AMD R9 290X Review
When any new hardware is released we always get a package of slides and information to help us understand what is going on beneath the hood. More often than not these are filled with meaningless marketing speak and pointless comparisons, but there are always a few interesting gems amongst the flotsam. Whilst our mantra at OC3D has always been to look at the actual results as if we were a regular consumer rather than follow the 'on paper' promises of marketing departments, the R9 290X brings some cool real world stuff to the table.
4K displays are definitely the future. For all the talk of 3D, ever higher resolutions are really what makes things come to life in realistic fashion, and the R9 290X supports 4K displays natively, and provides an extremely easy way to stitch the two 2K displays together to give you a single high resolution output. Of course a 4K display is very much limited to the extremely well-heeled at the moment, but technology pricing always tumbles quickly and the displays should be more common within the lifespan of the R9 290X. Those of us with regular monitors haven't been forgotten though, and the R9 290X continues AMD's Eyefinity technology with support for 6 monitors in a variety of configurations.
One of the changes that was hard to predict when GPUs and monitors converged with the HDMI and DisplayPort outputs was the role of the graphics card as an audio device. After all, if your display supports HDMI/DisplayPort inputs then audio can be transferred across those cables, and it makes sense to push the sound through the GPU as well, especially as . As AMD themselves say;
"AMD TrueAudio technology provides is guaranteed real-time performance for tasks on ANY system configured with an enabled GPU, regardless of the installed processor. This is enabled through the integration of multiple Tensilica HiFi EP Audio DSP cores which now provide a dedicated Audio DSP solution for game sound effects";
The GCN architecture is not just a fancy name for AMD's processor either. Efficiency is outstanding when you compare the Hawaii GPU of the R9 290X and the Tahiti core of the HD7970. For a slight die size increase the amount of geometry and pixel fills that the processor can do has almost doubled. It's also GCN because AMD have got their processing units in both of the next generation of consoles, so their will be a universal architecture between the PS4/XB1 and the PC. This should aid development and stop us PC gamers having to suffer through extremely shoddy ports or uninspiring graphics just for the sake of development costs.
As we'll see on the next page, the R9 290X comes with a switch that adjusts whether the card runs in either 'Uber Mode' or 'Quiet Mode'. We're not entirely sure how much benefit this will have to us as end users, as even the AMD slide doesn't exactly trumpet a vast increase in performance.
Finally AMD have an API called Mantle, which should streamline the development process between consoles and PCs and thus free up lots of resources that would otherwise be spent on optimisation for one platform or the other. Potentially it could finally bridge the gap between consoles and PCs, although at the moment the only developer that AMD are talking about is DICE, the developer of Battlefield 4. We know from past experience with the Glide/DirectX3 battles, and even the lack of integration of PhysX, that technologies based around a single hardware manufacturer rarely get adopted because a publisher wants to be able to sell their product to the largest possible audience.
It could be that Mantle is able to be utilised on both AMD and nVidia hardware, or it could be exclusionary. There is an excellent article available here that covers the main points, but with a keynote presentation due in early November we'll save our thoughts until we've heard more about it. Potentially it could be a stunning innovation.