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AMD, The R9 290 Release, And My Thoughts On The Pricing/Performance "Conundrum"

|Includes:Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD)

Disclaimer: I have been taking a break from writing lately, but wanted to do a quick instablog on the R9 290 and 290X. If I write something up later in article form that covers the same material this post will likely be deleted.

Feel free to look around at various reviews for the different cards and get your own feel for some of the opinions of the press.

If I were to sum them up, I would say the comments are almost universally positive, with the exceptions being heat and noise; similar to the reviews we read regarding the R9 290X.

One of the concerns I would like to explore just a little more in depth is the thought that AMD (NYSE:AMD) could be cannibalizing R9 290X sales.

Depending on the time frame in question, then the R9 290 could absolutely cannibalize 290X sales. Think about this - essentially, according to Anandtech (one of the only negative reviews that I read - essentially Anandtech stated the card was too noisy for their tastes, and therefore they could not recommend it), AMD revamped the fan profiles in an attempt to take out Nvidia's (NASDAQ:NVDA) $500 answer to the R9 290x.

The fear is that the R9 290 performance creeps into R9 290X territory - but the underlying reason appears to be merely a fan speed change; AMD was able to raise the fan speed to allow the card to run at higher clocks for longer periods of time, which in turn increased performance. So yes, in the near term the R9 290 represents a better value.

This somewhat negative perspective on the R9 290X from PCPer in my mind inadvertently proves a positive point: as the R9 290X operates under a heavier load, the clock speeds throttle back in order to maintain the operating temperature. Coupling this with the change from the R9 290, we can see the performance potential of these cards if AMD is able to implement a more aggressive fan profile and raise performance that drastically.

So if you take a short term view - i.e. the few weeks before after market designs appear, then yes I absolutely feel the R9 290 is the better value, and it can cannibalize R9 290X sales. But the longer term view is that I am looking at is the extra potential aftermarket coolers can unlock for the R9 290X.

If AMD implemented a more aggressive fan profile and unlocked this performance, what is stopping them from doing the same with the 290X in order to compete with Nvidia's GTX 780 * (* meaning whatever they call it to compete with AMD)? Probably nothing.

But this scenario becomes infinitely more interesting when we think about the add in board partners putting better coolers on the GPU.


All in all, I view the fact that AMD was able to squeeze out enough performance from their 290 card to compete with a card that is $100 more expensive simply by adjusting the amount of cooling to the as a huge positive. Better/more aggressive cooling for the R9 290X should be able to (at least theoretically) unlock some extra performance from the R9 290x. Although more aggressive cooling won't do much for power consumption, it will do wonders for heat and noise. It should allow AMD to easily counter whatever Nvidia releases in the form of a better GTX 780. And it won't cost AMD anything to do it except a driver release that implements a more aggressive fan profile and a few decibels.

But in my mind the real value of these cards is proved by demonstrating what better cooling can do in regards to performance. When MSI or some other company ships their version of Hawaii, those are the reviews I am most interested in, along with reviews regarding driver performance. Nvidia is known for having more reliable drivers, but this is something AMD is actively pursuing. To quote [H],

So much talk about smoothness, frametime, and the actual experience of multi-GPU video cards while gaming has been discussed lately. In the past, AMD has been highly criticized of having a sub-par CrossFire experience, and rightly so. There were major issues with smoothness where games would stutter or feel choppy, even though the framerates looked good. We've been telling our readers for years that CrossFire just didn't feel as good as SLI while gaming.

Those times have changed, at least on the new Radeon R9 290/X series. The new CrossFire technology has improved upon the CrossFire experience in a vastly positive way. Playing games on the Radeon R9 290X CrossFire configuration was a smooth experience. In fact, it was smoother than SLI in some games. It was also smoother on the 4K display at 3840x2160 gaming, and it was noticeably smoother in Eyefinity at 5760x1200.

I wrote an article a few weeks ago pointing out the fact that the issues with AMD that the press were harping on affected only a quarter of one percent (that's right, a tiny amount). This above was one of the examples, but shows AMD is making great progress on this front.

And while I'm waiting on reviews regarding driver improvements, I'll think of AMD having the headroom in their cards to unlock more performance as a good thing, as it gives them a very convenient way to answer Nvidia's GTX 780 Ti.

Disclosure: I am long AMD.

Additional disclosure: I am long AMD in both shares/options, and I actively trade my AMD position. I may add/liquidate shares/contracts at anytime. I am short NVDA via a very small number of puts that expire this month. I may liquidate my NVDA puts at anytime.

Stocks: AMD