R9 290X Reference Design Comparison
Hello everyone! Sorry, newbie here. I'm looking into the possibility of using GPU-based computing for machine learning in an ongoing project and learning some pentesting skills on the side. I still have a lot of reading to do before building my server, but I'm ready with a couple questions re: the Radeon R9 290X.

Around mid October, Radeon R9 290X prices fell in reaction to the release of NVIDIA's GTX 980 and GTX 970. As bitcoin mining operations switch to ASICs or give up the trade entirely, online marketplaces are becoming saturated with pre-owned 290X cards. Nowadays, used 290X cards are going for $190-240 on eBay. I had my eye on this card since last December, and it seems like the perfect time to snag one or two for my server.

I know that I should buy a reference design, not an OEM design. I'm not clear on all of the reasons, but from what I understand, this is due to two factors. First, the main exhaust vent in the 290X reference design is located at the rear, which should help avoid overheating whenever multiple cards are used in a server. Second, it seems that a lot of OEMs are not fully implementing Powertune 2.0 on their cards (src). This will interfere with temperature control.

But what about buying reference design cards from OEMs? (Or otherwise rebranded?) Is there a difference between, say, Sapphire's and XFX's reference R9 290X?

Here is a list of all of the R9 290X reference design cards I could find:
Battlefield 4 versions were excluded from this list. There's also VisionTek (900653 or 900654). Their current version is an OEM design, but if you search around, you should be able to find a few with the same id but in reference design. Additionally, I've seen quite a few used 290X reference design cards that have an AMD brand sticker on the fan, but I could not find a product listing for them on AMD's website. I am guessing that they are the oldest of the bunch.

If I'm looking to buy one of the above cards, does it matter what brand I buy? Are some more reliable / perform better than others for our purposes? Has anyone had any major issues with any of the above 290X reference cards? Or is there really no difference at all aside from price, warranty, and customer service? (I'm not at all concerned about warranty, for what it's worth.)

I'm currently strongly considering buying one or two used XFX 290X Core Edition cards. They tend to sell for cheaper than Sapphire, which seems to be the go-to brand for the 290X. Is this purely a matter of reputation, or should I be concerned? (Aside: related thread re: running 4x XFX 290X.)

Thanks in advance for any advice!
Reference design cards are all pretty much equal, regardless of manufacturer.

That said, I personally have a strong affinity for HIS, as we've never had to RMA a single HIS card.
Thank you for the very quick response! I haven't paid attention to video cards for years until this recent decision to build a server, and it feels good to get direct advice from an expert. Your posts here have been a great resource during my research. Thanks for helping out newbies like me!

Actually, I now recall bookmarking a thread where you recommended the reference design HIS 7970. I'm assuming you've used the HIS R9 290X as well? Just wondering if the strong affinity comes from experience with previous cards or with the 290X in particular.

Based on your advice, I caved in and bought one used XFX R9 290X on eBay from a bitcoin miner. The BIN price was too good to pass up ($223 w/ shipping), and I wanted to treat myself for the holidays. Looking forward to experimenting with GPGPU in the coming month!

Interestingly, there appear to be several versions of the XFX 290X Core Edition. There's the current R9-290X-ENFC model, but there's also older models that have the primary number R9-290X-EN followed by a second number that is either R9-290X-ENF V1.1 or R9-290X-ENF VP.0. I don't know if there is any difference at all, but I found no existing information about the matter, so I'm throwing it out there. I sent a question about it to XFX and will update if they reply.

I'll be on the lookout for a HIS R9 290X in the future. I'm expecting that 290X prices will fall significantly yet again as AMD releases its Radeon R9 390X within the next six months. Maybe at that point I'll snag a HIS and write up an anecdotal report on how it compares to the XFX.

Lastly, I found out about a few more 290X reference manufacturers and added them to the first post for completeness: Club 3D, Colorfire, VTX3D, Yeston.
(12-08-2014, 12:22 PM)Burr Wrote: where you recommended the reference design HIS 7970. I'm assuming you've used the HIS R9 290X as well? Just wondering if the strong affinity comes from experience with previous cards or with the 290X in particular.

My affinity comes from experience with HIS in general. We started buying HIS with the 7970 and 7990, and it didn't take long for us to notice that we never had to RMA a single one, while we did have to RMA at least 2-3 cards from the other vendors we've purchased from. Mind you, in the volumes we deal with, 2-3 cards is a rather acceptable failure rate. But zero is just outstanding. So when we moved to the 290X, we strongly preferred HIS when we could find them. After buying hundreds of HIS cards, we've still not had to RMA a single one.

Conversely, the worst brand we've used is VisionTek. We experienced a 75% failure rate with their GPUs. Mind you they were OEM design and not reference design, but we had so many problems with them that I'll never buy from them again. One of the VisionTek GPUs we had was constantly overheating, so we pulled the fans & shroud to inspect the chip. The TIM was haphazardly applied, and the die itself had a deep scratch on top. Not the earmarks of quality by any stretch of the definition.

(12-08-2014, 12:22 PM)Burr Wrote: Interestingly, there appear to be several versions of the XFX 290X Core Edition.

I would imagine they are just different revisions of the same card, but not sure because we don't buy very much from XFX. Usually only if they're the only thing available.