3DMark, Power, Sound and Conclusions

As a quick card to card comparison, I took the MSI R9 290X Lightning and plotted it against the ASUS R9 290X DC2, the Sapphire R9 290X Tri-X and the original reference R9 290X in 3DMark.

Though the margin is slim, the MSI card offers the best out of box performance of the three after market designs. 

Power consumed by our complete GPU test bed is pretty much the same regardless of the specific R9 290X in use. 

Sound levels are different story though, and the MSI Lightning shows its one glaring weakness. The triple fan design of the cooler is the loudest of the after market cards by a wide margin. Both the ASUS and the Sapphire card are noticeably quieter during operation at idle AND load. Yes, the MSI fan tool lets you adjust fan speeds if you want to, but the default experience is creeping up on the sound levels of the reference card, which clearly isn't good.

Pricing and Availability

As expected, the MSI Radeon R9 290X Lightning card is one of the more expensive options on the market. You can find it selling on Amazon.com today for $704, which is a hefty price increase over the cheapest R9 290X cards available.

This does put MSI in a bad spot from a cost perspective – how much advantage does the cooler and design of the Lightning card really offer over the ASUS or Sapphire options and is it worth as much as $130 more? You can find the MSI 290X Lightning on Newegg.com for $679, a bit lower than on Amazon, but that doesn't drastically change the picture.

Final Thoughts

The Radeon R9 290X Lightning continues MSI tradition of building incredibly impressive and over-engineered graphics cards. The Lightning brand is well represented by this card with a custom PCB design enabling impressive overclocking ability while also offering features like the LN2 switch and voltage monitoring connections. While the out-of-box performance was not as impressive as the size of the card might indicate, the overclocking capability of the cooler is among the highest we have seen. It sure is pricey though, there is no getting around that point. But if you want a flagship Hawaii graphics card to power your gaming system there are few options better than the MSI R9 290X Lightning.

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