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

Author: Ryan Shrout
Manufacturer: Sapphire

Overclocking and Conclusion

My overclocking testing with the Sapphire Tri-X R9 290X was done using Sapphire's latest beta version of Trixx tweaking utility.  With it, I was able to increase the VDDC offset on the GPU to help push the frequency.

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My stable limit (with our sample) was 1225 MHz on the GPU at a 200 mV offset.  In GPU-Z, the voltage reported as high as 1.297v which obviously varied depending on the load from the game on the GPU.  

In our ASUS DirectCU II R9 290X review, our overclocking results topped out at 1150 MHz which is quite a bit lower than what we saw here.  Other than the standard variance claims that you get with any kind of overclocking it is also worth noting that, while the ASUS card stuck at 1150 MHz during extended gaming runs, the Sapphire Tri-X does drop below the 1225 MHz frequency.

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In this 450 second segment of our 25 minute test and stability run, the Sapphire Tri-X card has several occurrences of clock rate fluctuation when set to 1225 MHz on the GPU.  The AMD PowerTune technology allows this to occur and because the Sapphire retail model is seeing this only when overclocked, I think this demonstrates the original intent of the technology.  

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Taking those clock rate changes into account, the Tri-X was running at an average clock speed of 1214 MHz when set to 1225 MHz, a nice bump of 14% over the standard clock rate of the card out of the box.

 

Performance

Just like I saw with the ASUS DirectCU II R9 290X card from earlier in the month, the Sapphire Tri-X R9 290X fixes basically all of the problems and complaints I had with the reference design of the Radeon R9 290 and R9 290X products.  These GPUs are meeting their specified clock speeds without complaints and are doing so with lower temperatures (and even lower noise levels) as well.  

The base clock rate of the Hawaii GPU on the Sapphire card is 1040 MHz and, while that is only 40 MHz higher than the rated speed of the reference designs, it makes the Tri-X model a much faster GPU in practice. The reason?

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In very similar fashion to the ASUS card before it, the Sapphire R9 290X Tri-X stays at its 1040 MHz rate speed nearly 100% of the time during extended gaming sessions.  That is not true in the reference designs and especially not true in the retail tested models which averaged 869 MHz; they were well below the rated 1000 MHz from AMD's specifications.

Adding other GPUs into the mix, including NVIDIA's options and the ASUS DirectCU II model, the story is once again interesting.  The GeForce GTX 780 Ti is once again fighting for its dominance.  When it was released, the R9 290X had clock variance and noise concerns that kept the $699 NVIDIA juggernaut in the driver's seat.  With the release of the Sapphire R9 290X Tri-X (and others) coming down the pipe that seat might have a new resident.  Like the ASUS option, the Sapphire card performed better than the GTX 780 Ti in Bioshock Infinite and Crysis 3 while the GTX 780 Ti's only definitive victory came in Battlefield 3.  In the three other games tested, the cards were so close that I'll call it a performance tie.

Pricing and Availability

When I reviewed the ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II card ASUS gave us a great MSRP of $569 ($20 over reference) but didn't promise availability until mid-January.  Sapphire is going to be asking $50 over the base price for its Tri-X card but said we could see availability before the new year.  A quick check at Newegg.com shows the card in its system, but out of stock.  I am not sure if it ever was in stock yet - hopefully I'll get feedback on that soon.  

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I wouldn't hold out hope that you'll find wide spread availability until the same mid-January time frame though.

If all of these cards were available today, the Sapphire Tri-X model would be one of, if not THE best option for high end enthusiast gamers on the market.  As it sits now, gamers are forced to either wait and see what happens to pricing and availability to the new R9 290X models in January or they can decide to buy a GeForce GTX product today.  It's a tougher choice for many than I think AMD and its partners would like to admit.

Final Thoughts

Sapphire's R9 290X Tri-X 4GB graphics card is among the fastest we have ever tested at PC Perspective.  Its overclocked settings out of the box, at 1040 MHz GPU clock, are a bit lower than the ASUS model but some very simple and basic overclocking can easily level the playing field.  The GeForce GTX 780 Ti now has another strong competitor in the performance department that also comes with a $100 lower price tag.  

Once again, my conclusion is based solely on the fact that these parts SHOULD be available at these prices sometime in the not-too-distant future.  If the retail partners and etailers continue to jack up the prices on AMD's R9 series of graphics cards, our outlook could change pretty dramatically. For now, the Sapphire R9 290X Tri-X 4GB looks to be another fantastic retail Hawaii GPU.

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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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