Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290 Overclock Edition
The Radeon R9 290 GPU came out in November 2013, making it almost 6 months old, and while it isn't the top of the line model it still has some impressive specifications. Powered by a single 28nm AMD Hawaii GPU, it features 2560 Stream processors running at 947MHz, and 4GB of GDDR5 memory clocked at 5000MHz. Sapphire has taken those specifications and boosted them a little with their Overclocked edition. The Stream processors are running at 1030MHz, and the 4GB GDDR5 memory has been clocked to 5600MHz. Sapphire doesn't stop there, they have also added their Tri-X Cooling which features three fans rather than the standard two fans, and their Vapor-X technology to their Vapor-X R9 290 Overclocked which is currently available as part number 11227-04-40G for $499.99 shipped; a 2 year warranty is included at that price.
The front of the Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290 has three 90mm fans on the front of the card, with 9 blades on each fan. The fan shroud is black and blue which really makes the card stand out. On the fan shroud there are channels which will help the air to flow out the back of the case rather than into the case. The overall dimensions of the Vapor-X R9 290 is 12 x 4.5 x 1.85 inches (L x W x H), making this a rather long card. In addition, the thickness of the card at 1.85 inches will require the user of 2.5 PCI-E slots rather than just taking up 2.
Taking a look at the top edge of the video card there are several interesting features. On the far left side there is a little Sapphire logo button that switches between the Legacy and UEFI BIOS support; it ships in Legacy BIOS mode. Pressing the button activates the UEFI BIOS, providing support for Secure Boot and a faster boot time through UEFI. The button lights up in blue in UEFI mode. Looking beyond the button, we can see the large heatsink cooling fins used to cool the GPU, there are five heatpipes being used to distribute the heat, a large 10mm, two 8mm and two 6mm. On the far right are the power connectors and the Sapphire logo, which lights up in three colors to indicate the temperature.
The power requirements of the Vapor-X 290 OC is for a 750W power supply. This power is transferred to the card by two 8-pin PCI-E power connectors. The Sapphire logo can be seen here, when it lights up, the color indicates the temperature of the card, Blue (0 to 60C), Yellow (60 to 80C) and Red (80C or higher). This has a tolerance of +/- 5C, so it is just a helpful way of getting an idea of the temperature, utilizing other tools is required to get a more accurate temperature. Where the back heat shield meets the PCB there is some thermal sealant coming out the top of the card, while not a major issue it can get a little messy for those that are extremely particular.
At the end of the card we have the usual display connectors; two dual-link DVI-D, HDMI, and DisplayPort 1.2. The DVI-D connectors support a resolution up to 2560x1600, while the HDMI and DisplayPort supports 4096x2160. In addition, the HDMI and DisplayPort connectors will provide a 7.1 lossless audio stream, and 3D support. Finally, the DP connector supports Multi-Stream, allowing the user to connect up to four monitors from the single DP 1.2 connector.
The back of the video card is pretty plain since it is covered by the Vapor-X heat shield. Other than the top edge, this is probably the side the most users will see, even if it wasn't the Vapor-X model, this is a great way to finish a high end video card giving it a sleek backplate.
On the back of the card is a tiny switch that controls the integrated fan controller. When the switch is set to off, all three fans operate under the same speed; however, when it is in the on position, the outside fans will only run when the GPU temperature is over 60C. This reduces the noise level created by the three fans.
Features and Specifications:
SAPPHIRE’s innovative Vapor-X cooling technology allows products to run not only cooler but also much quieter. A Vapor-X product means a virtually silent gaming experience and more headroom to explore performance tweaking!
Dual BIOS (Legacy and UEFI) Support
This product supports both Legacy and UEFI BIOS. By factory default, the card itself is under Legacy mode. By pressing the button with SAPPHIRE logo, UEFI mode will be easily enabled.
|Display Support||supports up to 3 display monitor(s) without DisplayPort
4 x Maximum Display Monitor(s) support
|Output||1 x HDMI (with 3D)
1 x DisplayPort 1.2
2 x Dual-Link DVI-D
|GPU||1030 MHz Core Clock
28 nm Chip
2560 x Stream Processors
|Video Memory||4096 MB Size
512 -bit GDDR5
5600 MHz Effective
|Dimension||305(L)X 114(W)X 47(H) mm Size.
2.5 x slot
SAPPHIRE TriXX Utility
|Accessory||8-PIN to 4 PIN x2 Power Cable
HDMI 1.4a high speed 1.8 meter cable(Full Retail SKU only)
|Warranty||2 year warranty|
Let's take a quick look at the retail packaging and accessories before starting some benchmarks.
Sapphire R9 290 Vapor-X OC Retail Box and Bundle
The front of the Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290 shows off the key features of the video card. These features include a factory Overclock, 4GB of GDDR5, Vapor-X cooler, Tri-X Cooling Technology, two ball bearing fans. In addition, being an R9 series card, it also has the GCN architecture supporting TrueAudio and Mantle.
The back of the box goes into much more detail on what the Vapor-X R9 290 has to offer. It provides a short paragraph on each of the major features so there will be little doubt what you can expect from the card. From a consumer standpoint, what would be nice, is a small chart that shows the performance difference over a few similar graphics cards such as the 280x and 290x.
Taking the inner box out, we can open it and see the card; which is well protected in a form fitted foam block and an anti-static bubble bag. A thin layer of foam sheeting protects the top of the card while the lid is closed.
Most video cards include various accessories, Sapphire includes the standard driver disc, a multi-language user manual and marketing materials. They also include two 4-pin Molex to PCI-E adapters, an HDMI cable and a Sapphire mouse pad.
Before jumping into doing some benchmarks, let's take a look at the test system. All testing was done with a fresh install of Windows 8.1 Pro x64 with no additional software running. All benchmarks are run five times with the results averaged. Each of the benchmarks will be run with pre-configured settings at 1920x1080 resolution. In addition, the same benchmarks will be run in an Eyefinity configuration with three 27" screens for a maximum resolution of 5760x1080.
Intel Z77/LGA1155 Platform
|The Intel Z77 Test System|
|Processor||Intel Core i5-3570K||Click Here|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte Z77X-UP5-TH||Click Here|
|Memory||16GB Kingston Blue 1866MHz||Click Here|
|SSD||Intel 520series 180GB||Click Here|
|Hard Drive||Western Digital 3TB Red||Click Here|
|Cooling||Phanteks PH-TC12DX||Click Here|
|Power Supply||Thermaltake M850W||Click Here|
|Operating System||Windows 8.1 Pro 64-Bit||Click Here|
Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290 OC GPU-Z Information
All testing will be done using the AMD Catalyst 14.3 driver that is currently in beta.
Batman: Arkham Origins
If Batman Arkham Origins is one of your favorite games, you'll see a huge boost in performance with the Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290. The Average FPS in the integrated benchmark skyrocketed to 172FPS during the 1080p test.
Losing about 50% in performance, the Sapphire R9 290 still received an average of 82FPS in Eyefinity mode, which took the base resolution from 1920x1080 to 5760x1080.
Benchmark Results: In a single 1080p monitor configuration or Eyefinity mode at 5760x1080, the Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290 received high scores and will be very playable at any graphic settings.
While Battlefield 4 did not receive as huge of a boost in performance that Batman Arkham Origins did, it still received a 73% boost over the R7950. The average FPS came in at 111.467 which will make for a very smooth game session.
At 5760x1080, Battlefield 4 still received a significant boost over the R7950, coming in at 51.65FPS, which comes to 54.5% boost over the R7950.
Benchmark Results: Battlefield 4 is no challenge for the Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290, coming in at 111.467FPS at 1080p and 51.65FPS at 5760x1080.
An average FPS of 118.92 will be a very playable game session. Bioshock Infinite does not appear to have very significant graphics requirements as all the cards tested received good average FPS.
In Eyefinity mode running 5760x1080, the performance of the Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290 drops from 118.92FPS to 53.11FPS, which is a significant drop in performance but is still very playable.
Benchmark Results: Bioshock Infinity is very playable at 1080p, receiving 118.92FPS, that is dramatically dropped at 5760x1080 down to 53.11. While the drop in performance is significant, 53.11FPS is still very playable.
Crysis is well know for being highly graphic intensive, previously it was run at Medium settings to make it playable on lower end cards as they have problems running at maximum settings.
Crysis 3 has finally broken the 50FPS mark at Medium settings with the Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290. Receiving an average FPS of 55.4, it is evident that we can increase the graphics quality with the Sapphire card.
For the Eyefinity test, we went ahead and increased the graphics quality to Very High to see how it would do. At 5760x1080, the Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290 got an average FPS of 15.167 which is really too low to play regularly, but it sure did make Crysis 3 great to look at.
Benchmark Results: At Medium settings, Crysis 3 was very playable with 55.4FPS when run at 1080p. In the Eyefinity configuration of 5760x1080 we increased the graphics quality to Very High, which dropped the FPS to 15.167 and proved to be too much for the Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290; which really isn't a huge surprise.
Thief is a stealth based game, where the main character is a master thief in a medeival world. This is the fourth game in the Thief series developed by Eidos, which was released in late February 2014. It is the second game to support AMD Mantle and the first to support AMD's TrueAudio.
As we have been running two benchmarks per game, we will run Thief at Normal graphic settings at the 1920x1080 resolution and will evaluate both DirectX and Mantle performance.
Only by enabling Mantle on the 260X can it do any better than the DirectX API on the Sapphire R9 290. Of course, since the Vapor-X R9 290 can also utilize Mantle, once that's enabled, it once again takes the lead. Just by enabling Mantle, the R9 290 received a 76% performance boost, that's a heck of a boost by enabling a graphics API.
Running the R7950 at Eyefinity 5760x1080 and very high graphics, it was nearly unplayable with a FPS of 23.3. However, the R9 290 was able to keep up in both DirectX and Mantle API at the high resolution of Eyefinity.
Benchmark Results: The Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290 performs very well within Thief, as we would expect. Even pushing it to 5760x1080 at Very High graphics, it still had a very reasonable framerate for a smooth gameplay.
3DMark has been a standard graphics benchmark for many years, while it includes three benchmarks, we will be focusing on Fire Strike, which is the most demanding benchmark within the 3DMark suite. Fire Strike is a DirectX 11 test that renders detailed graphics in real time, making it the best one to use when testing a gaming system.
As you might expect, the Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290 comes out with the highest score, surpassing the R7950 by 53%.
Even in Eyefinity mode, running at 5760x1080 the R9 290 has 55% better performance over the R7950.
Benchmark Results: While the R7950 might be a couple years old, there are still many users out there using it. This shows that the R9 290 is a great option if the time has come for an upgrade. Receiving just over a 50% boost in performance isn't too bad of an upgrade.
Unigine Heaven 4.0
The Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290 received an average 52.7 FPS when ran at 1080p. This is a 22.1 FPS faster than the R7950, a nearly 72% performance increase in the Heaven benchmark.
Overall score for Heaven reflects the huge performance boost over the R7950, with another 72% performance increase.
While at 1080p the difference was 72%, at 5760x1080 (in Eyefinity mode), the difference between the R7950 and the R9 290 shrunk to 32%.
Once again the FPS difference is reflected in the Overall score for the Heaven benchmark with a 32.6% difference in performance.
Benchmark Results: Heaven showed a huge difference in performance for with the R9 290 when we compared it to the R7950. At 1080p a 72% performance difference, while in Eyefinity mode (5760x1080) it was a 32% performance increase. Either way, Heaven shows that the Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290 is a worthy upgrade if you are running a R7950 or below.
Temperature and Noise Testing
All testing is done in a temperature controlled environment, which is maintained at 17C (63F).
Allowing the Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290 sit at the desktop with no applications running for 30 minutes, the idle temperature was 45C with all three fans running at their default speeds (20% speed).
|Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290 IFC|
|Turned On (one fan)||51C|
|Turned Off (three fans)||45C|
|Difference between On/Off||6C|
When the Sapphire IFC is turned on, two of the fans shut down when they are not necessary. This changes the idle temperature from 45C to 51C. Not a huge change when sitting idle or under a light workload.
Once the card is put under a heavy load and reaches 100% utilization, Crysis 3 was run continuously for 30 minutes to allow the card to heat up. At the end of the gaming session, while the card was still under a full load, the temperature reached 72C. The VRM Temperatures reached 60C and did not go any higher.
While we were testing the temperatures, we kept an eye on the Sapphire temperature logo for when it switched from Blue to Yellow, this happened right at 61C, which is when Sapphire says that it should change. As the temperature never got above 80C we did not see the temperature go from Yellow to Red.
Sound Level Testing
To test the noise level, we used an Extech sound level meter that has a +/- 1.5dB accuracy. Using the "Low" measurement, it can measure noise between 35dB and 90dB. The sound meter was placed 12 inches from the side panel (which has been removed for this testing), and a wind cover on the sensor. With an ambient sound level of 35.6 the sound level of the Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290 was evaluated with the IFC on and off, and during different fan speeds, which was adjusted by Sapphire TriXX.
While the chart shows that the Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290 does produce a noticeable noise increase, it should be noted that during our testing, the fans did not go above 40% when conducting load tests. If it does go over 50%, you will be able to hear the fans spin up; thankfully it isn't a loud whine, rather a dull hum.
To test the power consumption of the Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290, the test system was plugged into a Kill-A-Watt power meter. For the idle conditions, the system was allowed to sit at the desktop for 30 minutes with no software running. For the load conditions, Crysis 3 was played for 30 minutes in Eyefinity mode (5760x1080) and the peak power reading was recorded.
After the testing was finished, I decided to try the GPU on a slightly less powerful power supply; seeing as the entire system maxed out at 429W when it was overclocked. A Lepa 650W power supply was installed, and a few benchmarks were re-done. No noticeable impact to the performance when running below the required amount. This goes to show that manufacturers are still inflating their requirements, having a quality power supply is still very important.
Power Consumption Results: The system idled at 109 Watts, without overclocking, the system pulled 356 Watts at the wall during a 60 minute gaming session of Crysis 3. Sapphire states that a 750W power supply is recommended for the video card, which is overkill in my opinion; not a bad idea though.
Sapphire R9 290 Vapor-X OC Further Overclocking
There are many tools available that allow overclocking the GPU, Sapphire has their own tool called TriXX. This tool lets us know what is going on with the GPU and an easy way to overclock or adjust fan speeds. The overclocking tab is laid out so we know what can be adjusted and is a great way to know exactly what is going to happen. The GPU clock and Memory Clock was slowly increased, while Heaven 4.0 was run to verify stability.
The Sapphire TriXX Info tab shows us a good amount of information that includes the Catalyst driver version and current GPU BIOS, if you regularly use GPU-Z, it provides more information than TriXX, however that's not what TriXX is necessarily focused on.
TriXX main focus is the Overclocking and Fan Control capabilities. Taking a quick look at the TriXX Overclocking tab, it shows the operating speed of the GPU clock and Memory clock meets the specifications; not that we expected anything different.
While the GPU clock speed was perfectly stable and glitch free at 1135MHz, it was able to go higher. Heaven 4.0 successfully completed a run through as high as 1185MHz with a memory clock of 1555MHz; successfully completed but not glitch free. The VDDC Offset could be adjusted higher, 100 seemed to be the biggest factor in stability, anything higher than 100 did not improve overclocking. In addition, as speeds were increased over 1135MHz, the benefit got smaller, and around 1170MHz I started to receive a negative impact to the performance. Between 1135MHz and 1160MHz Heaven received around 2FPS boost for that 25MHz boost with many graphic glitches.
Taking a look at the 3DMark results, we can see the overall score went from 8709 to 9473, since only the GPU settings were adjusted, the difference is directly related to the overclocking. Going a little deeper, the graphics score went from 10585 to 11685, which is around 10.4% performance boost.
For Heaven, the overall score at base clock speeds was 1329, while the overclock score came in at 1451, a 9.2% performance increase. The average FPS was 52.7, and now it is 57.6 a 9.3% difference.
While performing overclocked benchmarks, GPU-Z was used to monitor the various sensors. Here we can see that while the GPU was running at 100% for a length of time, the temperature reached a maximum temperature of 72C, which was the same maximum temperature as the stock settings and the three fans only reached 40% of their speed.
Benchmark Results: Going from a GPU clock speed of 1030MHz to 1135MHz, a 10.1% increase in clock speed, provided significant performance increases in the synthetic benchmarks Heaven and 3DMark which both received around 10% performance boost as well. The Sapphire TriXX software makes overclocking easy and should not be skipped by anybody wanting to get the most out of their system.
Final Thoughts and Conclusions
The Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290 is factory overclocked from the reference configuration of 947MHz to 1030MHz which will help it perform better than reference R9 290's. However, the overclocking doesn't stop there, we were able to get an additional 10% performance by doing a very simple overclock using Sapphire TriXX software. With an overclock of 1135MHz it appears to perform closer to a stock 290X but for less money. In addition, while the 10% overclock isn't bad, it could technically be overclocked more (up to 1185MHz), however with greatly diminishing returns and severe graphic glitches.
The cooling solution on the Vapor-X R9 290 is very efficient, during our testing the room was kept cool, and the card did not overheat, reaching a maximum temperature of 73C and VRM temperature of 60C; both temperatures are really good for being pushed to 100% utilization for over 30 minutes. Of course at that temperature, the fans were running at 40% speed, and could easily be recognized above the other components in the system, but the fans did their job, along with the Vapor-X system, and kept the card cool.
While the benchmarks do not include any other current enthusiast grade video card and the R7950 is a couple of years old, it does show the difference in performance that an upgrade might provide. When it was released the R7950 was a rather expensive graphics card and would have been priced around the same as the R9 290. For those that have stuck with a card for a couple of years, now is the time to consider an upgrade.
As for the power requirements, Sapphire recommends a 750W power supply, however in monitoring power usage, the entire test system pulled less than 400W at the factory overclock, and less than 450W with further overclocking. Just make sure whatever power supply you are using is a good quality unit with a strong 12V PCI-E rails, and you should be just fine.
The Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290 Overclocked edition graphics card is available under part number 11227-04-40G for $499.99 shipped, with a 2 year warranty. At that price, it is one of the more expensive R9 290's on the market (but certainly not the most expensive). It can be worth the extra money with the factory overclock settings, potential for huge boost in performance through additional overclocking and the Sapphire cooling features. In a temperature controlled environment, the card never got above 73C, so overheating and throttling doesn't appear to be a huge concern on this custom card.
Legit Bottom Line: The Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290 graphics card looks great with the Tri-XX fans and Vapor-X cooling solution, it would be a great option to those wanting to get a modern enthusiast level graphics card for under $500.