PROS / This graphics card has high memory bandwidth and excellent game performance.
CONS / The card is loud and consumes a lot of power.
VERDICT / For gaming and hardware enthusiasts, the 290X delivers on almost everything. Its loud fans aside, the 290X outperforms most other single-card GPUs.
The AMD Radeon R9 290X is an excellent graphics card. Across our slew of performance tests, this card sustained high frame rates in almost every category. The card's Hawaii GPU is incredibly powerful, it's well suited to multi-display setups and it works with pretty much every API. Our only real concerns with the 290X are noise and power consumption. In both of these areas, the 290X fell short of the average. Thanks to the card's high memory bandwidth, excellent multi-monitor support and above average performance, the 290X earns the Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award.
At 1080p, this card can handle any game and any settings that you throw at it. You can expect over 60 frames per second (fps) with even the most graphics-intensive games. If you want to step up to 2160p and 4k gaming, then the 290X suffers a bit. It's difficult for any single card to run games well at 2160p. That said, the 290X can handle many games on high settings at this resolution with a caveat: You get around 51 fps without antialiasing (of course, at such high resolutions, antialiasing isn't really necessary). If you want higher fps, you're better off with two cards.
When you look at our graphics card comparison, it's clear that the 290X is one of the best graphics card in the performance category. With an average frame rate of 93.3, it outperforms the Nvidia GTX 780 and some other top-tier cards. If you want a graphics card that can handle more than 1080p, the 290X is a good choice.
The 290X is based on the Hawaii GPU, which uses the Graphics Core Next architecture. This GPU is essentially the older brother of the Tahiti GPU, with many more transistors and compute units. The GPU is manufactured with the 28 nm process, which is standard for current graphics cards, and it boasts 44 compute units. What this all means is that the 290X is much more complex than the 280X. In this case, more complexity is a good thing.
You get 2,816 stream processors on the 290X. That's a considerably higher number than most of the other graphics cards on our lineup have. This is partly what powers the 290X above the competition on our lineup. What really boosts the 290X's performance is its 512-bit memory bus. Despite the card's relatively low memory clock rate of 1250MHz, the 290X still manages to put through 320GB of information every second.
A good analogy for this is that the memory clock speed determines how fast information can move on an information freeway. A high speed is good, but if there's only one lane on the freeway, only so much traffic can get through. The memory bus determines how wide the freeway is. The 290X's memory bus is like a five-lane freeway that has a somewhat lower speed limit than other cards' two- or three-lane freeways. The net result is more information moving per second.
Noise and Power
The 290X is loud – one of the loudest graphics cards on our lineup. If you don't mind the sound of fans, then the noise might not hold much weight for you, but it's important to understand why the card is loud. The 290X consumes a lot of power. Our tests found that it uses around 242 watts during gaming sessions and a maximum of 305 watts. In the world of PCs, more power generally means faster clock cycles. It also means more heat. The fans on the 290X are loud because they have to work hard to dissipate that heat.
AMD's graphics division touts its newest graphics cards as capable of handling 4K gaming, and it's taking the initiative in creating drivers to support 4K. The 290X handles ultra HD and 4K better than most of the other cards on our lineup. With AMD's Eyefinity technology, you can game on a single monitor at up to 4K resolutions – though such monitors are quite expensive.
You can also use Eyefinity to create an immersive gaming experience across up to six monitors. The maximum resolution Eyefinity supports is 7680 x 3200 across multiple monitors. For that kind of gaming, you definitely need a two-card setup in order to manage reasonable gameplay.
AMD's Radeon R9 290X is one of the best graphics cards we've seen. The combination of a powerful GPU and AMD's innovative technologies make the 290X a powerhouse that can ease you into the world of ultra HD and 4K gaming. The card suffers from loud fans and large power consumption, but those are our only complaints. The 290X's strong points are its high memory bandwidth, Eyefinity multi-monitor support and excellent performance across the board.