Review: AMD Sapphire Tri-X R9 290

Since the launch of AMD’s Radeon R9 290, its initial family of video cards has gained a reputation for running hot and loud. It wasn’t unexpected for them to reach operating temperatures of up to 95 degrees Celsius when under load. AMD has stated this was a design decision to convert power consumption into optimal performance, but nevertheless it’s a balmy temperature if your case isn’t adequately ventilated.

For those that want less heat and noise, there is an option. Sapphire claims their factory overclocked R9 290 is 15% cooler and 40% quieter than the reference model thanks to its triple-fan design. AMD supplied a review sample, and I put it through its paces to see if Sapphire’s words rang true.

Competition in this market has seemingly never been fiercer, as well. The worth of a video card is no longer just measured in clock rates, but also in their supporting technologies. Consumers can now consider different graphic rendering APIs to monitor-focused solutions for the bugaboo called screen tearing that we’ve become all too familiar with. I was able to speak with AMD about said technologies, and we’ll cover that discussion below, but first let’s take a look inside the Sapphire Tri-X OC R9 290’s box.

A Closer Look

The Sapphire Tri-X OC R9 290’s packaging is coated in a slightly reflective sheen, the usual imposing figure on its front, and lists its general features across both front and back. Some of these include 4GB of 512-bit GDDR5 memory, 4K gaming support via HDMI and DisplayPort 1.2, Graphics Core Next (GCN) architecture, multi-display capability with Eyefinity, PowerTune monitoring and more.

Inside its smaller box is a quick installation guide, product registration information, driver CD, sticker, molex to six and eight-pin PCIe cables, and an HDMI cable.

The card itself is fairly large, partly in thanks to an oversized cooler that extends about 1.8″ beyond the circuit board. In total it measures 12.01″ in length and 4.45″ in width. It just cleared my mid-sized tower and left about 2.4″ of breathing room with all of the hard drive cages installed. There is no backplate, so an extra bit of care is advised when handling it.

The I/O plate has one DisplayPort 1.2, one HDMI, and two Dual-Link DVI-D inputs.

Specifications

The reference R9 290 shipped with a 947 MHz core clock speed. Sapphire bumped that up to 1000 MHz for their Tri-X OC model. Additionally, its 4GB of memory was boosted from 5000 MHz to 5200 MHz. That should help with playing games at high resolutions.

Testing Setup & Methodology

The Sapphire Tri-X OC R9 290 was tested inside a Corsair 550D case that housed an ASUS P8Z77-V motherboard, Intel i7-3770K processor, 8GB of Corsair Vengeance memory, and powered by an XFX Pro 850W Black Edition PSU. The Corsair 550D is built for silence, meaning it’s lined with noise-isolating foam, but its cooling capabilities are no different than most other mid-ranged towers. Comparisons were done with a factory overclocked MSI Lightning GeForce GTX 680.

Benchmarks were repeated at least three times to get the most accurate measurements in different locations and situations and then averaged. Fraps was used as the primary tool. If a game had its own benchmarking option, it was used in addition to those captured with Fraps.

3DMark and the sample of games below were run at a 1920 x 1080 resolution. Later this month I may have a 3840 x 2160 display on hand, and I’ll take new benchmarks at that time.