Lately AMD has been pushing its Radeon graphic card's division to quite a lot especially by revolutionizing the market with the introduction of the first ever HBM based GPU, the R9 Fury X equipped with 4GB HBM and a liquid cooling loop to keep it all cool and quiet.
But for those who are not into 4K gaming or don't use an outrageous numbers of 1080p multi monitor setups AMD introduced the Radeon 300 series equipped with the latest Grenada architecture what many called a 'rebrand' of Hawaii, their previous GPU architecture used in all the R7 200 and R9 200 series cards. But let me tell you straight it's not!
So today to put this debate to rest I have with me the Asus STRIX Radeon R9 390X 8GB DDR5 for review. Before we jump to any conclusions lets take a quick peak at the specifications and then follow through a detailed review.
The Radeon R9 390X isn’t simply a 290X with a mildly increased GPU clock. That 5% boost to the GPU clock is there from 1000MHz to 1050MHz and boost memory clock speeds has increased from 1,250MHz to 1,500MHz, causing overall memory bandwidth to jump from 320GBps to 384GBps. The Hawaii architecture launched 18 months ago, and since then AMD has tweaked the manufacturing process, made some microcode enhancements, and improved thermals and power. The 390X also rocks much faster GDDR5 memory, and of course a twofold increase in the standard complement of video memory--8GB (up from 4GB). All this rightfully entitle the R9 300 series to earn a new and 'non-rebranded' title of the Grenada architecture!
Some of the product images are taken from the official ROG website for best picture quality.
Inside the Box
The Asus Strix R9 390X comes in a sleek black and red box with the front mainly covered by the Strix own logo in the backdrop and ASUS logo on top. You can find all the key details about the product in the front itself. Inside is thick black cardboard box that has the card resting in an anti static wrap sandwiched between two layers of thick foam which adds to the shock value of the packing.
There isn't excess space inside the box for the component to jump and bump around while transit showing the quality control of Asus from the grass root level of packing itself.
Inside the boxes you’ll find the installation DVD, a 2 x 6-pin to 8-pin power adapter, a setup guide, a Strix sticker to add to your collection, and of course the STRIX R9 390X video card.
Outer Looks: As premium as it gets!
Looking at the card at first you'll realize two things and two things only--Its Huge and it has thick Chrome pipes! The ultimate moment of Geek beauty.
Measuring in at 11.7' long and 1.5' thick its not too broad but is surely long. Colored mainly in red and black it remind me of the ROG series and obviously the trademark color of AMD products. The PCB is all black gelling well with the over all package.
The Owl now has three eyes. The DirectCU III cooler is powered by three matte-black 90 mm fans, each has a sticker at the center with the ASUS logo on the middle fan and Strix logo on the left and right fans. It’s absolutely one of the best looking custom coolers in the market at the moment. Featuring ASUS’s patented Triple Wing-Blade 0dB Fan Design, the DirectCU III cooler is responsible to deliver maximum air flow with 30% cooler and 3X quieter performance than the reference R9 390X cooler. The 0dB Fan technology means that these fans will remain off if until the GPU temperature exceeds 65 degrees Celsius.
The ASUS Strix R9 390X features a 8-pin and a 6-pin power connector. A simple math calculation showed that the ASUS Strix R9 390X will have a maximum power draw of 300W. The PCI-Express slot from motherboard offers up to 75W of power, the 8-pin connector adds another 150W and the 6-pin supplies 75W of power. The Strix LED panel on the DirectCU III cooler will pulsate when the card is running. You can also see part of heatpipe extends out of the cooler at the middle. No support for a CrossFire connector is available since AMD cards communicated directly through the PCI-e lanes courtesy to the DMA technology introduced in the last R9 200 series.
On the I/O backpanel, we have a total of five video display interfaces which include a Dual-link DVI-D port, a single native HDMI 1.4a port and three regular DisplayPort 1.2. The maximum digital resolution supported is 4096×2160. There is no support for a HDMI 2.0 port which is necessary for a 4K playback over 30fps but then the R9 390X isn't designed as a 4K friendly card!
The brushed-metal backplate not only fortifies the PCB eliminating any change of it warping under its own weight but at the same time helps to disperse heat and even makes the card look premium & sexy.
This card screams “premium,” but be warned, tiny case owners: All those features turn the Strix R9 390X into a fairly bulky graphics card measuring in at 11.8' in length!
Under the Hood: Grenada at its best
Once you unscrew the heatsink of the Asus Strix R9 390X you'll realize the true potential of the DirectCU III cooler simply by its looks. The cooler is massive with a total of five heatpipes connected to the radiator in various fashions and orientations. There are two 10-mm heatpipes, two are 8-mm heatpipes and one 6-mm heatpipe. All these are chrome plated and get cooled by air flowing in from different angles with the 6mm heatpipe protruding out from the top in a U shape to utilize all the real estate offered by the card effectively.
The GPU is in direct contact with three of these five heatpipes and is coated by a thermal paste (maybe that's also a three adding to the Direct CU III). On the other hand the 8-phase power delivery system is cooled by a thermal pad directly underneath one of the three fans.
Coming to the PCB itself we see that the GPU rests in the center of 16 GDDR5 SK Hynix memory chips, specifically the H5GC4H24AJR. Hynix chip are not only decent in quality but pack heaps of over clocking potential making them widely used in DDR4 RAM modules aswell and also increasing my over clocking expectations from the card manifold.
One noticeable feature is that out of the 10 chokes and 13 capacitors, 2 chokes and one capacitor sits on the left side of the PCB near the I/O panel. This is done to reduce the coil whine and temperature at this end of the cooler.
The Strix R9 390X is built from ASUS’s AUTO-EXTREME Technology with 8+2 phase Super Alloy Power II, which is the industry’s first 100% automated production process in order to deliver premium quality and best reliability while eliminating human error during production. Super Alloy II Capacitor is used to maximize overclocking headroom while offering 2.5X extended lifespan (over 90,000 hours longer than traditional capacitors). Super Alloy II MOS will reduce temperature while increasing the power efficiency. Super Alloy II Choke is responsible for minimizing the buzzing noise (coil whine) with concrete alloy chokes.
As I couldn't separate the backplate from the PCB I'm not able to post an exclusive picture of the backside but I've been informed that due to automated manufacturing process without any room for human hands the back is missing pins and flux! Without pins and flux, the card is much easier to handle, soldered joints last longer and dust buildup is greatly reduced hence increasing conductivity and reducing temperatures manifold.
Software and Utilities
The GPU Tweak II app that works with Asus cards is very slickly designed, and gives you one-click access to three performance presets (OC mode, Gaming mode, and Silent mode) that variously prioritize performance or silent operation. It comes in the DVD provided along with the card or can be downloaded from the official website.
When you open GPU Tweak II it’s quickly apparent that things have changed a bit, you don’t jump right to the OCing screen you get an opening screen showing VRAM usage, GPU Speed. and GPU Temp.
In Silent Mode, the GPU clock is downclocked to 1,050 MHz with the power target set to 90%.
In Gaming mode, the GPU frequency is clocked at 1,070 MHz with 100% power target. Our review sample is shipped with this mode out of the box and also this is the default setting for the R9 390X hence we’ll be using this mode throughout our benchmark tests.
In OC mode, the GPU clock is bumped up to 1,090 MHz with along with 110% power target. This is around 4% faster than the reference R9 390X.
On the Over Clocking end the Strix is a no slouch and the GPU Tweak II was very helpful in attaining a good OC over the card. But this is also the downside of the utility as Asus has capped the maximum allowed OC on the Asus Strix R9 390X to 50MHz over the factory OC speed of 1070MHz so our OC maxed out at 1120MHz, GPU voltage was good enough, Memory clock exceeds what normal GDDR5 will do no problem there, we had fan speed control, and we could increase power target.
I knew that AMD Overdrive could push the limits further so as expected, the card OCs much higher than we’ve anticipated because of the improved cooler. I managed to bump the core clock to 1150Mhz and the memory clock at 1625Mhz. Any higher was not possible at all.
Load Test and Benchmarks
The below configuration was used to run all the gaming and synthetic tests on the Asus Strix Gaming R9 390X.
CPU: Intel Core i7 5960X (OC at 4.5 GHz)
Motherboard: GIGABYTE X99 Gaming 5P
RAMs: Corsair Vengeance LPX 2800Mhz 16GB DDR4 (4x4)
CPU Cooler: Corsair H110 CPU Liquid Cooler
Graphics card: Asus STRIX Radeon R9 390X 8GB DDR5
Hard disc: ADATA SP920SS 256 GB SSD
Power Supply: Corsair AX860i 860W 80+ Platinum
OS: Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit
Driver: AMD Catalyst v15.7.1
To keep the tests fair and square I kept the Strix R9 390X at stock settings and compared it with its predecessor but from a different manufacturer, the Gigabyte Windfore R9 290X 3xOC 4GB DDR5. This review would not make sense if I don't include the Nvidia GTX 980 which is a direct competitor to the R9 390X.
Unigine Heaven 4.0Heaven Benchmark with its current version 4.0 is a GPU-intensive benchmark that hammers graphics cards to the limits. This powerful tool can be effectively used to determine the stability of a GPU under extremely stressful conditions, as well as check the cooling system’s potential under maximum heat output. It provides completely unbiased results and generates true in-game rendering workloads across all platforms.
3D Mark Fire StrikeFire Strike is a showcase DirectX 11 benchmark designed for today’s high-performance gaming PCs. It is one of the most ambitious and technical benchmark ever, featuring real-time graphics rendered with detail and complexity far beyond what is found in other benchmarks and games today.
BioShock InfiniteBioShock Infinite isn’t a hard game to run for GPU but it scales well to different GPU’s and shows the FPS difference well. The Asus Strix R9 390X Gaming 8G OC hits 121 FPS in 1080p gaming in contrast to the 120 FPS of the GTX 980. This is a result well within the error bracket and hence its a tie between the two performance wise.
Over 100 frames is a territory where the difference really doesn't matter to a mid range user running a 1080p monitor with 60Hz refresh rate, like me!
Alien: IsolationAlien Isolation is not a demanding game either but rather a very well optimized product for PC port. But as its one of the best horror/alien games out there I had to put this in the list, moreover I had it in my system so what else to say!
Again, considering that 60 Hz is still the standard refresh rate, these results are more academic than anything else becasue the FPS is on the higher end of the 130 frames mark. As with Bioshock Infinite, I suggest using either Dynamic Super Resolution or Virtual Super Resolution to clean up aliasing.
GTA VGTA V’s soul-crushing Advanced Graphics settings really highlight how developers should scale settings up for PC at the ultra high-end. The extended shadow and view distance scalers offer a tangible and significant improvement to image quality over what it originally had in its console exclusive release.
Far Cry 4One of the games that landed on the poorer side of optimization for PC, Far Cry 4 not only is open world FPS but also puts a ton of load on GPUs with its peculiar settings enabled.
The 390X does an admirable job handling Far Cry 4. Even with Nvidia Soft Shadows and Nvidia Enhanced God-rays enabled, the R9 390X just stay behind marginally the GTX 980.
Once disabling the God Rays especially the R9 390X paces past the GTX 980 by 1-2 frames!
Tomb Raider 2013Lara Croft is back and has the distinction of being one of the true breakout stars of gaming, an icon every bit as important as Mario or Sonic. The game isn't resource hungry but worth a mention in the list 'coz of its legendary stature.
The test ran on the "Ultimate" settings which are the toughest for any GPU to handle and are there in the game maybe for benchmarking purposes only! The Strix R9 390X takes a clear lead over the GTX 980 and a massive stride over its predecessor. Though it’s only winning by a couple frames, it’s a meaningful victory in context with the price to performance ratio.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of MordorMonolith’s surprisingly fun Orc-slaying title delivers a ton of visual fidelity even at the lowest quality settings. We set image quality to in-game "Very High". Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor has a built in benchmark. Very much like other in-game tools this one is also buggy, therefore you should always use a third party tool like FRAPS for this purpose.
The Witcher III: Wild HuntThis game is practically the new age Doom 3 with demands so high that it can bring even the mightiest of Graphic Cards on their knees once you turn the setting to maximum with Hairworks enabled. For this test we had to disable the Hairworks to maintain playable or lets say presentable frames on both these cards. Rest of the settings were nearly maxed out.
While both performance envelopes are playable, the 390X did a much better job of delivering a “subjective 60 FPS” experience. If you’re used to a locked 60 FPS update in most games, the difference between, saw 50 FPS and 53 FPS is most certainly negligible.
Crysis 3Those who've followed my reviews will know my love for this game very well as I can't finish a review without including its benchmarks! Just an editorial note, Crysis 3 running CryEngine 3 at very high settings kills the FPS of GPU’s so badly no real comparison can be made so we use Very High settings with 8xMSAA. When EA catches up with reality and better optimizes the game we’ll gladly retest at Uber High Settings.
Noise and TemperatureThe Strix R9 390X comes with a promise from Asus that it has an improved cooled called the DirectCU III cooler and silent gaming experience with its 0dB fans that only spin once the temperatures hit over 65°C. All these tests were performed at stock settings only.
Considering the large cooler installed I did doubt that it'll produce some coil whine but I was proved wrong after recording the sound levels. From a distance of three feet and near pin drop silence in the room we got impressive and yes quite sound levels.
The temperature is not too much to complain about either since this is the temperature what many smaller cards with lesser performance hit these days, moreover AMD itself has announced around 90°C a safe slot for the 390X so Asus has definitely done a fabulous job in building this new and effective cooler!
My VerdictThe Asus Strix Gaming R9 390X 8GB DDR5 is not a disappointment at all rather a dark horse which is yet to gain recognition. Not only is it way faster and more aggressive looking card than its competitors the arch rival being the GTX 980 but it also beats them hands down in almost all areas of work & marketing!
At around 35K-45K tops the Strix R9 390X is a wild, solid, stern and uninhibited beast with 8GB of VRAM redundant for now but promising for the future. Rebrand? I don't think so rest is upto one's own perception.
I give it a 9.5/10