AMD Radeon 295X2 Performance Review (Project Hydra)
In the graphics card market it has become common in recent years for AMD and NVIDIA to launch multi-GPU cards as their flagship products. Taking two of their high end GPUs and fitting them on to one PCB to maximise performance. Today AMD launch their multi-GPU product for the R9/Hawaii generation, the R9 295X2. With two full GPUs based on the R9 290X and a liquid cooling solution as standard we will compare it to existing cards in games such as Titanfall, Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls and Battlefield 4 all with our CPU at 5GHz and our screen at 4k resolution.
Partner cards will launch later this month, so for now we get the reference design card to look at (though expect partners to use this, just rebranded). So what makes up the 295X2? Well we start with a cooler which uses a metal shell and underneath is our liquid cooler as well as multiple heatsinks, some copper, some plates. A red LED fan can be found in the centre (and red LED Radeon logo on top), passing air across the PCB and components and each GPU is cooled by a block for the liquid cooler, more on that in a moment. The back of the card is also covered by a plate and round at the outputs we have a single DVI and four mini-DisplayPort connectors.
AMD use an Asetek cooler for the R9 295X2 and each GPU has its own block containing a pump and copper GPU plate with micro channel surface. Rubber tubing runs between the GPUs and to/from the 12cm radiator and attached to this is a single 12cm fan. We could of course install a 2nd fan if we wanted though it would be plugged into our motherboard whereas the bundled fan (and the pumps) run off power from the PCB. This means we install the card, install the radiator on our case and the unit is ready to go.
In terms of specifications AMD use two 28nm Hawaii cores which give us 5632 stream processors 532 Texture Units and 128ROPs. Dual 512-bit memory busses are used for the 2x 4GB of GDDR5 and power (500w PSU recommended) is provided by 2x 8-pin connectors. AMD go with a GPU clock of 1018MHz and a memory speed set to 5000MHz.
Finally, as we would expect, DirectX 11.2, PCIe 3.0, Mantle and TrueAudio are all supported.
For some time now AMD’s higher end cards have been lagging behind NVIDIA in terms of build quality. Or at least the reference designs, which many manufacturers take and rebrand, have. With the R9 295X2 we finally see AMD take a high end reference design with the importance it deserves… even if it does look like they took more than a few design hints from NVIDIA.
So with this card we get a high quality metal shroud for the cooler and the inclusion of a standard backplate to maximise the cards cooling and durability. We can rejoice that AMD finally see that it is possible to put a low noise, quality fan on their reference design and the red LEDs are a nice touch. Under the cooler cover we get a quality liquid cooler from Asetek and AMD have done well to design the card so that it basically plugs in, like any other, and our only extra step is to install the radiator. That said, a plug/splitter for a 2nd fan would have been a nice addition.
Elsewhere on the design we see that connector less CrossFireX is retained, that there is a reasonably standard 2x8pin power configuration (AMD suggest two separate cables capable of 28 Amps) and our outputs on the reference card are plentiful. Our preference would have been 2x DVI, HDMI and dual Mini-Display port to minimise the need for convertors, however the outputs provided will connect to just about anything.
All of this does of course mean a high price tag and while 2x 780 Ti OC will cost $1300 and 2x 290X OC/Custom will cost $1140-1200 the R9 295X2 has an RRP of $1500. That is an awfully steep premium, even considering the liquid cooling components.
So AMD are basically saying the 295X2 is designed for 4K gaming. Certainly in their current range it has the most chance of achieving this, but what can $1500 worth of graphics card actually do? Well first off, we can breeze through 1080p testing. Nothing we tested troubled the R9 295X2 at that resolution, with max detail.
Up at 4K resolution we can play just about anything with medium detail, on occasion stepping up to high/maximum. Titanfall for example runs with everything on at 4k resolution, Crysis 3 required us to drop to medium, Thief was a "high" game but on Battlefield 4 we were back up to maximum in game settings with flawless framerates. Any negatives? The first, which is more of an observation, is that this card doesn’t benefit from Mantle… in fact it hampered performance for us. More importantly though, like all dual GPU configurations this card is impacted by driver profiles. In games where Crossfire works well (e.g. BF4) the 295X2 is great. In others, it hits the level of an overclocked 290X.
So that brings us to power and thermal performance. In our testing the R9 295X never hit the 500w advertised reading (during normal gameplay), or the 75°C temp which AMD state as their limit. Instead it ran at around 400-450w power draw when gaming with an idle temp of 35°C. Most impressive of all though were the gaming temps where the 295X2 rarely went above 65°C, often running below 60°C when gaming in our test environment.
Summary: A big leap forward from AMD in build quality for a reference card. Pricing could be an issue but for those who don’t see that as a problem this is a low noise, low temp product which offers flawless performance at 1080p and some impressive framerates at 4k.