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

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Final Thoughts and Conclusions


The Sapphire Radeon R9 290X Tri-X is a great example of what happens when you slap a gigantic aftermarket cooler on the AMD Radeon R9 290X reference card. The Sapphire Tri-X GPU cooler allowed the card to be overclocked up to 1040MHz and the gaming load temperatures went from 94C to just 71C. This is a massive 23C temperature drop and it just goes to show that the AMD reference cooler really isn’t that good as Sapphire was able to significantly drop the temperatures and run higher core and memory clock speeds. Often AIB companies save money with their custom coolers (although they raise prices on consumers), so it just goes to show that if you are going to get a Radeon R9 290X that you really should get one with a custom cooler. The Sapphire R9 290X Tri-X cooler does an excellent job cooling as the VRM 2 temperature location was 30C cooler on the Sapphire card! As you’ve likely figured out, the Sapphire Radeon R9 290X Tri-X isn’t a fully custom card as it appears that Sapphire just bolted up the GPU cooler to the reference PCB and called it a day.  That might be a bit of a letdown to some, but it means that it will work with most custom water blocks. This is important to note as fully custom cards are often a pain to keep water cool down the road.


The ASUS Radeon R9 290X DirectCU II is a fully custom card from the ground up.  ASUS came up with their own PCB design and used higher quality Super Alloy Power (SAP) components. By doing a custom design ASUS is able to include features that the other brands can’t and ROG Connect, reversed power connectors, and power LED indicator lights are examples of how ASUS is trying to differentiating their card from the dozens of other brands that have Radeon R9 290X cards on the market around the globe. They were also able to shorten the length of the PCB and their DirectCU II cooler isn’t as long as the Tri-X cooler used on the Sapphire card we also looked at today.

You might have noticed that we skipped overclocking and we apologize for that. We were rushing to get out the door for CES 2014 and the AMD Catalyst 13.12 WHQL drivers were fighting us all the way. Every single time we’d overclock either of these cards with Catalyst Control Center (AMD OverDrive) or with the companies’ respective overclocking utilizes we’d get system instability. Basically the system would crash when the card went from 2D to 3D mode and then after it would restart it would do the same thing. We were stuck in a vicious loop as AMD OverDrive was loading up the previous unstable settings and there was no way to disable it. We were going into Windows 7 in safe mode, removing the drivers, going back into windows to re-install the drivers and then we’d end up in the same spot moments later. We’ll attempt to overclock the cards next week when we return and will talk to AMD about the issues we were having.

UPDATE: Both cards were able to overclock to 1200MHz core and 6000MHz (effective) memory, which is very impressive.

So, what about cost? The AMD Radeon R9 290X reference card has an original suggest retail price of $549, but many retailers are asking for far more than that. The AMD Hawaii based video cards are priced sky high right now due what many think is the fact that Litecoin miners are paying whatever the cost to get high-end cards for their mining machines. This is bad news for AMD gamers as it has increased the price of some of the higher-end cards.

For example, Newegg has the Sapphire Radeon R9 290X reference card with BF4 for $629.99 plus $8.50 shipping.  If you want to step-up to the custom cooled and overclocked Sapphire Radeon R9 290X Tri-X you’ll have to fork over $699.99 plus $5.92 shipping. So, you lose what is arguably a good game title and have to spend $70 extra bucks to get essentially get a better GPU cooler. That stings a bit and you can pick up an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Ti 3GB video card with a game bundle for $699 as well. Usually a ‘custom’ card like this is $10-$20 more, but not today! Sapphire informed us that the R9 290X/290 Tri-X video card models were released at an MSRP of $50 over the reference models and that they can not control what the retailers charge. The ASUS Radeon R9 290X DirectCU II is not out yet, but we are told that it should be available late next week for a suggested retail price of $569.99.  Keep in mind that ASUS does not control what the retail sites and stores charge and we are sure that they are going to mark this card way up like they did with the Sapphire model. It makes it tough to suggest buying one of these cards for gaming when there is such a high markup on them right now. It should be noted that the Sapphire Radeon R9 290X Tri-X has a 2-year warranty and the ASUS Radeon R9 290X DirectCU II has a longer 3-year warranty.


At the end of the day both of these ‘custom’ cards feature way better cooling than the AMD Radeon R9 290X reference card. With either of these cards you don’t have to worry about the clock frequency being throttled in certain scenarios and that is really good news.  We’ve showed in the past that when the case temperature goes up that AMD PowerTune technology will throttle the core clock back and that hurts performance in order to maintain 94C. With these cards you are running well below 94C, so the average clock speeds will be the rated clock speeds when you are gaming.  Improving the GPU really helps and makes the number one issue that people have with this video card for the most part a non-issue! If you can find a custom cooled Radeon R9 290X video card for around the suggested retail price we’d easily recommend it.

LR Recommended Award

Legit Bottom Line: The ASUS Radeon R9 290X DirectCU II and Sapphire Radeon R9 290X Tri-X are both solid video cards that run cool and have great performance thanks to their factory overclocks.

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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 🙂