Today we get a chance to review an absolute beast of a video card in the AMD R9 295×2. We have put other monster cards through their paces such as the MSI 290X Lightning, NVIDIA GTX Titan, and EVGA’s GTX 780 Ti Classified. This one is going to tear those to shreds, plain and simple. In April of this year, AMD brought to market their R9 295×2. That’s right folks, this card is two R9 290X GPUs on one PCB. The amount of power taken from the wall socket and the frames per second this card offers is second to none at the time of this publication. Getting rid of 500 watts of heat is a trick, which caused AMD to utilize an AIO water cooling solution to keep things under control.
AMD has come a long way from its dual GPU on a stick roots (think HD 3870×2 all the way to the HD 7990) in many positive ways. We were lucky enough to get a chance to see if the R9 295×2 can continue that streak. This should be a great one folks, hang on to your hats!
Specifications and Features
Below is a list of relevant specifications for AMD’s flagship card. Just as I described above, we can see two full R9 290x statistics here. 5,632 total Stream Processors, 128 total ROPs, and 352 total Texture units. Of course, the two cards don’t work out of those parts as a pool its all still 2816 SPs, 64 ROPs, and 176 TUs respectively for each card. We know the R9 290X has 4096MB of vRAM supported by a wide 512 MB bus. But remember folks, its still 4096 MB each. Like the back end above, the memory is not a shared pool either. 4 GB is plenty of memory for the most demanding applications at ‘reasonable’ resolutions (4K and down).
The core speed comes in at a full 1018 MHz (boost clock) a la R9 290X style, and the memory comes in at 1250 MHz.
Being the new Hawaii (XT) silicon, this card features AMD’s TruAudio and everything that comes along with the GCN 1.1 architecture. More and more games supporting this technology are hitting the scene, so be on the lookout if you are the lucky owner of a Hawaii based GPU from AMD.
The R9 295×2 power consumption can reach as high as an eye popping 500 watts, which isn’t too surprising after looking at the specifications. That is a lot of power for what will no doubt come with eye popping performance. Again, it just makes sense that since this is two full R9 290Xs on one card that their rated board power is doubled as well. One would hope there was a bit of binning going on here for such a card, but in the end there doesn’t seem to be since it’s literally doubled from a single card anyway.
|AMD R9 295×2 Specifications|
|Stream Processors||2 x 2816|
|ROP’s||2 x 64|
|Texture Units||2 x 176|
|Core Clock||1018 MHz (Boost clock)|
|Memory Clock||1250 MHz|
|Memory Bus Width||
2 x 4096MB
|Transistors||2 x 6.2B (12.4Billion)|
|Board Power (Typical)||500W|
|GPU||Hawaii XT (Vesuvius)|
Here is a slide from the AMD Press deck noting the size of the card, the tubing, and the radiator. One thing you will want to note is that it’s a hair over 12″ long. Make sure your case has the room to handle it and support the radiator!
Pictured below is GPU-Z 7.8 showing what we have going on under the hood. As we expected it does of course match up with my specifications table… whew, manually created that one, glad to know I got it right! So there we have it, 2816 Stream Processors, 64 ROPs, 176 TMUs per GPU coming in at 1018 MHz core, and 1250 MHz on the memory. Wow!
By now, I have to imagine we all know some of the features that the latest “Volcanic Islands” GPUs have to offer. We will list a few of them again just in case you forgot.
- 28nm process
- PCI-E 3.0
- Updates to Eyefinity standards
- TrueAudio (for games that support it)
- Mantle API (for games that support it)
- Graphics Core Next (GCN) 1.1
Taming (Cooling) the Beast
So, how does one cool 2 R9 290xXs on a single PCB? Well, keeping a R9 290X cool is a feat in itself. With a listed board power of 250 watts (some would say more), we have seen lots of takes on cooling from AMD partner cards. Tri-X, Tri-Frozr, or even the “500 watt” cooling power of the MSI Lightning cooler have all taken cracks at it… and with a lot of success in most cases. About the only one that may have a snowball’s chance in hell to cool this card effectively may be MSI’s implementation. But alas, AMD has decided to forgo air cooling and move straight to an AIO water cooler. That’s right, this is the first AMD reference card that comes with water cooling out of the box!
The solution they chose is made by Asetek, which sports two integrated pumps (one for each GPU), and of course a heat exchanger (radiator). Curiously, for 500 watts of heat, they chose to use only a 120 mm x 38 mm radiator. I have to admit this screams ‘under-radded’ as we like to say. I wouldn’t want to cool a 500 watt heat load with 120 mm worth or radiator, but I will hold off judgement until we see the results.
The Asetek solution uses a copper base plate with micro-channels as well as sealed tubing from the pumps to the radiator. It looks no different than most any 120 mm AIO solution outside of the dual pumps/blocks that sit on top of each GPU core. Of course, it comes with a 120 mm fan mounted to the radiator already. This fan ramps up with liquid temperature and does a fair job at moving air through the radiator. I do recommend a more powerful fan with a fair amount of static pressure to help keep things even cooler, though the included fan does an adequate job as you will see a bit later.
Of course, there is more than just the GPU cores to keep cool. There are all the power bits (4+1+1 for the core, memory interface, and memory itself) and the Hynix memory ICs that rest on the jam packed PCB. AMD’s solution to this was to use what is essentially a full cover heatsink, minus the GPU area of course. In the middle of this heatsink where the power bits are, is a larger copper heatsink to help get heat away from those all important power bits.
Clearly passive cooling wouldn’t be enough, so on the shroud AMD uses what looks like a 90 mm fan to blow down on to that heatsink. The air escapes through the venting found all around the edges of the card. This fan’s speed varies by the board component temperatures, which I assume is the power delivery area. Because of this fan speed design, you do not have control over it. As you may know, I am a proponent of video card heat exhausting outside of the case to promote cooler internal case temperatures. However, since the bulk of the 500 watt board power is cooled by the AIO, this heat dump really won’t make much difference in most instances.
And another courtesy of our friends at Anandtech.com…
With the inclusion of an AIO, you have to think a bit more about card placement… correction, the radiator placement. AMD recommends that the radiator be placed on the rear, which is typically a location for exhaust. Let me tell you, one would for sure want this exhausting out of the case. When things normalize with the loop, this radiator gets pretty darn warm to the touch and so the does the air moving through it. Make it exhaust is my advice.
Photo Op – Meet the AMD R9 295×2
Below we see more shots of the card! I have to admit, the overall package is pretty good looking. If bought retail, you get a fancy metal case with this beast inside. Our sample just came with the card though. As far as the actual card itself, AMD used a metal shroud over the full cover plate and two Asetek pumps with just the transparent red fan in the middle. Around the fan there are red LEDs that shine through the blades and shroud. You can also see the R9 295×2 requires two PCI-E 8-pin power plugs (more on that later).
Additionally, we see the 120 mm x 38 mm radiator on their AIO solution along with the fan and tubing. The tubing length is 380 mm, or almost 15″ for those metrically challenged. So, you have plenty of length on them to put the radiator in the case.
When we move around to the back of the card, we see a nice back plate covering up the majority of the PCB. I imagine this back plate provides structural rigidity, PCB protection, some heat removal, and over all aesthetics. If you look closely towards the upper right of the card by the bracket, you can see a dual BIOS switch. It didn’t seem to switch clock speeds, but the fans did seem to ramp up when switching to it.
A Closer Look
The next pictures show the radiator a bit more closely. Like I said, it’s a 120 mm radiator that is 38 mm thick without the fan strapped on. The picture on the right shows the fin density, which is, well, pretty dense. The included fan does a fine job at moving air through it, but one with higher static pressure and RPM will help cool things down a lot better. Even a push/pull configuration might be worth considering here. It’s not to say you NEED to do this, but we are Overclockers.com and a lot of our readers look for every last degree Celsius and MHz.
Next is a closer look at the fan and the copper heatsink on the VRMs. This combination helps keep those power bits cool. Sadly, I am not sure how cool as we cannot find any software that will monitor this temperature value. Just know that the fan ramps up with component temperatures and is not controllable via software. I didn’t see any throttling when overclocking, so it appears to be doing a good job keeping things cool on my open air test environment (22 °C). The fan has some BRIGHT red LEDs that shine through the chassis and really light up the inside of a case with its bright glow, though I find myself wanting to switch it off at times because it’s pretty bright.
Next up we can see the required two 8-pin PCI-E power connections towards the rear of the card. I know the math doesn’t add up to those that may be scratching your head, and that’s ok, we will get into that very shortly. It really deserves its own discussion.
Next up is the BIOS switch. Again, I didn’t notice any change in clocks, but the fans did ramp up when using it. So, it felt more like a silent/performance mode than anything else.
Last, the I/O. From left to right looking at the picture, you see the four mini-DisplayPorts along with the single DL-DVI-D.
Next up is a stock picture of the PCB. We can see that each GPU has its 4+1+1 power phase configuration, which if you recall is for the GPU, Memory controller, and Memory IC itself. Not exactly the most robust solution, but plenty at stock and for some overclocking.
Noteworthy is the total 4×2 GB (4 GB for each GPU) of Hynix Memory. These should have some decent overclocking headroom if history says anything about it.
Last up is the PLX chip located to left of the power bits. Like on motherboards, this is the PLX PEX 8747 handling connectivity between the two GPUs. With using such a device, there is always a bit of added latency, and with AMD stating this is literally 2x R9 290Xs, we have a slight bump in clock speeds from the reference R9 290x (1000 MHz boost) to get the ‘true 2x R9 290X performance’ that AMD is looking for.
Powering the R9 295×2
We all know now that this card has a board power of 500 watts. We have also seen the two 8-pin PCI-E connectors (150 watts each) above. We also likely know that the PCI-E slot can provide about 75 watts. If you are good at basic math, that adds up to 375 watts… if we follow the PCI-E spec that is.
375 watts is a far cry from the 500 watts it typical uses isn’t it? So, for this card AMD has decided to forgo the PCI-E spec/compliance/blessing, which they say is for compatibility reasons. Think about it, let’s say you wanted to quad-fire this monster… how many PSU’s out there will have six 8-pin PCI-E connectors? I suppose anything that could power two of these would, but that is rarefied air really… but seemingly a necessity regardless.
What you need to be conscious of is the rails on the PSU and how much each PCI-E plug can actually output. AMD requires that each plug handle up to 28 amps with a combined rating of 50 amps total. This puts you into the 800 watt PSU category and either a true single rail, or a multi-rail that can output 28 amps without hitting OCP.
Software – Catalyst Control Center
Catalyst Control Center is AMD’s in house software to control nearly all facets of their cards. From IQ settings, to fan and clock speeds, and even to desktop and display management, CCC can do most, if not all of what you need. If not, there are plenty of 3rd party applications to help, like MSI Afterburner. In the latest version of MSI AB, you can control the voltage on this card!
Performance and Benchmarks
- Intel i7 4770K @ 4 GHz, 1.1 V
- MSI Z97 XPower AC
- Kingston Hyper X Predator 2 x 4 GB 2666 MHz CL11 @ 1866 MHz 9-9-9-24
- 240 GB OCZ Vertex 3 SSD
- Seasonic 1000 W PSU
- AMD R9 295 x2 @ 1018 MHz core /1250 MHz Memory, and Overclocked @ 1120 MHz /1400 MHz memory
- Windows 7 64 bit Operating System
- Catalyst 14.6 beta
Other cards used for comparison are as follows (links are to the OCF reviews).
Note all testing below uses 1920×1080 screen resolution.
- All Synthetic benchmarks were at their default settings
- 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)
- Bioshock: Infinite – Ultra DX11, DDOF (through Steam – option # 2, then option #1 assuming your are at 1080p)
- Batman: Arkham Origin – 8xMSAA, Geometry Details/Dynamic Shadows/DOF/Ambient Occlusion: DX11 Advanced, Hardware PhysX: OFF, the rest On or High
- Grid 2 – 8xMSAA, Ultra defaults + Soft Ambient Occlusion: ON
- Final Fantasy XIV:ARR – Default Maximum setting
- More detail is in our article: Overclockers.com GPU Testing Procedures
First up we go over our synthetic benchmarks per usual. I start out with our oldie but goodie in 3DMark Vantage. Here the card scores 49,418 which is the highest we have seen out of the box, just as we expected. That said, its not much better than the rest of the (single) cards. The reason for that is because of the resolution of the benchmark is pretty low and the speed we run the CPU just does not allow the R9 295×2 to stretch its legs, especially at such a resolution. To that end, we see around a 15% increase at best with these settings.
Moving on to 3DMark 11, something a bit more modern and stressful on a GPU, we see the dual GPU R9 295×2 posting up a score of 20,209 at its stock speed. which bests the rest of the field by at least 25%. Again the relatively small differences are due to the CPU speeds and lower resolution this benchmark runs in as well.
Continuing our synthetic testing with the latest 3DMark (Fire Strike), the AMD R9 295×2 manages to put up a 14,813 score and beats out the rest of the cards again by at least 25%.
Unigine Heaven Xtreme (Hwbot version) shows the biggest differences as it’s a heavy GPU benchmark with not too much CPU involved, unless you go multiple cards like we are. Here the R9 295×2 beats out everything by at least 28%. As we increase the clocks these leads get bigger.
Moving on to the games, we will start out with the GPU killer… that isn’t such a GPU killer for this GPU, Crysis 3. Here the R9 295×2 averaged 74.3 FPS, which is over 34 FPS faster than the R9 290x Lightning and shows scaling of over 84% versus the higher clocked single R9 290x. A nice showing there for sure.
Stepping over to another GPU killer in Metro: Last Light, the R9 295×2 ran 74 FPS versus 48.5 on the R9 290x Lightning and 56.5 on the GTX 780 Ti HOF. When compared with the Lighting we are seeing scaling of around 53%.
The last title in this grouping is Battlefield 4. Most mid-range or better single cards have no trouble running this game maxed out, so we should see some “hellacious” FPS… and we do at 147.9 FPS. When compared to the R9 290x Lightning’s 78.9 FPS, we see an incredible 87% scaling with two cards!
Next up is Bioshock: Infinite. In this game, which appears to heavily favor NVIDIA cards, the R9 295×2 hit 152.6 FPS average. This beats out the single R9 290X Lightning by a hair over 53 FPS showing scaling of over 53%. The NVIDIA cards are surprisingly close here with a single GTX 780 Ti coming within about 16%.
Batman: Arkham Origins is the next title. Here we see 172 FPS for the R9 295×2 and 108 FPS for the R9 290X Lightning, which is a bit over 59% scaling.
Last but not least, my favorite racing game, Grid 2. The R9 295×2 pulled 142 FPS average while the R9 290X Lightning was astonishingly close at 115.2 FPS. That yields some poor scaling of around 23%. I’m not sure what was going on there, but scaling wasn’t good in this title/settings/driver.
Ok, enough of the 1080p results. Frankly, it’s just not fair to put two high-end cards on 1080p and give it a fair shake. So for this testing, though we put it up against single cards, the key here is the resolution used and its resulting FPS. We can see even in Metro:LL and Crysis 3, we come up with a 33 and 31.4 FPS average, which may be playable for some. Lower the AA a bit, as you can usually do so with so many pixels, and that should be playable to most anyone. Nothing short of amazing to me!
Bioshock:Infinite, BF4, and Batman: AO are all PLENTY playable with results coming in at 67.8, 60.1, and 75 FPS respectively.
This card can easily handle most titles at their ultra settings at 5760×1080. As far as 4K resolutions, sadly I am unable to test that as I do not yet have a 4K monitor, however our friends at Anandtech.com reviewed the card at that resolution and it handled most titles quite well even at their highest, or close to it settings. What a beast!
Pushing the Limits
For the pushing the limits section, we moved the the card on over to the 4930K machine and cranked that CPU up a bit to make sure we get the most out of the card as well as the benchmarks used. As far as clock-speeds go, the random 1120MHz core clock I picked to overclock was really almost the end of the line. I was able to bench at 1137MHz, with voltage of +30mv (taking the load to 1.25v according to MSI AB), in Heaven, less in others. That said, I cranked the memory up to 1625MHz on stock voltage (not adjustable) and was good there in Heaven as well. Make sure to get the latest version of MSI Afterburner in order to adjust voltages.
Its not like you need to overclock the card on almost any resolution, but hey, that is what Overclockers.com does!
Cooling and Power Consumption
I bet a lot of people are curious as to how the Asetek built 120 mm AIO worked on getting rid of up to 500 watts of heat… and that is a great question! A lot of people that know water cooling and what is generally needed to keep things cool, surely won’t think a 120 mm radiator and 500 watts of heat are a good match… that is for sure.
To put it simply, it did a fine job overall. At stock, we see idle temps at 35 °C and max temps of 73 °C while running HWBot Heaven. When overclocked, she sits at 38 °C when idle and tops out at 75 °C during HWBot Heaven.
Being a water cooler, I looped these benchmarks for around 15 minutes to make sure that he liquid/loop was saturated. Again, we normalize our ambient temperatures to 25 °C. And let me tell you, saturated it was! This radiator, once it’s all warmed up, gets pretty warm to the touch. The air coming through it from the included fan is also quite warm. While temperatures are in order and presumably better than a lot of air cooled solutions, in my opinion strapping another fan on the radiator for a push/pull configuration should be considered. Or you can do like I did and strap a 3K RPM Delta to it, especially if you are overclocking. I can tell you with a much higher powered fan it kept things much cooler, even when overclocked. In fact, after a couple hours of gaming it was 10 °C cooler with the card maxing out at 65 °C with that Delta fan sitting around 1750 RPM.
So, while at stock speeds things are fine and silent for the most part. However, when pushing things heavily with added voltage, the radiator just isn’t enough without an additional fan on it. It gets very warm to the touch and needs additional airflow to keep things cool.
That said, the power delivery area really is reference design based and with the sheer horsepower of the card at stock speed, there isn’t much reason outside of benchmarking to raise the clocks in the first place. So, its fine at stock and with some overclocking, but you will need more when really pushing this awesome monstrosity.
I think this section people are dying to look at as well. The R9 295×2 came in with a typical board power of a whopping 500 watts. In 3DMark 11, we saw power use from the ‘trusty’ old Kill-A-Watt peak at 648 watts while overclocked and 608 watts while at stock speeds. When using Heaven, we saw peak power rise to 688 watts while overclocked and 636 watts while at stock speeds. Finally, something that can’t work with a quality 550 watt power supply! I can tell you when pushing the CPU’s limits, adding a bit more GPU voltage to the card for overclocking, and overclocking the vMemory, I saw peak readings well over 750 watts.
It gets better. For the pushing the limits section, I switched to the i7 4930K. I had it overclocked to around 4.6 GHz with 1.37 V. I saw 888 watts peak from the Kill-A-Watt using that particular setup. I would say to get nothing less than a QUALITY 850 watt power supply for Intel quads, which will be enough for overclocking both. If you want to push that AMD octo core or Intel’s hex core and still be able to push the R9 295×2, I would look for a 1KW power supply.
Boy oh boy oh boy. What a ride this card has been. AMD really went through a lot of effort to bring this unique card to market, being their first dual GPU solution that is not cut down in some way. Here the two R9 290x cores have full Stream Processors, ROPs, APUs, and even raised the clock speed a bit to offset the added latency from using the PLX chip for inter GPU communications. There is no doubt there are two full R9 290Xs on this card! The overall feel of the card is sturdy due to its mostly metal construction throughout.
AMD also had little choice but to put an AIO cooling solution on the card to keep two R9 290X GPUs cool. The 120 mm radiator and fan are adequate and pretty quiet too, even at full speed. There is a bit of headroom there for some overclocking as well. Just make sure that the radiator has some cool air getting to it. If you want to lower temperatures or increase headroom, add another fan for a push/pull setup. In a perfect world, I would have loved to see a 2×120 mm radiator, but I understand case compatibility is a consideration. Nowadays a lot more people are using an AIO solution for their CPU and may not have another 2×120 mm slot available to use. Just make sure you have the room in your case for the card itself (it’s 12″ long!). With proper case airflow, the cooling solution will run happily.
The performance of the card was second to none in our testing. When looking around the web, there are titles that the GTX 780 Ti in SLI wins, even at 4K. However, I found that those are really in ‘NVIDIA’ titles for the most part. Otherwise, its a very close second place. I hate to minimize the incredible performance this card brings with it, but what did you expect when AMD successfully brings two full R9 290Xs on a single PCB to the table?
As far as the pricing goes… here is where you may want to take a seat. Let’s throw it out there up front. $1,499 is how much this card will set you back. What is interesting is that two R9 290X cards can be found new for 2/3 the cost ($1,000). But being a dual GPU on a single PCB with an included AIO solution, there is simply no other card on the market like it. Sure there is NVIDIA’s Titan Z, but that thing costs around $3,000! DOUBLE the cost of this solution that beats it out performance wise (perhaps not in double precision though, which is part of the point of the Titan Z). There really is not an apples to apples comparison that is valid here with pricing in mind, so it stands alone in its market segment at that price. It’s unique, and currently the single card performance winner. And for that, a price premium goes hand in hand.
In the end, AMD really has a very impressive card on several fronts. Not only did they manage to shoehorn two full power R9 290Xs on a single PCB, they also managed to cool all 500 watts worth of power by using an AIO closed loop cooler. As I mentioned earlier, there is simply nothing else like this card available in both performance and the cooling package. AMD has really brought a winner to the table with this luxo-performance card. This board isapproved!
– Joe Shields (Earthdog)