Considering the Radeon R9 290X's record for being pretty hot at its 300w TDP, I had my doubts about AMD placing two Hawaii XT GPUs on a single 500w TDP card. However, with a closed-loop water-cooling system AMD has solved the thermal and acoustic problems that most dual-GPU cards face. Although we wouldn't say the R9 295X2 is quiet, it's far from loud -- nothing like AMD's R9 290X sample.
Having pushed our Core i7-4770K system from 351w with a R9 290X to nearly 600w with the R9 295X2, there's no escaping the card's power requirements, yet it isn't something the Silencer Mk III 1200w can't handle. Meanwhile, temperatures aren't an issue thanks to the water cooler, which kept the card at 62 degrees or lower after an hour of Crysis 3 with both GPUs running at 1018MHz and nearly 100% utilization.
The R9 295X2 is as good as a graphics card gets right now, delivering 64% more performance than the GTX 780 Ti on average and 79% more than the R9 290X. Compared to the GTX 780 SLI cards, the R9 295X2 was 15% faster on average and was only slower in one of the 12 games (Tomb Raider). The R9 295X2 also topped the older dual-GPU cards, beating the HD 7990 by 36% and the GTX 690 by 50%.
Ideally, we would have liked to include GTX 780 Ti SLI data as the GTX Titan-Z will be based on a pair of the GTX 780 Ti GPUs -- I simply didn't have two of them on hand. Assuming the Titan-Z's core and memory speeds match the GTX 780 Ti, it could end up being around 10% faster than the R9 295X2. However, with the MSRP rumored to be $2,999, we aren't sure if the Titan-Z will even be relevant.
It's often not worth buying dual-GPU graphics cards such as the HD 7990 or GTX 690 because there is often a cheaper route to the same place with two single-GPU cards. For instance, instead of spending $1,000 on a GTX 690, two GTX 680s at $500 each were 10% faster and easier to maintain when it came to thermals. Plus, there's always the benefit of having the GPUs separated in the event that one of them fails.
So, should you buy an R9 295X2 over two separate R9 290Xs? Yes, if you want the most performance in the smallest, coolest and quietest package available. With Crossfire off, the R9 295X2 is every bit as fast as a single R9 290X and in some cases we received 1-2fps more performance. With Crossfire on the R9 295X is as fast as two 290X cards and again we found in some cases 1-2fps more performance.
I admit to feeling a bit silly for mocking the R9 295X2 initially as it's without a doubt the best dual-GPU card we have seen. It may not be the most practical option to maxing out your games, but we don't think that anyone expected two R9 290Xs on a single card to be practical anyway. With that in mind, we're not totally shocked at AMD's MSRP of $1,500 -- well over the $1,200 it would cost for a pair of R9 290Xs.