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Asus Strix Radeon R9 390X review: Keeping up with the high-performing Joneses

Brad Chacos | July 16, 2015
The new Radeon R9 390 and R9 390X graphics cards aren't mere re-brands!

Despite AMD's "complete rewrite of the GPU power management micro-architecture," the Grenada GPU is still a power-hungy beast. In fact, it draws 90W more than its 290X predecessor under load, and that card was legendary for its power consumption needs. It draws a full 200W more than the GTX 980, which was built using Nvidia's supremely power efficient Maxwell GPU architecture.

All that said, the card still runs whisper-quiet. Props to Asus and its DirectCU III cooler for that.

Asus Strix R9 390X bottom line

When you think about it, it's impressive just how much AMD and Asus were able to accomplish with the R9 390X. When Nvidia's GTX 970 and 980 debuted in September 2014 they were so impressive that AMD was forced to immediately--and drastically--slash prices. Now, the 390X proves that the ol' Hawaii GPU architecture still has some life in it, outperforming the stock GTX 980 while offering twice the memory, all for $40 less than the 980 when you're buying the custom, overclocked Asus Strix, or a full $70 for a stock 390X.

But as impressive as that is, the R9 390X isn't a slam-dunk must-buy over the GTX 980.

Similarly custom-cooled variants of the GTX 980 will no doubt bring performance in line with, or slightly better than, the 390X. I have an EVGA model coming in later this week for testing, and Nvidia's Maxwell chips are famous for their overclocking capabilities, which frequently allow you to boost core clock speeds by a whopping 15 to 20 percent. If you're lucky enough to snag a 980 that's so overclock-friendly (and most are), then you can coax out massive amounts of additional performance.

While I'm not one to spend too much time worrying about power use in a desktop system, the extra 200W of energy the R9 390X demands over the GTX 980 is... whoa. Sheesh. That's pretty insane--enough even to give me pause.

That said, the R9 390X--and particularly Asus' well-designed, utterly quiet version of it--still shines in many scenarios. If you're not interested in overclocking and just want something that rocks out of the box, the Strix R9 390X slightly beats the GTX 980 for a whole lot less money. While the fact that the card isn't potent enough to handle 4K games at high resolutions at reasonable frame rates (no matter what AMD marketing claims) makes the 8GB of RAM a bit superfluous, that hefty helping of memory would be much appreciated in a CrossFire scenario with two or more 390Xs driving a 4K display or multi-monitor gaming setup. The GTX 980 packs only 4GB of RAM, and a third less memory bandwidth than the R9 390X.

 

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