Back in March of this year, ASUS announced plans to release two new video cards that fall under their ROG Matrix family. An AMD R9-290X and NVIDIA GTX 780 Ti version are now both available. ASUS sent us the AMD R9 290X version to have a look at, so that’s just what we’ll do. Because this card is squarely aimed at the overclocking enthusiast, it makes perfect sense ASUS chose to incorporate AMD’s fasted GPU into this offering. If you’re thinking this card is just another re-branded R9 290X reference design… think again. The ROG Matrix R9 290X is built on a custom PCB and is loaded with ASUS unique features that look great on paper, but will it live up to the ROG Matrix name? Let’s go find out, shall we?
Specifications and Features
Here are the specifications as plucked from the ASUS website and the provided press deck. Right from the start, we can see a factory overclock has been applied to both the GPU and memory. The GPU sees a 50 MHz bump from the reference design, and the memory sees a 100 MHz boost. Past that, we have lots of display connectivity with support for high resolution or multi-monitor setups
|ASUS ROG Matrix Platinum R9 290X Specifications|
| Bus Standard
| Video Memory
| Engine Clock
| Memory Clock
| Memory Interface
A glance at GPU-Z provides us with additional information. We can see the 4 GB of onboard Elpida memory sits on a 512-bit bus and provides 345 GB/s worth of bandwidth. The card also has 2816 Unified Shaders, 64 ROPs, and 176 TMUs. Pretty impressive!
As is typical with ASUS products, the features come in large numbers. We have a series of slides that explains the features of the Matrix R9 290X. The first two slides provide a glimpse into many of the features, which are explained in more detail as we progress through the slides. As you can see, the Matrix R9 290X is definitely aimed at the hard core enthusiast.
A BIOS switch can be found along the top of the card that provides two different modes – standard and LN2. By selecting the LN2 mode, supposedly power target, over-current, and voltage restrictions are removed. Well now… that certainly sounds promising for the LN2 crowd! Speaking of the LN2 crowd, ASUS devised another switch that can activate a defroster to prevent cold bugs. There is an additional 4-pin Molex connector on the PCB for powering this feature.
VGA Hotwire, a popular feature with ROG users, makes its way to the Matrix R9 290X. So, as long as you have a supporting ROG motherboard, the card can be wired to the motherboard, and overclocking and voltage control can be accessed from the motherboard’s BIOS. If you run into trouble when trying to overclock the card, ASUS provides a Safe Mode button to reset the vBIOS back to its default settings.
From all appearances, ASUS provides a power delivery system that should make extreme users very happy. The 14-phase Super Alloy power design features their DIGI+ VRM, All Japanese Nichicon GT 10K black metallic capacitors, hardened MOSFETs, and concrete (like) core chokes. This power design is said to equate to 30% less power noise, 5x better durability, and lots of headroom for extreme overclocking.
The ASUS DirectCU II cooler is attached to the Matrix R9 290X; and I can tell you from past experience, it’s one of the best proprietary coolers there is. ASUS claims 20% cooler and 3X quieter operation when compared to reference design coolers. In addition to the five heatpipes that make direct contact with the GPU core, CoolTech fan technology has also been added. CoolTech Fan technology means there is an inner radial blower fan area built into the forward fan, which provides multi-directional air flow. The last two slides below show in-house temperature and acoustic testing performed by ASUS, which demonstrate the DirectCU II Cooler far outperformed the reference design cooler. Please excuse the Chinese lettering in the slides, but I’m sure you get the idea of what it means.
ASUS has a few features described as “Gamer-Friendly.” First up is the ROG logo LED on the top edge of the card that changes color to correspond with the load put on the GPU. I can’t imagine being in the midst of an intense gaming session and wanting to look away just to see this LED, but it adds a bit of bling. It’s probably better suited for benchmarking sessions where your eyes can wander from the monitor. The GPU Tweak overclocking and monitoring software and GPU Tweak Streaming are the other two items included in the “Gamer-Friendly” package.
The last few slides show ASUS in-house test results for a few modern game titles. The factory overclock ASUS applied to the Matrix R9 290X provides anywhere from a 3.7% to 5.9% FPS gain over the reference design cards.
The typical ROG themed retail box is used to house the Matrix R9 290X. Product information can be found on the front, back, and under the flap attached to the top of the box. The box sides are pretty much all the same and are a placard for additional branding.
Inside the outer box, you’ll find another box that houses the Matrix R9 290X and accessories. The card is extremely well protected in a foam bed and under a clear plastic top. Under the first layer of foam is the card itself and two power adapter cables. Sitting at the very bottom of the box are the rest of the accessories. Here is the accessory list.
- 2 x Power Adapter Cables
- Driver/Utility Disc
- ROG Case Badge
- User/Installation Guide
Before we hone in for a closer look at the Matrix R9 290X, here is a series of images taken from various angles. The card is pretty nice looking in my opinion and will certainly match up well with any system using a red or black theme.
The ROG Matrix R9 290X – Up Close
Before we remove the DirectCU II cooler, there are a few things we can have a look at from the card’s extremities. Looking at display connectivity, we have two DVI-D, one HDMI, and one DisplayPort connection available. The top of the card is home to the ROG color-coded load indicator LED, the required two 8-pin PCI-E power connectors, and the BIOS switch. At the rear of the card, you’ll find the 4-pin Molex power connector required to operate the defroster feature and the switch to activate it. At the back of the card is the Safe Mode button, which functions similar to a clear CMOS button found on motherboards. If you’re able to use the VGA Hotwire feature, you’ll find those solder points at the back of the card as well.
A note on the LN2 BIOS switch: In order to unleash the additional available voltage, there is a bit of work to be done by the end user. There is a solder point on the card with two pads that need to be connected with solder. ASUS tells us it’s designed this way to protect the normal user from accidentally damaging their card and voiding the warranty. If you don’t solder the pads together then both BIOS switch positions offer the exact same overclocking options. Below is a picture of the area that needs soldering to enable the LN2 BIOS. I also included a table that shows the voltage options if left un-soldered and after the soldering is performed. As you can see, there are some crazy high voltages available once the soldering is performed. So, I think it was a good decision to leave it up to the end user if they want to enable the feature and give up the warranty.
|Content||STD+No Solder||STD+ Solder||LN2+No Solder||LN2+Solder|
|VDDC Voltage||1.41V max||1.41V max||1.41V max||1.906V max|
|MVDD Voltage||1.63V max||1.63V max||1.63V max||2.1V max|
|VDDCI Voltage||1.15V max||1.15V max||1.15V max||1.40V max|
|0.95V Voltage||1.025V max||1.025V max||1.025V max||1.45V max|
|PWM Frequency||750 MHz max||750 MHz max||750 MHz max||1000 MHz max|
|OCP (power IC protection)||enable||enable||enable||disable|
The DirectCU II Cooler is secured with four spring loaded screws accessible from the back of the card. Once removed, we can see the the five copper heatpipes that make contact with the GPU area. There is one large 10 mm, two 8 mm, and two 6 mm heatpipes. The black painted heatpipes travel through the aluminum fin stack where heat is whisked away by the two fans. As mentioned in the features section above, the forwardmost fan offers the ASUS CoolTech fan technology to ensure multi-directional air flow.
Additional cooling for the Matrix R9 290X is provided by the aluminum back plate, which also adds rigidity to keep the PCB from flexing. ASUS also slapped a heatsink over the MOSFET area to help keep them as cool as possible. The MOSFET heatsink is aluminum and uses a thermal pad for its TIM.
Moving in for a closer look at the PCB, we can see the stout 14-phase power delivery area. The Super Alloy power design encompasses the use of concrete-core chokes, Japanese made 10K black metallic capacitors, and hardened MOSFETs. All of which are designed to handle greater stress and heat for maximum overclocking potential. Controlling all this power is the all digital ASUS DIGI+ VRM.
ASUS chose to use Elpida W2032BBBG-6A-F memory modules on the Matrix R9 290X, which are rated at 1500 MHz (6000 MHz effective) at 1.5 V. This should leave us some good headroom for overclocking as ASUS has them set to 1350 MHz (5400 MHz effective).
The last picture in the group below is of the AMD Hawaii XT GPU core used on R9 290X series graphics cards.
Bundled Software – GPU Tweak
GPU Tweak is what ASUS provides for a desktop overclocking and monitoring utility. It provides everything you need to get the most from your ASUS graphics card. It also offers complete fan control by selecting either the auto, manual, or user defined option. The available options for overclocking will depend on the actual video card you have installed. As you can see by the images below, with this particular card we have a full compliment of voltage control, fan speed control, and clock settings. Available as a separate install, GPU Tweak streaming can be used to broadcast your game play live over the internet (see slide in features section above).
For a stable 24/7 overclock, I settled on 1150 MHz GPU and 1625 MHz memory (6500 MHz effective). When you compare those numbers to a reference design card, that’s a 14% increase in GPU speed and 24% on the memory side. It took 1.35 V to the GPU and 1.6 V to the memory in order to stabilize things at those speeds, at which point temperatures were beginning to be a concern. So, we’ll leave it there for now and try for a bit more during the “Pushing the Limits” part of the review.
Here is a list of the components used for the test bed.
|Motherboard||ASUS Maximus VI Formula|
|CPU||Intel i7 4770K Haswell|
|Memory||G.SKill TridentX DD3-2400 MHz 2x8GB @ 1866 MHz 9-9-9-24|
|SSD||Samsung EVO 500 GB SSD|
|Power Supply||Corsair HX1050 Professional Series|
|Video Card||ASUS ROG Matrix Platinum R9 290X – Catalyst Driver 14.4|
|Cooling||Swiftech Apogee HD CPU Water Block – 360 mm Radiator – MCP35X Pump|
We’ve got a nice selection of comparison cards for today’s review, so let’s get after it! We’ll adhere to the GPU test procedure that’s been in place since the Haswell platform was released. If you’re not yet familiar with our methodology, then click on the link provided for additional information. For quick reference, below is the down and dirty version of what we do.
- i7 4770K @ 4 GHz
- Dual Channel DDR3-1866 9-9-9-24
- GPU @ stock and overclocked
- Monitor capable of 1920×1080
- 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.
- 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.
Beginning with the synthetic tests, we can see the HIS R9 290X and the ASUS Matrix R9 290X scoring very close to each other. Those two cards are clocked almost identical with the ASUS card clocked just 10 MHz faster. So, basically what you’re going to see throughout our test suite is a slight advantage for the ASUS Matrix R9 290X card over the HIS R9 290X, and the rest of the pecking order remaining intact. Once the ASUS Matrix R9 290X was overclocked, it actually managed to get pretty close to the EVGA GTX 780 Ti Classified in several of the test runs.
The results of our game tests show the same pattern as the above synthetic tests. Again, the ASUS Matrix R9 290X showed an ever so slight advantage over the HIS R9 290X. Once overclocked, the ASUS Matrix R9 290X came a little closer to the EVGA GTX 780 Ti in most of the tests, but fell a bit short as expected. There was no problem eclipsing the 30 FPS we like to see on any of the games we tested. All in all, the ASUS Matrix R9 290X performed just as we’d expect.
Moving over to the Eyefinity testing, I used five of our most popular game titles and tossed in a few comparison cards that we had Eyefinity and NVIDIA Surround results for. Just as expected, the ASUS Matrix R9 290X showed a small advantage over the HIS R9 290X. With the overclocked settings in place, it gave the EVGA GTX 780Ti a run for its money and topped it in the Batman: Arkham Origin, Battlefield 4, and Crysis 3 tests. Three of the five games surpassed the 30 FPS mark with Metro: Last Light and Crysis 3 being the holdouts. No surprise there.
Temperature and Power Consumption
Temperature testing shows the DirectCU II cooler does an admiral job at keeping the GPU cool. As is usually the case with higher end video cards that allow additional voltage to the GPU, things can begin to get pretty warm when overclocking. In the case of this card, you’ll probably want to take the fan off of auto control and either set it manually or via the user defined option. I use HWBot Heaven Extreme to test temperatures because it’s relentless at continually maxing out a GPU for several minutes.
On the power consumption side of things, again we see these modern cards using very little power. The highest wattage use recorded was 495 watts while running HWBot Heaven and the card overclocked. Keep in mind, these are total system draw numbers and not what the video card itself is drawing. When the system is sitting idle, we get just over 100 watts total system draw. Pretty impressive stuff for a video card this powerful.
Pushing the Limits
For my suicide run of 3DMark Fire strike, I was able to get the GPU core set to 1175 MHz and the memory up to 1662 MHz (6648 MHz Effective). With these settings, we managed to eek out another 60 points for our score. That’s about all she had in her without putting it under water or going cold (LN2).
ASUS is heavily vested in the PC enthusiast market and continues to offer products geared toward this segment. The ROG Matrix Platinum R9 290X is yet another example of how ASUS continues to innovate and bring new features to the table. From the updated DirectCU II cooler, to the memory defroster, Dual BIOS switch, and the load indicator LED, there’s a lot to like about this card. Most importantly, the card overclocks very well and will only get better on that front if you decide to go cold and take advantage of the LN2 BIOS mod.
As far as pricing goes, the ROG Matrix R9 290X is currently selling for $629.99 at Newegg, which puts it right in line with other similar competitor offerings. For example, the MSI R9 290X Lightning costs $70 more than the ASUS Matrix R9 290X, but it has a factory overclock 30 MHz higher than the ASUS card. However, unlike the ASUS card, the MSI card doesn’t have the memory factory overclocked. So, nothing to complain about on the pricing front.
About the only gripe with the card was the way the LN2 BIOS option is marketed. I completely agree with the design, and rightfully so left it up to the user to decide if they want those options at the cost of voiding the warranty. However, I think that should be better explained going in.
I love the fact that ASUS continues to offer new features on existing GPU technology rather than waiting until the next generation is released. The consumer can only benefit from this effort, so kudos to ASUS for that. Nice card, nice price, and built for the enthusiast… Just what we like to see!