Overclocking and Conclusions
As with any and all overclocking, your mileage is going to vary so don't consider our results here as the end-all to how the ASUS DirectCU II card will perform for you. That being said, I was pretty impressed with the results I saw with our somewhat limited overclocking time.
ASUS' GPUTweak software is among the best in the market for tweaking and changing the settings of your graphics card. You can use it with just about any card from any vendor, but you'll only get the advanced settings like voltage control with specific ASUS models.
By increasing the voltage to 1.35v I was able to hit a clock speed of 1150 MHz without any stability issues. I did reach the 1.2 GHz mark for about 25 minutes but wasn't able to keep it 100% stable at any voltage settings. I am still playing around with this card in our primary test bed so we'll be looking to find some more ways to really push this card in the next couple of days while we await some more products' arrival.
Maybe the best news is that even with this overclock, running Metro: Last Light for an extended loop, we never saw the GPU temperature exceed 86C. The 1150 MHz clock speed was pretty much fixed (no variance) and the fan speed stayed around the 2000 RPM mark (53%). Yes, it was louder than stock but still not close to what we have seen with the AMD cards in quiet or Uber mode.
More to come!!
First, the obvious. The overclocked ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II is without a doubt faster than the Radeon R9 290X cards that exist today with the reference cooler and stock settings. But the performance advantages of the ASUS DC2 card are well beyond the simple 50 MHz increase in the "maximum" clock speed specification. In my testing, the 1050 MHz setting from ASUS actually seemed like a standard component specification – out of the box card was able to hit and maintain that performance level without any issues, and without the complications of noise and heat.
Remember on the second page when I showed you this image?
The ASUS DirectCU II card is only listed as being 50 MHz faster than the Sapphire reference card if you just look at the box or the text on the retailers websites. But, in my testing, that difference is more like 178 MHz, or 17.8% of the reference spec. That's a HUGE difference and is more than enough to raise eyebrows. Considering the minimal $20 MSRP jump ASUS is asking for, over the stock designs, how could AMD have not come up with a similarly performing solution for their flagship cards?
Once we bring the NVIDIA cards into the picture, we can see that the GeForce GTX 780 Ti is once again fighting for its dominance. When it was released, the R9 290X had clock variance and noise concerns that kept the $699 juggernaut in the driver's seat. With the release of the ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II (and others) coming down the pipe that seat might have a new resident. The ASUS card performed better than the GTX 780 Ti in Bioshock Infinite and Crysis 3 while the GTX 780 Ti's only definitive victory came in Battlefield 3. In the three other games tested, the cards were so close that I'll call it a performance tie.
Mixing colors?? Don't get crazy now…
But let's take that pricing structure into account…
Pricing and Availability
Before we go any further, yes we know there are some issues with R9 290X availability. It's out of stock or over priced everywhere you look but I am hopefully that will change in the coming weeks. I think that part of the hold up has been AMD's desire to see custom designs rather than reference designs populate physical and virtual store shelves. But, if we look at the expected MSRP of the competitors, here is where we stand:
- ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II 4GB – $569 (mid-January)
- AMD Radeon R9 290X 4GB – $549 (Newegg.com)
- AMD Radeon R9 290 4GB – $399 (Newegg.com)
- AMD Radeon R9 280X 3GB – $299 (Newegg.com)
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Ti 3GB – $699 (Newegg.com)
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 3GB – $499 (Newegg.com)
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770 2GB – $329 (Newegg.com)
If everything were great in the land of AMD availability, the ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II would be the obvious winner. It is $130 less than the GTX 780 Ti while offering nearly the same gaming performance. It is only $20 more than the reference cooled launch version of the R9 290X and yet it performs and behaves in a much more sane and expected manner. It's only $70 more than the GTX 780 yet is shown to have substantially better performance.
But everything isn't great and word from ASUS tells me that these DirectCU II cards aren't going to be made available for purchase until sometime in the middle of January. Not December, January. Meaning we are at least 30 days away from availability of these incredibly impressive graphics cards.
What is a gamer with a lot of money and a desire to game to do? Wait? Buy an NVIDIA option that is available today? Pick up a PS4 or Xbox One instead? Lots of options but none of them are particularly great for AMD until stock begins to fill in.
The ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II is one of the best graphics cards I have ever tested in the PC Perspective labs. It takes a powerful GPU that was first released with a lot of concerns and irons them all out. This card runs at consistent clock speeds. It keeps the GPU much cooler (in the Performance setting). It also doesn't have the sound profile of a Dyson. (I kid, I kid.) It looks great, overclocks well and ASUS is only asking $20 more than the current MSRP. You can't really demand much more from an enthusiast class GPU today!
Well, except for it be available for purchase. That's the one gripe I have – users want these cards and they are going to want them today, as they read this review. But ASUS says you'll have to wait until 15-20 days into the new year for your chance.
If you were thinking of picking up an R9 290X I would highly recommend you wait for custom designs like the one ASUS has put on display here today. It totally changes the game.
(Editor's Note: I know that some of you might have concerns over the fact that we are so glowing on this card without testing a purchased sample of the unit to test for any kind of "funny business" that might occur this time around. It's a fair concern and we plan on fixing that when we have the capability to actually purchase these cards…)