Ok, you know the drill here. We'll sum up our performance results and mash 'em up with the latest prices in a couple of our handy scatter plots. As ever, the best values will gravitate toward the top left corner of the plot, while the worst will be near the bottom right. The two legacy Radeons are shown at their introductory prices to make you dance with glee about progress—or, you know, not be impressed, if somehow that's your reaction.
Remember how I said up front that my task was simple this time around? Here's why. The R9 290 is just ever so slightly slower than the R9 290X and essentially matches the GeForce GTX 780. Yet it costs $150 less than the 290X and a hundred bucks less than the GTX 780. This card's value proposition is outstanding. AMD clearly wants to win in this product category, and they've practically sacrificed the viability of the R9 290X in order to do so. The R9 290 is virtually the same thing as the 290X at a handsome discount—and it's a way better value than the GeForce GTX 780, too.
Much has been made of the R9 290X's relatively high power draw, operating temperatures, and noise levels. Obviously, the R9 290 shares these same characteristics, with a somewhat louder default fan profile. In my view, the only one of these properties that's really worth fussing over is the noise, since it's the thing you'll notice in day-to-day use.
We're apparently going to have to face this price/performance-versus-acoustics tradeoff for a while, so I spent some quality time with the R9 290 trying to get a handle on what I think of the noise, beyond the readings on the decibel meter. I've gotta say, there are some mitigating factors. For one, I like AMD's choice to stick with a blower that exhausts hot air out of the case rather than going for a triple-fan cooler that doesn't. I've seen those fan-based aftermarket coolers perform poorly in multi-GPU configs, and they often occupy quite a bit more space—maybe even a third expansion slot—in order to work their magic. I'm also not convinced AMD's cooler is a poor performer and therefore noisy, as some folks seem to think. Remember, it has more heat to remove than any of the coolers on the other cards we tested. Finally, I don't think this blower's ~49 dBA reading is the worst of its type. The quality of the sound isn't grating. Subjectively speaking, there are much more annoying coolers in this territory on the decibel meter. The impressively smooth, gradual ramp of fan speeds up and down in the new PowerTune algorithm helps make the noise less noticeable, too. This ain't an FX-5800 Ultra, folks.
Before you run off and do some damage to your credit card, I would advise waiting just a few more days. I've been working on upgrading our GPU test rigs to Windows 8.1, attaching a 4K monitor, and installing new releases like Battlefield 4 and Arkham Origins. Fancy new game testing at 4K will soon commence. I really need to spend some quality time closely inspecting the behavior of AMD's new XDMA-based CrossFire mechanism, too. As you might be aware, Nvidia plans to release the GeForce GTX 780 Ti in two days. You can imagine some activity in Damage Labs around that development. If you can sit tight, we'll know a lot more very soon.
Then again, if you can't wait and want to pull the trigger on an R9 290 today, I can't say I'd blame you. It's a great value, and nothing that happens later this week is likely to change that fact.
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