AMD Radeon R9 290X 4GB Overclocked Reference Video Card

We fire up MSI Afterburner and see what the brand new AMD Radeon R9 290X 4GB can do when overclocking is thrown into the mix.

19 minutes & 8 seconds read time


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We just finished off checking out the AMD Radeon R9 290X 4GB and when I originally wrote the conclusion for it, I wrote it based that the price of the card was going to hit at a similar level to the GTX 780 at $649. Of course, the review continued to sit in my TweakTown folder, while we waited for the official price from AMD. My conclusion was that it was a really good card. At the same price point as the NVIDIA GTX 780 3GB, the decision to buy either one wouldn't be a simple open and shut case.

As I found myself waiting for price, Tuesday morning I was greeted with a message letting me know that official launch price of the model was going to be $549. This really changed everything; and for the better. At the same price as the GTX 780 3GB it was not so black and white what to buy. $100 cheaper, though, with this performance, and all the new features that the R9 series brings, the decision between the two cards just become so much easier. The R9 290X 3GB in my books went from being a great product to being a fantastic one.

This product really causes a little bit of a mess for NVIDIA as well. Dropping the price of the GTX 780 3GB $100 to match the card begins to cause this uneven domino effect where the price between models become awkward. It will be really interesting to see what NVIDIA do in the coming weeks. We know that the GTX 780 Ti is coming from them, and while performance is going to be important, it feels that pricing is going to play such a bigger part.

With that said, let's move on to exactly what we're doing today. We're getting into the overclocking side of things. So far this isn't something we've been able to do with the new AMD R Series cards. We're glad to finally see what comes out of the model today, as in our original review, the R9 280X 4GB was compared to quite a heavily overclocked MSI GTX 780 3GB Lightning.

Benchmarks - Test System Setup


We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: Intel, ASUS and Corsair.

The line-up of cards in our graph today is nearly identical to our launch coverage on the R9 290X 4GB. Of course one of the main cards we want to compare our overclocked R9 290X 4GB is the reference clocked one. Alongside that, though, we've also got the PowerColor PCS HD 7950 2GB with its core running at over 1100Mhz, the reference AMD HD 7970 GHz Edition, the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB TOXIC and the MSI R9 280X Twin Frozr Gaming OC in CrossFire. Our R9 290X 4GB is of course running in "Uber Mode" and not Quiet mode to make sure the best performance is tested.

On the NVIDIA side of things, we've got the reference GTX 770 2GB, our heavily overclocked MSI GTX 780 3GB Lightning with the core at 1020MHz and the 3GB of GDDR5 at 6540. We finally round off the NVIDIA side of things with the EVGA GTX TITAN 6GB SuperClocked.

Before we get into the performance side of things, we need to cover overclocking. Firing up MSI Afterburner, we found ourselves disappointed to see no voltage adjustment was available. We knew straight away this would impact our maximum overclock. We're expecting a new version of MSI Afterburner soon; unfortunately all we know is that it's bringing voltage adjustment to the MSI R9 270X 2GB HAWK.

We're not sure if it also brings voltage adjustment to other models. If it does, overclocking the model is something we'll be revisiting soon.

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Saying that, it didn't stop us from overclocking. Looking above, you can see we pushed the core from 1000MHz to 1065MHz. As for the 4GB of GDDR5, that went from the stock 5000MHz QDR to 5252MHz QDR. This isn't the greatest overclock by any means, but we knew the lack of voltage adjustment was always going to be an issue. We really hope that voltage adjustment comes to the model when we get the new MSI Afterburner. For now, though, let's see what kind of performance bump we get from this increase in clock speeds.

The FPS Numbers Explained

When we benchmark our video cards and look at the graphs, we aim to get to a certain level of FPS which we consider playable. While many may argue that the human eye can't see over 24 FPS or 30 FPS, any true gamer will tell you that as we climb higher in Frames Per Seconds (FPS), the overall gameplay feels smoother. There are three numbers we're looking out for when it comes to our benchmarks.

30 FPS - It's the minimum number we aim for when it comes to games. If you're not dropping below 30 FPS during games, you're going to have a nice and smooth gaming experience. The ideal situation is that even in a heavy fire fight, the minimum stays above 30 FPS making sure that you can continue to aim easily or turn the corner with no dramas.

60 FPS - It's the average we look for when we don't have a minimum coming at us. If we're getting an average of 60 FPS, we should have a minimum of 30 FPS or better and as mentioned above, it means we've got some smooth game play happening.

120 FPS - The new number that we've been hunting down over recent months. If you're the owner of a 120 Hz monitor, to get the most out of it you want to get around the 120 FPS mark. Moving from 60 FPS / 60 Hz to 120 FPS / 120 Hz brings with it a certain fluidity that can't really be explained, but instead has to be experienced. Of course, if you're buying a 120 Hz monitor to take advantage of 3D, an average of 120 FPS in our benchmark means that in 3D you will have an average of 60 FPS, which again means you should expect some smooth gameplay.

Why are some graphs incomplete?

Adding new game benchmarks is a long, tedious and time consuming task as every video card has to be re-tested in those new benchmarks. Because of that reason we have always just evaluated our benchmark line up every six months. To stay up to date and current with the latest benchmarks and games available, we've changed our approach to adding new benchmarks.

Our benchmark line up will progress and be updated as newer more intensive games with benchmarks comes to light. While this will mean that initially you may only see a single video card in those particular graphs, as the weeks go on and we test more and more video cards, the results will grow quickly. This will help keep our benchmark line up as up to date as possible as we introduce and remove games on a constant basis.

Benchmarks - 3DMark 11

3DMark 11

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1

Developer Homepage:

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3DMark 11 is the latest version of the world's most popular benchmark. Designed to measure your PC's gaming performance 3DMark 11 makes extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to consistently and reliably test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.

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Starting off with 3DMark 11, we don't see a huge gap. You can see the lead is increased over the high-end NVIDIA offerings in the Performance preset, but at the more intensive Extreme Preset, you can see that the new AMD model still trails behind a little.

Benchmarks - 3DMark Fire Strike

3DMark Fire Strike

Version and / or Patch Used: 1

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Fire Strike is our new showcase DirectX 11 benchmark designed for high-performance gaming PCs. It is our most ambitious and technical benchmark ever, featuring real-time graphics rendered with detail and complexity far beyond what is found in other benchmarks and games today. Fire Strike will only be available in the Windows editions of 3DMark initially.

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Fire Strike performance increase isn't too bad. You can see we manage to break into the 10,000 point category in the standard run and 5,000 point in the Extreme one. Both numbers that now put the 290X ahead of the heavily overclocked GTX 780 Lightning.

Benchmarks - Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 3

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New benchmark grants the power to unleash the DirectX 11 potential in the gift wrapping of impressively towering graphics capabilities. It reveals the enchanting magic of floating islands with a tiny village hidden in the cloudy skies. With the interactive mode emerging experience of exploring the intricate world is ensured within reach. Through its advanced renderer, Unigine is one of the first to set precedence in showcasing the art assets with tessellation, bringing compelling visual finesse, utilizing the technology to the full extend and exhibiting the possibilities of enriching 3D gaming.

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Heaven sees a nice bump in performance which puts the 290X almost dead even with the heavily overclocked GTX 780 Lightning.

We really hope voltage increase becomes an option and we can get more out of the core to see just what this card can do in the future.

Benchmarks - Phantasy Star Online 2

Phantasy Star Online 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage:

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Play Phantasy Star Online 2 and experience revolutionary combat in an action-driven, free-to-play multiplayer online RPG from SEGA. Take a journey into an immersive sci-fi fantasy narrative and explore mysterious worlds to unravel their secrets. Join fellow adventurers and fight against the legions of darkness to banish them from the galaxy.

Score explanation: Less than 2000: Please adjust your game settings because the processing load is quite heavy.

2000 through 5000: The game runs fine at the setting, if you have room, you can adjust some settings.

5001+: The game works wonderfully at this setting.

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PSO2 normally gets some excellent gains from overclocking, but we don't see the same kind of increase this time. We're not sure if it's got to do with the new model or just the simple fact the overclock isn't as strong.

Either way, the 290X sees massive performance under PSO2, with such a high resolution and all in-game settings maxed out.

Benchmarks - Lost Planet 2

Lost Planet 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark - Test A Scene 1

Developer Homepage:

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Lost Planet 2 is a third-person shooter video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the sequel to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition which is also made by Capcom, taking place ten years after the events of the first game, on the same fictional planet. The story takes place back on E.D.N. III 10 years after the events of the first game. The snow has melted to reveal jungles and more tropical areas that have taken the place of more frozen regions. The plot begins with Mercenaries fighting against Jungle Pirates. After destroying a mine, the Mercenaries continue on to evacuate the area, in which a Category-G Akrid appears and attacks them. After being rescued, they find out their evacuation point (Where the Category-G appeared) was a set-up and no pick up team awaited them. The last words imply possible DLC additions to the game, "There's nothing to be gained by wiping out snow pirates... unless you had some kind of grudge."

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Lost Planet 2 doesn't move much. We see nothing at 2560 x 1600 and 1680 x 1050. We see an extra 6 FPS at 1920 x 1200, but this isn't anything to get too excited about.

While the 290X is behind NVIDIA in this case, it's always important to note that we've got playable FPS at all resolutions.

Benchmarks - Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Dark Tower

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Just Cause 2 employs the Avalanche Engine 2.0, an updated version of the engine used in Just Cause. The game is set on the other side of the world from the original Just Cause, on the fictional island of Panau in Southeast Asia. Panau has varied terrain, from desert to alpine to rainforest. Rico Rodriguez returns as the protagonist, aiming to overthrow the evil dictator Pandak "Baby" Panay and confront his former mentor, Tom Sheldon.

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Just Cause 2 sees a slight performance increase and you can see in Uber Mode, we already had the jump on both NVIDIA cards. Overclocking helps extend that lead a bit further.

Benchmarks - F1 2012

F1 2012

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

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In F1 2012 players will feel the unparalleled thrill of becoming a FORMULA ONE driver with a host of new features, wide-ranging technical and gameplay advancements and extensive competitive and co-operative multiplayer components. F1 2012 will feature all of the official teams, drivers and circuits from the 2012 FIA FORMULA ONE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP, including the debut of the 2012 FORMULA 1 UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX at Austin, Texas and the return of Germany's famous Hockenheim circuit to the calendar.

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F1 2012 really doesn't see much thanks to a FPS wall being seen around the 160 FPS mark.

As always, we're not fans of FPS walls, but when they hit this high, a number that is comfortable even for 120Hz gamers, we're not so concerned.

Benchmarks - Metro Last Light

Metro Last Light

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

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Metro: Last Light takes place one year after the events of Metro 2033, proceeding from the ending where Artyom chose to call down the missile strike on the Dark Ones. The Rangers have since occupied the D6 military facility, with Artyom having become an official member of the group. Khan, the nomad mystic, arrives at D6 to inform Artyom and the Rangers that a single Dark One survived the missile strike. Khan believes the Dark One is the key to humanity's future, and wants to make peace with it, while Ranger leader Colonel Miller wants to kill the creature due to its potential threat. Miller sends Artyom to the surface with a mission to kill the Dark One; he is accompanied by Anna, Miller's sarcastic daughter and the Rangers' best sniper.

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Metro Last light sees a bit of a bump at all resolutions ranging from 2 - 4 FPS. We'd really like to see more range available with the overclock, though, to see if we can pull that 2560 x 1600 average into the 60 FPS range. Time will indeed tell.

Benchmarks - Dirt Showdown

Dirt Showdown

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

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DiRT Showdown is the new arcade racing game from the team that brought you the award-winning DiRT series, uncaged in 2012. Pick up and play controls combine with electrifying events, frenzied crowds and stunning graphics to deliver high octane, dive in and drive thrills from event one.

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Dirt Showdown sees a bit of an increase at all resolutions, but nothing major.

With stock Uber Mode already coming out ahead of the NVIDIA offerings, the overclock helps extend its lead a little at all resolutions.

Benchmarks - Nexuiz


Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

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Nexuiz is an Arena First Person shooter coming soon to consoles. Nexuiz is fast paced with extremely competitive game play. IllFonic brings Alientrap Software's Nexuiz to next-gen gaming consoles around the world while staying true to the game play refined over the years through development. IllFonic introduces a new Victorian influenced art style that is simultaneously futuristic and sophisticated. Nexuiz for consoles is powered by CryENGINE 3.

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Nexuiz really sees little with the overclock here at the highest and lowest resolution. What's interesting, though, is like we saw with Lost Planet 2, 1920 x 1200 sees a bit of a stronger bump.

The increase from 53 FPS to 59 FPS is really nice. We really need a few more MHz, though, so we can get into the 60 FPS range for solid gameplay.

Benchmarks - Sniper Elite V2

Sniper Elite V2

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

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Sniper Elite V2 features detailed sniping simulation with advanced ballistics, taking into account gravity, wind, velocity, bullet penetration, aim stability and more. Guaranteed to provide players with the most realistic simulation of military sharpshooting yet available.

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Sniper Elite V2 numbers are improved, but again, only slightly. The 290X is getting closer to the heavily overclocked GTX 780 Lightning at all resolutions, but as you can see, it's still trailing.

While the 290X sits behind a bit, though, the most important piece of information is that we've got strong FPS at all resolutions that will result in great gameplay.

Benchmarks - Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage:

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The core gameplay of Sleeping Dogs consists of giving the player an open world environment in which to move around freely. Sleeping Dogs is played as an over-the-shoulder, third-person perspective action-adventure game with role-playing elements. The player controls Wei Shen, a Chinese-American police officer, as he goes undercover to infiltrate the Sun On Yee Triad organization. On foot, the player character has the ability to walk, run, jump, climb over obstacles and swim, as well as use weapons and martial arts in combat. Players also drive a variety of vehicles including cars, boats, and motorcycles.

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Sleeping Dogs sees a bit of a bump at all resolutions. Coming out ahead of the NVIDIA offerings in stock Uber Mode, though, like we've seen a couple of times already, the extra FPS helps extend the lead for the R9 290X 4GB.

Benchmarks - Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.01

Timedemo or Level Used: Ranch Long

Developer Homepage:

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The Dunia Engine was built specifically for Far Cry 2 by the award-winning Ubisoft Montreal development team. It delivers the most realistic destructible environments, amazing special effects such as dynamic fire propagation and storm effects, real-time night-and-day cycle, dynamic music system, non-scripted enemy A.I. and so much more.

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Far Cry doesn't see much change in the minimum front due to that FPS wall we're hitting. There's a bit of movement in the average departments, but as you can see, it's not really needed.

Please Note: We still include Far Cry 2 in our benchmarks (we know it's old) as a way for our readers to get a general representation of how older games perform on new hardware.

Benchmarks - Hitman Absolution

Hitman Absolution

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

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Hitman: Absolution is an action-adventure stealth game developed by I/O Interactive and published by Square Enix. It is the fifth entry in the Hitman game series, and runs on I/O Interactive's proprietary Glacier 2 game engine. Before release, the developers stated that Absolution would be easier to play and more accessible, while still retaining hardcore aspects of the franchise. The game was released on 20 November 2012, which is in the 47th week of the year (in reference to the protagonist, Agent 47).

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Apart from 2560 x 1600 which sees a couple of extra FPS in the minimum and average, we don't see a whole lot of change as we're hitting an FPS wall at the lower resolutions.

NVIDIA also hits a wall, but it comes into play much earlier. Because of this, we really see the R9 290X 4GB get quite the jump on both the heavily overclocked GTX 780 Lightning and GTX TITAN 6GB SuperClocked.

Benchmarks - Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage:

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Tomb Raider is an action-adventure platform video game. Published by Square Enix, Tomb Raider is the fifth title developed by Crystal Dynamics in the Tomb Raider franchise. As the first entry in a new Tomb Raider continuity, the game is a reboot that emphasizes the reconstructed origins of the culturally influential lead character Lara Croft. Tomb Raider was released on 5 March 2013 for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows to universal critical acclaim.

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Tomb Raider sees a bump at all resolutions. The one that takes our attention the most, though, is the 2560 x 1600 test. We see the average move from 53 FPS to 59 FPS. While we normally would always prefer to be in the 60 FPS range, the 44 FPS minimum means we're happy to except this average.

In the end, we've got smooth gameplay across the board, and you can see, the overclocked 290X is ahead of the heavily overclocked GTX 780 Lightning at all resolutions.

Benchmarks - BioShock Infinite

BioShock Infinite

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage:

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BioShock Infinite is a first-person shooter video game and the third installment in the BioShock series. Previously known as "Project Icarus", it is being developed by Irrational Games and was released worldwide on the Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 platforms on March 26, 2013. BioShock Infinite is not part of the storyline of previous BioShock games but features similar gameplay concepts and themes.

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BioShock Infinite sees a 10 FPS bump at the lowest resolution. Moving up the resolution table, we see just a single FPS at the other two.

This is disappointing as we'd have loved to have seen the 2560 x 1600 resolution get an extra 4 FPS and throw us into the 60 FPS range.

Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AF

High Quality AA and AF

While we test all our games with maximum in-game settings, turning on Anti-Aliasing (AA) and Antistrophic Filtering (AF) helps take the intensity of our testing to another level.

Here we see video cards go from playable FPS to an unplayable FPS and the real power houses continue to help break that 60 FPS mark we always aim for to provide a smooth gaming experience.

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We see a bit of movement at both resolutions as you'd expect, but in stock Uber Mode, we already saw fantastic numbers. Let's move onto something a bit more intensive.

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The little overclock gives us a little bump in performance. Unfortunately it is not enough to change our gaming experience as both resolutions remain under 60 FPS.

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We see a slightly boost in performance at both resolutions and you can that the 290X extends its lead on the NVIDIA offerings. Most importantly, though, we've just got very good numbers at both resolutions.

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Sleeping Dogs sees a slightly increase that gives the 290X a bit more breathing room at 1920 x 1200, as we move from 63 FPS to 66 FPS. The card also sees a slight bump at 2560 x 1600, but at 48 FPS, the numbers are just too low.

Temperature Test

The temperature of the core is pulled from MSI Afterburner with the max reading used after a completed run off 3DMark Vantage and the Performance preset.

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The new R9 290X indeed is a warm running video card. We knew that at stock with it warming to 94c. While we know some people have expressed concern, AMD has let us know that this isn't an issue at all and it's what the card is designed to run at. We don't doubt that for a second, and we even saw the new NVIDIA offerings run in the 80c range.

If you want the temperature lower, though, you can set a lower maximum through the Catalyst Control Center. It's going to come at the cost of more noise, though, and we know that the new R9 290X 4GB is quite loud, even at stock settings.

Sound Test

Pulling out the TES 1350A Sound Level Meter we find ourselves quickly yelling into the top of it to see how loud we can be.

After five minutes of that we get a bit more serious and place the device two CM away from the fan on the card to find the maximum noise level of the card when idle (2D mode) and in load (3D mode).

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Overclocking throws an extra 10dB onto the Quiet Mode number. Compared to the card in Uber Mode, the overclock brings no extra noise. Considering the overclock isn't all that much, this is what we'd hope and expect.

Power Consumption Test

Using our PROVA Power Analyzer WM-01 or "Power Thingy" as it has become quickly known as to our readers, we are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into AC wall socket).

There are a few important notes to remember though; while our maximum power is taken in 3DMark06 at the same exact point, we have seen in particular tests the power being drawn as much as 10% more. We test at the exact same stage every time; therefore tests should be very consistent and accurate.

The other thing to remember is that our test system is bare minimum - only a SSD hard drive is used with a single CD ROM and minimal cooling fans.

So while the system might draw 400 watts in our test system, placing it into your own PC with a number of other items, the draw is going to be higher.

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At around 450 watts, any quality 650 Watt+ power supply is going to have no problems dealing with this kind of setup. With no voltage increase, though, we didn't expect any major jump in power draw.

Final Thoughts

The first thing we need to talk about is the overclock we got. Like you probably are, we're disappointed with how high we got - or how high we didn't get. We really hope voltage adjustment gets thrown into the mix soon as it should really give the 290X more breathing room on the core. Considering this is something we've seen for many generations now, we find it hard to believe that it won't be coming with the next version of Afterburner. If it does show up, we'll be of course retesting the AMD R9 290X 4GB straight away.

We've had the luck of testing CrossFire R9 290X 4GBs thanks to HIS; keep an eye for that in the next day or two. We won't be looking at the overclocking side of that just yet because we feel without the voltage adjustment option, the performance change won't be major, and it's ultimately going to be a waste of time.

Again, though, if we do get voltage adjustment like I feel we will, then we'll be seeing just what we can get out of the single card solution and the Crossfire setup. We really look forward to seeing what a company like MSI does with the 290X. We hope they slap the Lightning tag on it and really give the card some more breathing room with their Military Class components and triple voltage overclocking option goodness.

While at the moment the NVIDIA offerings allow much more overclocking headroom due to the ability to adjust the core voltage, the simple fact that this card remains $100 cheaper than the base GTX 780s means that it's just so attractive.

For now, though, keep an eye out for our upcoming CrossFire article and we'll continue to keep our ear to the ground with the hope that the next version of MSI Afterburner really opens up these new AMD Radeon video cards.

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Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.

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