There comes a time in every lifetime when one must either measure up, or lie around and wait. This is all the more urgent towards the end of a lifetime, when waiting means facing the next genertation. Just to be clear: it is time to better introduce you to the AMD supercards which the Red Team hopes will play out 2013 sonorously for you and much of the enthusiast world.Inspite of combined statuses as some of the better kept secrets in chip making, at this point we’ve now been able to see the basic outlines of these cards for a few weeks. With our friends at wccftech leaking what looks a lot like AMD's launch slides we can pretty much confirm the specs of the R9 290X. The silicon is based on a 40% ‘upsizing’ of the GPU in the HD 7970 (now also knows as the R9 280X) to over 6 Billion transistors. Cutting to the chase this means an almighty 2,816 cores are on offer, operating at a boost clock of 1GHz. The 7970 / R9 280X memory controller has seen a one third upsizing (to a whopping 512 bits) and is matched by a one third increase in memory to 4GB. The one real surprise in this is that the GDDR5 memory is indeed clocked at a relatively lowly 5GHz (such GRRD5 can reach 7GHz) this probably indicates AMD has had issues with the larger memory controller.
Such specs should have AMD's desired impact of slapping about Nvidia’s GTX 780, leaving the GTX Titan likely shedding dollars from its price to trade blows with the R9 290X, which we expect to debut at ~$AU 800. For those of us still wary of near thousand dollar cards the AMD R9 290 (without the ‘X’) might be even more interesting: we can’t say what the price of the younger sibling will be with any certainty but it should be considerably lower. We can say with certainty it will ship with 2,560 stream processors at a 947MHz boost clock and the same 4GB of GDDR5 at 5GHz as the ‘X’ model. Power use for both models should be interesting, given their ‘Hawaii’ GPU cores remain at the relatively power hungry 28nm TSMC manufacturing process.
Beneath this we have what is a largely rebranded line up of cards that were announced in 2011. This comes with a new naming schema – R9 for enthusiast/R7 for gaming, hundreds for the generation and tens for the model, with an optional ‘X’ for awesomeness. But with the exception of nomenclature afficionads (we know you exist) this will not excite many people. Only the R9 290X, R9 290 and the cheaper R7 260X are actually new hardware and so only they will support DirectX 11.2, AMD Directaudio and frame pace fixing bridgeless (check this pics!) Crossfire. The much more important AMD Mantle will however be rolled out across the whole of AMDs 200 series, along with most HD 7000 cards.
The rest is history: we were surprised to see this Hawaii silicon emerge so stealthily from foundries, but it should really have been something the tech press suspected. AMD has known about the GK-110 chip that powers Titan and the GTX 780 since the K20 supercomputing part so it has had close to 18 months to prepare a proper response. This leaves both players in the discrete graphics card market with erily similar pairs of insane cards supported by long lists of rebadged older models.
We don’t expect the new 20nm Nvidia Maxwell or AMD 300 series cards before May-June 2014, so it looks like the last move of this generation belongs to the Red Team. The R9 290 and 290X will certainly drop prices for those looking to buy a supercard and bring them into the semi-mainstream – all that remains to be seen now is whether the 290X also takes the performance crown for AMD. All will be revealed on the fifteenth of this month…