Sapphire Radeon R9 290 Vapor-X OC Edition Review
When deciding what graphics card to buy a significant part of the decision should come down to the design used. Budget tends to establish which GPU we can get but the specific model can make a significant difference. For example, is it overclocked to boost performance (and value)? Does it use premium components which should last longer? Or which card has the quietest, or coolest running design? With their Vapor-X models Sapphire have often tried to hit all three of those areas and the subject of our review today, the R9 290 Vapor-X OC Edition, really looks to take things to the extreme.
Packaging and Bundle
As we have seen on recent Sapphire products the box design helps illustrate the card features a little with the blue colour scheme noting Vapor-X cooler. Across the front we also get some information on key aspects of the card and then inside there is a free HDMI cable, power cables, product documentation and a mouse mat. Also worth noting is that this card is eligible for the AMD Never Settle promotion which gives us a free copy of 3 games, such as Murdered: Soul Suspect and Thief. We also recommend you follow the instructions to register for Sapphire Select Club which gives access to support and community activities.
The R9 290 Vapor-X OC Edition
Shown above is Sapphires R9 290 Vapor-X OC Edition, and it continues on the pale blue theme from the packaging. Attached to the front is a 2.5x slot cooler which has a plastic/metal cover, three 90mm fans (aerofoil section blades), five copper heatpipes (10mm, 2x8mm, 2x6mm), to large blocks of aluminium fins and of course Sapphires Vapor-X cooler which maximises heat transfer from the GPU when compared to traditional cooling. Sapphire also apply heatsinks to the power circuitry (6-phase power with high power Direct-FET technology to the GPU, memory and control circuitry) and a large copper plate/heatsink on the front side of the PCB to maximise cooling.
Also worthy of note is the use of ferrite core chokes (Sapphire Black Diamond) and solid aluminium/polymer capacitors which combine to maximise reliability and overclocking while minimising temperatures.
Turning the card over we find another plate on the back of the card which provides stability to the PCB as well as cooling to our components on the rear side. Eagle eyed viewers will also see a small switch at the back end of the card. This is our fan controller. When set to ON our fans are configured for lowest noise operation which means under low loads only the centre fan spins. Only when needed do the other two kick in. If we set the switch to off the card runs all three fans at all times, only varying the RPM as required.
Along the top edge of the card we can see that dual 8-pin connectors are used. Also present up here are two sections of Sapphire branding. The first is directly beside the power and is the word Sapphire which is backlit. As the cards temperature increases the LEDs here change from blue, through yellow to red. Then along towards the outputs is an “S” logo this is a dual BIOS switch which allows us to change between a modern UEFI version and the legacy code. The benefits of UEFI are compatibility with Secure Boot and faster boot/resume times.
For card outputs Sapphire go with DisplayPort, HDMI and two DVIs. This allows us to connect display configurations such as 3x1080p screens for 5760×1080 Eyefinity gaming and 4K screens are also supported.
The 290 features the 28nm Hawaii core with this model running at 1030MHz (950MHz on the reference card). There is 4GB of GDDR5 memory running at 1400MHz, up from 1250MHz on the reference design. For the Stream processors AMD and Sapphire have gone for a 2560 “core” design (64ROPs/ 160 Texture units in 290) and our memory bus is 512-bit. PCIe 3.0, DirectX 11.2 and DirectCompute are all supported on this card as is acceleration of high definition content and the card can output 7.1 audio over HDMI including DTS Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD. Finally, as expected, Mantle and TrueAudio are both supported as is bridgeless CrossFire.
User Experience and Conclusion
The first thing which struck us when unboxing the 290 Vapor-X OC Edition is that this is one hefty card. Yes the cooler shroud is partially plastic but the rest of the construction is metal and big chunks of it at that. Both the front and back of the PCB are plated in key areas and the heatpipes/fins are both significant in size too. Underneath it all Sapphire bump up the quality over the reference design with enhanced chokes and capacitors and our memory is quality branded parts from Hynix.
Elsewhere on the design we get a decent output configuration, the use of dual 8-pin connectors is pretty standard for this class of card and the use of an extra bit of width, taking us over dual slots isn’t too much of an issue. We just need to take a little care when choosing our motherboard/card combination. Sapphires Dual BIOS implementation adds some future proofing but the main benefit of that button, for most users, is an extra LED which combines well with the thermally controlled branding on the back of the card.
The other extra feature, Sapphires fan controller, is a nice addition however we can’t see many people taking advantage of the ability to disable it. Maybe in very compact systems with thermals which are not ideal, but for most users leaving the card to run on one fan at low use, automatically switching to three under load is ideal. With that configuration we idled at 40°C (approx.) and never went above 73°C while gaming, all with near silent operation.
In terms of the comparison with the GTX 780 OC, which starts around the same price as the Vapor-X OC, we found the Sapphire card to offer a better balance of temperatures and noise than any of the custom GTX models we have seen to date. For framerates the two offered a very similar experience which can be summed up as the 290 offering a flawless experience at 1080 with the ability to dabble in 4K gaming too. For example, as the next page in this article shows, we had no issues playing Wolfenstein: The New Order at 1920×1080 with maximum detail then with just a minor tweak from Ultra to High Battlefield 4 is capable of running at 4K on the 290 Vapor-X OC.
So that brings us to pricing where this model retails at £380/$469, that’s with some nice additional software to overclock with (Sapphire Trixx) and a bundle of free games courtesy of AMD. Those aspects mixed with some decent manual overclocking headroom, the enhanced build quality and excellent performance win the Sapphire Radeon R9 290 Vapor-X OC Edition our Gold Award.
|Where to buy…|
|Overclockers.co.uk – £379.99|
|NewEgg.com – $469.99|