Preview: Noisy Red Menace
The eagerly awaited Hawaii GPU got its official brand last month and now it’s finally official and available for less than 500 euro, or 549 greenbacks. The big kahuna, the faster of two cards based on Hawaii XT is known as the Radeon R9 290X, while the Hawaii Pro version is the R9 290.
The new Hawaii XT chip is the first significant "big core” GPU from AMD since the launch of the Radeon 7000 series in Q4 2011. It took a while before the Tahiti 28nm chip got a serious successor that could step on Nvidia’s toes. Not only that, but in many cases the R9 290X can bring the fight to Nvidia’s new Geforce GTX 780 Ti, and keep in mind that NV’s new card is quite a bit pricier. Even the Geforce Titan ends up slower than the R9 290X in Über mode, but we can pretty much forget about the Titan from a gaming perspective. We reckon it will be discontinued soon.
A year ago people started talking that AMD will simply pull out of the big core business both in the graphics space and in CPUs. People predicted that the future is in smaller, more flexible cores, like GK104 and Pitcairn XT chips that will perform well and won’t end up with 4+ billion transistors. Nvidia designed the GK110 for the compute market and then introduced it to gaming with whopping 7.08 billion transistors and a year later AMD has introduced Hawaii, yet another immense GPU.
AMD’s Hawaii is a 438 mm2 chip with 6.2 billion transistors, 2816 stream processors (44 Compute Units x 4 SIMD-Units x 16 Slots), 176 Texture mapping units (44 Compute Units x 4 Texture units) and 64 Render outputs (4-Shader engines x 4-ROP-Partions x 4-ROPs), texture fill rate of up to 175 GT/s and up to 64Gpixels a second. It has a new 512-bit memory interface (8x 64-Bit-Controller) coupled with 4GB of GDDR5, ensuring a data rate up to 5 Gbps and 320GB/s data bandwidth.
If you look at the table below, this means that the chip is roughly twice as powerful as the old R9 270X.
DirectX 11.2 is supported along with OpenGL 4.3 and AMDs own new low level programming interface known as Mantle (which is also supported on all AMD cards based on GCN).
During its latest event AMD also announced TrueAudio, but this hardware-accelerated audio processing feature is not supported by older GPUs, including Tahiti parts. At the moment, only Bonaire and Hawaii XT/PRO based cards support TrueAudio. Lichdom, Murdered, Star Citizen and Thief will the first games with TrueAudio support, according to AMD.
AMD’s Radeon R9 290X works up to 1000MHz depending on how hot it gets in the process. Overall, it is a rather hot card as its target temperature is just 5 Celsius of short of water boiling point 100 degrees Celsius, but the card runs stable. And no, you can’t use it to brew an espresso. It will be remembered as the first reference card in a while that comes with dual bios settings: Über, a noisier setting that will allow overclocking and enable super-fast performance and the Normal bios that will keep the GPU a bit cooler and result with slightly lower performance.
The surprisingly low $549 suggested retail price made it instantly very competitive with Nvidia’s Geforce GTX 780 card as well as the Titan. Nvidia responded with the Geforce 780 Ti, making things more interesting. Nvidia’s card is cooler and quieter but at $699 it’s quite a bit more expensive. We will leave this part for later discussion after we run some benchmarks.
Radeon R9 290X was born in Hawaii and got quite a lot of coverage from top gaming and hardware outlets around the world. It came at the right time, just as the PC gaming reboot kicking off with some great games that came out earlier this year and the ones that are rolling out in time for the holidays. Crysis 3, Tomb Raider, Batman Arkham Origin as well as Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty Ghost make for a very impressive line-up. Some great driving games such as Dirt Showdown came out too and we won't forget GTA 5 that generated a billion dollars of revenue practically overnight. Assassins Creed for all Jonny Depp lovers is another awesome looking game.
Despite the fact that the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are rolling out, GPUs and PC gaming have never been stronger. The reason is simple - the Radeon R9 290X and Geforce 780 Ti are much faster than the graphics part inside of these great consoles and deliver visual quality you’ve never seen before, at a price of course. Let's see how they compare.