MSI R9 390 Gaming 8G Video Card Review

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In the world of new GPU releases, we haven’t had a chance yet to look at AMD’s new lineup with its Fiji based cards, but we do have a consolation prize in the R9 390 that AMD kindly sent us! The R9 390 is, for all intents and a tweaked R9 290 in that it has more vRAM (8GB up from 4GB), and higher reference clock speeds. The rest remains the same. Like is typically done with reference models, AMD will let the board partners change things up a bit and put their own spin on the reference design. With that, we have in our hands a MSI R9 390 Gaming 8G, with its Twin Frozr V cooler and 8GB of vRAM in tow. It is time to put the card through our new benchmarks and see how it shapes up!

Specifications and Features

Taking a look at the high level specifications, one of the first things that jumps off the page is the amount of vRAM coming it at 8GB. That is a lot of buffer and will be good for high resolution gaming. It still sits on the 512-bit bus, but runs at 1525 MHz (DDR5 6100) versus the reference 290 that came out at 1250 MHz (DDR5 5000)… much faster. The core clock on this card runs at 1060 MHz which is also a fairly significant departure from the 947 MHz on the reference models. The MSI R9 390 Gaming 8G supports a maximum of three displays through two DL DVI-D outputs, HDMI (v 1.4a), and Displayport (v 1.2). Board power sits at 275W and is delivered through a 8-pin and 6-pin PCIe connector to the card.

Below is a list of specifications and features from the MSI website.

MSI R9 390 Gaming 8G Specifcations
Graphics Processing Unit AMD Radeon™ R9 390
Interface PCI Express x16 3.0
Memory Type GDDR5
Memory Size (MB) 8192
Memory Interface 512 bits
Boost / Base Core Clock 1060 MHz (OC Mode)
1040 MHz (Gaming Mode)
1000 MHz (Silent Mode)
Memory Clock (MHz) 6100 (OC Mode) / 6000

Maximum Displays

Outputs (DVI/HDMI/DP)

 

3 Max displays

2 Dual-link DVI-D, Max Resolution: 2560 x 1600 @60 Hz.

1 HDMI (version 1.4a)
Max Resolution: 4096×2160 @24 Hz (1.4a)

1 DisplayPort (version 1.2)
Max Resolution: 4096×2160 @60 Hz

Multi-GPU Technology Crossfire
Power consumption (W) / Power Connectors 275W / 6-pin x 1, 8-pin x 1
HDCP / HDMI / DL-DVI Support Yes (all three)
Accessories 6-pin to 8-pin Power cable x 1
DirectX / OpenGL Version Support DX12 / Open GL 4.5
Card Dimensions (mm) 277 x 129 x 51mm (10.9″ x 5.1″ x 2″)
Weight 1312g (2.89 lbs)

A few major features on the R9 290 Gaming 8G are listed in the table below. We will start with the cooler, MSI’s Twin Frozr V (TFV). The Twin Frozr name has been known for being cool and quiet. The version on the MSI R9 390 Gaming 8G is different than the version on the MSI GTX 980 Ti Gaming 6G I reviewed a several weeks ago. It is a bit cut down and has two nickel plated copper heatpipes (heatpipes/copper touches the core) that snake through the fin array. This TFV uses the same Torx fans found on the other iteration. The Torx fan blade setup is said to take in more air and disperse it better through the aluminum heatsink fins. Another feature on the TFV is the heatsink actually has small deflectors to focus more airflow to the heatpipes, which should improve efficiency. Last, but not least, on the cooling side of things is the Zero Fan technology. This allows for complete silence below 60 °C which covers low load situations like web browsing, media playback, and basic computing functions. Once the card hits 60 °C the fans spin up and do their thing keeping the card cool and being quiet in the process. It is not until the fan ramps up to 65% or so that you can hear the fans (which it never has in testing/gaming on the default fan curve).

Many AIB’s cards take the AMD/NVIDIA reference design and improve upon it. MSI has done so here with the R9 390 Gaming 8G. They use their Military Class 4 components, which consist of Hi-C Caps (small footprint and more efficient), Super Ferrite Chokes (lower temps, higher current capacity, and improvements in power efficiency), and solid caps with a 10-year lifespan (provides lower ESR) making this card a more robust solution than the reference design.

Lastly, MSI offers a small footprint application named MSI Gaming App that allows you to overclock with the touch of a button, or run silent with that same button. If your MSI card happens to have an LED on it like this card does, the MSI Gaming App can also control it. Overall I like the simplicity of it for quick one touch overclocking to squeeze out a little more performance from your MSI-based card.

icotfv

TWIN FROZR V – COOLER, QUIETER, BETTER GAMING

With every new generation of GPUs comes more performance. With every new generation of MSI Twin Frozr, we give you less noise and heat! We’ve listened to all your requests and the new Twin Frozr V is smaller, features stronger fans, generates less noise, keeps your graphics card and its components cooler and matches perfectly with your MSI GAMING motherboard including some funky LED lighting. We’ve spent 18 months on the development of the Twin Frozr V, including field testing in gaming cafés to ensure the cards have the quality and stability to give you the FPS you need!

icotorxfan

TORX Fan

Traditional Fan Blade

Maximizes downwards airflow and air dispersion to the massive heat sink below them.

Dispersion Fan Blade

Intake more airflow to maximize air dissipation to heat sink.

icoairflow

AIRFLOW CONTROL

Enhanced dissipation efficiency
MSI has fitted Twin Frozr coolers with the all new Airflow Control technology which guides more airflow directly onto the heat pipes by using special deflectors on the heat sink. In addition, this exclusive heat sink design increases heat sink surface area, greatly enhancing the dissipation efficiency.

icozerfrozr

ZERO FROZR

Smart cooling, stay quiet.
MSI’s Twin Frozr V Thermal Designs are equipped with ZeroFrozr technology which was first introduced by MSI back in 2008. ZeroFrozr technology eliminates fan noise in low-load situations by stopping the fans when they are not needed. Compared to other graphics cards, there is no continuous hum of airflow to tell you there’s a powerful graphics card in your gaming rig. This means you can focus on gaming without the distraction of other sounds coming from your PC.

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MILITARY CLASS COMPONENTS

One of the deciding factors in performance is the quality of the components used. That is why MSI only uses MIL-STD-810G certified components for its Gaming cards because only these components have proven to be able to withstand the torturous circumstances of extreme gaming and overclocking.

HI-C CAP
MSI’s Hi-c CAPs are tiny, and super-efficient capacitors. Their small footprint allows the installation of heat sinks and their high efficiency (93%) actually reduces the total thermal footprint of the card.

SUPER FERRITE CHOKES
Super Ferrite Chokes use a Ferrite core that is Super-Permeable. This allows the Super Ferrite Chokes to run at a 35 degree Celsius lower temperature, have a 30% higher current capacity, a 20% improvement in power efficiency and better overclocking power stability.

SOLID CAP
With their aluminum core design, Solid CAP’s have been a staple in high-end design mainboard designs and provides lower Equivalent Series Resistance (ESR) as well as its over-10-year lifespan.

icogamngapp

GAMING APP

The MSI Gaming App allows for one-click performance profiles that unlock extra performance for gaming or keep your card silent during light use. It also features the EyeRest tab, giving you easy access to image quality improving technology. The LED control tab gives you full control over your MSI GAMING LED lights to set the mood.

OC Mode
Maximum Performance through higher clock speeds and increased fan performance

Gaming Mode (Default)
The best balance between in-game performance and thermal

Silent Mode
The best environment for minimal fan noise

GPU-Z

Below is a screenshot of the latest version of GPU-z. We see the specifications show the Hawaii-based (Pitcairn) GPU sporting 2560 Unified Shaders, with 64 ROPs and 160 TMUs on the back end. The core clock comes in at 1060 MHz. The memory is of the Hynix flavor, 8GB of it, on a 512-bit bus with clocks coming in at 1525 MHz and yields a total of 390.4 GB/s bandwidth.

GPU-z v8.5

GPU-z v8.5

Photo Op – Meet the MSI R9 390 Gaming 8G

Retail Packaging and Accessories

Looking at the retail packaging, we see MSI’s familiar black and red Gaming theme with its dragon on the front of the package. That back gives us a few more details of the features and system requirements among other things. Never too much to see on the sides and top/bottom. When we open this box, there is a layer of padding around 1/2″ thick that rests on top of the GPU. The card itself sits snug in its form fitting foam inside an anti-static bag. The accessory sits in in the back box.

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The Card

Our first shots of the card shows the Twin Frozr cooler and its two large Torx fans sitting in a black and red themed shroud. Remember, due to Zero Fan, these fans do not spin until around 60 °C so it is dead silent until that point. The card has a nice looking backplate with some ventilation holes towards the rear of the card and the MSI dragon towards the front (output area). This heatsink does not have the heatpipes showing themselves outside of the framework of the card like the 980Ti does, but there are a couple that snake through the fin array as you will see later. This design has a lot of the heat dumping into the case as most cards do, so be sure you have adequate ventilation.

MSI R9 390 Gaming 8G

MSI R9 390 Gaming 8G

Back

Back

Bottom

Bottom

Top

Top

Alternate 1

Alternate 1

Alternate 2

Alternate 2

A Closer Look

Getting into the particulars, we first look at the outputs this card provides. We see two DL DVI-D ports, one HDMI, and one Displayport. The card supports up to three monitors at once and power is provided by two PCIe connectors, a 6-pin and an 8-pin, to feed the hungry beast.

Outputs - 2 DVI, 1 HDMI, 1 DisplayPort

Outputs – 2 DVI, 1 HDMI, 1 DisplayPort

6pin + 9pin PCIe power required

6pin + 8pin PCIe power required

In taking the card apart, the first image shows the back of the PCB without the aesthetically pleasing backplate. Next is the base of the heatsink. Here we see, assuming I can count properly, five heatpipes that meander their way through the heatsink fins taking heat away from the core and VRMs it is directly attached to. Also pictured is the thermal pad on top of the VRMs which look to be a 6+1 configuration. There is direct contact to the main heatsink which is a good thing to help keep those cool. Typically it is just cooled by the base heatsink and does not touch the main.

The next picture shows the front of the card with the heatsink removed. Clearly pictured is the heatsink for the RAM modules. No fins on it, just a hunk of aluminum. Last up, we took it all off and showed the board without any heatsinks on it showing off the VRM’s, core, and vRAM surrounding it.

Backplate removed

Backplate removed

Bottom of the heatsink

Bottom of the heatsink

PCB with Heatsink removed (ram cooler still attached)

PCB with Heatsink removed (RAM cooler still attached)

Birthday suit

Birthday suit

Last up is a picture of the 16 (512MB x16 = 8GB) Hynix memory used (H5GC4H24AJR T2C).

Ram IC - Hynix H5GC4H24AJR T2C

RAM IC – Hynix H5GC4H24AJR T2C

Monitoring/Overclocking Software – MSI Afterburner

We are all pretty intimate with MSI Afterburner and what it can do from monitoring GPU temperatures, voltages, and loads, all the way to CPU temperature voltages and loads. You are able to overclock, raise voltage, and power limits, as well as save profiles. Same old good thing!

MSI Afterburner - v4.1.1

MSI Afterburner – v4.1.1

Performance and Benchmarks

Test System

Test System Components
Motherboard MSI Z170A Gaming M7
CPU Intel 6700K @ 4.2 GHz 1.28v
Memory G.SKill Ripjaws DDR4-3000 MHz 2x4GB @ 3000 MHz 15-15-15-35
SSD OCZ Vertex 3 240GB
Power Supply Seasonic 1KW Platinum
Video Card MSI R9 390 Gaming 8G (Catalyst 15.7.1) @ 1060 MHz Core / 1525 MHz Memory, and Overclocked @ 1154 MHz Core / 1804 MHz Memory
Cooling EK Supremacy EVO, MCR320 + PA 120.2, MCP65X Pump
OS Window 7 64-bit SP1+

Other cards used for comparison are as follows (links are to their reviews):

Benchmarking Method/Settings

Note all testing below uses 1920×1080 screen resolution (settings also carry over to 2560 x 1440 and Surround/Eyefinity testing if applicable).

  • All Synthetic benchmarks were at their default settings. 3DMark 11 = Performance Level, 3DMark Fire Strike = Extreme default setting.
  • Unigine Valley Benchmark v1.0 – 1080p, DX11, Ultra Quality, 8x AA, Full Screen
  • Unigine Heaven (HWbot) – Extreme setting
  • Crysis 3 – Very High settings with 8xMSAA/16xAF (2nd level when you procure and use the Crossbow to get across the level and kill the Helicopter)
  • Metro:LL – DX11, Very High, 16xAF, Motion Blur – Normal, SSAA Enabled, DX11 Tessellation – Very High, Advanced PhysX – Disabled, Scene D6
  • Battlefield 4 – Default Ultra setting (Tashgar level – ‘on rails’ car scene)
  • Final Fantasy XIV:ARR – Default Maximum setting
  • Dirt: Rally – 1080p, 8x MSAA, everything on Ultra that can be, enable Advanced Blending
  • Grand Theft Auto V – 1080p, high settings.
  • Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor – 1080p, everything Ultra that can be (Lighting quality High), FXAA and Camera + Object Blur, DOF/OIT/Tessellation enabled.
  • More detail is in our article: Overclockers.com GPU Testing Procedures

Synthetic Benchmarks

Our first benchmark in the new testing suite is 3DMark Fire Strike (Extreme setting). As noted above in the testing procedures, we have changed from the regular version to the Extreme version giving video cards a run for their money. Here the MSI R9 390 Gaming 8G scores 5,329 stock and showed a nearly 8% gain with overclocking. In this case, it wipes the floor with the cheaper R9 380 as it should, and falls a bit behind the heavily overclocked GTX 780Ti Classified (~6%), and over 16% against a highly overclocked and the much more costly, GTX 980.

Moving on to 3DMark 11, no changes were made here in this testing as it still responds well to different GPUs. The 390 scored 16,215 here while still clearly ahead of the 380 (nearly 30%), a bit in front of the 780Ti, and around 5% behind the GTX 980. A good showing here.

3DMark Fire Strike (Extreme) and 3DMark 11

3DMark Fire Strike (Extreme) and 3DMark 11

Checking out the Unigine section of our synthetic benchmarks, we have added Valley as it tends to do a number on the GPUs as well. Here in Valley it scored 2,704, again wiping out the 380. Oddly enough though, the 780Ti really shows its might here beating the newer and generally faster GTX 980, while the 390 comes in around 18% and 9% slower respectively.

On the old but still good Unigine Heaven, the R9 390 scores 3,316.6, beating out the 380, falling behind the 780Ti by almost 15% (which again makes a great showing here beating the 980), and falling behind the GTX 980 by almost 9%.

Unigine Valley (Extreme) and Unigine Heaven (Hwbot)

Unigine Valley (Extreme) and Unigine Heaven (Hwbot)

The story remains the same in the Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, as far as pecking order goes with the R9 290 scoring 15,639 total frames in the test. In this test, we actually have some data from a GTX 970 (the Galax GTX 970 HOF), what amounts to be a head to head competitor (performance wise). In this case, the R9 390 edged it out, but barely.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Gaming Benchmarks

First up in our gaming benchmarks will be Battlefield 4. Although its getting a bit long in the tooth, it is still a hugely popular title. In this case, the MSI R9 390 Gaming 8G pulled 80.6 FPS falling less than 1 FPS behind the GTX 970. With 80 FPS it is plenty playable with the results cranked.

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is another new title in our suite. Because it is so new, we lose the 970 data here as well as GTA V as we do not have one to re-test. The R9 390 averages 68.5 FPS at stock speeds, which is plenty playable here, but is still looking up at the more expensive 780Ti and GTX 980.

In Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V), another pretty popular title, with our settings the MSI R9 390 managed 68.5 FPS average across the five scenes in the built in benchmark. There is room here to raise the settings from what we use quite a bit.

Battlefield 4, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, and GTA V

Battlefield 4, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, and GTA V

Moving on over to the next set of games, we will start out with Crysis 3. In our testing, the MSI R9 390 Gaming 8G manages to put up a very playable 44.3 FPS. This is a great result as it beats out the 780Ti, GTX 970 AND the GTX 980. A good showing against the competition here for sure.

Next is another new title, Dirt: Rally which for all intents and purposes replaces Grid 2. The results here were not to great, sadly. While the FPS are plenty playable at 38.9, it really got worked over by the NVIDIA cards. Now, this game is in early release form, so perhaps that will change moving forward.

Last up is another GPU killer, Metro: Last Light. The R9 390 hits 48 FPS on the nose. it falls less than two FPS behind the 970, but the 780Ti and 980 again pull ahead as they should. Still, for these games that are pretty hard on GPUs, everything is well above the magical 30 FPS threshold.

Crysis 3, Dirt: Rally, and Metro: Last Light

Crysis 3, Dirt: Rally, and Metro: Last Light

As an added bonus, I tested this card at 2560×1440 resolution. You can see in the results below it fared pretty well! At the settings we run at, Crysis 3 and Metro: LL would likely need some settings lowered for optimal game play. Dirt:Rally as well, however I expect to see some improvements there as time goes on. BF4, GTA V, and ME:SOM have plenty of FPS to keep gamers happy. Not a bad card for 2560×1440 really.

2560 x 1400 Gaming results

2560 x 1400 Gaming results

Cooling and Power Consumption

Below are the results from the new temperature testing. We now use Unigine Valley Extreme and 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme to get these values. At idle with zero fan, the card was really cool at 36 °C. Stock temperatures with the stock fan profile rose up to 72 °C and 74 °C (3DM FS, Valley) with the fan ramping up to a mere 38%. It was dead silent in an open test bench with three Yate Loons @ 1K RPM running with it. Overclocked we hit 76 °C and 77 °C respectively and the fan barely broke 42%. There is a lot of headroom left in this cooler. I am more than thankful for this aftermarket solution as the R9 290 blowers were loud and those cards ran hot, so this is quite an improvement.

Temperatures

Temperatures

As far as power consumption, being the last generation of cards with a new name and more memory, we see similar results from our 290 testing years ago. The R9 390 peaked at 472W when running Unigine Valley Extreme while overclocked and hit 439W in Fire Strike Extreme. It doesn’t exactly sip on the power. I wouldn’t get less than a quality 600W PSU, perhaps a 650W PSU if you are using an AMD FX Octo-core and overclocking it.

Power Consumption

Power Consumption

Conclusion

Everyone was pretty darn excited to hear about AMD’s new cards, and we did get that with the Fiji release. The R9 and R7 series though were a bit of a letdown for some enthusiasts with the minimal changes to the existing architecture (RAM and clock speeds). That said, there is probably a reason for this move… it works. While power consumption isn’t up to snuff when comparing it to the latest generation of NVIDIA, it does hold its own in performance. If you plan on going to 4K a bit down the road, the 8GB of memory will help with that if you still prefer to use Anti-Aliasing which will eat up quite a bit of that buffer. You will likely want to use two of these cards though to properly drive the resolution in a lot of titles.

The sample we were sent has MSI’s spin on it so there is are more robust power bits, increased clocks, and a much better cooler than the 290 reference card making it a lot quieter and more effective in removing the heat it produces. A definite improvement over reference. If there are any negatives about the card, it has to be with the power consumption (275W board power), and heat that it produces is not in line with the competition.

Pricing on the MSI R9 390 Gaming 8G comes in at $329.99 at newegg.com. With looking only at other 390’s the price seems to fit right in as the range is $309 to $329. If we start looking around a bit at the GTX 970, that is priced just a bit higher for similar performance so it seems to fit right in with the new card market. A small concern comes in when you compare it to the card it is based off of, the R9 290. One model can be found as cheap as $260, but the rest are $300 or greater. Honestly though, for the extra $30 for most models, I would grab one with 8GB… it couldn’t hurt. Although it is essentially a re-brand, the R9 390 still holds its own, and MSI’s take on it only improves things over the base model with its higher overclocks and quiet cooling capabilities.

What Does This Mean? Click to Find Out!

What Does This Mean? Click to Find Out!

– Joe Shields (Earthdog)

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