With the launch of the R9 290X and R9 290, AMD has caused a huge mess in the high-end market. It shook up Nvidia, introduced very disruptive pricing and brought a considerable performance leap compared to previous generation Tahiti parts. Nvidia’s two top cards, which it bragged about for months, were squarely beaten by the smaller and cheaper Hawaii GPU.
However, to some extent it was a Pyrrhic victory. The R9 290X needs Uber BIOS to truly wipe the floor with the GTX 780 but with the stock cooler it ends up a lot louder than Nvidia’s offering. Nvidia countered with the GTX 780 Ti, scoring a Pyrrhic victory of its one. The car ended up marginally faster than the R9 290X, but the difference is negligible and in quite a few titles the Radeon pulls ahead. In addition, Nvidia’s card costs $150 more, but it does ship with a much better reference cooler.
Noise is not the only reason we are moaning about the cooler. The Hawaii chip clearly has more potential. With a better cooler, Power Tune 2 wouldn’t have to be so aggressive, so the card could spend more time running at 1000MHz. With an even better cooler, it could be overclocked further.
In Quiet mode, the R9 290X easily matches the GTX 780, but in Uber mode it can hold its ground against the much pricier GTX 780 Ti.
Although it has quite a few things going for it, namely value, there are a few things that really have the potential of ruining the card’s image. It’s hot, loud and power consumption in multi monitor mode is relatively high. Custom cards could address the biggest shortcomings, provided AMD AIBs come up with really, really good coolers. We are confident that at least some of them will.
However, at the end of the day the shortcomings are outweighed by the whole package. The price is very good, the card has 4GB of memory, TrueAudio and Mantle support and let’s not forget about the Battlefield 4 bundle, provided you can find it in retail.
We have to recommend the R9 290X as the best bang-for-buck card today, but with a caveat – if you are a hardcore gamer or a professional in need of a powerful GPU that will run much of the day, you really need a better cooler to make the most of your Hawaii GPU. Getting an aftermarket cooler is an option, but it’s probably best to wait for non-reference cards with custom coolers to roll out. In this case, they will be worth the premium.