • 250W TDP
  • PCI-E 3.0
  • API - DirectX 11.2 / OpenGL 4.3 / Mantle

The Radeon R9 290 and 290X

Yes, you guys have been waiting for it for a long time now. AMD is finally releasing the R9-290 series, the aim for these GPUs is to compete with NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 780 and Titan. In the initial phase there will be two 290 cards available, the R9-290 and the 290X. The first being a 2560 Shader processor encounting product, the second one has a whopping 2816 shader processors. Let's have a peek at a quick overview:


The Hawaii processor has a whopping 6.2 Billion transistors all fitted on a 438 mm2 Die size. At 28nm AMD applied the GCN architecture again, albeit you will learn that there have been a few tweaks at cache levels as the L2 cache is now 1MB for example. More on that later though. The strongest SKU will be the 290X which packs 2816 shader processors, followed by the 280 with 2560 Shader processors. 

Card Radeon HD 7970 GHz Radeon R9 290 Radeon R9 290X
Process 28nm 28nm 28nm
Transistors 4.3 Billion 6.2 Billion 6.2 Billion
Engine Clock 1.05 GHz >947 MHz > 1 .00 GHz
Stream Processors  2,048 2,560 2,816
Compute Performance 4.3 TFLOPS 4.9 TFLOPS 5.6 TFLOPS
Texture Units 128 160 176
Texture Fillrate 118.4 GT/s 160 GT/s 176 GT/s
ROPs 32 64  64
Pixel Fillrate 29.6 GP/s up-to 64 Gp/s  up-to 64 GP/s
Z/Stencil 128 256 256
Memory Bit-Interface 384-bit 512-bit 512-bit
Memory Type 3GB GDDR5 4GB GDDR5 4GB GDDR5
Data Rate 6.0 Gbps 5.0 Gbps 5.0 Gbps
Memory Bandwidth 288 GB/s 320.0 GB/s 320.0 GB/s

An interesting step from AMD is the move towards a 512-bit memory bus. Nobody really expected it as in the past AMD merely once used it on one of their products. That was the ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT all the way back in 2007, the one with the ring-bus design. They went back to 256 and 384-bit busses because the 512-bit bus simply was complex and using a lot of wires/traces on the PCB. It kind of does make sense right now to make the move towards 512-bit. The GDDR5 being used is cheaper then newer memory formats, and the cheaper 5.0 Gbps in fact saves on overall costs to adapt towards 4 GB graphics memory. AMD makes use of eight 64-bit memory controllers accumulating towards 512-bit. Combined with the graphics memory clocking in at 5.0 Gbps this will bring a 320 GB/sec memory bandwidth towards the graphics card. We'll look at the GCN architecture on a separate page though.


Starting with Hawaii AMD has now also fully implemented a 'Turbo' feature much like NVIDIA's boost technology on all of their products.


This means that there is no longer a fixed clock on these cards. The GPU clock will get a baseline and maximum frequency, the card will clock up/down in-between these two values based on power draw/limiters, performance and heat. In return the card will adaptive manage fan control, clock frequency and voltages (dynamic). AMD always has been much more reserved with the difference in between baseline and maximum frequency, so the difference in values won't be extremely big.

28nm Technology

The GPU architecture has remained the same. Comparable to the last-generation products, AMD still uses the 28nm process technology, the cards are PCIe gen 3 compatible and there have been significant changes on power consumption. We'll address all the features separately of course. With the launch of the R7 and R9 series you will also see Eyefinity updated towards version 2.0 DDM; audio is now fully supported (you hear audio on the actual monitor it's played off), the 5x1 landscape mode is introduced, and you may now create custom multi-monitor resolutions.


Interesting is that AMD now implemented next generation digital multipoint audio with smart channel splitting. So if you setup Eyefinity with three screens the six speakers in your monitors will now be configured as front left/mid/right channels. Very clever.


Eyefinity has also received a small update. You can now mix and match any monitor (similar monitors) output and create an Eyefinity setup. So if you have three of the same monitors you could hook up one to HDMI, one to DVI and one to DP. That is the kind of flexibility we like a lot alright.

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