AMD Radeon R9 290X vs Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 review

AMD’s Radeon R9 290X represented a big step forwards for the company at the high-end of the graphics card market when it launched at the end of last year; a step that, finally, helped it draw level with Nvidia and its beefy GeForce GTX 780. Here, we compare the two cards head to head.

The hardware

While Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 780 employs a cut-down version of the GK110 GPU first found in the staggeringly expensive GTX Titan, the Radeon R9 290X marks the debut of AMD’s new Hawaii XT GPU.

AMD Radeon R9 290X

The Hawaii XT GPU is still based on AMD’s Graphics Core Next architecture, but it’s physically much larger than the Tahiti-class GPU of the previous generation. As a result, everything is bigger and better than before, with double the shader engines, more Compute Units, more L2 cache and a 512-bit memory interface replacing the 384-bit interface of Tahiti.

Nvidia’s GTX 780, on the other hand, takes the GK110 core of the GTX Titan (a card which cost around £800 at launch), trims the number of stream processors from 2,688 to 2,304, keeps the chunky cooler, and chops the price in half. On paper, it only loses out to AMD’s Radeon R9 290X in a couple of areas: it has 3GB of GDDR5 RAM rather than the R9 290X’s 4GB, and a 384-bit memory interface.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 780

Performance

Suffice it to say, both these cards are overkill unless you’re planning to play games at a resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 or higher. At this resolution, and with Crysis running at its Very High detail setting, the R9 290X took the lead with an average of 67fps; the GTX 780 was narrowly behind with 62fps. In Crysis 3 at Full HD, the R9 290X maintained its narrow lead, edging a single frame ahead with an average of 66fps, with neither card dipping below a minimum of 57fps at any point.

At 2,560 x 1,440, the AMD card pulls slightly further ahead, managing an average of 43fps to the GTX 780’s 41fps. The AMD card also maintained a higher minimum frame rate. While the GTX 780 dipped to 34fps, the AMD never strayed below 36fps.

AMD wins the performance crown by a whisker, then, but it’s worth noting that it’s also more power-hungry, noisier and runs hotter. Our test system idled 6W higher with the AMD card installed, and peak power draw increased by 22W to 362W. After running FurMark for a period of time, the AMD GPU settled at 94˚C, and the increased fan speed became noticeable; by comparison, the GTX 780 maintained a steady 82˚C operating temperature, and did so with a comparatively low increase in fan noise.

Verdict

It’s an incredibly close-fought battle. Performance and pricing is neck and neck, and it would only take the slightest price cut for either card to take the upper hand.

At the time of writing, Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 780 is a little cheaper than its AMD-branded rival, and it also runs cooler and is more power-efficient. If all-out performance is the primary concern, however, there can only be one winner: AMD’s Radeon R9 290X edges ahead where it matters, delivering smoother frame rates at higher resolutions – right now, that’s the one we’d buy.

AMD Radeon R9 290X vs Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 price and performance comparison

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