BTR News Featured Video Cards

The XFX 390 Double Dissipation XXX OC vs. the Reference 290X

Intro

This short evaluation will focus on the performance of the 8GB XFX R9 390 Double Dissipation XXX OC Video Card versus the reference 4GB VisionTekR9 290X.  It is similar to our September 2015 Evaluation of the MSI Gaming R9 390X OC versus the same 290X which we are able to keep from throttling by increasing the fan speed to 100%.  We will also follow the same pattern as our earlier review, and we will also compare with GTX 980 and GTX 970 performance versus these two cards by using 26 games as benchmarks.DSCN1431

This review compares the mildly factory overclocked XFX R9 390 8GB with the 290X 4GB (non-throttling) reference version.  The performance differences between the 390X and the 390, or the 290X and the 290, are minor, probably in the 3% to 7% range.  This XFX Double Dissipation XXX OC 390 runs its core/memory clocks at 1015MHz/1500MHz out of the box, +15MHz above reference on the core.  We are going to compare with the VisionTek R9 290X which runs at the 290X reference clocks of 1000MHz/1250MHz, which will give the XFX card a very slight advantage with its core clocks of perhaps 2%, and an even larger advantage from its higher memory clocks as we discovered in our 390X vs 290X evaluation.

AMD renamed the usually 4GB vRAM standard equipped R9 290 series “Hawaii” GPU, “Grenada”, and has relaunched it as the 390 series with 8GB of faster memory.  The memory frequency is up from 1250MHz (5,000MHz effective) on the 290X to 1500MHz (6,000MHz) on the 390 using higher-specification Hynix GDDR5 memory modules.

Grenada is the same Hawaii GPU released in 2013, but now on a more mature fabrication which allows for higher core clocks – in this case, from 1000MHz on the 290X to 1015MHz on the XFX 390X.  Higher core clocks also mean that there is a need for better cooling over the reference design as the voltage has also gone up, and fortunately the XFX card is well up to the task of cooling Grenada effectively.

The Myth of the Throttling Reference 290X & the lack of a proper CrossFire Solution

The 290X reference versions were evidently quite unpopular, originally getting a bad reputation for running hot, and throttling well below AMD’s “up to 1000MHz” on the core when it first launched.  We were quite fortunate to originally get a PowerColor PCS+ overclocked reference version of the 290X at launch from retail that is clocked at 1030MHz on the core, and it does not throttle in cool ambient temperatures.  In testing our much more recently purchased VisionTek reference version which also pegs 1000MHz, we find it does not throttle either even at stock Uber (55%) fan profile. And neither card throttles at all – either separately, or in CrossFire with a space in between them – when their cooling fans are allowed to spin up to a nearly unbearably noisy 100%.

r9 290x0C 300x183 PowerColor R9 290X OC vs GTX 780 Ti the overclocking gloves come off!Evidently the early Hawaii GPUs at their launch barely met specifications as the reference cooler was unable to cool them properly without throttling the clock speeds.  At Hawaii’s launch, AMD was determined to beat the original TITAN’s performance even if it meant running the 290X on the edge with Uber clocks and with uber noise.

Newer Hawaii reference GPUs evidently have no such throttling issues with the reference cooler as long as the gamer is willing to put up with what most consider excessive noise from a fan that spins up to 55% when the GPU hits 94C.  This is a rather big issue that CrossFire users face when picking a 290/X video card – either use reference and put up with extreme noise from two cards, or use an open design for multiple cards and roast the interior of your case and the PC hardware inside.  Of course, the ideal solution is to watercool two Hawaii or Grenada GPUs, but watercooling is expensive.

DSCN1432Enter the higher clocked and faster R9 390X and its slightly cut down 390 sibling.  AMD has no reference version, so for 390 CrossFire or for 390X CrossFire, this means putting two open-design 390s into a case which may overwhelm its cooling.  The 390/X still uses the same GPU as 290/X, but higher clocks now require higher voltage and there is even more heat to deal with.  Fortunately, the XFX 390 Double Dissipation XXX OC cooler is able to keep the hot Grenada GPU cool, and it is very effective at idle or at full load.   However, at load the card makes itself known, although it is more like a rush of air and not annoying nor intrusive like the hairdryer-like sounds of the original reference 290X at Uber speeds.

Grenada has changed nothing from Hawaii except that it has been equipped with 8GB of faster memory with tighter timings, and also with higher core clocks.  There are no other changes except to the cooling which is significantly more substantial than the reference version’s cooling.

We shall test 26 games and 1 synthetic test using Core i7-4790K turbo locked to 4.4GHz by the motherboard’s BIOS, ASUS Z97+ motherboard and 16GB of Kingston “Beast” 2133MHz HyperX DDR3 on Windows 10 Home 64-bit:

This evaluation will pit the XFX 390 Double Dissipation XXX OC against the reference 290X, and we will also compare performance with the reference GTX 980 and with the GTX 970 OC.  We also use the GTX 980 Ti, R9 Fury X, as well as the GALAX GTX 970 EXOC plus several more cards for a total of 14 video card configurations to give us “The Big Picture”.  We are using 26 modern DX11/DX12 games and 1 synthetic benchmark at 1920×1080, 2560×1440, and at 3480×2160 resolutions.  We will also look very carefully at our benchmarks to see if a single 390 can benefit from 8GB vRAM over the 4GB of vRAM that the reference 290X is equipped with.

Let’s look over our test configuration on the next page.