Exotic cooling, steep requirements
AMD has gone out of its way to make sure the R9 295 X2 looks and feels like a top-of-the-line product. Gone are the shiny plastics of the Radeon HD 7990, replaced by stately and industrial metal finishes, from the aluminum cooling shroud up front to the black metal plate covering the back side of the card.
That's not to say that the 295 X2 isn't any fun. The bling is just elsewhere, in the form of illumination on the "Radeon" logo atop the shroud. Another set of LEDs makes the central cooling fan glow Radeon red.
I hope you're taken by that glow—I know I kind of am—because it's one of the little extras that completes the package. And this package is not cheap. The suggested price on this puppy is $1499.99 (or, in Europe, €1099 plus VAT). I believe that's a new high-water mark for a consumer graphics card, although it ain't the three frigging grand Nvidia intends to charge for its upcoming Titan Z with dual GK110b chips. And I believe the 295 X2's double-precision math capabilities are fully enabled at one-quarter the single-precision rate, or roughly 2.8 teraflops. That makes the 295 X2 a veritable bargain by comparison, right?
Well, whatever the case, AMD expects the R9 295 X2 to hit online retailers during the week of April 21, and I wouldn't be shocked to see them sell out shortly thereafter. You'll have to decide for yourself whether 295 X2's glowy lights, water cooling, and other accoutrements are worth well more than the $1200 you'd put down for a couple of R9 290X cards lashed together in a CrossFire config.
You know, some things about this card—its all-metal shroud, illuminated logo, secret agent-themed launch, metal briefcase enclosure, and exploration of new price territory—seem strangely familiar. Perhaps that's because the GeForce GTX 690 was the first video card to debut an all-metal shroud and an illuminated logo; it was launched with a zombie apocalypse theme, came in a wooden crate with prybar, and was the first consumer graphics card to hit the $1K mark. Not that there's anything wrong with that. The GTX 690's playbook is a fine one to emulate. Just noticing.
Assuming the R9 295 X2 fits into your budget, you may have to make some lifestyle changes in order to accommodate it. The card is 12" long, like the Radeon HD 7990 before it, but it also requires a mounting point for the 120-mil radiator/fan combo that sits above the board itself. Together, the radiator and fan are 25 mm deep. If you're the kind of dude who pairs up two 295 X2s, AMD recommends leaving a one-slot gap between the two cards, so that airflow to that central cooling fan isn't occluded. I suspect you'd also want to leave that space open in a single-card config rather than, say, nestling a big sound card right up next to that fan.
More urgently, your system's power supply must be able to provide a combined 50 amps across the card's two eight-pin PCIe power inputs. That wasn't a problem for the Corsair AX850 PSU in our GPU test rig, thanks to its single-rail design. Figuring out whether a multi-rail PSU offers enough amperage on the relevant 12V rails may require some careful reading, though.