Saturday, November 9, 2013

[Rant] AMD is great, but I still prefer nvidia unless…

Long story short.

GTX 780 was $649. AMD released R9 290X at $549 which was faster (at stock) than GTX780. NVidia dropped the price of the GTX780 to $499. AMD released R9 290 for $399 which also beat GTX780 at stock. NVidia released GTX780 Ti for $699 which beat them all. (GTX 780Ti is great, but that’s out of budget for most people so we’ll ignore that it ever exists.)

R9-290X-vs-GTX-TitanLooks like the R9 290 is the winner. You can get two of them in Crossfire for $100 more than the GTX 780 Ti and they will beat it by a long margin. R9 290X seems already irrelevant because the performance difference between it and R9 290 is very little, well, at least in Quiet Mode.

There is one issue though. This is the only deal breaker for most people. There are no custom designed card available yet.
Why do you need them? Because the cooler on the R9 290/290X is crap. It is basically the same cooler that was on the R9 280X but with higher fan speed. The R9 290/290X GPUs run so hot that even with the increased fan speed, the GPU runs at 95C!!!
  • Increased fan speed means, it is very loud.
  • Increased temps mean you have very limited overclocking headroom.
This makes one wonder, what would happen if you are running the card in a hot environment? The card would be throttled so much that they would perform very badly against the competition. NVidia cards throttle too, but only 13MHz per 10C. Not a big deal.

I just don’t understand why AMD cheaped out on the cooler on their flagship card. NVidia haven’t done this. They have a very good reference cooler on their cards. It looks beautiful, cools well and runs quiet. AMD’s cooler lacks all of them. Even on the stock cooler, the NVidia cards can be overclocked much higher than the R9 cards. Which means, the R9 290’s performance goes away because of the dreaded cooler. Even though the 290 is cheaper than the GTX780, 290X is not. Given the choice between a stock GTX 780 at $499 and stock R9 290X at $599, I would whole heartedly choose the GTX 780 because it is cheaper and faster when both cards are overclocked.

But the things get more interesting because GTX 780 already has custom designed cards and coolers. If you take something like the GTX 780 Lightning from MSI, it is faster than the R9 290X even at stock. And it too still can be overclocked higher than the 290X’s max clocks. They are even quieter than the stock cooler too.

Then there are the features. Nvidia cards have the ShadowPlay technology and upcoming G-Sync support. Both of them are very nice features that would improve your overall experience. The only thing AMD has going for them is the Mantle API. But we don’t know what kind of performance boosts that would give in real life scenarios. We will have to wait till the end of the year I guess.

Basically, AMD got the pricing right. But they didn’t get the cooler right. I would have been OK with $449 for the R9 290 and $599 for the 290X, if they had just put a great cooler in there. Charge $50 for a better cooler - that’s money well spent on.

Good news is that the cards with custom cooling solutions are just around the corner. But nobody has announced any yet. With previous releases from either side, those custom cooling solutions were never required so early as the cards didn’t get this hot with the stock cooler.
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