With the launch of AMD’s Radeon R9 290X less than 2 weeks ago, the video card marketplace has become very active very quickly. The 290X not only reasserted AMD’s right to fight for the video card performance crown, but in doing so it has triggered an avalanche of pricing and positioning changes that have affected both NVIDIA and AMD.

NVIDIA for their part cut the price of the GTX 780 and GTX 770 to $500 and $330 respectively, repositioning the cards and giving them their first official price cuts since their spring launches. Meanwhile AMD has also made some changes, and although 290X is unaffected for the moment, 290 was affected before it even launched, receiving an arguably significant specification adjustment. Consequently with GTX 780’s price cut being NVIDIA’s counter to 290X, 290 has gone from just being a lower tier Hawaii card to also being AMD’s counter-counter, and in the process has become a somewhat different card than what it was going to be just one week ago.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s start at the beginning. With the successful launch of the 290X behind them, and the equally successful launch of their new flagship GPU Hawaii, AMD is ready to make their next move. Launching today will be the Radeon R9 290, the obligatory lower-tier part for AMD’s new flagship lineup. Making the usual tradeoffs for a lower-tier part, AMD is cutting down on both the number of functional units and the clockspeeds, the typical methods for die harvesting, in exchange for a lower price. Now officially AMD has not announced the Radeon R9 290 in advance, but with listings for it having already gone up on the same day as the 290X, it’s something that everyone has been expecting.

As always we’ll offer a full breakdown of performance and other attributes in the following pages, but before we even begin with that we want to point out that the 290 is going to be one of AMD’s most controversial and/or hotly debated launches in at least a couple of years. The merits of 290X were already hotly debated in some gaming circles for its noise relative to its performance and competition, and unfortunately 290 is going to be significantly worse in that respect. We’ll have a full rundown in the following pages, but in a nutshell AMD has thrown caution into the wind in the name of maximizing performance.

AMD GPU Specification Comparison
  AMD Radeon R9 290X AMD Radeon R9 290 AMD Radeon R9 280X AMD Radeon HD 7970
Stream Processors 2816 2560 2048 2048
Texture Units 176 160 128 128
ROPs 64 64 32 32
Core Clock 727MHz 662MHz 850MHz 925MHz
Boost Clock 1000MHz 947MHz 1000MHz N/A
Memory Clock 5GHz GDDR5 5GHz GDDR5 6GHz GDDR5 5.5GHz GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 512-bit 512-bit 384-bit 384-bit
VRAM 4GB 4GB 3GB 3GB
FP64 1/8 1/8 1/4 1/4
TrueAudio Y Y N N
Transistor Count 6.2B 6.2B 4.31B 4.31B
Typical Board Power ~300W (Unofficial) ~300W (Unofficial) 250W 250W
Manufacturing Process TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm
Architecture GCN 1.1 GCN 1.1 GCN 1.0 GCN 1.0
GPU Hawaii Hawaii Tahiti Tahiti
Launch Date 10/24/13 11/05/13 10/11/13 12/28/11
Launch Price $549 $399 $299 $549

Diving right into the hardware specifications, Radeon R9 290 is a bit more powerful than usual for a lower-tier part. AMD has cut the number of CUs from 44 to 40 – disabling 1 CU per SE – while adjusting down the base GPU clockspeed and boost GPU clockspeed to from 727MHz and 1000MHz to 662MHz and 947MHz respectively. However AMD has not cut the amount of memory, the memory clockspeed, the memory bus width, or the number of ROPs, leaving those at 5GHz for the memory clockspeed, 512-bits for the memory bus width, and all 64 ROPs for the back-end hardware.

As a result the differences between the 290 and 290X are on paper limited entirely to the clockspeed differences and the reduced number of CUs. At their top boost bins this gives 290 95% the clockspeed of 290X, and 91% of the shader hardware, giving 290 100% of 290X’s memory performance, 95% of 290X’s ROP and geometry performance, and 86% of 290X’s shading/texturing performance.

Compared to AMD’s last generation offerings, the 290 is going to be closer to 290X than 7950 was to 7970. 290 retains a larger percentage of 290X’s shader and ROP performance, never mind the fact that the full 320GB/sec of memory bandwidth is being retained. As such despite the wider price difference this time around, performance on paper is going to be notably closer. Paper will of course be the key word here, as in the case of 290 more so than any other card we’ve looked at in recent history theory and practice will not line up. Compared to the 290X, practice will be favoring the 290 by far.

Moving on to power consumption, perhaps because of AMD’s more aggressive specifications for their lower-tier card this time around, power consumption is not dropping at all. AMD is still not throwing us any useful hard numbers, but based on our performance data we estimate the 290 to have a nearly identical TDP to the 290X, leading us to keep it at an unofficial 300W. Lower-tier parts typically trade performance for power consumption, but that will not be the case here. Power consumption will be identical while performance will be down, so efficiency will be slipping and 290 will have all the same power/cooling requirements as 290X.

Meanwhile like the 290X launch, the 290 launch is going to be a hard launch, and a full reference launch at that. As such we’ll be seeing 290 cards go up for sale at the usual retailers today, with all of those cards using AMD’s reference cooler and reference board, itself unchanged from the 290X.

As for pricing and competitive positioning, AMD will be launching the 290 at what we consider to be a very aggressive price of $399. Based on the initial specifications, the performance, and the competition, we had been expecting AMD to launch this at $449, mirroring the launch of the 7950 in the process. But AMD has gone one step further by significantly undercutting both themselves and NVIDIA.

290’s immediate competition on the AMD side will be the $549 290X above it and the $299 280X below it, while on the NVIDIA side the competition will be the $499 GTX 780 above it and the $329 GTX 770 below it. Pricing wise this puts 290 as closer competition to 280X/GTX 770 than it does the high-tier cards, but as we’ll see in our benchmarks AMD is aiming for the top with regards to performance, which will make price/performance comparisons both interesting and frustrating at the same time.

NVIDIA for their part will have their 3 game Holiday GeForce Bundle on the GTX 780 and GTX 770, presenting the same wildcard factor for overall value that we saw with the 290X launch. As always, the value of bundles are ultimately up to the buyer, especially in this case since we’re looking at a rather significant $100 price gap between the 290 and the GTX 780.

Fall 2013 GPU Pricing Comparison
AMD Price NVIDIA
Radeon R9 290X $550  
  $500 GeForce GTX 780
Radeon R9 290 $400  
  $330 GeForce GTX 770
Radeon R9 280X $300  
  $250 GeForce GTX 760
Radeon R9 270X $200  
  $180 GeForce GTX 660
  $150 GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost
Radeon R7 260X $140  

 

AMD's Last Minute 290 Revision & Meet The Radeon R9 290
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  • mattgmann - Tuesday, November 5, 2013 - link

    I'd really like to see some benchmarks with this and the 290x under water.

    For someone like me that has already invested in building a water cooling setup and seen a few generations of hardware pass through it, the idea of watercooling the graphics card is a foregone conclusion.

    The only added cost to me in upgrading the cooling is a few dollars worth of memory and other heatsinks to put on the card since I'd be using a universal gpu block.

    I have a feeling that with the thermal levels in check, these cards will probably perform a good bit quicker than they already do (and that much more than the competition).
    Reply
  • supamark - Tuesday, November 5, 2013 - link

    "At the end of the day the 290 is 9.7dB louder than its intended competition, the GTX 780. With a 10dB difference representing a two-fold increase in noise on a human perceptual basis, the 290 is essentially twice as loud as the GTX 780."

    Un, no. Learn to dB... 3 dB would mean it's twice as loud, 10 dB means it's 10x as loud, the decibel is a log scale.
    Reply
  • NomanA - Tuesday, November 5, 2013 - link

    Human audio perception is also on a somewhat logarithmic scale. Twice as loud, doesn't mean, two times a certain value on a linear scale. Reply
  • supamark - Tuesday, November 5, 2013 - link

    Sorry, but 3 dB is twice as loud. 10 dB, aka 1 Bel, is 10 times as loud. You hear 3 dB as twice as loud. You should just read this.... (3rd paragraph) instead of arguing.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decibel
    Reply
  • kiwidude - Tuesday, November 5, 2013 - link

    You are incorrect, 3dB represents a ratio of two to one or a doubling of power. Perception of loudness is not the same as sound pressure level or power. An increase of 10db SPL is perceived to be approximately twice as loud.

    I suggest you read instead of arguing. http://trace.wisc.edu/docs/2004-About-dB/
    Reply
  • Sancus - Wednesday, November 6, 2013 - link

    You're talking about power. Ryan Smith is talking about perceptual loudness. They're completely different. 10db does NOT sound 10 times as loud to your ear. It merely represents ten times as much power.

    http://trace.wisc.edu/docs/2004-About-dB/
    Reply
  • piroroadkill - Wednesday, November 6, 2013 - link

    You would need to start talking about human-hearing-weighted scales at that point to get any kind of "X as loud" to us, type measurements. Which is where dBA is often the go to scale. Reply
  • philosofa - Tuesday, November 5, 2013 - link

    Don't quote me regulations. I co-chaired the committee that reviewed the recommendation to revise the color of the book that regulation's in. We kept it gray.

    Excellent editing ser :)
    Reply
  • dudeofdur - Tuesday, November 5, 2013 - link

    bracket + closed loop water cooler. Boom, solved your problem Reply
  • Torm - Tuesday, November 5, 2013 - link

    It is sad when a review is so biased, that the reviewer doesn't appreciate extra performance. If you prefer a quiet card, turn the fan speed down. You are here to review the performance, and while the noise level is taken into consideration, in your final thoughts, you never once say "While the may be loud, you can always adjust fan levels to find the right sound for you." This card, by performance numbers, should have been a very high recommendation, with a note on it being loud. You decided in the review of the card, that you had rather recommend against it, as opposed to being honest. While I tested the card, I found it loud yes, but I also found that if I was an "Average" consumer, who will have their computer case sitting at least 2-3 feet from them, and listening to the audio of a game, movie, or music, that the audio difference between it and the 780 is barely noticed. This is a good review ruined by Biased minded comments. If you are looking for one of the best cards out there, and the BEST value for your money. This card IS it. Bar None. Just to be clear. I am a Hardcore Titan fan, but if I were to build a PC today, this would be the card I went with. Reply

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