MSI Radeon R9 295X2 Graphics Card Review
Now here’s something very special that you don’t see very often, a MSI Radeon R9 295X2. I’m sure many of you out there are aware of this monster card, but for those that aren’t; the R9 295X2 is currently the fastest and most expensive GPU readily available on the market today! This is because it features two AMD Hawaii XT graphics processors (the very same used in AMD’s R9 290X) on a single PCB (Printed Circuit Board), which means the R9 295X2 has a hell of a lot of power (1018MHz per core!). Of course I’m sure we are all aware by now, a single Hawaii XT(R9 290X) or Pro(R9 290) will kick out heat of hellish proportions (95° which kinda explains the AMD chip label being ‘Volcanic Islands’), but this card features two!? Well fret not, instead of waving goodbye to the polar icecaps, AMD have worked closely with Asetek to come up with a unique AIO (All In One) cooling solution (very similar to the ASUS ARES2) to help keep those temperatures down. Instead of a 95° threshold, the R9 295X2 drops this to just 75°, which is pretty big feat in itself, if it works…
Engineered for ultimate performance!
On top of all of that raw power the MSI R9 295X2 also features 8GB GDDR5 memory (5000MHz), 4K resolution gaming support, PCi Express 3.0×16 bus interface, DirectX 11.2 capable graphics, OpenGL 4.3 support, PRT (Partially Resident Texture) support, Image quality enhancement technology, AMD Eyefinity multi-display technology, AMD App Acceleration, AMD HD3D technology, AMD CrossFire multi-GPU technology, Integrated HD audio controller, AMD PowerTune technology, AMD ZeroCore Power technology, AMD Catalyst graphics and HD video configuration software and AMD TrueAudio technology… Quite a list, but sadly can’t make a cuppa. 😉
Unlike the highly stylised and dark MSI Gaming branded GPUs we have become very familiar with, the R9 295X2 arrived in the standard white and blue, heavily MSI Afterburner themed box. Oddly despite it being the biggest GPU box I’ve ever seen in my life, the front shows very little in the way of promoting the R9 295X2, only the model name and that it features 8GB GDDR5, 4K support and DirectX 11.2 support.
On the back is a brief on MSI Afterburner, a more detailed feature list, product specifications and a very surprisingly lengthy, minimum system requirements list.
- 8GB GDDR5 memory (5000MHz)
- 4k resolution gaming support
- PCi Express 3.0×16 bus interface
- DirectX 11.2 capable graphics
- OpenGL 4.3 support
- PRT (Partially Resident Texture) support
- Image quality enhancement technology
- AMD Eyefinity multi-display technology
- AMD App Acceleration
- AMD HD3D technology
- AMD CrossFire multi-GPU technology
- Integrated HD audio controller
- AMD PowerTune technology
- AMD ZeroCore Power technology
- AMD Catalyst graphics and HD video configuration software
- AMD TrueAudio technology
On opening the box we get to see the a massive and incredibly dense foam block to give the GPU plenty of protection. The R9 295X2 itself is neatly tucked inside within an antistatic bag. Also included in the box is the Driver and utilities disk, quick user guide, install guide, DVI to HDMI converter, two PSU 6 to 8 pin power cable converters, 4 washers and four screws for mounting the 120mm radiator.
At the time of this review the MSI Radeon R9 295X2 Graphics Card is retailing on for approximately £1150 and comes with a 2 year warranty.
courtesy of MSI
|Graphics Engine||AMD Radeon™ R9 295X2|
|Bus Standard||PCI Express x16 3.0|
|Memory Interface||512 bits x2|
|Core Clock Speed(MHz)||1018Mhz|
|Memory Clock Speed(MHz)||5000|
|DVI Output||1 (Dual-link DVI-D)|
|Display Output (Max Resolution)||2560×1600|
|DirectX Version Support||11.2|
|OpenGL Version Support||4.3|
|Card Dimension(mm)||Card: 307x111x65
It’s big!….. Oh you want to know more? 😉
The total weight of the R9 295X2 is 1850g which is heavy (by comparison my old MSI 680GTX Lightning was pretty heavy at 1065g!). Rather surprisingly though the GPU is actually smaller than expected, sure it’s long at 307mm, but oddly narrow at 111mm and a little chunky at 65mm. Given its bare aluminium and black colour scheme it makes it look smaller, very industrial and if I’m honest? I really rather like it!
The front is dominated by the black and aluminium shroud, has the MSI logo to the left and a translucent red fan in the middle. This fan isn’t your typical GPU fan of course, in fact it doesn’t cool the GPU cores at all, it’s just there to help cool the 8GB VRAM.
On the back of the card there isn’t really a lot to see, mainly because it’s nearly entirely covered by a black powder coated back-plate, you’ll also notice both GPUs have silver retention brackets. These are both to aid cooling, but just as importantly their there to help strengthen the R9 295X2 PCB and to prevent possible damage.
To the left the R9 295X2 still looks industrious with the aluminium covering the larger part of the side. Approximately a third of the way in from either end we find the two FEP tubes that run to the 120mm radiator. Also rather nicely in bright red and dead central is the Radeon name, better still this illuminates a nice bright red when powered up.
The PCIe side doesn’t really show a lot, just a part number, but if you look a little more closely you can see the two GPU waterblocks.
Having a look at the MSI R9 295X2’s outputs, shows AMD have done away with both DisplayPort and HDMI sockets (DVI-HDMI converter in box), which may seem a little odd, but you do get a DVI-D output and four Mini DisplayPorts. This also means you could run five multiple screens or a huge EyeFinity set-up.
The far end of the card is pretty sparse, apart from giving you an idea of the cooling design within.
In the image above you can see a small switch to the far left on the side of the PCB. This is the R9 295X2’s dual BIOS switch. Unlike the R9 290X, this doesn’t enable a Silent or Uber mode. Just two identical BIOS, which is still handy if anything goes wrong when flashing the BIOS.
To the far right you can clearly see the two 8 pin power sockets. Rather nicely and unlike some of our more recent GPUs, AMD have designed the socket with the ability to actually easily remove the power cables afterwards!
Now given the R9 295X2 features an advanced closed-loop liquid cooling system, it means it also features a radiator. This one in particular is of the 120mm variety and is only 63mm thick (including fan). Personally I find this a little strange given that 120mm radiators on most AIOs offer pretty poor performance when compared to the bigger 240mm radiators. More importantly this solo 120mm has potentially a hell of a lot of heat to shift!
Installation into our Test Rig (see below) and into the MSI Z87-G45 GAMING motherboard was simple enough, even despite the card’s huge length at 307mm . Cabling was easy with just x2 8-pin power connections needed.
|Case||Cooler Master HAF XB||Power Supply||Corsair AX760i|
|Motherboard||MSI Z87-G45 GAMING||CPU||Intel Core i5-4670K|
|CPU Cooler||Raijintek Themis||RAM||Kingston HyperX Beast 8GB 2400MHz|
|Graphics Card||MSI Radeon R9 295X2||SSD (mSATA – on-board port)||ADATA SX300 (64GB)|
BUT: The images above show the radiator in what is basically an invalid location, as (a) the radiator is NOT above the card (as per the install instructions (we all read those, right!?)) and (b) the inlet and outlet on the radiator end-tank is on the side. For optimum water flow (and to avoid picking up any air) the radiator should be mounted with the inlet and outlet at the base. this allows any air to be coolected in the upper end-tank, avoiding any air in the system loop. This is strangely not mentioned in the install instructions! BUT IT IS VERY IMPORTANT! 😉
Due to the design our test case (Cooler Master HAF XB), the optimal setup was not possible, so a little imagination (ok, so not much but…) was required, see images below…
Our Test Rig was treated to a fresh install of Windows 7 Home Premium 64Bit (Service Pack 1) with all associated drivers also installed. AMD Catalyst™ 14.4 Driver was installed and used throughout testing.
For testing purposes we used MSI Afterburner (here), which is included with the card.
Amazingly, using MSI Afterburner we were able to overclock the MSI Radeon R9 295X2 even further, by increasing the Power Limit to 150%, the Boost Clock by an additional 82 MHz and the memory by a whopping 350 MHz. This gave us a real world Boost Clock of 1100MHz and a Memory speed of (6400MHz effective).
The fact that we are now running two heavily overclocked AMD R9 290X’s (a GPU that naturally throttled at 95°) at less than the thermal throttle limit (75°) is simply staggering… 🙂
|Benchmark||Ambient Temperature||Max GPU Temp||Delta Temp||Result|
|Batman Arkham Origins||22.50||64.00||41.50||233.00 FPS (average)|
|Tomb Raider||22.50||65.00||42.50||151.00 FPS (average)|
|Metro Last Light||22.50||65.00||42.50||91.33 (average)|
|3DMark (Fire Strike)||22.00||63.00||41.00||13950|
|Benchmark||Ambient Temperature||Max GPU Temp||Delta Temp||Result|
|Batman Arkham Origins||21.50||66.00||44.50||250.00 FPS (average)|
|Tomb Raider||22.50||67.00||44.50||165.00 FPS (average)|
|Metro Last Light||22.50||69.00||46.50||95.67 (average)|
|3DMark (Fire Strike)||22.00||68.00||46.00||15001|
Comparative Test Results:
Wow! That’s the word to sum up the performance of the MSI Radeon R9 295X2, as you can see it pretty much destroys the competition, but then with a price tag of well over a thousand pound, you’d expect it too! The Unigine Heaven benchmark shows the raw power of the 295X2, as it is less reliant on Driver optimisations, unlike the Batman and Metro Last Lights tests, where you can see that they favour the Nvidia based cards.
Amazingly during stock testing the highest temperature recorded was a luke warm 65°, rising to only 70° when overclocked. All of this was achieved with a relatively low noise level, with the R9 295X2’s fans never really being heard above the system fans, at around 45db.
Of course buying a card like this to run at 1080 is a bit of a waste (our benchmark were done at 1080, purely for comparative reasons), but running the toughest Gaming test (Metro Last Light) at 2560×1440 still saw the R9 295X2 deliver over 80 FPS, still far higher than most Gamers monitors refresh rate!
You may have also noticed (and been a little surprised given that the card has a TDP of 500W) the PSU that we were using in testing, it’s just a Corsair AX760i. While testing the highest recorded power draw (at the wall), was measured at 711 Watts! It’s a little close for comfort but still well within the PSU’s rated capacity. I would suggest that you opt for at least 800W should you want to use this card. You will also need to ensure that your PSU can supply 28A to each of the 8-pin power connectors. Also I would suggest that you don’t use the piggy-back style connectors with only one cable. Best to run two dedicated cables, due to the high current.
There’s no doubt that the MSI Radeon R9 295X2 is the finest Graphics Card we have seen here at pcG and predictably it’s also the most expensive. Once out of the box, there’s a kind of elegance to the whole design, yes it big/long at 307mm, so you need to be sure it fits in your case, but installation is just so simple, just plug the card in a then secure the radiator assembly with 4 screws. I’m now confident that we are going to see far more of these AIO water cooled Graphics Cards in the future, it’s certainly perfect for CrossFire and SLI setups (due to the heat levels).
Please note the proper installation procedure (see Hardware Installation above), this is mentioned in the manual, but it’s not clear so please follow our guide to ensure optimal operation of the pumps.
Of course the MSI R9 295X2 is all about performance and it’s in this department that the card really doesn’t disappoint. Easily providing a great Gameplay experience (60 FPS) in all of our tests and that’s with all of the Graphics Settings maxed out! Even in the toughest test of all (Metro Last light) the R9 295X2 still goes on to deliver over 80 FPS at 2560×1440. Let’s be fair you really shouldn’t be buying a card like this for 1920×1080! 😉
What’s really impressive though is that AMD has taken two extremely hot 290X GPUs and combined then in Crossfire (which in itself seems like madness!) then added a small overclock (up by 18MHz). Not only that, but they have then managed to design an easy to install AIO water cooling system that not only keeps the card cool, but keeps it cool enough for further overclocking! 😮 AND, still the card refuses to go above 70° Celsius. Bear in mind that a stock R9 290X reaches thermal throttling on its own at 95°! To be fair I’m not sure how they’ve pulled it off…
But, with great power come great responsibility (so I mean great cost!), at approximately £1150 the price is nothing short of frightening! But if you consider that two 290Xs would cost around £800 and then you add the two pumps and radiator etc (that’s a thousand pounds right there). Then factor in the fact that you now have a far faster system (as you have no thermal throttling), the cost doesn’t seem quite so bad…
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