Sapphire Dual-X R9 280 3GB Overclock Edition

Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Overview-Full-View The AMD Radeon R9 2xx series has been out since October 2013, and we are continuing to see new versions of the R9 200 series.  The R9 280 series is basically a rebranded Radeon HD 7950 with a few tweaks.  Powered by a single 28nm Tahiti XTL GPU, it features 1792 Stream processors running at 850MHz with a boost to 940Mhz.  Compared to the reference R9 280 of 827MHz and 933MHz boost.  It's memory consists of 3GB GDDR clocked at 5000Mhz.  To keep the card cool, Sapphire has switched from their Tri-X Cooling technology to Dual-X cooling, which has two fans.  This overclocked edition is currently available as part 11230-00-40G for $239.99 shipped which includes Sapphires 2 year warranty. Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Overview-Front Fans of Sapphire might be familiar with their Vapor-X technology used in their higher end cards.  As the Dual-X R9 280 is a more mainstream card, they have implemented a new cooling technology, the Dual-X.  Dual-X uses multiple heatpipes to help dissipate the heat, dual fans then provide the airflow to cool the radiator and heatpipes.  Like with most modern cards, the fans will slow down to near silent operation during normal use and spin up for extra cooling performance under a heavy load. Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Overview-Button Like many of Sapphire's video cards, the Dual-X R9 280 has a dual BIOS, one is used to boot in legacy compatibility mode, while the second boots with UEFI.  All that it takes to switch between the two is a push of a button along the top edge of the video card.  The dual CrossFireX connectors can be seen on the PCB behind the button Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Overview-Power Sapphire has gone with two 6-pin PCIe power connectors for the Dual-X R9 280, these are located along the top right edge of the card.  To power the card, Sapphire states a 500W power supply is required, or 850W if you are running a CrossFireX system. Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Overview-Video The Sapphire Dual-X R9 280 supports up to four monitors, with four full size video connectors.  There is a pair of Dual-Link DVI connectors, DVI-D and DVI-I, each of which will support resolutions up to 2560x1600.  The DisplayPort 1.2 and HDMI 1.4a connections increases the resolution up to 4096x2160 for Quad HD displays.  In addition, the HDMI connection will support 7.1 audio streams and 3D video. Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Overview-Back With a quick look at the back of the card, we finish the overview of the Sapphire Dual-X R9 280 OC.  On the back of the, there is no backplate or other components.  At one end of the card are a couple of labels which include the serial number and model number. Features and Specifications: Sapphire Dual-X Cooling Technology Famous for our exclusive cooling solutions like the award winning Vapor Chamber Cooling technology - Vapor-X, SAPPHIRE's reputation for innovative excellence continues to grow with the introduction of our new dual-extractor technology - Dual-X. Dual-X is a highly efficient multi-heatpipe cooler with dual fans that provide quiet and very cool operation during normal operating conditions, and superb cooling performance even under extreme load. AMD Mantle Technology  
Sapphire Dual-X R9 280 3GB GDDR5 OC With Boost
Display Support supports up to 3 display monitor(s) without DisplayPort
4 x Maximum Display Monitor(s) support
To support 3rd monitor without DisplayPort cable connected, 2 of the 3 monitors should be the same model with DVI ports connected. The driver version should be v13.12 or above
Output 1 x HDMI (with 3D)
1 x DisplayPort 1.2
1 x Dual-Link DVI-D
1 x Dual-Link DVI-I
GPU 850(Boost:940) MHz Core Clock
28 nm Chip
1792 x Stream Processors
Video Memory 3072 MB Size
384 -bit GDDR5
5000 MHz Effective
Dimension 262(L)X112(W)X34(H) mm Size.
2 x slot
Software Driver CD
Accessory CrossFire Bridge Interconnect Cable
6 PIN to 4 PIN Power Cable x 2
Let's take a look at the retail box and accessories before taking a look at the test system and benchmarks.

Sapphire Dual-X R9 280 OC Retail Box and Bundle

Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Packaging-Front Taking a look at the retail packaging for the Sapphire Dual-X R9 280 OC, the key features are called out on the front of the box.  These features include a factory overclock, 3GB GDDR5, Dual-X Cooling, GCN architecture (which supports TrueAudio and Mantle), and Eyefinity compatibility.  If more information is needed, the back of the box goes into much more detail. Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Packaging-Internal Taking out the inner box, we find the card is placed in an bubble anti-static bag, nestled in a cardboard block with an additional piece of cardboard to protect it.  While the higher end cards use a form fitted foam block (which is much nicer) this is sufficient to protect the card in transit. Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Packaging-Accessories Most video cards include some type of accessories, Sapphire includes the standard driver disc, user manual, marketing material and a CrossFire bridge.  Two single 4-pin Molex to PCIe 6-pin power adapters and a HDMI cable are included as well.

Test System

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 now be run at 3840x2160 (4K) resolution; as many of the cards previously tested are no longer available for re-evaluation at these resolution, only a few will be tested at this resolution. Intel Z77/LGA1155 Platform Z77X-UP5 TH CPUZ Screens
The Intel Z77 system used to test the video cards was using the Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 TH motherboard, with the F11 BIOS from 09/03/2012.  Installed for memory was 16GB Kingston Hyper-X Blue 1866MHz, running at the rated speed with 9-11-9-27 2T timings.    An Intel 520 series 180GB SSD was used for the OS and benchmarks.  Testing was completed in a room with an ambient temperature of 65F.
The Intel Z77 Test System
Component Brand/Model Live Pricing
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 Dual-X R9 280 OC 3GB GPU-Z Information Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Charts-GPUz

Batman: Arkham Origins

Batman Arkham Origins – Bruce Wayne CGI Trailer Released
Batman: Arkham Origins was released in October 2013.  It  utilizes the Unreal Engine 3, and is an action-adventure game where the player takes on the role of Batman.  While it is technically the third game in the series, it is actually a prequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City.
Batman has a hidden benchmark tool that runs several pre-configured scenes against the video options.  This is a great feature to be included and makes it an easy way to make a good comparison across multiple video cards.  The resolution was set to 1920×1080, Anti-Aliasing was set to FXAA High and DirectX 11 Enhanced features were enabled as all the cards are DirectX 11 compatible.
Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Charts-Batman Batman Arkham Origins Benchmark Results:  In Batman's integrated benchmark, the R9 280 was just slightly faster than the previous generation R7950.  There is a larger difference in performance between the 280 and 290.

Battlefield 4

EA/DICE Releases More Details on Battlefield 4 and Frostbite 3 Engine
Battlefield 4 is a first-person shooter video game developed by Electronics Arts.  Released at the end of October 2013, it is the first game to use the latest Frostbite 3 engine featuring improved destruction of buildings and the environment very realistically and greatly improved animations. Battlefield 4 was also the first game to support AMD’s Mantle API, which we covered here. Battlefield 4 Mantle API
Running at a resolution of 1920x1080 in fullscreen mode, with the graphics quality set to High to utilize the preset configuration.  Like previous Battlefield games, there is no pre-configured benchmark for Battlefield 4.  In order to have it be as similar as possible, part of the first mission, Baku, will be used.  FRAPS will be started just after exiting the sewer tunnel and the same path will be run for each test.
Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Charts-BF4 Battlefield 4 Benchmark Results:  In Battlefield 4, the R9 280 was close to 20FPS faster than the comparable 7950.

Bioshock: Infinite

First ‘BioShock Infinite’ DLC Released along with Burial at Sea Trailer
Bioshock: Infinite is another first-person shooter, developed by Irrational Games.  Released in March, 2013 it uses a modified Unreal 3 engine.  The developers included a nice little built-in benchmark system.  This makes it a prime candidate for an apples to apples comparison.  When starting up the benchmark, we will be using option 3, the Ultra DirectX 11 settings.
Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Charts-Bioshock-Infinite Bioshock Infinite Benchmark Results:  Bioshock: Infinite is very playing on all of these graphic cards at Ultra settings.  It narrowly squeaked past the XFX R7950 by around 3FPS with a score of 85.42FPS.

Crysis 3

EA Shows Off Crysis 3 Gameplay Trailer
Crysis 3 is a first-person shooter developed by Crytek, using their CryEngine 3.  Released in February 2013, it is well known to make even powerful systems 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.
Gigabyte HD7870 Crysis 3 Graphics
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.
Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Charts-Crysis-3 Crysis 3 Benchmark Results:  While many video cards will have issues keeping up with Crysis 3 at High graphic settings, at Medium the Dual-X R9 280 was easily playable with its 48.817FPS at 1080p resolutions.


Thief is a stealth based game, where the main character is a master thief in a medieval 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. Thief Mantle Graphic Settings
Thief was tested using the Normal graphics preset, with a resolution of 1920x1080.
Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Charts-thief Thief Benchmark Results:  The Sapphire R9 280 was able to handle Thief rather well, however it benchmarked just 1.5FPS faster than the 7950, which makes it pretty much on par with the 7950.

3DMark 2013

New 3DMark Trailer Shows Stunning DirectX 11 Graphics 3DMark  has been a standard graphics benchmark for many years, while it includes four benchmarks, we will be focusing on Fire Strike, which is the most demanding benchmark within the suite.  Fire Strike is used to test the performance of gaming PCs, and tests DirectX 11 hardware. Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Charts-3dmark Benchmark Results:  The Fire Strike benchmark gave the Dual-X R9 280 an overall score of 6432, while the XFX R7950 received 6133, which comes to about a 5% difference in scores.  However, the difference between the R9 280 and R9 290 was just over 25%, a huge difference just with one step up.

Temperature and Noise Testing

All testing was done in a temperature controlled environment, which is currently maintained at 67F. Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Charts-GPUz-Idle Allowing the test system to sit at the desktop with no applications running for 30 minutes, the idle temperature was a cool 33C (91.4F) with the fans running at 25%. Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Charts-GPUz-Load Once the Dual-X R9 280 is put under a load by playing Crysis 3 for 30 minutes, the graphics card reached a maximum temperature of 63C (145.4F), a 30C temperature increase.  The fan speed increased from 25% to 50% during the load test.  GPU-Z did not register any VRM sensors so we are unable to discuss those temperatures. Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Charts-Temperature The GPU idled at 33C, which is one of the lowest in the few cards I have tested.  During a heavy gaming sessions, while the GPU was running at a full load for 30 minutes, the GPU reached a maximum temperature of 63C which puts it right in the middle of the test sample. Sound Level Testing To test the noise level, an Extech sound level meter with a +/- 1.5dB accuracy rating was used.  Using the "Low" measurement, it can measure noise levels between 35dB and 90dB.  The sound meter was placed 12 inches from where the side panel would be, a wind cover was placed over the sensor.  With an ambient sound level of 35.6dB, the noise level of the Sapphire Dual-X R9 280 was tested at 20%, 50% and 100% fan speeds, which was adjusted by Sapphire TriXX software. Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Charts-Noise The 2 fans on the Dual-X R9 280 was fairly noticeable at 100% speed with a 58.8dBA.  At 50% the noise level was 47.2dBA, which was still noticeable if I really listened for the fans.  We should note that during our testing the two fans never got above 50% speed.

Power Consumption

Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Overview-Full-View To test the power consumption of the Sapphire Dual-X R9 280 OC, the test system was plugged into a P3 Kill-A-Watt power meter.  To achieve idle conditions the system was allowed to sit at the desktop for 30 minutes when no software running.  For the load conditions, Crysis 3 was played for 30 minutes at 3840x2160 (4K) resolution.  In both cases, the peak power reading was recorded. Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Charts-Power Power Consumption Results:  The system idled at 77 Watts, while during the 30 minute gaming session of Crysis 3, the system maxed out at 283 Watts, making a difference of 206 Watts between idle conditions and a full load.

Sapphire Dual-X R9 280 OC Further Overclocking

There are many different tools that can be used to overclock video cards, Sapphire has a tool called TriXX.  Using this tool we can adjust the Memory and GPU clock speeds, along with the voltage.  In addition, if we want to manually adjust the fan speed we can do that within TriXX as well.  The GPU clock and Memory clock was slowly increased by 25Mhz, between each increase Heaven 4.0 was run to verify stability.  If Heaven completed successfully without any graphic glitches or lock-ups the GPU and Memory would get increased. Sapphire TriXX Starting with the boost speed of 940Mhz, we took a baby step to 950Mhz.  With no issues, the GPU was slowly increased to 1075Mhz and the Memory to 1350Mhz.  Unfortunately, even though Heaven completed successfully, when we increased the GPU clock to 1100Mhz the entire test bed shut down and refused to boot with the Sapphire Dual-X R9 280. Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Charts-GPUz Just to verify that there was an issue with the card, all AMD drivers were uninstalled which allowed the test system to boot without any drivers, which it then booted successfully.  As soon as the drivers were installed the screen would go black and wouldn't come back.  The Dual-X R9 280 was transferred to another test system, and the same results were found. Overclocking Results:  The Sapphire Dual-X R9 280 ran flawlessly up to 1075Mhz GPU clock speed, attempting to go a little faster to 1100Mhz resulted in the video card crashing and being unrecoverable.  If you wish to overclock this card, I would recommend overclocking with care, and be aware that our review sample died after overvolting it and trying to get 1100MHz stable.

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

Sapphire DualX R9 280 Sapphire provides a small factory overclock on the Dual-X R9 280, taking the reference design from 827Mhz (933Mhz boost) to 850Mhz (940Mhz boost).  Which should provide a small boost to performance compared to other 280 cards based on the reference design.  Overclocking isn't limited to the factory overclock, we were able to successfully take the Sapphire Dual-X R9 280 up to 1075Mhz without any issues.  The fun stopped there, at 1100Mhz the card totally crashed and has now gone to the video card graveyard. Sapphire has integrated their Dual-X cooling solution on the R9 280.  It is similar to the Tri-X cooling system used on their higher end cards.  Multiple heatpipes are used to wisk the heat away from the GPU which are then cooled by two fans.  In our testing, the Dual-X cooling solution was able to obtain a 33C temperature when the test system was sitting idle, which increased to 63C when the card was under a heavy load.  The fans do a decent job at cooling, however that comes at a price, the two fans are a little noisy and could be heard once they reached 50% speed.  Keeping in mind that is from 12 inches from the side of the case with the side panel removed. Sapphire-DualX-R9-280-Overview-Front It is widely known that the R9 280 is based on the R7950, and the some of the benchmarks showed little difference between the two GPUs.  Some benchmarks (such as Battlefield 4 and Batman: Arkham Origins) show the improvements that were made to the R9 280.  The R7950's were rather expensive at the time, where the price on the R9 280 is much lower, to where a mainstream user might consider the card.  Heavy gamers and those wanting the best performance would be better suited looking at the R9 290 cards such as the Sapphire Vapor-X R9 290 OC. The Sapphire Dual-X R9 280 Overclocked edition is available under part number 11230-00-40G and can be found online for $245.99 shipped which includes Sapphires 2 year warranty, which is about average for the lower end of the price scale for this series.  At that price it is meant for mainstream users and casual gamers, but provides the performance of the previous generations enthusiast level card, 7950.  If you are running an older video card it might be time to take a look at a new card that should run the latest games with ease at 1920x1080.  The Dual-X cooling system keeps the card cool enough so overheating and throttling shouldn't be a concern.   Legit Bottom Line:  For mainstream users the Sapphire Dual-X R9 280 is a great choice for those that want to play the latest games at a decent graphics level and resolution.  Be careful of overclocking as our review sample went from running smoothly to becoming a brick after pushing the overclocking a bit too far