Power Consumption, Sound Levels and Closing Thoughts

Based on the performance metrics of the preceding pages, it should come as no surprise that the single R9 290 uses just about the same amount of power as the R9 290X.  Both cards fall within 12 watts of each other in my testing.  The GTX 780 is quite a bit lower (44 watts less) so it does have a power consumptoin advantage even though you must consider the performance gap there as well.

Under SLI/CrossFire that wattage gap increases – the second R9 290 adds 222 watts to the system power draw while the second GTX 780 adds only 171 watts. 

If we have one major gripe about Hawaii it is the noise it creates.  Not in the marketplace, but in your system; actual noise noise.  The R9 290 is quite a bit louder than R9 290X since they both use the exact same cooler, yet the 290 runs at 47% maxmium fan speed versus the 40% maximum fan speed in the out-of-box settings on the R9 290X.  Obviously, if you run the 290X in "Uber" mode (55% max fan speed) then you'll have even more sound to drown out.

For comparison, the GTX 780s in SLI are running more quietly than the single R9 290X or R9 290.  AMD must surely be hoping for a quick release of some improved custom partner-built retail card options.

Performance and Positioning

Where do we start with the AMD Radeon R9 290 when it comes to performance?  Clearly the Hawaii GPU has it where it counts and is able to belt out gaming frames at a pace to beat the best NVIDIA has to offer today.  The R9 290 is able to perform on par with, and is often faster than, the GeForce GTX 780 3GB card based on a slightly cut down GK110 GPU.  Keep in mind that just a couple of weeks ago the GTX 780 was a $650 purchase, and it is getting beat by a $399 AMD card.  Even today at $499 for the GTX 780, AMD is making a case for becoming the best performance per dollar option in the market.

The R9 290 is a bit confusing when compared to the R9 290X.  Both are based on the Hawaii GPU, though the R9 290 has 10% few stream processors and a 5% lower maximum clock, the R9 290 is often at performance parity with the 290X and actually comes out ahead in several instances, particularly around the 4K resolutions.  Why?  The R9 290 is running at a maximum fan speed of 47% thanks to AMD's last minute adjustment while the 290X maximum is set at 40% by default.  Because of that, and for the many technical reasons outlined in my story posted yesterday (AMD Hawaii – Configurable GPU?), the R9 290 is able to run closer to its maximum clock rate more often than the R9 290X.

The R9 290X running in what AMD calls "Uber" mode, with a maximum fan speed of 55%, would surely push the 290X ahead of the 290, but AMD made the decision to ramp up the fan speed settings of this lower cost Hawaii GPU.  For a user that sees both options, the out of box experience for both cards will be pretty close to identical.  The only difference will be the $150 you save if you buy the R9 290.

AMD CrossFire is working much better today than it did 6 months ago as our results show, but I might still hold off on buying a pair of Hawaii GPUs until we give AMD some more time to improve the frame pacing variances we still see.  If you need CrossFire to run an Eyefinity or 4K panel today, a pair of R9 290s for $800 will treat you quite well.

AMD's Aggressive Product Pricing

This leads us to the issue of pricing and AMD's maybe overly aggressive stance.  The R9 290 will cost $399 at launch, clearly making it the best enthusiast graphics card for gamers.  Considering the performance it brings and the cards it competes with, the $399 price tag should be an easy sell.  The R9 290 is much faster than the $329 GeForce GTX 770, while also running past the $100 MORE expensive GTX 780 3GB.  The GTX TITAN shouldn't even be in the conversation for gamers. 

For users considering both the 290 and the 290X, going with the higher priced option makes very little sense based on the metrics we are seeing here today.  The R9 290X is $150 more yet is proving to be only minimally faster at 2560×1440 and actually comes out behind the R9 290 at 3840×2160 testing. 

AMD promises that availability of the R9 290 4GB card will be "strong" but whether or not that is better than what we saw with the R9 290X will just have to be seen. 

Yes, I realize that if you flip the switch to "Uber" mode on the R9 290X that it will definitely turn out faster than the R9 290, but buyers of the $399 option can also just open up the control panel and turn their fan speed maximum to 55% and have, again, another nearly-identical gaming experience. 

Final Thoughts

AMD has definitely gone on the warpath with the Radeon R9 290 4GB graphics card.  Seemingly going straight for the juggular of NVIDIA, the R9 290 is able to perform better than a GeForce GTX 780 for $100 less (which seems like deja vu from last month) while at the same time willing to undercut its own flagship to nearly make it irrelevant to anyone other than those that have the temerity to demand ONLY the best at any cost. 

It's not a perfect card as there are still the issues we saw with the R9 290X present here including fan noise, uncomfortably high temperature GPUs and even variable clock rates that can make estimating performance more difficult.  In fact, the R9 290 is louder than the R9 290X is by default, thanks to the move AMD made to increase fan speed to insure a performance victory over the GTX 780. 

We are also seeing availability issues with Hawaii – finding any in stock has been a struggle for gamers even before the release of the R9 290.  And I think the R9 290 will be significantly more desired than the 290X thanks to the pricing adjustment.

How will NVIDIA respond at this point?  I think a price drop on the GTX 780 (again) is out of the question and the GTX 780 Ti is going after the ultra enthusiast at $699.  NVIDIA does have the advantage of the three game bundle (Splinter Cell, Batman Arkham Origins and Assassin's Creed IV) along with the discount on SHIELD.  Software like GeForce Experience with ShadowPlay is also a nice bundle, but will it be enough for gamers to justify the $100 price increase (and performance delta)?  It's hard to see that happening.

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