AMD's new $399 R9 290 GPU continues premium graphics price-drop trend

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Guess it pays to wait. A little more than a week ago, AMD launched the Radeon R9 290X graphics card for $550. On Tuesday, AMD unveiled the $399 Radeon R9 290, a bit slower on the performance front but much, much, cheaper.

AMD’s new offering is based on the “Hawaii” architecture that AMD just unveiled at the end of September. The Hawaii chips are based on what the company calls its second-generation Graphics Core Next architecture. In our tests of the R9 290X (shown above), AMD’s top-of-the-line card exceeded Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 780, giving the edge to AMD’s top-of-the-line architecture.

AMD provided a detailed breakdown of the differences within its Radeon R9 graphics-card lineup.

Slightly slower

With the R9 290, AMD dropped the performance down a notch or two: 2860 stream processors for the 290X, versus 2560 for the 290, which is a 10 percent drop. That's complemented by a slower CPU speed: down from 1GHz to 947MHz.

AMD also reduced the number of texture units from 176 to 160. The cheaper 290 card’s compute rate also fell from 5.6 to 4.9 teraflops, while the pixel fill rate is now 60.6 Gpixels per second, according to specs compiled by ExtremeTech.

However, the new R9 290 card also supports Mantle, AMD’s open low-level API for graphics processing, as well as the nifty TrueAudio technology, which allows the graphics card to not only offload audio processing from the GPU, but also to provide an almost unlimited number of audio streams (dependent on the processing limitations of the card).

According to a sample of reviews from around the Web, however, the R9 290 not only continues to outperform the Nvidia GTX 780, but also undercuts it by $100 as well. Nvidia will either have to answer with a price cut, or else pull a higher-performing, cheaper card from out of its development hat.

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