The Card, Installation, Power Considerations
AMD told us, early in our communications about the Radeon R9 295X2, that this card "was not for everyone". At first I was just assuming this meant we were going to see a limited edition style pricing or that availability itself would be limited. It also turns out they were referring the knowledge necessary to actually purchase and install it.
The Radeon R9 295X2 has a TDP of 500 watts. If you do some simple math based on the PCIE specifications of power delivery, a PCI Express graphics card with two 8-pin power connectors is supposed to be limited to just 375 watts of power draw: 75 watts from the PCIe slot, 150 watts from each power connection. AMD has, as they put it, used some discretion with the standards.
Even though those are the standard for power delivery, the actual physical limits of current drawn from these PCIe connections is limited by the quality of the power supply and the quality of the components used on the graphics card. High end power supply vendors have been over delivering on capabilities for years, using their own standards for quality that reach well above the minimum specs from the standards board. Taking a slight risk with this stance, AMD is depending on consumers and system builders to be smart enough to balance this extremely expensive graphics card with the appropriate power supplies.
In order to properly power the R9 295X2, a user’s power supply must be able to provide 28A of power to each of the separate 8-pin connectors. Or, the unit must be able to provide 50A of current over a pair of them combined on single rail power supplies. For those of us with split rail power supply designs, it means you are going to have to do some homework on what rails you can use to install the R9 295X2, down to which of your physical cables or connections on the back of the PSU should be connected to the card.
This is a lot more work than we have ever needed to do, in the past, when deciding to install a video card. I am sure there will be at least a handful of buyers that don't quite understand the new restrictions. As I said, AMD is taking a bit of risk with this solution but there was no other way for them to offer the card they wanted to build. I wonder why AMD chose to not go with a third PCIe 8-pin connector instead, much like the ASUS ARES II did…?
Perhaps, they might have been able to include a third PCIe power connector, colored differently, which is optional for users who could power the 295X2 with just two 8-pin PCIe cables? In that configuration, it could have been branded as an enthusiast feature.
In a CrossFire configuration with two of the Radeon R9 295X2 cards, AMD is also requiring there to be least one full slot of clearance between the cards in the PC. This is usually something we recommend but AMD, obviously, finds it a necessity this time around, for one reason or another.
The list of restrictions for this card are longer than anything we have seen before. Larger power supplies, specific rail current requirements, no power adapters on the cables in use, a free 120mm x 120mm mounting location for the radiator (within 380mm of the card), an empty slot for dual card configurations. It may seem like a daunting list and some users will find a reason to chastise AMD for all of these caveats. Personally I find it difficult to fault AMD for going this route and instead applaud them for taking some chances to bring a truly powerful card to those users that understand it and want to pay for it.
Speaking of paying for it, the $1499 price tag is obviously going to keep ths R9 295X2 from most users hands and limit availability considerably. From a pure performance per dollar consideration the R9 295X2 is within range of reason – a pair of GeForce GTX 780 Ti cards will run you $1399 and a pair of base R9 290X cards, $1200. Still, only the crazy need apply here.
Everyone’s opinion is going to be a bit different, but it appears obvious that AMD took some cues from the looks and quality that NVIDIA built around the GeForce GTX 700-series and the GTX TITAN cards. No longer is the heatsink shrouded in cheap plastic but instead we get a metal surface with contrasting black and silver colors. The red fan in the center and the red Radeon logo up top create a pair of very specific and very overt branding locations.
With the water tubing coming out of the top, along with the power cable for the fan, you get a slight Frankenstein sense with the whole package when placed on a table. Once installed though, all you notice is the raw performance of dual Hawaii GPUs.
As mentioned above, the R9 295X2 requires a pair 8-pin PCIe power connections to operate. Of course, these are somewhat out of spec, so keep in mind the power supply limitations we discussed above.
External display connections include a single dual-link DVI port and four mini DisplayPort connections, for a total of five supported monitors. This is one shy of the “Eyefinity 6” cards AMD has released in the past but as usual, AMD points to the capability of MST hubs if you need more than 5 monitors. A card with this much power had BETTER be powering a gaming system with multiple displays in an Eyefinity setup, or possibly even one (or more) 4K panel.
The metal plate covers and protects the components on back of the card.
Interestingly, where you normally have found the CrossFire connections from the pre-Hawaii GPUs, you can still see the location where traces would have been had XDMA not been implemented. That switch you see up top apparently has no function, although AMD did hint that might change in the future…
This image shows us the Radeon R9 295X2, the Radeon HD 7990, and the GeForce GTX 690 for size reference.
The ASUS ARES II is the same length as the new R9 295X2 but is noticeably taller and heavier than what AMD has built.