Today AMD is pulling the wraps, or the briefcase as it were, off its new flagship GPU - the massively badass Radeon R9 295X2. Packing two fully-loaded R9 290X GPUs, this air-and-water cooled $1,500 GPU is the new "fastest single GPU" on the planet, and sets new records for both benchmark performance as well as sticker price.
When we first heard whispers about a dual-Hawaii card coming out of AMD's Skunk Works, we figured a few things had to happen to make this card a reality. We thought perhaps it would tone down its R9 290X core a bit to keep temperatures somewhat below "thermonuclear," because just one R9 290X GPU needs a cooler the size of Montana to keep it from getting so hot it begins to throttle. Since one of these GPUs runs hotter than Russell Crowe, we figured if AMD had the cajones to put two of them on a PCB it would either need to be liquid-cooled, or severely underclocked so as to not overwhelm whatever massive cooler it had designed. As it turns out, we were sort of wrong, and sort of right, and we couldn't have asked for anything more with the final card we now know as the Radeon R9 295X2.
Instead of making compromises, lowering clock speeds, or both, AMD said "F that" and went all-in, shoving two *overclocked* R9 290X GPUs into a massive 12-inch shroud that is cooled by both liquid and air, then slapping the highest MSRP we've ever seen on a retail GPU in our hardware-watching lives, at least until the GTX Titan Z arrives at some point in the future.
The Radeon R9 295X2 is over 12 inches long. Insert "that's what she said" joke here.
Since we've already covered the Radeon R9 290X in the past, this rundown of the specs will be quick and dirty. Okay, so you take one R9 290X GPU, then take another one, and put them on the same card. There you have it! The only difference between these GPUs and stand-alone R9 290X GPUs is that most of them would hit a boost clock of 1,000MHz if given enough thermal headroom, whereas the GPUs on the R9 295X2 are designed to hit a slightly faster 1,018MHz. Not only that, but due to the increased cooling performance made possible by the Asetek-designed apparatus, you can actually overclock these GPUs as well, which was not possible on a reference R9 290X. Otherwise, specs are exactly double compared to the R9 290X, so there are 5,632 Stream Processors, 12.4 billion transistors, 8GB of RAM total, dual 512-bit memory bus, a 500w TDP, and 11.5Tflops of compute performance. If you're the type who doesn't like reading, and wants to look at a chart, we feel you. Here is a spec chart provided by AMD:
Since the Hawaii core at the heart of the R9 295X2 runs hotter than the surface of the sun, AMD had to enlist the expertise of Asetek to build a custom closed-loop liquid cooling mechanism to keep the GPUs colder than Gwyneth Paltrow's heart. Each GPU gets its own water block to dissipate heat, with liquid entering the system via one tube, swishing around a bit, then squirting over to the second GPU via a connecting tube underneath the shroud. Once it makes its rounds in the second water block it is sent back to the radiator where it's cooled by a 120mm fan. Here's a picture of the whole shebang:
The Asetek cooler is maintenance-free and uses Kool Aid inside. Not really.
The Radeon R9 295X2 is a natural competitor to the GTX Titan Z, but just because both of them sport two of each company's current flagship GPUs, AMD with its R9 290X and Nvidia with its Titan Black. Since the Radeon card costs half the price of a Titan Z they will exist in separate worlds, with the Radeon strictly for gaming and mining, and with the Titan Z for gamers/developers. Also, we still have not seen official specs for the Titan Z, and Nvidia doesn't have it listed on its website, so some of this comparison is pure speculation. That said, let's speculate via this handy chart comparing the two cards:
*The Titan Z's compute ability is unknown, so this is a guess based on 2X Titan Black.
Before we get to the benchmarks, there are two unique attributes of this card we want to point out. The first is that the R9 295X2 has a glowing red logo on its side and a red LED-lit center fan; a first for an AMD GPU. Those who have been green with envy (heh) over Nvidia's glowing GeForce logo will surely appreciate this edition. AMD says it was added as part of the card's "no compromise" design. A second part of that design philosophy extends to the dual eight-pin power connectors, which must each provide 28A of power to the card. This means you can't just run one cable with two eight-pin PCIe connectors on it to the GPU, so you'll essentially need an SLI/CrossFire capable PSU to run this bad boy. It is, after all, a CrossFire GPU.
AMD brings the bling with a glowing logo and LED fan.
Ok, enough jibber jabber. Hit the next page for benchmarks and our final thoughts.
We tested the R9 295X2 on our standard GPU test bench, which is a high-end machine running an Asus Rampage IV Extreme motherboard, Intel Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition CPU, 16GB of DDR3/1600 memory, a Thermaltake ToughPower 1,050 PSU, and Windows 8 Enterprise. We did not have two GTX 780 Ti cards to use for testing, so we compared it to a dual R9 290X cards in CrossFire running at 4K resolution to get things started.
Best scores are bolded
Overall, there's not much surprise here, except for the fact that this is the first single-GPU card we've tested that is actually playable at 4K resolution. Also what you can't experience by looking at this benchmark chart is how loud the R9 290X cards are when run under load in tandem. They make some noise, whereas the R9 295X2 is very, very quiet. There is still a tiny bit of fan noise under load but it's night-and-day compared to a stock R9 290X
Next we compared the R9 295X2 to the GTX 780 Ti, also at 3840x2160.
Best scores are bolded
Compared to the single-GPU competition, well, there is no competition. The R9 295X2 lays the smack down plain and simple, which is to be expected given its numerous advantages.
Next up, the R9 295X2 versus GTX 780 SLI.
Best scores are bolded
The Radeon R9 295X2 is still holding its own against two GTX 780 GPUs. It's a shame we don't have a second GTX 780 Ti though, because it would most likely eat the Radeon's lunch, for less money out the door too. Of course, you have two cards and a lot more heat and noise, but that's the price you pay for extreme performance with this particular config.
Finally, let's have a look at the Radeon R9 295X2 versus the GTX 780 Ti at 2560x1600 with 4XAA enabled.
2560x1600 4XAA Benchmarks
Best scores are bolded
Another smackdown - what a surprise.
It's not often in the GPU game that we have such a one-sided battle, but we certainly do have just that with the powerful R9 295X2. This card kicks all kinds of ass, no doubt about it. It's easily the fastest single-card GPU we've ever tested, and by a healthy margin too. Of course, we don't have dual GTX 780 Ti cards to test it against, so that's unfortunate. Regardless, that would still not change the Radeon's "single card champion" status, which it now claims, unquestionably. Not only is it fast, but it's very quiet and cool too, which are words we never thought we'd say about a fire-breathing Hawaii card, but AMD has certainly done its homework on this one and it delivers on all promises.
Without getting too hyperbolic, in many ways this is essentially the perfect GPU. It offers record-breaking performance, only takes up two-slots, is cool and quiet, and it overclocks. Of course, the one chink in its armor is its $1,500 price tag, which seems insanely high in a market where $1,000 used to be the upper echelon. However, compared to the $3,000 GTX Titan Z the Radeon is actually a bargain, which is another sentence we never thought we'd write, but here we are. Naturally, Nvidia won't take too kind to this type of aggression, so all it has to do now is release a gamer-oriented dual-GPU card such as the mythical GTX 790, hopefully with two GTX 780 Ti cores onboard, and price it at $1,500 and it'll be game, set, match Nvidia. Right after the R9 290X came out and stole the GTX 780's thunder, Nvidia pounced immediately with the GTX 780 Ti to reclaim the "fastest single card" crown, so we expect them to respond to the R9 295X2, and to respond with vigor.