Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC with AERO 10 VRM
The Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC is one of the most recent AMD Radeon R9 290X video cards to come to market. The Radeon R9 290X became the flagship single-GPU card for AMD nearly 8 months ago (released in October 2013) and it has been a popular card for both gamers and Litecoin miners. While the Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC was arguably late to market, it might very well be one of the best Radeon R9 290X video cards due to the custom Vapor-X/Tri-X GPU cooler, 10-phase power design and one of the highest factory overclocks that we have seen on any Radeon R9 290X 4GB graphics cards. Sapphire's Radeon R9 290X Vapor-X OC 4GB graphics card is sold under part number 100361VXSR for $629.99 shipped with a 2-year warranty.
How high is the 290X Vapor-X OC overclocked? The 2816 Stream Processors of the 28nm GCN Hawaii GPU are running at 1080MHz and the 4GB of Hynix GDDR5 memory is running at 1410MHz (5640MHz effective). Those are pretty aggressive speeds for a factory overclock, but Sapphire has the GPU cooler and power design to make these clock speeds a reality. The AMD Radeon R9 290X reference card is clocked at 1000MHz core and 1250MHz memory (5000MHz effective).
For example you when you flip the Vapor-X 290 OC video card over you’ll first notice the nice metal backplate, but then you’ll notice the 10-phase power for the new Aero10 VRM power arrangement. The 290X Vapor-X OC uses digital power control along with Aero 10 VRM to deliver 10-phase power with high power Direct-FET technology to the GPU, memory and control circuitry. Sapphire also used solid electrolyte capacitors, Sapphire Black Diamond Chokes and other ‘tough’ components for the power delivery system to ensure the Vapor-X 290X will be able survive years of gaming or mining.
The Vapor-X cooler has been around for years and it doesn’t look like Sapphire will be moving away from vapor chamber technology anytime soon. The Vapor-X cooler sits atop the GPU and then the R9 290X Vapor-X is topped off with the Tri-X structure. The Sapphire Tri-X structure on this card has five heatpipes and three 90mm dust resistant fans with aerofoil blades. There are two 6mm, two 8mm and one 100mm heatpipe being used to better dissipate heat to the aluminum cooling fan arrays in the Tri-X structure! Sapphire doesn’t say how much cooler than the AMD Radeon R9 290X reference card this design is, but they did note that the Vapor Chamber helps drop the temperature 5-10C cooler than without it.
One of the new features on the Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC that is fairly innovative is the use of a PCB Component heat spreader. In an attempt to help lower VRM, GPU and other component temperatures on this card the designers extended the PCB upwards to improve the cooling potential. Basically the designers left one of the copper layers exposed in this section that has no electrical trace routes for a heatsink to be directly mounted to it. Sapphire says that this extra exposed copper area on the PCB and associated heatspreader can reduce the GPU core temperature by several degrees.
One other interesting design feature that Sapphire is incorporating on the Vapor-X series cards from now on is Intelligent Fan Control (IFC). When IFC is enabled only the middle 90mm fan will operate and the two outer fans will stop spinning. This is done mainly to reduce noise and to a lesser extent save on some idle power. So, when you are running 2D clock speeds just one fan spins and then when you hit after you hit 3D clock speeds for a couple seconds all three fans will kick in to keep the card cool under heavy loads. There is an IFC override on/off switch located at the end of card that can be used to disable this feature if a user deems it not necessary.
Will it fit? The Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC measures in 11.75-inches in length with the PCB itself measuring 11-inches in length. The thickness of the R9 290X Vapor-X OC is about 1.85 inches that means it will require the use of three PCI-E slots rather than just taking up two.
When it comes to display outputs the design team left it untouched and went with the standard AMD connections. This means you have a pair of Dual-Link DVI-D, HDMI 1.4a and DisplayPort 1.2 outputs. The DVI outputs support screen resolutions up to 2560x1600 and the DP and HDMI ports support screen resolutions up to 4096x2160. There is a high-flow hot air exhaust bracket, but not much air is exhausted out of a case since the GPU coolers aluminum cooling fins are arranged vertically and not horizontally.
The Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X has a dual BIOS design like the AMD Radeon R9 290X reference design, although Sapphire did away with the tiny hard to use dip switch and placed a nice large button style switch for your use. One BIOS is designed for compatibility and the other is for use on legacy based systems. The card comes in legacy mode, but by pressing the button down with SAPPHIRE logo, UEFI mode is enabled.
The Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC features two 8-pin PCIe power connectors and Sapphire recommends using an 750 Watt or larger power supply for proper operation with one card. Multiple cards can be used for an AMD CrossFire setup and no bridge or interconnect is needed on this card series. If you get a second, third or fourth card you can just enable CrossFire in AMD's Catalyst Control Center and go about your day.
One cool thing about LED illuminated Sapphire logo that is changes colors based on the temperature of the GPU. The logo is supposed to change from blue when cool then yellow as it gets warm and then red when it is hotter than crap. The good news is that during our testing we never were able to get the card over 70C and the logo was yellow when gaming. You won’t see us complaining about not getting it to red! We later found out the temperature ranges for each color: Blue (0 to 60C), Yellow (60 to 80C) and Red (80C or higher). The tolerance for the changing LED colors is +/- 5C, so this will give you a rough idea of the GPU temperatures without needing additional software if you have a case window that allows you to see your card.
Let's take a look at the retail box or accessory bundle before we move along to benchmarking!
Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X Retail Box and Bundle
The retail packaging for the Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290X OC lists 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.
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 PCIe power adapters, HDMI cable and a small Sapphire mouse pad.
You basically have everything you need right here to get this card in your system and gaming in several minutes.
Before we look at the numbers, let's take a brief look at the test system that was used. All testing was done using a fresh install of Windows 8 Pro 64-bit and benchmarks were completed on the desktop with no other software programs running. It should be noted that we average all of our test runs. There has been some concern of people testing a cold card versus a hot card, but we've always done out testing 'hot' since the site started back more than a decade ago.
Video Cards & Drivers used for testing:
- NVIDIA GeForce 335.23
- AMD CATALYST 14.4
Intel X79/LGA2011 Platform
The Intel X79 platform that we used to test the all of the video cards was running the ASUS P9X79-E WS motherboard with BIOS 1501 that came out on 01/15/2014. We went with the Intel Core i7-4960X Ivy Bridge-E processor to power this platform as it is PCIe 3.0 certified, so all graphics cards are tested with PCI Express Gen 3 enabled. The Kingston HyperX 10th Anniversary 16GB 2400MHz quad channel memory kit was set to XMP Profile #2. This profile defaults to 2133MHz with 1.65v and 11-12-12-30 1T memory timings. The OCZ Vertex 460 240GB SSD was run with latest firmware available. A Corsair AX860i digital power supply provides clean power to the system and is also silent as the fan hardly ever spins up. This is critical to our testing as it lowers the ambient noise level of the room and gives us more accurate sound measurements than the old Corsair AX1200 power supply that we used from 2012 till this year that had a loud fan that always ran.
Here are the exact hardware components that we are using on our test system:
|The Intel X79 Test Platform|
Intel Core i7-4960X
ASUS P9X79-E WS
16GB Kingston 2133MHz
OCZ Vertex 460 240GB
Intel TS13X (Asetek)
Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit
Sharp PN-K321 32" 4K
XFX Double D Radeon R9 290 4GB Video Card GPU-Z Info:
Batman: Arkham Origins
Batman: Arkham Origins is an action-adventure video game developed by Warner Bros. Games Montréal. Based on the DC Comics superhero Batman, it follows the 2011 video game Batman: Arkham City and is the third main installment in the Batman: Arkham series. It was released worldwide on October 25, 2013.
For testing we used DirectX11 Enhanced, FXAA High Anti-Aliasing and with all the bells and whistles turned on. It should be noted that V-Sync was turned off and that NVIDIA's PhysX software engine was also disabled to ensure both the AMD and NVIDIA graphics cards were rendering the same objects. We manually ran FRAPS on the single player game instead of using the built-in benchmark to be as real world as we possibly could. We ran FRAPS in the Bat Cave, which was one of the only locations that we could easily run FRAPS for a couple minutes and get it somewhat repeatable.
The CPU usage for Batman: Arkham Origins was surprising low with just 10% of the Intel Core i7-4960X being used by this particular game title. You can see that the bulk of the work is being done by one CPU core.
Benchmark Results: The PowerColor PCS+ Radeon R9 290X was ~15% faster than the XFX Double Dissipation Radeon R9 290 on our 4K panel at 3840x2160, but the Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC was 20% faster! That said the ASUS Poseidon GTX 780 was still about 8% faster than the Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC.
Benchmark Results: When you look at performance over time, the Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X never dropped started out at 40 FPS and never dropped below that threshold during the benchmark run on our Ultra HD (3840x2160) test setup.
Battlefield 4 is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE) and published by Electronic Arts. It is a sequel to 2011's Battlefield 3 and was released on October 29, 2013 in North America. Battlefield 4's single-player Campaign takes place in 2020, six years after the events of its predecessor. Tensions between Russia and the United States have beem running at a record high. On top of this, China is also on the brink of war, as Admiral Chang, the main antagonist, plans to overthrow China's current government; and, if successful, the Russians will have full support from the Chinese, bringing China into a war with the United States.
This game title uses the Frostbite 3 game engine and looks great. We tested Battlefield 4 with the Ultra graphics quality preset as most discrete desktop graphics cards can easily play with this IQ setting at 1080P and we still want to be able to push the higher-end cards down the road. We used FRAPS to benchmark each card with these settings on the Shanghai level.
Battlefield 4 is more CPU intensive than any other game that we benchmark with as 25% of the CPU is used up during gameplay. You can see that six threads are being used and that the processor is running in Turbo mode at 3.96GHz more times than not.
Benchmark Results: In Battlefield 4 with Ultra settings at 3840x2160 we were able to average 30.07 FPS on the Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X. This is about half a FPS faster than the rival PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 and roughly 3FPS ahead of the factory overclocked ASUS Poseidon GTX 780 graphics card.
Benchmark Results: The Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC ran BF4 pretty smoothly with these settings and if you reduce the image quality just slightly you'll be able to get above 30 FPS most of the time at 3840x2160. We dropped down to nearly 20 FPS in a couple spots during our gameplay and we could feel a bit of sluggishness at some specific parts in the game with these settings.
Like the others, it is a first-person shooter developed by Crytek, using their CryEngine 3. Released in February 2013, it is well known to make even powerful system choke. It has probably the highest graphics requirements of any game available today. Unfortunately, Crytek didn’t include a standardized benchmark with Crysis 3. While the enemies will move about on their own, we will attempt to keep the same testing process for each test.
Crysis 3 has a reputation for being highly resource intensive. Most graphics cards will have problems running Crysis 3 at maximum settings, so we settled on no AA with the graphics quality mostly set to Very High with 16x AF. We disabled v-sync and left the motion blur amount on medium.
Crysis 3 appeared to run for the most part on just 3 CPU threads and used up about 15-18% of our Intel Core i7-4960X processor with these settings. Notice that the processor speed was at 3.53GHz and we very seldom, if ever, saw the processor go into turbo mode on Crysis 3.
Benchmark Results: The Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X averaged 21.03 FPS on Cysis 3 with these aggressive settings on the 4K display, which was just barely slower than the overclocked NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Ti card by Gigabyte!
Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3 is an open world first-person shooter video game developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft for Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It is the sequel to 2008's Far Cry 2. The game was released on December 4th, 2012 for North America. Far Cry 3 is set on a tropical island found somewhere at the intersection of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. After a vacation goes awry, player character Jason Brody has to save his kidnapped friends and escape from the islands and their unhinged inhabitants.
Far Cry 3 uses the Dunia Engine 2 game engine with Havok physics. The graphics are excellent and the game really pushes the limits of what one can expect from mainstream graphics cards. We set game title to 2x MSAA Anti-Aliasing and ultra quality settings.
Far Cry 3 appears to be like most of the other games we are using to test video cards and uses up about 20% of the processor and is running on multiple cores.
Benchmark Results: The Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC averaged 26.16 FPS while the PowerColor PCS+ Radeon R9 290X averaged 24.14 FPS in FarCry 3. The two cards have a very similar framerate, but the 30MHz higher core clock speed and 60MHz higher memory clock speeds give the Sapphire card just enough horsepower to put it in the lead.
Benchmark Results: Some small variations here and there, but no big frame drops on any of the cards to report back about. The R9 290X Vapor-X was almost able to stay above 25FPS during our entire benchmark run.
Metro Last Light
Metro: Last Light is a first-person shooter video game developed by Ukrainian studio 4A Games and published by Deep Silver. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic world and features action-oriented gameplay with a combination of survival horror elements. It uses the 4A Game engine and was released in May 2013.
Metro: Last Light was benchmarked with very high image quality settings with the SSAA set to off and 4x AF. These settings are tough for entry level discrete graphics cards, but are more than playable on high-end gaming graphics cards. We benchmarked this game title on the Theater level.
We again found around 20% CPU usage on Metro: Last Light.
Benchmark Results: In Metro: Last Light the Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC averaged of 38.3 FPS versus the 36.84 FPS of the PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X and the 35.5 FPS of the ASUS Poseidon.
Benchmark Results: No big performance dips or spikes that are out of the ordinary here! We were happy to see the Vapor-X 290X stay above 30FPS for the entire benchmark run!
Thief is a series of stealth video games in which the player takes the role of Garrett, a master thief in a fantasy/steampunk world resembling a cross between the Late Middle Ages and the Victorian era, with more advanced technologies interspersed. Thief is the fourth title in the Thief series, developed by Eidos Montreal and published by Square Enix on February 25, 2014.
We ran Thief with the image quality settings set at normal with VSYNC disabled.
Thief appears to be running on the six physical cores of the Intel Core i7-4960X processor and averages around 17-24% CPU usage from what we were able to tell from the CPU utilization meter that is built into the Windows 8.1 task manager.
Benchmark Results: The Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X came in with an average benchmark run of 44.41 FPS on Thief. The PowerColor PCS+ Radeon R9 290X averaged 42.34 FPS and the XFX Double Dissipitation R9 290 came in at 38.20. These results are with normal image quality settings. Not bad performance on a game title that came out in Q1 2014.
Benchmark Results: The performance over time chart showed that the 290X Vapor-X video card never dipped below 30FPS during the benchmark run.
3Dmark Fire Strike Benchmark Results - For high performance gaming PCs
Use Fire Strike to test the performance of dedicated gaming PCs, or use the Fire Strike Extreme preset for high-end systems with multiple GPUs. Fire Strike uses a multi-threaded DirectX 11 engine to test DirectX 11 hardware.
Fire Strike Benchmark Results:
Benchmark Results: The 3DMark Fire Strike benchmark had the XFX Double D Radeon R9 290 4GB video card coming in 8,969 with the ASUS Poseidon GTX 780 scoring 9,181, the PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X scoring 10,053 and the Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X at 10,318. Not too much separates the two 290X cards, but the Sapphire card is a bit faster.
Temperature & Noise Testing
Temperatures are important to enthusiasts and gamers, so we took a bit of time and did some temperature testing on the Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC video card.
Sapphire Radeon R9 290X Vapor-X OC 4GB Temps:
At idle we found the GPU core temperature was 37C, which is a bit higher than we are used to seeing. The Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X is designed to run with just one fan at idle, so it appears that the idle temperature is a bit warmer due to that fact. 37C isn't really hot and more importantly VRM1 and VRM2 temperatures are really low at idle, VRM1 was 26C and VRM2 was 33C GPU-Z shows the Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC video card had an GPU voltage of 0.984V at idle.
When gaming we hit 69C, which is awesome for an AMD Radeon R9 290X graphics card! There was just a 32C rise in temperature from idle and the fan speed went from 20% to 42%. GPU-Z shows that the core voltage jumped up 1.250V when at full load. The GPU cooling performance of the Vapor-X cooling solution was solid and the VRM temperatures were very good. VRM1 was just 62C and VRM2 was at 60C. The Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC has a well designed GPU cooler on it that keeps both the GPU core and VRM components nice and cool.
We test noise levels with an Extech sound level meter that has ±1.5dB accuracy that meets Type 2 standards. This meter ranges from 35dB to 90dB on the low measurement range, which is perfect for us as our test room usually averages around 36dB. We measure the sound level two inches above the corner of the motherboard with 'A' frequency weighting. The microphone wind cover is used to make sure no wind is blowing across the microphone, which would seriously throw off the data.
The Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X 4GB was one of the quietest cards that we have tested in some time with a reading of 38.8 dB at idle and just 47.1dB at load. The only card that was quieter at load was the XFX DD R9 290 and that card had severe overheating issues due to the fans spinning so slowly!
For testing power consumption, we took our test system and plugged it into a Kill-A-Watt power meter. For idle numbers, we allowed the system to idle on the desktop for 15 minutes and took the reading. For load numbers we ran Battlefield 4 at 3840x2160 and recorded the average idle reading and the peak gaming reading on the power meter.
Power Consumption Results: The system with the Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC 4GB installed our system used 118 Watts and idle and 478 Watts when gaming. These results are very similar to the PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X video card, which is correct as both have the similar specs and the core voltage is the same at idle and within 0.025V at load.
Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC GPU Overclocking
How well does the Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC 4GB graphics card overclock? We were wondering the same thing and fired up the Sapphire TRIXX v4.8.2 overclocking utility to find out!
We left the VDDC offset at 25 and increased the GPU clock, memory clock and power limits to improve performance.
The Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290X out of the box with the latest Catalyst 14.4 drivers scored 10,318 points in 3DMark Fire Strike.
After our overclock we were able to get a score of 10,879 3DMarks. This is 5.4% performance improvement and shows that despite the fact this card is factory overclocked that there is still some more headroom available for end user overclocking. If you wanted to increase the voltages (VDDC Offset) there is likely more performance to be had, but we didn't want to damage the loaner test card.
Final Thoughts and Conclusions
The Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC 4GB graphics card is a very balanced graphics card. The designers of this card beefed up pretty much every aspect of this card and came up with a card that looks great, is powerful and very quiet. When looking for a Radeon R9 290X graphics card to purchase you'll want to pay close attention to the cards VRM temperatures and they were excellent on the R9 290X Vapor-X. The combination of the Vapor-X base plate and and Tri-X heatsink and fan structure did the trick!
When it comes to overall peformance the Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC performed well on our 4K Ultra HD monitor at 3840x2160 and should run like a champ at 2560x1440, 1920x1080 or on most any AMD Eyefinity setups. The AMD Hawaii GPU with GCN is a very powerful GPU and will do great when put to the task of gaming or mining litecoins. The overclocking performance of the Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC was decent, but nothing to write home about. We were able to get the core up to 1140MHz and anything over that we were starting to get artifacts. This card is a loaner card from Sapphire and the box was opened when we received it, so we aren't sure how much punishment it was given by someone prior to its arrival in our labs. There is certainly some headroom available for those that want to overclock further though.
Sapphire's Radeon R9 290X Vapor-X OC 4GB graphics card is sold under part number 100361VXSR for $629.99 shipped with a 2-year warranty. This puts the 290X Vapor-X right in the middle when it comes to pricing, but it offers some of the highest core and memory clock speeds that are available today. If you are looking for an AMD Radeon R9 290X graphics card that is balanced and doesn't have any glaring issues, the Sapphire Radeon R9 290X should be on the top of the short list of models that you are looking at.
Legit Bottom Line: The Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC 4GB Video Card is one of the best air cooled Radeon R9 290X video cards on the market today.