Water-cooling the AMD Radeon R9 290X

Written by Antony Leather

December 10, 2013 | 10:03

Tags: #780 #mini-itx #radeon-r9-290x #water-cooling

Companies: #amd

Performance Analysis

We saw noticeable differences in our air-cooled article, but it's plain to see that water-cooling makes a heck of a difference to the R9 290X. At stock speed, there was a 17 per cent difference between the 40% fan speed limit and the water-cooled card, clearly showing that if you're keen to beat the noise with the stock cooler, you'll be losing some performance during long gaming sessions. There was a much smaller difference between 100% fan speed and when we fitted the waterblock, though, so in AMD's favour (sadly not your ears) at stock speed at least, cranking the fan speed to 100% will see you lose little when it comes to frame rates.

Water-cooling the AMD Radeon R9 290X Water-cooling the AMD Radeon R9 290X - Performance Analysis and Conclusion
Click to enlarge

We then bumped the power rating up to 150% and yet again the 100% fan speed kept pace with the waterblock, but limiting the fan to 40 per cent saw a sizeable gap once more open up between the higher fan speeds and the waterblock. Our air-cooled stable overclock of 1,120MHz core, 1.4GHz Memory saw the 100 per cent fan speed setting max out pretty much all the time and from the outset of benchmarking.

The waterblock opened up a 65-point lead in blissful silence, while the howling 100% fan didn't do a bad job, bettering the 40 per cent fan by a sizeable 150 points, which was enough to leapfrog a stock speed GeForce GTX 780 3GB. With so much more cooling on tap, we managed to crank our water-cooled card all the way up to 1,155MHz core and 1.44GHz on the memory, adding nearly 70 points to the score and stretching the lead from the air-cooled card to nearly 150 points.

Water-cooling the AMD Radeon R9 290X Water-cooling the AMD Radeon R9 290X - Performance Analysis and Conclusion
Click to enlarge

For the thermals, there was little to discuss - the waterblock made a monumental difference to the delta T, dropping it by a massive 42°C, with the absolute temperature of the air-cooled card fixed at 95°C in all our testing. The delta T's for the waterblock never breached the 30°C mark and this is with a fairly modest water-cooling system - if you're packing a triple or quad 120mm radiator then you can expect even better results.


There's little to be said about the air-cooled numbers that we haven't already mentioned - the stock cooler is noisy but can just about deal with the heat in a small case, although in every test the water-cooled card had a noticeable lead. If you're considering limiting the stock cooler to lower fan speeds, though, then it's almost certain that you'll be losing performance over extended heavy use periods in small to medium size cases. Even in large, well-ventilated cases we doubt you'll be immune.

Graphics cards haven't exactly been crying out for water-cooling for a number of years thanks to some fairly handy partner card coolers. However, water-cooling has always had an edge in noise terms and especially in cooling terms. With the Radeon R9 290X, there's such massive gains to be had that we can thoroughly recommend it; waterblocks are easy to install (compared to Nvidia models), they reduce operating temperatures drastically, boost performance in long gaming sessions, allow smaller cases to deal with the heat more efficiently and in our case, the Aqua Computer Kryographics Hawaii Radeon R9 290 also allowed us to overclock the card further too.

Even if you have no intention of water-cooling the CPU or motherboard, the Radeon R9 290X would see a huge benefit from just a dual 120mm-fan radiator. As always, though, if you're reluctant to splash out on water-cooling hardware, which afterall is expensive, but are worried that the Radeon R9 290X will be too noisy, then it might be worth waiting to see what partner cards appear in the coming weeks and months. If, however you're considering dipping your toes in or already have a loop for your CPU, the Kryographics Hawaii Radeon R9 290 waterblock will be worth every penny.
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