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VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290 Graphics Card Review

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Water cooling enthusiasts know all too well how expensive high quality, aesthetically pleasing, and low noise components are. So, what if you could have a graphics card with all of that in one affordable package wrapped around a high-end AMD R9 290? Sound intriguing? VisionTek thinks so and has made available their latest enthusiast level graphics card… The CryoVenom R9 290. Partnering with EKWB, VisionTek has set out to offer all the convenience of a pre-assembled, water cooled graphics card at a price much lower than the individual components themselves. VisionTek is banking on the card’s overclocking prowess to claim performance on par with a reference NVIDIA GTX 780 Ti, which most often costs substantially more than the CryoVenom R9 290. Let’s dive into VisionTek’s CryoVenom R9 290 and see if it can live up to its advanced billing!

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Specifications and Features

The below specifications are provided by the VisionTek website. You’ll probably notice in its stock/non-overclocked condition, it has the same specifications as the reference design AMD R9 290. Based on the AMD Hawaii GPU core, the card features 2560 stream processors, 4.9 TFLOPS (compute performance), and a base GPU clock speed of up to 947 MHz. The 4 GB of GDDR5 memory runs at 1250 MHz (5000 MHz quad pumped) and sits on a 512-bit interface.

VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290 Specifications
Graphics Engine AMD Radeon R9 290
Video Memory 4 GB GDDR5
Memory Interface 512-bit
Stream Processors 2560
Compute Performance 4.9 TFLOPS
Bus Standard PCI-Express 3.0
GPU Core Speed Up to 1175MHz (stock is 947MHz)
Memory Speed Up to 1450MHz (stock is 1250MHz)
Display Outputs 2X Dual Link DVI
1X HDMI (Video/Audio)
1X DisplayPort
Power Connectors 1X 6-Pin + 1X 8-Pin
AMD True Audio Support Yes
API Support DirectX 11.2
OpenGL 4.3
Mantle

Here is what GPU-Z has to say about the VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290 in its stock configuration. Interestingly, GPU-Z reports 975 MHz as the stock GPU core speed, whereas VisionTek states the reference design speed of 947 MHz. While monitoring the card under load, it does indeed hold steady at 975 MHz, which gives us a little overclock without any user effort.

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GPU-Z Details

The features VisionTek wants you to know about are mostly related to the overclocking ability and cost advantages the card offers. One of the most appealing aspects is the testing that goes into each card before it’s released to the customer. VisionTek claims it puts each card through a rigorous test procedure to ensure it will operate at the advertised overclocked speeds of 1175 MHz GPU and 1450 MHz memory. They even say at those speeds, there should be an additional 5% of headroom left should you want to try and push the card even further.

The claim of “faster than NVIDIA GTX 780 Ti” is based on the CryoVenom R9 290 being overclocked to the speeds listed above, and then compared to a NVIDIA GTX 780 Ti at its reference speeds. This doesn’t take into account the NVIDIA GTX 780 Ti can be overclocked too, but it’s an impressive performance level nonetheless.

As we mentioned before, EKWB provides the waterblock for the CryoVenom R9 290, which is obviously one of the main reasons the card can be overclocked to the levels VisionTek sets forth. EKWB products have long been a favorite among water cooling enthusiasts, so it’s nice to see VisionTek partner up with a well-known, trusted, and Overclockers.com Approved brand.

The following features and descriptions courtesy VisionTek.

Only VisionTek Can Make the Best Even Better

The Radeon R9 290 series of graphics cards are regarded by many as the best graphics cards available today. However, when these cards are placed under demanding conditions – such as extended game play – the card’s temperature can climb to 201°F. Even with the best fan cooling design and the latest AMD Catalyst driver that provides a 100% fan speed operation, the card’s built-in thermal safety feature can downclock the GPU from the factory 947MHz speed to as low as 662MHz. Combined with this performance reduction of 30%, we’ve measured the increase in fan noise at 70dB… a sound level considered louder than a normal conversation.

The Liquid Cooling Solution to Overheating and Downclocking

We set out to create a solution that helps you keep your cool while playing your fastest. Thus was born the CryoVenom R9 290 liquid cooled graphics card. By utilizing a custom engineered full cover waterblock featuring a narrow microchannel fin and low pressure drop design, the CryoVenom R9 290 can run up to 38% cooler (125°F) while being overclocked up to 24% (1.1GHz). While making the best even better, the CryoVenom R9 290 registers under 10dB of noise – the sound of a pin drop.

GPU Speed Memory Clock Speed Operating Noise Level In Game Temp Peak
VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290 Up to 1175MHz Up to 1450MHz >10dB 125°F/52°C
Stock Radeon R9 290X Up to 1000MHz Up to 1250MHz 70dB 201°F/94°C

Faster Than NVIDIA GTX 780Ti, Yet Costs $100 Less

Not content to just increase its stock R9 290 card performance, our ultimate goal was to create the industry’s fastest single GPU graphics card and bring it to market at a lower price than the competition’s fastest comparable card. In the 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme setting testing, the CryoVenom R9 290 scored 9330 while the higher priced NVIDIA GTX 780 Ti recorded an 8816 score.

CryoVenom R9 290 compared to the EVGA® NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Ti model 03G-P4-2881-KR with both cards set at 1920 x 1200 resolution in benchmarking system consisting of an Asus Z87-Pro motherboard, Intel i5-4570 3.2GHz cpu, 16GB PC3-12800 DDR3 1600MHz ram, Windows 7 64 bit OS, and an VisionTek 120GB GoDrive SSD

Visiontek CryoVenom R9 290  Stock VisionTek R9 290X  NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Ti 
Default  12344 11160 11273
Extreme  9330 8420 8816

Overclock Certified and “Custom Shop” Built

To assure stable overclocked performance, we utilize the FurMark GPU stress test to put a 100% load on each CryoVenom R9 290’s GPU for an extended time period to determine the optimum overclock setting with a 5% safe “headroom” should you wish to experiment with settings on your own. This severe operational test is like test driving a car at top speed on an infinitely long straight road. No more guesswork, miscellaneous artifacts, pixilation, and even worse, a crash and restart. Just pure confirmed gaming performance superiority! Those unique, certified overclock specifications are entered onto an included build sheet that is personally signed by the VisionTek’s “Custom Shop” team member that built and tested your CryoVenom R9 290 card. Each card is then extensively pressure tested to ensure leak-free cooling reliability.

Up to 24% Faster Performance Without Voiding Warranty

Obtaining maximum performance from the CryoVenom R9 290 couldn’t be easier. You just enter the specifications from the included build sheet in the Catalyst™ Control Center and in less than a minute, the CryoVenom R9 290 can safely deliver up to 1175MHz GPU speed… a 24% increase from the stock setting of 947MHz. The memory clock speed is also increased to 1450MHz… 16% faster than the 1250MHz stock setting. And unlike standard cards in which overclocking voids the warranty, the CryoVenom R9 290 comes backed by a one year warranty.

Stock Speed CryoVenom R9 290 Speed Increase Over Stock 290 Increase Over Stock 290X
GPU 1175MHz +24% +17.5%
RAM 1450MHz +16% +16%

Highest Quality Components and Procedures Offer Highest Reliability

The VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290 features a custom engineered full cover waterblock solution from EKWB, the leaders in PC liquid cooling technology. A narrow microchannel fin and low pressure drop design provide maximum cooling performance for the GPU, RAM, and Voltage Regulation Module (VRM) even when low power water pumps are utilized. Great design also means great aesthetics. The block’s electrolytic copper base is clad with a chrome appearance-like nickel plating to prevent corrosion while the precision cut acrylic top provides effective and quiet fluid flow. The CNC machined black anodized aluminum backplate protects the card’s sensitive circuit board components during installation handling while also providing additional passive cooling for the VRM.

Better Value Than DIY

Even if you’re a hands-on system builder, the certified ready-to-run and performance optimized VisionTek CryoVenom 290 can save you over $225, time, and stress compared to creating your own liquid cooled solution for a R9 290 graphics card.

Certified Ready-to-Run CryoVenom R9 290

  • Assembly and Overclocking Verification: none required
  • Total Cost: $600
  • Warranty: One year
  • Hassle Factor: Low

Do-It-Yourself Liquid Cooled R9 290

  • Street priced R9 290 card $499.00, Waterblock $140.00, Backplate $36.00
  • Assembly, Pressure Testing, and Overclocking Verification: estimated two hours at a value of $75.00/hr.
  • Total cost: $825.00
  • Warranty: None
  • Hassle Factor: High

After reading through the specifications and features, there are a couple of notes to pass along. The first being the 1-year warranty period, which is a bit low by today’s standards. It’s understandable that VisionTek would want to offer a shorter warranty given the card is watercooled and intended to be heavily overclocked. However, most manufacturers offer a minimum of two years, and others as much as three years. For example, the EVGA Hydro Copper and ASUS Poseidon both come with factory installed waterblocks and 3-year warranties. That’s something VisionTek should look into for customer piece of mind. Secondly, if you buy into the way VisionTek calculates the DIY cost, then we certainly have an offering with a tremendous amount of value added.

Now that you know the marketing details, features, and specifications of the VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290, let’s get it up on a bench and have a look around!

Packaging and First Look

The box is decked out with a large CryoVenom logo on the front with some basic product information. Around back, there is a full-view picture of the card with some of the unique features pointed out. On the box sides, there is a list of system requirements and a marketing blurb about the card being assembled and tested in VisionTek’s custom shop. The remaining box sides are relegated to additional branding and tech support information.

The contents of the package are found in a brown box that’s slid into the outer carton. Inside of that box is the card itself and the accessories. You’ll find that the CryoVenom R9 290 and the accessories are well-secured and nicely packaged. The “Classified Information Enclosed” envelope has all the documentation related to the card’s assembly, a user’s manual, and the support CD. Included in the documentation is a signed certification sheet with overclocking results and recommended settings. The rest of the accessories include two Molex to PCI-E adapter cables, an Allen wrench, and an optional o’ring and spacer for fittings with longer than 5mm threads.

Photo Op

Before we take a closer look at the VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290, here are some pictures of the card from various angles. The EKWB FC R9-290X waterblock looks very nice when installed on the card and only differentiates from the retail version by the VisionTek branding etched into the acrylic cover. A very nice presentation indeed! The backplate is also from EKWB, and it too has the etched VisionTek branding.

VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290

VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290

VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290

VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290

VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290

VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290

VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290

VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290

VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290

VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290

VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290

VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290

VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290

VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290

VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290

VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290

The VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290 Up-Close

The display outputs include one DisplayPort, one HDMI, and two DL-DVI. For power connections, a PCI-E 6-pin and 8-pin are used.

Display Outputs

Display Outputs

Power Connectors

Power Connectors

The top of the waterblock is plugged off on one side, but the plugs can be arranged in any fashion needed to accommodate your water cooling loop.

Inlet/Outlet Plugs

Inlet/Outlet Port Plugs

Open Inlet/Outlet Ports

Open Inlet/Outlet Ports

Removing the backplate and waterblock is a straightforward operation and only requires taking out several screws from the back of the card. Four screws and one bolt/nut hold the backplate on, which is outfitted with thermal pads covering the back side of the GPU and MOSFETs. All the pads were found to be making excellent contact with the target areas. Once the backplate is off, you have access to the remainder of the screws holding the waterblock in place. All the critical components are covered with thermal pads, and their application was again well done. The thermal paste on the GPU core was just the right amount and applied nicely. All and all, VisionTek did a professional job of installing both the waterblock and backplate… nothing to complain about here.

Backplate Removed

Backplate Removed

Waterblock Removed

Waterblock Removed

The waterblock itself is the EKWB EK-FC-R9-290X-Nickel and sells for roughly $115 by itself. It’s a well-crafted affair and should do a great job of keeping the card cool, just as we expect from EKWB products in general.

EK-FC-R9-290X-Nickel Waterblock

EK-FC-R9-290X-Nickel Waterblock

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Thermal Pads on Waterblock

The VisionTek CryoVenom is based off a reference design R9 290 PCB. The power delivery appears to break down into five phases for the GPU, one phase for the vMem, and one more for the PLL located near the video outputs. This certainly isn’t the most robust power delivery we’ve seen, but it should be adequate for the task at hand.

Power Delivery

Power Delivery

Power Delivery

Power Delivery

Power Delivery

Power Delivery

GPU and Memory Area

GPU and Memory Area

The 4 GB of GDDR5 memory is provided by the Hynix H5GQ2H24AFR-ROC ICs, which is a favorite among the enthusiast crowd for its overclocking ability. The memory is rated for 1250 MHz (5000 MHz quad pumped) at 1.35 V. Voltage regulation duties are handled by the International Rectifier 3567B, which is what we see a lot of on reference design cards.

Hynix Memory

Hynix Memory

IR Voltage Regulator

IR Voltage Regulator

The last image below gives you a look at the dual-BIOS switch and where the Crossfire connectors are located. The Crossfire connectors are different nowadays, and a physical bridge is no longer needed. These newer generation AMD video cards use DMA Crossfire, which shares their data through the PCI-E bus. I wasn’t able to tell any difference between the two BIOS versions, and all indications are that they are the same. However, should you want to experiment with a 3rd party BIOS, you have a safety net to rely on.

Dual-BIOS Switch and Crossfire Circuitry

Dual-BIOS Switch and Crossfire Circuitry

Now that we’ve explored the VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290, let’s move on to the testing phase.

Overclocking

VisionTek is counting on the card easily overclocking to 1175 MHz on the GPU and 1450 Mhz on the memory. This is the basis for their claim of the card being faster than a reference speed GTX 780 Ti. While I came real close to complete stability at VisionTeks’s advertised obtainable overclock speeds, I didn’t quite get there on the memory side. Using VisionTek’s 1175 MHz GPU clock worked fine, but the memory needed to be dropped down to 1400 MHz in order to achieve stability across all of our benchmarks. I attribute this to the difference in the testing methodology used. I usually start with a run of 3DMark Fire Strike; and if that goes well, I move on to the Heaven benchmark. I’ve yet to have an overclock complete the Heaven benchmark and not complete all the other tests we run.

You might remember from the features section above, VisionTek claims a 3DMark Fire Strike score of 12344. As you can see below, we didn’t come close to that score while running the benchmark at the overclocked settings. I ran the benchmark several times and made sure the GPU core speed was a constant 1175 MHz throughout the run, but came up with similar results each time. This could be attributed to different driver versions being used (we’re using the latest Beta 14.3), but it seems like a large gap at any rate. However, if VisionTek is referring to just the graphics score alone, then we’re in the ballpark.

3DMark Fire Strike @ 1175 MHz GPU/1400 MHz Memory

3DMark Fire Strike Stable @ 1175 MHz GPU/1400 MHz Memory

HWBot Heaven Stable @ 1175 MHz GPU/1400 MHz Memory

HWBot Heaven Stable @ 1175 MHz GPU/1400 MHz Memory

Benchmarks

Test System

System Components
Motherboard ASUS Maximus VI Formula
CPU Intel i7 4770K Haswell
Memory G.SKill TridentX DD3-2666 MHz 2x4GB
SSD Samsung EVO 500 GB SSD
Power Supply Corsair HX1050 Professional Series
Video Card VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290 (14.3 Beta Driver)
Cooling Swiftech Apogee HD CPU Waterblock – 360 mm Radiator – MCP35X Pump

I’m sure most of our readers are familiar with our GPU test procedure by now; but if not, click the link provided. For a quick refresher, here is a quick rundown of what we do.

System Requirements/Settings

  • i7 4770K @ 4 GHz
  • Dual Channel DDR3-1866 9-9-9-24
  • GPU @ stock and overclocked
  • Monitor capable of 1920×1080

Synthetic Tests

  • 3DMark Vantage – DirectX 10 benchmark running at 1280X1024 – Performance preset.
  • 3DMark 11 – DirectX 11 benchmark running at 1280X720 – Performance preset.
  • 3DMark Fire Strike – DirectX 11 benchmark running 1920X1080 – Standard test (not extreme).
  • Unigine Heaven (HWBot version) – DX11 Benchmark – Extreme setting.

Game Tests

  • Batman: Arkham Origins – 1920X1080, 8x MSAA, PhysX off, V-Sync off, The rest set to on or DX11 enhanced.
  • Battlefield 4 – 1920X1080, Ultra Preset, V-Sync off.
  • Bioshock Infinite – 1920X1080, Ultra DX11 preset, DOF on.
  • Crysis 3 – 1920X1080, Very high settings, 16x AF, 8x MSAA, V-Sync off.
  • Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn – 1920X1080, Maximum preset.
  • Grid 2 – 1920X1080, 8x MSAA, Intel specific options off, Everything else set to highest available option.
  • Metro Last Light – 1920X1080, DX11 preset, SSAA on, Tessellation very high, PhysX off.

All of the cards in our comparison samples are factory overclocked, so this should give us a good comparison against the VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290 when it’s overclocked. The GTX 780 Ti we have for comparison is the EVGA Classified version, which comes with a pretty stout overclock applied right out of the box. As you’ll see throughout the benchmarks below, the VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290 wasn’t able to beat out the EVGA GTX 780 Ti, but no big surprise there. The other thing you’ll notice is that the overclocked VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290 had no problem beating out the EVGA GTX 780 SC and MSI R9 290 Gaming. Several of the benchmarks below also show the VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290 nipping at the heels of the MSI R9 290X Lightning and EVGA GTX 780 Ti Classified.

We’ll start with a look at the synthetic benchmark results. Of note here is the overclocked VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290 beating out the MSI R9 290X Lightning in all, but the 3DMark 11 test.

HWBot Heaven Results

HWBot Heaven Results

3DMark Fire Strike Results

3DMark Fire Strike Results

3DMark Vantage Results

3DMark Vantage Results

3DMark 11 Results

3DMark 11 Results

The gaming benchmarks came out with much the same results as above. The overclocked VisionTek CryoVenom managed to top the MSI R9 290X Lightning a few times here too and held pretty tight to the EVGA GTX 780 Ti Classified in a few of the benchmarks.

Batman: Arkham Origin Results

Batman: Arkham Origin Results

Battlefield 4 Results

Battlefield 4 Results

Bioshock Infinite Results

Bioshock Infinite Results

Crysis 3 Results

Crysis 3 Results

Final Fantasy IV: ARR Results

Final Fantasy IV: ARR Results

Grid 2 Results

Grid 2 Results

Metro: Last Light Results

Metro: Last Light Results

Because there was no voltage manipulation available (I tried several different GPU overclocking utilities), I wasn’t able to push the card any further than I used for the overclocking results above. So, I’ll forgo the “pushing the limits” section this time around. However, I do have some Eyefinity/Surround results to share. I didn’t have results for all of the cards used above, so I had to substitute a couple of them. The VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290 did quite well in these tests as the onboard 4 GB memory really pays off in multi-monitor gaming. Three of the five games we tested surpassed the 30 FPS threshold we call “Playable.” Good showing here for the VisionTek card.

Eyefinity Results

Eyefinity Results

Temperatures and Power Consumption

As witnessed by the chart below, the EKWB waterblock does an outstanding job of keeping the card cool. For the purpose of temperature testing, I gave the VisionTek CryoVenom R9 290 its own loop using a 240 mm radiator and a couple of ordinary 120 mm fans. Should you incorporate the card into an existing loop, you’ll probably see a few degrees higher than what we recorded. Either way, you’ll never even sniff the temperature threshold. After testing the temperatures under stock and overclocked conditions for an extended period of time, there is no doubt the waterblock does its job well. Because of this, the GPU Core speed stays constant with no throttling due to temperature thresholds being breached.

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Temperature Test Results

Power testing reveals a total system draw of well under 400 watts. In a non-overclocked environment with the card sitting idle, the total system draw sits at a mere 101 watts. Those are pretty impressive numbers. Depending on other components in a system built around this video card, it’s conceivable a quality 500 watt PSU could be used.

Power Consumption Results

Power Consumption Results

Conclusion

At the time of this review, VisionTek is selling the CryoVenom R9 290 for $600 with free shipping. Because R9 290 series graphics card pricing has begun to drop a little over the past several weeks, a little thunder has been taken away from VisionTek’s pricing scheme. Other R9 290 graphics cards with the same reference specifications can be had for as little as $459, but you will exceed the price of the CryoVenom by the time you add the EK waterblock and backplate. The other advantage is that the CryoVenom comes with the waterblock and backplate already installed and ready to go, which adds even more value to the card. While we didn’t see much to confirm the “faster than a GTX 780 Ti” claim, the overclocked CryoVenom did out perform the NVIDIA GTX 780 and R9 290X. In fact, even when left at the non-overclocked setting, the CryoVenom beat out EVGA GTX 780 SC in a few of the benchmarks tests.

The EKWB waterblock not only looks attractive, but provides stunning cooling performance. With temperature readings never exceeding 46 °C, you’re assured the card will run at peak performance all the time, even under full load. The low temperatures at which the card operates will also do wonders for the CryoVenom’s longevity, which should make the 1-year warranty a little more palatable.

So, marketing claims aside, we have a great performing water cooled R9 290 that should appeal to the enthusiast crowd. It’s priced right, looks great, and overclocks very well too!

Overclockers_clear_approvedClick the stamp for an explanation of what this means.

-Dino DeCesari (Lvcoyote)

 

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Discussion
  1. ATMINSIDE
    About the same as any other 290X, it only has a 60MHz overclock...


    And after the reviewer overclocks (the part I look at) :-P hard to compare against other parties reviews, as hardware and system overclocks play a role...
    Whats the deal with the locked voltage?

    shoulda flashed the bios to something better and overclocked it more to see what it can do would have found out if atleast they did some decent binning processes.
    Luke1978
    Wonder how the PowerColor LCS R9 290X would fit in with the other cards.


    About the same as any other 290X, it only has a 60MHz overclock...