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Sapphire Radeon R9 290X Tri-X 4GB Graphics Card Review

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Manufacturer: Sapphire

Sapphire Triple Fan Hawaii

It was mid-December when the very first custom cooled AMD Radeon R9 290X card hit our offices in the form of the ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II.  It was cooler, quieter, and faster than the reference model; this is a combination that is hard to pass up (if you could buy it yet).  More and more of these custom models, both in the R9 290 and R9 290X flavor, are filtering their way into PC Perspective. Next on the chopping block is the Sapphire Tri-X model of the R9 290X.  

Sapphire's triple fan cooler already made quite an impression on me when we tested a version of it on the R9 280X retail round up from October.  It kept the GPU cool but it was also the loudest of the retail cards tested at the time.  For the R9 290X model, Sapphire has made some tweaks to the fan speeds and the design of the cooler which makes it a better overall solution as you will soon see.

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The key tenets for any AMD R9 290/290X custom cooled card is to beat AMD's reference cooler in performance, noise, and variable clock rates.  Does Sapphire meet these goals?

The Sapphire R9 290X Tri-X 4GB

While the ASUS DirectCU II card was taller and more menacing than the reference design, the Sapphire Tri-X cooler is longer and appears to be more sleek than the competition thus far.  The bright yellow and black color scheme is both attractive and unique though it does lack the LED light that the 280X showcased.  

Sapphire has overclocked this model slightly, to 1040 MHz on the GPU clock, which puts it in good company.

  AMD Radeon R9 290X ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II Sapphire R9 290X Tri-X
GPU Cores 2816 2816 2816
Rated Clock 1000 MHz 1050 MHz 1040 MHz
Texture Units 176 176 176
ROP Units 64 64 64
Memory 4GB 4GB 4GB
Memory Clock 5000 MHz 5400 MHz 5200 MHz
Memory Interface 512-bit 512-bit 512-bit
TDP ~300 watts ~300 watts ~300 watts
Peak Compute 5.6 TFLOPS 5.6+ TFLOPS 5.6T TFLOPS
MSRP Price $549 $569 $599

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There are three fans on the Tri-X design, as the name would imply, but each are the same size unlike the smaller central fan design of the R9 280X.

Read our review of the Sapphire R9 290X Tri-X 4GB Graphics Card!!

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Looking at the back of the card, you can clearly see both the heatsink and the fan shroud extend past the standard PCB.  That is an interesting note to make as well: as far as I can tell the Sapphire Tri-X card is using the exact same PCB design as the reference AMD R9 290X cards we have in-house.  Rather than have some engineers work on a custom design, Sapphire seems to be content with swapping the cooler and changing some firmware.

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The Tri-X is a very heavy graphics card thanks to the large heatsink that Sapphire has integrated in the design.  Here you can see the fins and heatpipes that whisk the heat away from the GPU to be cooled by the air movement of the three included fans.

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External display connectivity also remains unchanged with support for a pair of dual-link DVI connections, a full-size HDMI port and a full-size DisplayPort.

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The Sapphire Tri-X 290X still only requires a 6-pin and an 8-pin power connection.  This angle might make it look like the connections are hard to remove after having been installed, but there is more than enough room for your fingers.

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The fans Sapphire has included on the Tri-X are surprisingly efficient and quiet (as you will see in our testing on the following pages).  The Sapphire model was more than capable of keeping up with the ASUS DirectCU II in our testing.

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This side by side comparison shows the difference in the size between the Sapphire and the ASUS custom R9 290X models.  No girth jokes, okay?

December 31, 2013 | 01:46 PM - Posted by Ultramar (not verified)

Thanks for the review.
Will the team be reviewing any customs 290's ?

December 31, 2013 | 01:51 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Yup, we definitely will be!  Just waiting for a couple to arrive actually...

December 31, 2013 | 02:37 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I would be interesting to see the coolers swapped between this model and the reference board. That would help put to rest the question of AMD hi-grading the press samples.

December 31, 2013 | 02:54 PM - Posted by Dr. Pepper (not verified)

Incredible review, points out reference PCB right away! This card look absolutely amazing, fixes all wrongs with the reference design. Impressive acoustics and thermals looks to be better than the DCUII. A definite buy, glad I didn't pull the trigger on the 780TI.

Patiently waiting!

December 31, 2013 | 03:49 PM - Posted by Panta

hay Ryan did you run the fan's manually between 40-70%?

i got Sapphire 7970 OC Dual-x and i RMA it 5 times!
(yup five times, and then i just gave up..)
they head massive rattling noise, I wonder if you test this issues and how was your impression from
general design build quality?

no review online warned back at the time
about this GPU it's poor design/build quality
and misinformed dimensions. (sapphire did not fix the wrong data till today...

January 5, 2014 | 02:39 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

There is an easy way to fix this rattling you know, I had it on my 7950 Dualx cooler. It was fairly common on Dualx coolers. This is different to the Dualx and so the issue shouldn't arise again.

December 31, 2013 | 04:54 PM - Posted by snook

any idea what was causing the throttling? thermal, power? etc.?

January 1, 2014 | 03:44 AM - Posted by Mac (not verified)

If you're asking about the OCed 290X, the 3 things that cause it to throttle being power consumption, thermals and fanspeed - I'm going to go with power consumption.
Ryan, whats your CPU clocks in these reviews and do you have any boost clock data for the geforces here?

January 1, 2014 | 03:44 AM - Posted by ThorAxe

These are good results but the problem for AMD is that an overclocked 780Ti trounces an overclocked R290X and often by a huge margin.

January 1, 2014 | 05:08 AM - Posted by snook

untrue, it's like you didn't read the article.
the real result is this; clock for clock these cards are evenly matched. seems people NEED the 780Ti to win. I WANT the 290X to win. but, I don't NEED it too.

again I make this statement. neither this card nor the ASUS card are the fastest 290Xs that will hit the market.

January 2, 2014 | 11:48 PM - Posted by ThorAxe

An additional 47FPS in BF3 is quite a bit more to most people. Just check out the Overclocked results at Techpowerup for the Asus Direct CU II GTX 780 Ti.

January 3, 2014 | 01:50 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Only problem is that's a one game scenario that BF4 has replaced.

The only conclusion is Nvidia does better in older game-engines.

January 3, 2014 | 09:23 PM - Posted by ThorAxe

How about Techspot's results in BF4 @ 2560x1440 where the Gigabyte OC 780Ti is 23% faster - 83.6 vs 67.9 and 26% faster in Bioshock Infinite. When overclocked it is also 19% faster in Crysis 3.

January 4, 2014 | 07:21 PM - Posted by snook

looked it up, that's a reference 290X vs. an OC 780Ti. so 1150 vs. ~900 sure, that's a win :/

January 4, 2014 | 08:05 PM - Posted by snook

those results are reference 290X vs. OC 780Ti...so, try again.

January 4, 2014 | 07:24 PM - Posted by snook

test

January 1, 2014 | 08:24 AM - Posted by Dr. Pepper (not verified)

Lol you when say huge gains you mean by 5-6 fps in some games?

January 1, 2014 | 08:24 AM - Posted by Dr. Pepper (not verified)

Lol you when say huge gains you mean by 5-6 fps in some games?

January 1, 2014 | 03:48 AM - Posted by Mhamed Kaka (not verified)

I pulled the trigger on a 780 Ti about a month ago, the price of the card is 1000 $ where I live. The 290x Tri-X is at 545 $, you have no idea how much I regret this. If only AMD could have landed these solutions earlier..

January 1, 2014 | 12:39 PM - Posted by JohnGR (not verified)

You could have bought a reference card and add a third party cooler on it. The solution was there from the first day the reference models come out.

January 1, 2014 | 01:36 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

It's not AMD's fault that you jumped the gun, every single review clearly showed how much performance Tahiti has. It's nvidia's and their marketing which you fell for it.

January 1, 2014 | 02:07 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Hawaii

January 1, 2014 | 03:10 PM - Posted by LoonIam (not verified)

i have no idea why you would buy one card with a ~36% mark up ($730 as opposed to $1000) and then compared it to a estimated actual retail price. who knows a Tri-X, which is hopefully $599 not $549, can run over $800 at that time.

complain about who charged you that much mark up and that you paid it.

January 2, 2014 | 05:42 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Because not everyone lives in the US.

January 1, 2014 | 06:53 PM - Posted by TERAFLOP (not verified)

The core clocks are misleading, you listed the 1040mhz boost clock of the 290X in all graphs but also listed the base clock for the 780 TI and 780.

Which makes it seem as if the 290X needs to run at 164mhz higher to match the 780 Ti but that is entirely inaccurate.
Since both the 780 Ti and the 780 constantly operate at significantly higher clocks than the base clock as has been showcased by other review sites.

January 2, 2014 | 06:30 AM - Posted by Farley (not verified)

Hope by mid Jan the prices of 290x and 290 cards fall back to near msrp.

January 2, 2014 | 11:34 AM - Posted by snook

I hope so, as much as I wont buy Nv anymore. I still am not paying these inflated prices for a 290X. they drop or I stay with what I have.

January 2, 2014 | 09:45 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Ryan, great review.

Can you please, add vrm temps into future reviews, and maybe even update this one with gpu-z vrm temps? we almost have no reviewer who does this, and its very important, core temp is useless without vrm temps measurements, especially with oc.

January 2, 2014 | 11:12 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Puget systems just released component failure rate figures.
Nvidia cards had just over a 3% fail rate while AMD cards had almost 11% failure rate.

I received my Gigabyte R9 290X OC windforce card the other day, the one with the triple fan cooler.

At out of the box settings ran Heaven and lost planet benchmarks without problem....but crashed on Metro lastlight.

Card failure in process of RMA? WTF!!

January 2, 2014 | 11:40 AM - Posted by snook

really? one crash and it's gonna fail? my 7850s are doomed then as is any Nv card that ever crashed... anonymous? :/

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