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MSI Radeon R9 295 X2 review - fastest graphics card for the gamer who has money to burn

If AMD's 290X was the perfect graphics card for the gamer who has everything, this new twist will ideally suit the gamer who already has everything, but who then wins the lottery as well.

Tipping the scales at £1100, this isn't a product for the modestly oiled. The 290X was already tooth-crunchingly powerful, but the 295 X2 takes the same technology and, er, doubles it.

In many respects then, the 295 X2 follows in AMD usual tradition of bringing out a high-end chip, and then crafting a dual-GPU option that blows a new hole through the existing ceiling.

At first glance, that's exactly what you get. So whereas the 290X delivered a towering 2816 stream processors, the X2 has double-lashings, offering two sets of 2816 instead. (We could say 5632, to be more precise, although it is more technically correct to think of dual-GPU cards as having two lots of everything, rather than twice the raw figure).

Texture units and raster operations are also boosted to not one but two sets of 176 and 64, respectively - or 352 and 128, if you prefer. Even the core-clock speed has been slightly upgraded (from a maximum of 1 GHz on the 290X, to 1.018 GHz here), although the memory clock of 1.25 GHz (or 5 GHz when taking into account the quadrupling facilities of the chewy GDDR5 RAM).

The memory complement has been raised, so the X2 comes with two banks of 4 GB, making up a sizeable 8 GB. The texture fill rate jumps significantly, from 176 GT/sec on the 290X, to an astounding 358.3 GT/sec. That 176 GT/sec of the 290X was already comfortably ahead of the 165.7 GT/sec of the GTX 780, so the X2 really does incinerate the existing competition. See also Group test: what's the best graphics card?

So far, so good. However, the 295 X2 does have one surprise up its sleeve. If you know something about high-end cards, you'll be expecting high power consumption, masses of heat, and ear-splitting levels of noise.

Well, the 295 X2 can't do much about the power consumption. This card comes with a TDP of 500 watt - double that of the 250 watt for the 290X and 780.

In practice, we shattered the 600 watt barrier on several occasions, sometimes even exceeding 650 watt. The 290X, in contrast, never exceeded 370 watt in our tests. The expected additional burst of noise and heat isn’t evident, though. The 295 X2 is by no means a quiet card, but it created no more noise than the 290X. Given that it has double the technology in several areas, the lack of added volume is remarkable.

For this we can thank one of the unexpected features of the 295 X2 – closed-loop liquid cooling. Many PC manufacturers use liquid cooling already, but it's still unusual in a graphics card -e certainly when provided as standard.

Besides the card itself, you'll need to install a separate fan/radiator/heatsink, all connected to the card via pipes. You will also need a case into which you can mount a 120 mm fan, but assuming you have one of these, the extra radiator and other features aren't terribly difficult to install - anyone who's poked around inside their case a few times will have no problems.

(You will also need to have two full 8-pin connectors, plus enough room in the case for a 370 mm card.)

What this solution does is to allow AMD to move a lot of the traditional ‘cooling’ features to their own dedicated radiator. The fan can be considerably larger, and so doesn't need to be rotated as quickly. That, in turn, means that sound levels can be kept down. And, at the same time, the quality of the cooling can be much higher, so the graphics card is kept reasonably well aired without needing a massively oversized cooling system.

It's not as straightforward to use as a standard graphics card, but it is about the only way this level of performance can be generated without creating an enormous and prohibitively loud card.

Actual performance, as you might expect, is stunning. However, while many dual-GPU solutions have failed to mine the technology for anywhere near a doubling of speed, the 295 X2 gets somewhere close to this on a very regular basis.

Take Crysis 3, for instance, where the 295 X2 achieved 58.5 fps at a resolution of 2560 x 1440, eclipsing the 290X's 29.6 fps. At a ‘4k’ resolution of 3840 x 2160, it hit 49.9 fps, while the 290X struggled to a mere 24.6 fps.

The situation was almost as glorious in Bioshock Infinite Rage, where the X2's figures of 118.4 and 62.2 fps were close to double those of the 290X's 60 and 36.7 fps.

In Thief, the 295 X2 was again vastly superior, tallying 86.8 and 55.1 fps, to the 290X's 48.4 and 29.9 fps. As a gaming card, the 295 X2 is not only the best. It's almost twice as good as its closest rival. On any terms, this shatters the competition.

Not that everything on this card is so out of this world. In the past, nVidia and AMD have gone head to head at all levels of the market. However, there won't be an imminent product that challenges the 295 X2 in its own territory. The 295 X2's priority will be games, and it won't be trying to revolutionise performance on the high-end Compute applications.

The 295 X2 is no slouch on Compute, but nVidia will be bringing out a dramatically enhanced version of the Titan that pushes new ground in this arena. More to the point, that new Titan should be hitting an even higher £2500+ price tag, so it won't be competition for the 295 X2.

That effectively leaves the X2 as the only viable product for those who wish to play games at the highest level, but who don't need to pay several thousand for the best Compute performance. See all graphics card reviews.



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