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::>Graphics cards > 2014 > 05 > PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC

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08-05-2014


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PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC graphics card review and testing

Components with unusual cooling systems always attract attention. Five years ago, the presence of circulating liquid inside the computer automatically ranks you to circle overclockers and other enthusiasts. Today the situation has changed greatly and system of liquid cooling is not a wonder. Even the companies involved in the development and production of components use its services. As for example, CPUs of Intel Ivy Bridge-E or AMD Vishera with the usage of cooling agent. And you can get a dual chip graphics card AMD Radeon R9 295X2 with water cooling equipped by the plant.   In our view, this tendency will grow as air coolers are not always able to cope with the increasing heat of modern accessories.

Good confirmation of these words is the graphics card PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC which is originally equipped with a waterblock. But before you proceeding directly to its review we would like to stay in more detail about the advantages and disadvantages of water cooling systems.

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

Why we do make such specification? The matter is that plant water cooling systems rarely surpass air coolers it terms of performance. They yield to “price/opportunities” parameter. In fact the good results can be achieved by the building of separate components. So let’s examine what type of advantages has this cooling system.

1. Excellent cooling   

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

In a plant water cooling systems the waterblock is combines with pump is a small case. The usage of waterblock separately significantly proves the values of water cooling system as you can improve its capacity i.e. the liquid circulation speed. Also it allows to use a more massive waterblock with complete inner micro-channel structure.

2. Hot air removal outside the case 

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

With the usage of standard coolers hot air is mostly inside the case. Therefore, when building a system from powerful components you should consider how quickly and effectively remove it outside the system unit.

You won’t face with such problem for water cooling system because the heat exchange is realized due to radiator. And it can be mounted on top of the unit or outside the system unit.

3. Low noise

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

Due to the specific design of water cooling system, the device has a lower noise level in comparison with their prototypes. The fact is that, for the accelerating of heat transfer from the cooling agent to external environment it is enough to create a small air flow for blowing the fan edges. Moreover, the efficiency can be increased in different ways, for example, to install a more powerful pump and a radiator of large dimensions. While in the air cooler for this purpose it is required to raise the fan speed which in any case would lead to an increase in the noise level.

4. High level of scalability

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

This point follows from the previous three. Versatility and interchange of water cooling system components makes it easy to increase its efficiency, as well as change the configuration during adding new components to the system or in the case of their replacement.

5. Experiment range

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

Finally, the building process of own water cooling system is quite interesting and exciting process where you can express yourself as an engineer and designer. Nothing prevents you to experiment with different components of the cooling system and its design. For example, you can use a car radiator or industrial pumps, to make your own waterblocks, change cooling agents, place the items outside the case and more. And beautiful lighting and tidy cabling will turn your case into an attractive and original modding project.

However, water cooling system has one disadvantage that often crosses above mentioned advantages. We are talking about the high cost of components. To build a one-loop water cooling system with the cooling of CPU and GPU you have to spend about 250-300 UDS which is equal to the approximate cost of a new graphics card NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760. However, let’s remind the paragraph “experiment range”, always you can install perilously used components or improve old ones.

And now let's take a closer look to the hero of this review namely the graphics adapter PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC.

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

The specs:

Model

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC

(PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC) 

Graphics core

AMD Radeon R9 290X (AMD Hawaii XT)

Quantity of uniform shader processors

2816

Aupported API and technologies

DirectX 11.2, OpenGL 4.3, AMD Mantle, AMD Eyefinity, AMD App Acceleration, AMD HD3D, AMD CrossFireX, AMD PowerPlay, AMD PowerTune, AMD ZeroCore, AMD TrueAudio

Graphics core frequency, MHz

1060

Memory frequency (effective), MHz

1350 (5400)

Memory capacity, GB

4

Memory bus, bit

512

Memory type

GDDR5

Bus type

PCI Express 3.0

Max resolution

DVI-D - 2560 x 1600

DisplayPort / HDMI - 4096 х 2160

Outputs

2 х DL DVI-D

1 х HDMI

1 х DisplayPort

Support of HDCP HD- video coding

Yes

Dimensions taken from official website (measurements made in our test lab), mm

267 х 111 (281 х 137)

Recommended power unit capacity, W

750

Drivers

Drivers can be download from  PowerColor or  GPU 

Producer website

PowerColor

Packaging and content

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

Graphics card PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC is shipped in cardboard box which provides the protection against impacts and possible mechanical damage. The package has a colorful design stylized to the ice surface. In addition to the name of the graphic adapter you can also find a number of logos informing about the presence of 4-GB memory of standard GDDR5, support of AMD Eyefinity technology, resolution 4K (Ultra HD), API DirectX 11.2 and interface PCI Express 3.0.

At the top there is a little icon showing the waterblock and the inscription “OverClocking” reminding that we are dealing with a graphics card with optimized parameters and equipped with an improved cooling system.

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

On the reverse side of the box in addition to the list of technical parameters and standard technologies of AMD Company you can detect and brief information concerning the model PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC. Special attention is paid to the description of digital power subsystem which uses high-performance elements: solid capacitors, ferrite chokes, and chips made according to the technology DirectFET.

However, the greatest interest makes a cooling system which is represented as waterblock of full cover type. According to the manufacturer, the GPU temperature under load does not exceed 60°C. It is quite impressive index which we are going to check during testing.

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

In the box we have found:

  • User’s manual;
  • Driver CD;
  • 6-pin to 8-pin PCIe adapter;
  • Set of fittings and clamps for pipes with diameter G3/8" и G1/2";
  • Mouse pad with PowerColor LCS logo.

This package can be considered as optimal for this class of graphics card. There is an adapter to 8-pin PCIe, so you can easily connect a graphics card even if the power supply unit is not equipped with the necessary connector.

Design

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

Design of model PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC differs from similar solutions with air coolers. Instead of the traditional fans and the plastic casing here we can observe a continuous metal surface, completely covering the front side of the board.

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

The reverse side of the graphics card is hidden behind a metal plate, which in addition to the additional cooling performs another important function i.e. provides good rigidity of the whole structure and prevents the sagging of rear edge of graphics adapter.

The usage of non-standard cooling system was affected to the dimensions of the model PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC. It has 281x137mm (measurements made in the lab) vs. 290x112mm of the “reference” analog AMD Radeon R9 290X.

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

Graphics card will cover only two slots for expansion cards in the case.

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

To display an image the following set of interfaces is provided:

  • 2 x DL DVI-D;
  • 1 x HDMI;
  • 1 x DisplayPort.

It coincides with the reference solution and is the most successful because it provides a comfortable connection of different monitors and televisions, as well as simplifies the organization of multi-screen systems. All interfaces are digital so it is not possible to connect analog displays.
The following resolutions are supported:

  • HDMI / DisplayPort - up to 4096x2160;
  • DVI-D - up to 2560x1600.

Printed circuit board and circuitry

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

Printed circuit board of PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC is similar to the reference design including power subsystem.

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

It is made according reference for AMD Radeon R9 290X solutions as 7-phase scheme (5 +1 +1 for the GPU, memory chips and PLL respectively) under the control of the PWM controller IR3567B.  It is equipped with the support for communication protocols I2C / SMBus / PMBus required to control temperature, voltage, current and power consumption. In addition, there are all main types of protection and a range of modern energy-saving technologies. The filtration units of output voltages also use high-quality components including solid capacitors and ferrite cores in closed cases.

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

The power part of DC-DC converters consists of chips IR6894 and IR6811 built on DirectFET technology. These elements are placed in the thin case with metal lid and include a transistor and a diode. This arrangement is a positive impact on the efficiency and heating during the operation. Drivers of GPU power phases are on the reverse side of textolite and cooled with the help of large aluminum plate.

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

In addition to PCI Express x16 slot the power supply is provided through two additional connectors: 6-pin and 8-pin, which are located at the end of the graphics card. Let’s note that disconnection of PCIe connectors is quite convenient: water block does not prevent this process. Connectors for connection of AMD CrossFireX bridges are absent as the operation of several joints of AMD Radeon R9 290X is implemented in software.

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

Among the interesting features of the model PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC we would like to note the presence of two chips with BIOS firmware. The switching is realized by the usage of a small slider on the end of the card. This feature is useful during experiments with overclocking procedure of the graphics adapter and BIOS code replacement.

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

The basis of the product is the graphics chip AMD Radeon R9 290X (AMD Hawaii XT) made in accordance with the 28-nm process. It is based on microarchitecture AMD Graphics Core Next (GCN) and includes 2816 unified shader pipelines (data-flow processors), 64 rasterization blocks and 176 texture units.

The frequency of the graphics core is 1060 MHz vs 1000 MHz in reference model AMD Radeon R9 290X. Thus due to the optimization of plant parameters the nominal frequency growth of the GPU is 6%.

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

Memory of graphics card PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC with total capacity 4 GB is collected from 16 chips ELPIDA W2032BBBG-6A-F. Its effective frequency is equal to 5400 MHz, and for the reference AMD Radeon R9 290X it is only 5000 MHz. As you can see, in this case a factory overclocking is 8%.

Data exchange between the graphics processor and memory in a graphics card PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC is performed by 512-bit bus with carrying capacity of 345.6 GB/s.

Cooling system

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

As we have already mentioned the traditional air cooler is replaced by a waterblock (model EK-FC R9-290X). It is made by Slovenian company EKWB which specializes in water cooling system equipment and is widely known among enthusiasts of computer equipment. In this case the waterblock belongs to a class “full cover” that is cools not only the GPU but also memory chips and power elements of VRM module. From technical point of view this design is much better than traditional waterblock and will not cause the worry about overheating of any components of the graphics card.

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

For greater efficiency of heat exchange water block is made of copper and has a microchannel structure (capillary diameter is 0.6 mm). On the top it is completely nickel-plated and in some places covered with dark paint. In the last case it is rather the decorative element. Polishing of base is pretty good, thermal paste imprint is straight which once again confirms the high quality of the company's EKWB products.

Memory chips and power elements are in contact with the waterblock via a layer of heat-conducting material.

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

Waterblock holes have threaded connection G1/4’’. This is the most popular standard, so it will be easy to choose the appropriate connecting pipes for water cooling system. Additionally, the supplied item has adapters for the inner diameter of the pipes G1/2’’ and G3/8’’ so you won’t have problems with compatibility.

Holes for connecting pipes are madeperpendicular to the board. This location greatly simplifies the organization of circulation in case of usage of multiple graphics cards in mode AMD CrossFireX.

And now let's evaluate the efficiency of the cooling system in practice. Proprietary utility MSI Afteburner was used for monitoring of graphics card parameters. Since the purpose of our test was to examine the capabilities of graphics card PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC the circuit CBO had included only waterblock. The CPU was cooled by air cooler which is traditionally used on our test bench. Details of other components of water cooling system are listed below:

  • pump: external with capacity of 400l/h;
  • radiator: 275x120x35mm, ventilated by two 120mm fans (1300 rpm, 54,4 CFM);
  • expansion tank: 350 ml;
  • cooling agent: distilled water.

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)

During continuous maximum load the temperature of graphics core did not exceed 58°C which is an excellent result for the product of this level. For comparison, the temperature of reference model AMD Radeon R9 290X with turbine GPU reached 94°C. And the use of improved cooling system on the basis of 5 copper pipes and 2 95 mm axial fans, as for graphics card ASUS Radeon R9 290X DirectCU II OC does not reach the recorded result (85°C vs. 58°C).

PowerColor LCS R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 OC (PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-WMDH/OC)


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