AMD captures the crown for the most powerful single video card (Nvidia’s $3000 Titan Z is expected to steal it later this month).
AMD has launched the latest salvo in the gaming video-card arms race: the Radeon R9 295X2. Featuring two of AMD’s best graphics processors, 8GB of GDDR5 memory, and a preinstalled liquid cooling system, AMD claims this is the fastest video card on the market. And with a price tag of $1500, it’s also the most expensive.
AMD sent a reference-design card to test, and it’s a monster. Boasting a staggering 12.4 billion transistors, 5,632 stream processors, clock speeds up to 1.02GHz, and compute performance of 11.5 teraflops, the Radeon R9 295X2 is an amazing video card. But if you find it still isn’t fast enough for your needs, you can install a pair of them using AMD’s CrossFire technology.
Feeding the beast
As you’ve probably guessed, you’ll need beastly infrastructure to support just one card, including a power supply with two eight-pin PCIe power connectors capable of delivering 28 amps of dedicated current each. The card gulps down 500 watts of power, but AMD’s ZeroCore can shut down the GPUs when they’re not needed.
AMD partnered with Asetek to develop a maintenance-free liquid-cooling system for the 295X2. A copper water block is mounted to each GPU, and an integrated pump circulates coolant through pair of rubber tubes connected to a 120mm radiator.
A 120mm fan pulls air from inside the case across the radiator and exhausts it outside the case. AMD recommends mounting additional intake and exhaust fans inside the case to provide adequate airflow. AMD says the closed-loop system is designed to be maintenance-free.
The card’s memory chips and voltage regulators are cooled by a separate heat sink and an illuminated fan that’s mounted in the middle of the card, between the two GPUs. When AMD’s ZeroCore technology shuts the GPUs down, this fan will also stop spinning (but the radiator fan will continue turning). A metal backplate runs the length of the card.
The R9 295X2 supports AMD’s Eyefinity technology and can support up to six independent displays simultaneously (up to three HDMI or DVI displays). AMD’s reference design has a single DVI port and four mini DisplayPort connectors. Manufacturers building retail cards might offer different combinations of connections. If you have an older monitor that’s equipped with only DVI ports, there are adapters readily available (as are HDMI adapters).
Okay, enough about the ports and specs. Just how fast is this card? Fast enough to deliver modern games at high frame rates on a 4K monitor (that’s a resolution of 3840 by 2160 pixels). That—and the ability to game on multiple monitors—are the primary reasons why anyone would consider spending $1500 on a video card (well, that and perhaps Bitcoin mining). The PCWorld Lab ran a few benchmarks on the R9 295X2 and several less-powerful cards.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have a sample of the Nvidia card AMD is hoping to supplant—Nvidia’s $1000 Titan Black—that we could benchmark. So we’ll present the performance numbers AMD claims, but these should be taken with a grain of salt (considering the source). The fastest Nvidia card the Lab did have was a reference-design GeForce GTX 780 (two, in fact, so we did measure SLI performance). The R9 295X2 proved to be much faster than that combination at 1920-by-1080 resolution, but only slightly faster at a resolution of 2560 by 1600.
But the real test comes when you pair AMD’s video card with a 4K monitor (we used Sharp’s PN-K321). At this resolution, the R9 295X2 delivers about an 80-percent percent bump in performance compared to the single-GPU Radeon R9 290X. But talk about paying to play: That 32-inch monitor will set you back $5200.
On the upside, AMD doesn’t seem to be engaging in any price gouging for the R9 295X2. The average price for an air-cooled single-GPU R9 290X is $635, so a pair would cost around $1271. That leaves $229 for the custom liquid-cooling solution—not to mention the opportunity to buy another R9 295X2 to run in four-GPU CrossFire.
Nvidia, of course, is not standing still. The company recently announced a new dual-GPU card of its own. The Titan Z will be powered by two of Nvidia’s GK110 processors (the same parts that populate the Titan Black) and will boast 12GB of memory. Nvidia plans to price the air-cooled card at $3000. Does that render the R9 295X2 a bargain? We won’t know until we get one of Nvidia’s cards in to benchmark, but it’s safe to say that both cards will appeal only to hard-core performance addicts with extremely deep pockets.
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Michael is TechHive's lead editor and covers the smart home and home entertainment markets. He built his own smart home in 2007, which he uses as a real-world test lab when reviewing new products. Michael also reviews routers and networking products for TechHive and PCWorld.