Cool; quiet; fast; overclockable.
Expensive; hard to find.
Aftermarket Radeon R9 290X GPUs are beginning to make the rounds, and this month we had a WindForce-cooled behemoth from Gigabyte strutting its stuff in the lab. Unlike last month’s Sapphire Tri-X R9 290X , this board features a custom PCB in addition to the custom cooler, whereas the Sapphire slapped a huge cooler onto the reference design circuit board. Theoretically, this could allow for higher overclocks on the Gigabyte due to better-quality components, but more on that later.
Unlike the reference design, Gigabyte’s R9 290X is cool, quiet, and overclockable.
This is the overclocked version of the card, so it clocks up to 1,040MHz under load, which is a mere 40MHz over stock. These boards always have conservative overclocks out of the box, though, and that is by no means the final clock speed for this card. We’ve covered its WindForce cooler in past reviews, so we won’t go into all the details, but it’s a three-fan cooler that only takes up two PCIe slots and uses six heat pipes with inclined heatsinks to better dissipate the warm. It’s good for 450W of heat dispersal, according to Gigabyte, and since the R9 290X is roughly a 300W card (AMD has never given a TDP for this particular model for some reason), the WindForce cooler should be more than up to the job.
Like all Radeon R9 290X boards, this sucker is big and long, measuring 11.5 inches. Gigabyte recommends you use at least a 600W power supply with it, and it sports two dual-link DVI ports for 2560x1600 gaming, as well as HDMI 1.4 and DisplayPort 1.2a if you want to run 4K. The card comes bundled with a free set of headphones. It used to include a free copy of Battlefield 4, but the company told us it was no longer offering the game bundle because it had run out of coupons. The MSRP of the board is $620, but some stores had it for $599 while others marked it up to $700.
Once we had this Windy Bad Boy in the lab, we were very curious to compare it to the Sapphire Tri-X R9 290X we tested last month. Since both cards feature enormous aftermarket coolers, have the exact same specs and clocks, and are roughly the same price, we weren’t surprised to find that they performed identically for the most part.
If you look at the benchmark chart, in every test the two cards are almost exactly the same—the only exception being Metro, but since that’s a PhysX game, AMD cards can get a bit wonky sometimes. In every other test, the two cards are within a few frames-per-second difference, making them interchangeable. Both cards also run in the mid–70 C zone under load, which is 20 C cooler than the reference design. We were able to overclock both cards to just a smidge over 1,100MHz, as well.
“Okay,” you are saying to yourself. “I’m ready to buy!” Well, that’s where we run into a small problem. Gigabyte’s MSRP for this card is $620—the same as the Sapphire Tri-X card—but at press time, the cheapest we could find it for was $700 on Newegg. We can’t ding Gigabyte for Newegg’s pricing, but it’s a real shame these R9 290X cards are so damned expensive.
|Gigabyte Radeon R9 290X OC||Sapphire Tri-X Radeon R9 290X||AMD Radeon R9 290X Reference||Gigabyte GeForce GTX 780 GHz |
|3DMark Fire Strike||9,837||9,820||9,737||9,695|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0 (fps) ||34||33||32||39|
|Unigine Valley 1.0 (fps)||41||40||36||47|
|Call of Duty: Ghosts (fps)||48||44||47||53|
|Crysis 3 (fps)||32||30||28||30|
|Far Cry 3 (fps)||38||39||31||44|
|Tomb Raider (fps)||26||26||27||25|
|Metro: Last Light (fps)||18||26||17||25|
|Battlefield 4 (fps)||46||46||45||47|
|Assassin's Creed: |
Black Flag (fps)
Best scores are bolded. Our test bed is a 3.33GHz Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition in an Asus Rampage IV Extreme motherboard with 16GB of DDR3/1600 and a Thermaltake ToughPower 1,050W PSU. The OS is 64-bit Windows 8. All games are run at 2560x1600 with 4X AA except for the 3DMark tests.