Since AMD’s R290 launched two days ago, reports are making the rounds that the Radeon R9 290 and 290X run hot, that they can’t cool themselves properly, and that consumers who buy these cards are going to be treated to a substandard overall experience. We’ve spent some additional time analyzing how the two cards perform under various thermal loads, and what the situation is. We’re going to step through the problem, our own tests, and whether or not this changes our opinion of the cards.
AMD has announced that a driver will launch today, to fix these issues. Consider this a “Story so far…” cataloging the current state of things, pre-driver update.
Understanding the problem
AMD’s R9 290X has two different cooling modes — “Quiet” and “Uber.” In Quiet mode, the GPU driver automatically sets a maximum fan speed of 40%. In Uber mode, the GPU sets a maximum fan speed of 55%. You can change modes by flipping a switch on the GPU, or by adjusting fan speeds in the Overdrive tab within the Catalyst Control Panel. The R9 290, in contrast, has just one setting. While the card does have a hardware switch, the switch doesn’t do anything on the reference cards AMD sent out. AMD’s first set of drivers set the default fan speed to 40% for the R9 290; a later driver update changed this to 47%.
Here’s how the maximum fan speed slide works in practice. As the GPU’s temperature rises, the fan speed rises as well. The fan will hit the user-defined maximum speed around the time the GPU hits 92-93 degrees Celsius. If this fan speed is not able to keep the GPU below 95C, the GPU clock will throttle down to prevent damage to the chip. The R9 290X’s 55% fan speed “Uber” mode is high enough to prevent GPU throttling in workloads, even under sustained load. The R9 290′s 47% maximum default fan speed isn’t. Raise the R9 290′s default fan speed to 50%, and the problem goes away.
Or at least, it should.
Next page: Nvidia’s heavy-handed attempt to smear AMD
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