[section label=1. Introduction]

R9 290 Meets Twin Frozr IV

msi-r9-290-gaming-4gb-graphics-card-custom-pc-review-8Late last year along with the unveil of AMD’s flagship Radeon R9 290X graphics card, AMD also unveiled a lower cost offering, the Radeon R9 290, which promised only slightly lower performance at a significantly lower price.

Since then the Radeon R9 290 has been extremely popular, and due to high demand and a shortage in components, we haven’t really seen any custom designed Radeon R9 290’s on the market until late last January.

That said, today we’ll be reviewing a the MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G, which is MSI’s latest custom designed graphics card based off AMD’s Radeon R9 290 GPU. Given that the Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G is one of MSI’s gaming series graphics cards, we can already expect a number of features such as MSI’s Twin Frozr IV cooler, Military Class components, and a slight overclock, which are pretty standard across MSI’s entire line of gaming graphics cards.


GPU AMD Radeon R9 280X AMD Radeon R9 290 AMD Radeon R9 290X MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G
Codename Tahiti Hawaii Hawaii Hawaii
Fabrication 28nm 28nm 28nm 28nm
Core Clock 850MHz Base / 1000MHz Boost 662MHz Base / 947MHz Boost 727MHz Base / 1000 Boost 662MHz Base / 1007MHz Boost
Architecture GCN 1.0 GCN 1.1 GCN 1.1 GCN 1.1
Stream Processors 2048 2560 2816 2560
Texture Units 128 160 176 160
ROPs 32 64 64 64
Memory Buffer Size 3GB GDDR5 4GB GDDR5 4GB GDDR5 4GB GDDR5
Memory Interface 384-bit 512-bit 512-bit 512-bit
Memory Frequency 6.0GHz 5.0 GHz 5.0 GHz 5.0 GHz
Additional Features N/A Mantle, True Audio Mantle, True Audio Mantle, True Audio, Twin Frozr IV, Military Class Components

Looking at the specifications on the R9 290 Gaming, there’s not all that much that stands out – at least on paper. The R9 290 Gaming will be overclocked out of the box to a healthy 1007MHz, which is a decent boost up from the 947MHz boost clocks from the reference design. Additionally, given that the R9 290 Gaming is based off AMD’s latest Hawaii class GPUs, we’re also going to get support for AMD’s Mantle API as well as their True Audio technology when it arrives sometime this year.

[section label=2. A Closer Look (Exterior)]

A Closer Look at the MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G


Here’s a look at the packaging for the MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G.


Here’s a look at the accessories. There’s some documentation, a driver disk, a VGA to DVI adapter, and a dual molex to 6-pin adapter.


Here’s a look at the MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G. The first thing you’ll notice up front is of course is the dual slot Twin Frozr IV cooler which includes dual 92mm fans for optimal heat dissipation. Swinging around the back, MSI has included a metal backplate which spans the length of the card. This not only provides better aesthetics, but it also helps provide better rigidity and heat dissipation. Unfortunately, the backplate cannot be removed without damaging the card.


Given that the R9 290 is a fairly high end card, it’s also quite big with the MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G spanning a whopping 276mm (10.9″) in length.


Video outputs on the MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G include 2x DVI ports, HDMI, and DisplayPort. It also requires both a 8-pin and a 6-pin PCIe power connector which provides a maximum theoretical power draw of up to 300w.

[section label=3. A Closer Look (Interior)]

A Closer Look at the MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G



Removing the Twin Frozr IV cooler, we can take a closer look at the components onboard. Overall, the PCB layout is very clean, which is what we typically see from MSI designs. It’s interesting that MSI has included an additional metal shroud above the PCB which adds a bit of rigidity to the card and helps deflect some hot air being blown downward by the fans.

Silence and cooling power have always been big with MSI’s Twin Frozr designs and the tradition continues with the Twin Frozr IV cooler on the R9 290 Gaming 4G. Looking at the underside of the Twin Frozr IV cooler, we can see that heat dissipation is handled by a massive aluminum fin grid array along with 5 heatpipes (four 6mm and one 8mm “superpipe”).

Additionally, every IC on the PCB with the potential of heating up receives some thermal interface which dissipates heat via the heatsink. This ensures that memory or PWM ICs don’t overheat during heavy use.


Here’s a look at the AMD Radeon R9 290 codename Hawaii GPU, which is AMD’s flagship GPU that was unveiled late last year. It’s quite interesting to see that the entire surface is machined to a mirror-like finish and there’s no markings on the GPU itself for identification. As for memory, the MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G includes 4096MB of the more treasured, easier to overclock Hynix H5G02H24AFR GDDR5.


Power delivery is handled by an International Rectifier IR3567B digital PWM which features a 6+2 phase output. Additionally as a part of MSI’s Military Class components feature, MSI is also using 10-year solid capacitors, super efficient Hi-C CAPs, and solid state chokes all of which apparently adhere to MIL-STD-810G certification.


Finally, MSI has also included a BIOS selector switch on the R9 290 Gaming 4G, which switches between a traditional BIOS and what MSI calls a “Hybrid BIOS”, which is essentially a UEFI + traditional BIOS. For the most part, the switch is only used for troubleshooting purposes, but it may be useful for those interested in flashing the BIOS.

[section label=4. Testing Setup]

MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G Performance

Testing Setup

Ivy Bridge Test Bench

CPU Intel Core i5 3570K
Motherboard Gigabyte Z77X-UD3H
Memory Kingston HyperX Genesis 16GB DDR3 2133MHz
Graphics N/A
Boot Drive OCZ Vertex 4 128GB SSD
Storage Drive Western Digital Caviar Green 3TB
Power Supply Corsair HX650
Case HSPC High Speed Tech Station
Optical Drive ASUS OEM DVD Drive
Operating System Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1

Special thanks to GigabyteKingston, OCZ Technology and HSPC for sponsoring our test bench!

Initial Boot


[section label=5. 3D Mark]

MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G Performance

3D Mark


The new 3D Mark, now referred to as just 3D Mark, is Futuremark’s latest update to the popular 3D Mark series of benchmarks. The updated 3D Mark now includes multiple benchmarks for cross platform support as well as updated graphics to push the latest graphics cards to their limits.



[section label=6. 3D Mark 11]

MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G Performance

3D Mark 11

3D Mark 11 is an extremely popular benchmark designed by Futuremark for the sole purpose of stress testing a system’s graphics performance. Trusted by hardware enthusiasts and gamers world wide, 3D Mark 11 uses the latest features of DX11 to stress test graphics performance with consistent loads which simulate in game performance.




[section label=7. Unigine Heaven]

MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G Performance

Unigine Heaven v4.0

Unigine Heaven is another DX11 benchmark that stresses the graphical processing capabilities of the GPU using the advanced UNIGINE engine.



[section label=8. Shogun 2: Total War]

MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G Performance

Shogun 2: Total War

Shogun 2: Total War is the most recent installment of the long running Total War series. Capable of using DX11’s features, it’s the perfect benchmark to test for the gaming performance. For our testing today, we’ll be using the Shogun 2: Total War benchmark utility.



[section label=9. Crysis 2]

MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G Performance

Crysis 2

As the successor to Crysis, which was hailed as the most graphically intensive game of all time when it was released in late 2007, Crysis 2 is less graphically demanding than its predecessor, but still one of the most graphically challenging games of all time.  You simply can’t take a step in Crysis 2 without stepping into some intense tessellation. Combined with rich lighting, insane physics, and oodles of post processing, Crysis 2 requires a ton of graphics muscle to run.

Today, we’ll be benchmarking Crysis 2 in the map “Central Park” with the Adrenaline Crysis 2 Benchmark Tool.



[section label=10. Metro 2033]

MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G Performance

Metro 2033

Similar to Crysis 2, Metro 2033 is extremely tessellation intensive and fills the ranks as one of the most graphically intense games of all time.

Today, we’ll be benchmarking Metro 2033’s Frontline map using the Metro 2033’s included Benchmark Utility.



[section label=11. Sleeping Dogs]

MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G Performance

Sleeping Dogs


Released in 2012, Sleeping Dogs is an open world action-adventure title based on the infamous Hong Kong triads. With an open world environment, fast paced action and excellent graphics, Sleeping Dogs makes for a perfect test of graphics card capability. For our benchmarking today, we’ll be using Adrenaline’s Action Benchmark Tool.



[section label=12. Hitman: Absolution]

MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G Performance

Hitman: Absolution


Hitman: Absolution is a action adventure game released in late 2012 which focuses on the hitman, Agent 47, and his assassination missions. After a 6 year hiatus, the Hitman series is back in full force with updated graphics based off the developer, Square Enix/IO Interactive’s Glacier 2 engine. For our benchmarking today, we’ll be using Adrenaline’s Action Benchmark Tool.



[section label=13. Battlefield 4]

MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G Performance

Battlefield 4

bf4 2013-11-19 01-48-20-20

Only a year after the initial release of Battlefield 3, the team at DICE went back to the drawing board to introduce their latest and greatest modern combat shooter, Battlefield 4. Based off DICE’s all-new Frostbite 3 engine, Battlefield 4 brings a new level of realism to the world of PC and console gaming with an unparalleled level of visual immersion, realistic character animations, and physics driven dynamic environments.

For our benchmarking, we’ll be doing a benchmark on a 60 second run of the game at the beginning of the Tashgar mission. While this scene doesn’t involve any firefights, it’s a very graphics intensive scene that involves a fast moving drive through the hills of Tashgar, which makes heavy use of the Frostbite 3’s motion blurring, depth of field, particle effects, and real time lighting engine.



[section label=14. Power Consumption and Temperatures]

MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G Performance

Power Consumption

For power consumption testing, we’ll be measuring full system power while idle along with full system power with the graphics card running at full load using Furmark. All power consumption measurements will be measured with the Extech 380801 Power Analyzer.


Temperature Testing

For temperature testing, we’ll be measuring both graphics card temperatures when the graphics card is idle for 5 minutes after a cold boot. Load temperatures are taken after a full 30 minute burn using Furmark.


[section label=15. Overclocking]

MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G Overclocking


I don’t think MSI Afterburner needs much of an introduction as it’s one of our favorite overclocking utilities here at Custom PC Review. Given that the voltage on the R9 290 Gaming 4G is unlocked, we were easily able to hit 1150MHz core and 1400MHz memory (5.6GHz effective) by increasing core voltage by 100mV and increasing the power limit to 50%. While higher frequencies may be achieved, our sample began artifacting once we overclocked it past 1150MHz core / 1400MHz memory.

3D Mark Performance – Fire Strike


With our fairly significant 14% core/ 12% memory overclock, we saw about 10.7% gains in the 3D Mark Fire Strike benchmark.

Power Consumption


Since the MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G includes voltage controls, increasing the voltage also means a substantially higher power draw. The overclock we achieved today required an additional 58w under load.



Overclocking with an increase in voltage not only draws more power, but creates additional heat as well. Despite our significant overclock, the Twin Frozr IV cooler managed to keep load temperatures at 85°C or under, which is a bit toasty, but should be fine given that these GPUs tend to run a bit warm.

[section label=15. Scrypt Mining]

MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G Scrypt Mining (Bitcoin, Litecoin, Dogecoin, etc)

Like it or not, GPU mining for cryptocurrencies is all the rage these days so we’ll also be doing a bit of scrypt mining testing as well. For our testing today, we’ll simply be using GUIMiner, which is a very basic, very easy to use scrypt mining application.


After some trial and error, we were able to get around 860 khash/s out of the MSI Radeon R9 290, which isn’t too bad. To do this, we set the thread concurrency to 32765, GPU threads at 1, worksize of 256 and intensity of 19. Unfortunately setting the intensity at 20 caused the drivers to crash, but we’re pretty happy with 860 khash/s at intensity level 19.


Additionally, we needed to overclock the memory frequency to 1400MHz (5.6GHz effective) and keep the core clock at 1000MHz. For some reason when overclocking the GPU core to its max of 1150MHz, mining performance actually drops down to <100 khash/s.

It’s also important to take note of the temperatures on the card as well. Despite having the powerful Twin Frozr IV cooler, the Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G reached an extremely high temperature of 94°C, which more than likely will kill the card prematurely if used at that temperature for an extended period of time.

[section label=18. Conclusion]

MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G Conclusions

msi-r9-290-gaming-4gb-graphics-card-custom-pc-review-10Like the rest of MSI’s gaming line, the Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G implementation is one of the best custom Radeon R9 290 implementations on the market and performance wise, the Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G performs as expected from a high end graphics card. Those looking to play any game on the market today at 1080p can expect to crank pretty much every setting to maximum, turn on AA, turn on AF, turn on HBAO, turn on tesselation, etc., and still get playable framerates. Even with games at their highest settings at 2560×1440 (1440p), we were still able to get playable framerates in our testing.

Overclockers interested in squeezing additional performance from the R9 290 Gaming 4G can rejoice as well. MSI left a lot of headroom with their card, and despite the fact that it’s not a Lightning series card, the combination of easy to use Afterburner software along with unlocked voltages make it quite easy to get things cranked up quite a bit. In our case, we were easily able to get an additional 14% improvement in core clocks and 12% improvement in memory clocks over the already overclocked card. 


While the card is impressive in terms of performance, cooling, implementation, overclockability, etc., unfortunately the major problem with any R9 200 series graphics card in general today is that it’s either impossible to get, or it’s being significantly marked up to the point where it’s simply not worth it for gamers to purchase. The MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G reviewed today carries a MSRP of $469, but good luck finding it at anywhere near that pricepoint. We found it was extremely difficult to find online and pricing for the card from the retailers that have it is currently at the upper $600 range, which is significantly higher than the slight premium over $399 (original MSRP for R9 290) you’d expect to pay for a custom Radeon R9 290.

Overall, I’d have to say I’m pretty happy with the MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G. It’s fast, it’s quiet, there’s plenty of cooling and it’s all in a double slot design. Unfortunately with pricing near at $700, I’d much rather recommend you to get a Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 Ti if you’re planning to spend that much. It’s about the same price as the inflated R9 290’s, but significantly better performing. However, if you’re a Litecoin miner with gobs of money to invest, the MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G may just be the card you’re looking for.


Sample provided by: MSI

Available at: Amazon