Will third party PCBs and cooling solutions clean the egg on AMDs face, surrounding the R9 290X?
As a follow up to my post about Radeon R9 290X and its thermal throttling, there has been some ripples in the pond, especially around third party cards. The issue with all reference R9 290X cards (PCB and cooling designed by AMD as a reference for their partners to follow for minimum power and cooling requirements) has been that the cards have no minimum clock speed. The room and case you're running the card in are the metrics that will decide what clock the card will run at... NVIDIA has a minimum clock speed that their cards will run at and it will clock up if it has the thermal headroom. AMD R9 cards will just keep clocking down with no base(clock). There is so much drama around this card, I encourage you to Dorito it and see for yourself.
Well, partners like ASUS and MSI are giving out samples of non-reference PCB and cooling solutions for the 290X this week. The results are astounding. The reviews of the ASUS DirectCU II specifically, show that the card can sustain 15% faster clocks due to more effective cooling. The main issue I have with R9 290X is still not resolved. There is still no minimum clock speed and if you don't have exceptional cooling, I still suggest you do not buy a 290X. Don't be fooled by the price difference between AMD and NVIDIA's flagship cards. They are not created equal in this current iteration. There is a real value in spending a little more money for knowing exactly how your GPU will perform. At least you get to choose if you're on the red team or the gold team when you buy ASUS's latest! Nonetheless, I'm glad to see board partners picking up the slack that AMD left out there. We need at least a two horse race if we expect any innovation in the industry, so thank you for keeping AMD in the race, ASUS! Here is a link to a review of the ASUS Radeon R9 290X DirectCU II for you to check out!
PC component performance, heat and you!
The AMD Radeon R9 Series follows the latest trend in PC components having their advertised performance rated as an "up to X Mhz". You can no longer buy a GPU or CPU for that matter and have the rating on the package be the actual real world performance all the time. It's complicated...
For the sake of this writing, most graphics cards have 3 states of perfomance, which is also related to their power consumption and heat output. When you're not gaming, your GPU is in what I call, "desktop mode". It is a low power, low heat, low performance mode where you get maybe a 2-300 Mhz of your advertized 1 Ghz performance. It is intended to save power, so we lower the clock to draw windows on the monitor for tasks like browsing the web. This lowers heat, fan noise and power usage. We don't need to run full bore, so we don't!
Next up is, "gaming mode"! It is as it implies, the GPU runs at full power and speed to give you all the gaming performance you paid for... sort of. Every manufacturer has a different implementation, but the gist is that these modern chips will run as fast as they can, as long as they stay under a temperature or power envelope set by the manufacturer. So for example, NVIDIA's GPU runs at a set minimum clock speed and can throttle up to higher clocks so long as it stays under a set power or thermal limit. This is the third state that I call, "turbo mode". If you have better system cooling, you get higher clocks and lower fan speeds on the GPU at all speed steppings. This desktop, gaming and turbo mode model are the standard these days. My concern is the approach AMD took on its flagship R9 series GPUs.
The R9 290 and 290X have implemented more of a 2 stage approach. In gaming mode, instead of implementing a minimum clock speed, that will be maintained at all costs, at the expense of ramping the fan up and up, like intel and NVIDIA, they reduce their clock speed to maintain thermals, lower and lower. So there is no base clock speed. Unless you use an overclocking utility to override the settings, the 290X for example will not let the fan speed exceed 40% of its top speed, to preserve noise levels and thermals over performance. So if you don't have optimal system cooling, you get lower levels of performance, to maintain the thermals. This is counterintuitive to my brain!
If you do not wish to tweak your PC parts out of spec, for whatever reason, you should think twice about buying the R9 series cards. Without some tuning, you will not get the speeds in benchmarks you're seeing on the net. Most of the big review sites do not review GPUs in a closed case as you will. They have open system benches built for the convenience of swithcing out parts with ease. These issues the R9 displays are not going to be exposed unless thermal loads are real world. The R9 also has much higher operating temperatures. Their gaming mode temperature target is 90-95C. NVIDIA has much more efficient operating temps around 80-85C. The temperatures vary depending on the specific model. Fan noise levels are another consideration. Higher temps means more fan speed. The decibel scale is logarithmic so a few dbA higher can be much louder! You can read more about all of this here.
Need a video card before Star Wars: The Old republic comes out, but want to keep it under $150? Some recommendations...
Both of these cards are under $150 and support dual and even triple monitor setups and DirectX 11.
Ready to upgrade your video card soon?
Quote directly from the AMD earnings conference call today:
"We will be launching our second-generation DX11 graphics offerings next week."
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