ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II and Sapphire R9 290X Tri-X Video Card Reviews

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Custom AMD Radeon R9 290X Video Cards Arrive

The AMD Radeon R9 290x and R9 290 both have great performance when gaming, but the cards run notoriously hot. AMD says that the cards were designed to run at 94C and that there is nothing wrong with running that high, but many enthusiasts think otherwise and have waited for the add-in board partners to come out with custom cards that have aftermarket coolers. Those cards are just now starting to trickle out and we got our hands on the yet to be released ASUS Radeon R9 290X DirectCU II and the Sapphire Radeon R9 290X Tri-X. Both of these cards are factory overclocked and have ditched the reference GPU cooler for massive dual or triple-fan models. The AMD Radeon R9 290X was originally released in October and we’ve covered it extensively in more articles since then, so we’ll get right to it as you should already know that this card supports DirectX 11.1, OpenCL 1.2, OpenGL 4.3, PCI Express 3.0, AMD Eyefinity 2.0, AMD PowerTune, AMD ZeroCore, AMD CrossFire, AMD TrueAudio and AMD Mantle. 




Both the ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II and the Sapphire R9 290X Tri-X are factory overclocked for improved performance. Sapphire took the 290X Tri-X up to 1040MHz on the core and 1300MHz on the memory from the reference cards 1000MHz core clock and 1250MHz GDDR5 memory clock. Not huge clock frequencies gains, but it is a 4% boost to each clock. ASUS on the other hand was a little more aggressive with 1050MHz on the core and 1350MHz on the memory. This is a 5% overclock on the core clock and 8% overclock on the memory, so right off the bat you know the ASUS card should perform better as it has higher clock speeds by default.

  AMD Radeon R9 290X ASUS 290X DirectCU II Sapphire 290X Tri-X
Model Number R9290X-DC2OC-4GD5 100361-2SR
SRP $549 $569.99 $599.99
Clock Speed 1000 MHz 1050 MHz 1040 MHz
Memory Clock Speed 1250 MHz 1350 MHz 1300 MHz


The ASUS Radeon R9 290X and Sapphire Radeon R9 290X are both dual-slot video cards with printed circuit boards that both measure 10.5-inches in length, but that is where the similarities end. For example Sapphire opted to use the AMD reference board for the 290X and just slap on the Tri-X cooler and flash the vBIOS with more aggressive clock speeds. Many say that if something isn’t broke, don’t fix it and that is what Sapphire did here with the reference board. The ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II uses a pair of fans (94mm fan and 93mm) versus the three fans (~84mm) on the Sapphire R9 290X Tri-X. The Sapphire Tri-X cooler hangs past the end of the PCB, making the card 12-inches in total length. Whereas the ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II card is slightly shorter as its GPU cooler pushes the card to just 11.25-inches in length.


When it comes to video outputs you have a pair of DVI connectors (DVI-I and DVI-D), Display Port and HDMI. It looks like Sapphire went with a high-flow hot air exhaust bracket, but the cards heatsink has exhaust fins that are vertical… No air really exits here due to this, so this is a very interesting choice. This design would be better suited for the ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II as it has horizontal cooling fins.


Both cards have required 8-pin and 6-pin PCI Express power connectors that are located at the end of the video card for additional power. ASUS flipped the power connectors 180 degrees to make installation easier and also placed on power status LED lights that let you quickly know if the power is properly connected. Sapphire recommends a 750W or greater power supply with one 75W 6-pin and one 150W 8-pin power connector for this video card to operate properly.


The AMD Radeon R9 290X doesn’t have any CrossFire interconnects on top for pairing it with another graphics card, but that isn’t needed for the new Hawaii GPU that powers these cards. You can run CrossFire though the PCIe slot now, so you can pair up to four of these cards together for improved gaming performance.  It should be noted that Sapphire has has implemented DUAL BIOS on the Tri-X models, ensuring that the cards boot and deliver maximum performance in systems with both UEFI and legacy BIOS implementations. The AMD reference card had two fan speed profiles, but Sapphire did away with that and has two boot modes for improved motherboard support. ASUS also has a Dual BIOS solution on their card  that has the fan profiles that are difference (Performance and Silent).290x-cards-backThe back of the ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II has a nice metal backplate whereas the Sapphire R9 290X Tri-X doesn’t have one. We are big fans of backplates as it protects the components on the back of the card and it looks better when installed into PC.

Let’s see how these two cards do when put to the test.


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  • temp_conscious

    I was wondering the temp differences between the two when mounted in a vertical setting (like Silverstone FT-02), going on the design of heat pipes looks like the ASUS should do better, i’d also rather not buy the sapphire and then find that its temps are poor and have to swap it out.

  • suvam

    is this dc2 or dc2 oc

    • Nathan Kirsch

      The core clock is 1050MHz, so this is the DC2 OC. The part number is on page one, but just in case you can’t find it – R9290X-DC2OC-4GD5

  • thatguy

    This site seriously has the worst graphics card graphs I’ve ever seen – too much information. Try putting the model of the card first, then the brand and whether it’s overclocked after.
    e.g. PowerColor HD 7850 SCS3 1GB 860MHz/4800MHz could just as easily read as HD7850 1GB (PowerColor)

    • Nathan Kirsch

      Thanks for the feedback. I’m building a new GPU test system for the NVIDIA Maxwell launch and will be starting over my charts then!

      • temp_conscious

        Another nice thing would be to highlight the actual card under test to easily spot it within the other ~15 cards in the graph.

  • Veliponteva

    Can any one help me to make my mind.
    I’m on the look out for a new GPU and my system is as follows.
    I7 4770 3.4/3.8Ghz stock cooler
    2x4Gb ribjaw 1600Mhz ram
    Gigabyte z87-hd3 mb
    1x1Tb 7200rpm HDD
    Disc drive
    3x 140mm fans
    650w corsair rm gold certified PSU which at 100%load is supposed to have 89.2% efficiency = 579.8w – just incase 20w =559.8w
    The 290x could have plenty of power when at 80 or 90% load but is there any drawbacks if my PSU can’t supply the peak power usage?

    Powercalculator shows that my setup at 90% usage would need 533w of power and at 100% 586w which’s falls short 7w from the on paper capability of my PSU


    Am i better off going for 780 and have that extra power or pushing my system to it’s limits with the r9?

  • Does anyone know how loud this card gets?

  • Rax

    Ok I’m still new to GPU’s and what is better than what but can anyone tell where exactly the ASUS card beats the Sapphire card? like how does it beat it in terms of performance.

  • darklyspectre

    essentially this card will probably be 699 USD because of the litecoin miners so the money advantage is gone like what happened with the sapphire.

    seriously fucking litecoin sucks as shit.

    I just got a 780 Ti classified since the sapphire was 700 bucks and I don’t mind the 40 extra bucks I paid for a custom PCB made for overclocking. Yes I know currently the standard bioses suck but the custom bios is enabling people to go to like 1400 on air.

    if AMD didn’t stop the third parties from releasing their cards for so long then I would of probably gotten a AMD again. but I was happy with my 680 anyway

  • john

    Aaand it beats the 780ti… sold! Asus direct cu… it also looks like it will leave less waste heat inside the case then the tri-x.

    • roki977 .

      Where did you saw that? I am looking at the charts and 780Ti is faster in most cases, even 780 SW beats it many times. 780Ti is OC monster much more than any 290x and it beats it with ease when both pushed.

      • john

        Let’s see “it beats it most of the time”… at this msrp difference it should beat it hands down not off and on… plus we have yet to see both pushed to the max. As the ti regularly passes the 1ghz limit sometimes to as high as 1080 from some reports so the ti is overclocking itself. Now to the other facts… powerdraw similar… die size 30% less for hawaii… and it also includes an audio dsp on top of that and to top it all up… it supports freesync, amd’s free answer to g-sync that apparently is already a vesa standard and most panel producers support or can upgrade easily to with no aditional hardware… and if rumors are to be believed the 290x doesn’t even have all compute cores active!!

        But wait there is more… this card does better mining an compute in general… uses extremelly cheap memory compared to 780ti…

        Yet it is still MUCH cheaper then 780ti… so yes beating 780ti shouldn’t even be possible…. yet somehow 290x beats or trades blows c4c… this IS impressive by any standard… and beating the ti in synthetics is huge! It shows the yet untaped potential… that’s what makes this card the asus directxu2 290x THE card to buy – at least for me atm

        • mjolnirxz

          well said!

        • amd Sucks

          There is NO freesynch
          780ti is 15-20% faster when both Oc.

          And this was 780ti Ref.card..

        • mtduong96

          Invalid argument
          *There is NO freesynch: Where is the proff
          *780ti is 15-20% faster when both Oc:again where is the proff

        • Justin Shepherd

          Where is the grammar?

  • Anonymous

    Can you guys measure the dimensions of both cards. I want to know if they can fit in my MicroATX case

    • Tantalum

      It states the lengths in the article.

    • 88rolling thunder

      Asus R9 290X DirectcuII – 11.3″ x 5.8″ x 1.6″ (inch)
      Sapphire Tri-X R9 290x – 305mm x 113mm x 38mm (mm Size)

    • Tirda

      Yeah, I’d like to know that too. 305mm length is from metal bracket to the end of cooler, or including DVI connectors? My case (cm 690 II) supports VGA up to 304mm, so I wonder…

  • Jonas

    Please, can you post also the VRM1 and VRM2 temperaturePlease, can you post also the VRM1 and VRM2 temperature in load? Thanks. in load? Thanks.

    • Nathan Kirsch

      Jonas, Certainly will and as soon as we get back from CES that will be updated (Jan 10th).

      • Jonas

        Thanks, and sorry for the garbled question 🙂

        • anono

          did you guys test the temperature of the VRMs yet?

        • Nathan Kirsch

          Sorry guys, the article has been updated and includes new temperature testing results. We had a hardware failure and had to wait on new hardware to re-test!

  • jak3z

    Very good solutions, if I was on the hunt for one I would really pickup the Asus one, better components overall, maybe a bit hotter and louder but way shorter and with more features 🙂