It's hard to believe nearly a year has passed since AMD released the R9 290X, though perhaps it doesn't feel like it has been so long because the card was ignored by most gamers for having an inflated price through half its life.
When we first tested it last October, we gave it a score of 95 and said it was 'the' high-end graphics card to buy, which was the general consensus at the time as the 290X provided GTX Titan-like performance for nearly half the price.
The following month AMD did one better with the vanilla R9 290, offering similar performance to the 290X while being $100 cheaper. Again, we gave it a high score of 95 out of 100 and recommended it as the way to go for high-end gaming.
That excitement was sadly short lived as pricing skyrocketed due to short supplies blamed by the crypto currency mining. Things settled down eventually and AMD's high-end R9 GPUs could be purchased at or near the MSRP.
Unfortunately, while pricing was high, AMD's board partners for the most part held off delivering special editions of the R9 290X.
This was a shame because although the 290X was blisteringly fast, it has a problem with heat, as any graphics card with a TDP rating of 290 watts would. Heat issues generally cause noise problems and AMD's own reference cooler was woefully inadequate. Not only was it loud under load, but caused the 290X to run excessively hot which led to throttling issues.
AMD's board partners solved this issue for the most part with massive heatsinks riddled with copper heatpipes cooled by a battery of fans.
Designed to operate at up to 1000MHz, these upgraded coolers allowed manufacturers to factory overclock their cards to around 1040-1050MHz. Currently, such a card would cost around $370, while MSI has pushed its 290X Lightning to 1080MHz for an asking price of $500.
What if you want a 290X that is even faster but at the same time much quieter? Seems like a dream, but HIS has been working hard to make it a reality with the HIS Radeon R9 290X Hybrid IceQ 4GB.
Designed to operate at 1100MHz out of the box while making less noise than any other 290X out there. As you might expect, in order to achieve this HIS has turned to a liquid-cooled solution, not unlike what AMD was forced to do with the 295X2.
HIS R9 290X Hybrid IceQ
The card measures 10.7" (28cm) in length, making it more compact than most R9 290X cards we've seen. However, as this one features a closed-loop liquid cooler, there is also a need to make room for the 120mm radiator and fan.
Designed to operate the core at up to 1100MHz with 4GB of GDDR5 memory clocked at 6000MHz, the HIS R9 290X Hybrid IceQ is unlike any other 290X graphics card we've seen. Although the AMD spec calls for a GPU clock speed of up to 1000MHz, many custom versions do operate at around 1040 ~ 1050MHz, but we hadn't seen a factory-overclocked card exceed 1080MHz until now.
The foundations of the HIS R9 290X Hybrid IceQ are copied over from their impressive R9 290X iPower IceQ X² Turbo 4GB. However the high-end IceQ X² air-cooler has been dumped in favor of something far more efficient.
Strapped onto the R9 290X GPU is an Arctic closed-loop liquid cooler, likely a variation of their Accelero Hybrid II 120 model. Placing a water-block on the GPU is all good and well but the VRM chips still need to be cooled and that is why this is a 'hybrid' solution, as it combines air and liquid cooling.
The VRAM and GDDR chips are covered by a thin heat spreader which is fed cool air by a 92mm fan. HIS has included a rear back plate that cools the memory chips on the backside of the PCB.
The other larger 120mm fan can be found on the 120mm radiator and connects directly to the motherboard using a 4-pin header. The liquid cooler pump connects to the power supply using a 4-pin Molex connector which has been sleeved.
To feed the card enough juice, HIS has upgraded the 6-pin/8-pin PCI Express power connector configuration to a pair of 8-pin connectors. This will help improve overclocking and HIS claims that the R9 290X Hybrid IceQ with its 9 power phases can deliver more power than the AMD reference design.
The card comes with a secondary BIOS which can be accessed at the flick of a switch. The primary BIOS stores a standard reference configuration while the other functions as a fail-safe.
HIS has included the standard output connectors which includes a DisplayPort, HDMI output and two dual-link DVI connectors. As you would expect, Eyefinity works here perfectly well with three displays, no active DisplayPort adapter required.