Sapphire Nitro 380 and 390 Video Cards Review

AMD decided to do a refresh of their graphics chips, rather than a complete overhaul. This has been widely publicized for sometime now that there is little to no difference in performance between the previous generation GPU and the "new" generation.  So, what is Sapphire doing with the latest AMD GPU?  They are taking this as an opportunity to introduce us to a new line of graphics cards called, Nitro. Sapphire Nitro Gaming Series cards are geared towards the average gamer, who is focused on getting the biggest bang for their buck but still wants to get a graphics card with top of the line features. With this new line, they are focusing on giving the average gamer what they want, high quality components, high performance, reliability and acceptable noise level. Sapphire Nitro Gaming Series Here is what Sapphire has to Say about the Nitro Gaming Series of AMD Radeon graphics cards.
"The SAPPHIRE NITRO series boasts a range of features previously reserved for high-end cards, including long-life capacitors and award-winning Black Diamond Chokes, as well as new versions of our award-winning cooling solutions. Its elegant contours with purposeful black and gunmetal finish have been designed to suit any build. And the latest graphics architecture from AMD ensures fast, reliable gaming, performance tuned for any level of gaming. So whatever kind of gamer you are, the SAPPHIRE NITRO series offers you the maximum gaming experience for your budget."
Sapphire-Nitro-Cards The two Sapphire Nitro R300 series graphics cards that we are looking at today are the Sapphire Nitro R9 390 8GB and the Sapphire Nitro R9 380 4GB. These cards are basically updates of the AMD Radeon R9 285 and AMD Radeon R9 290 that have been on the market for some time. In the chart below we compared the Sapphire Nitro R9 380 4GB to the Sapphire Dual-X Radeon R9 285 2GB and then the Sapphire Nitro R9 390 8GB to the  Sapphire Tri-X Radeon R9 290 4GB.
Dual-X 285 Nitro 380 Tri-X 290 Nitro 390
Microarchitecture  Tonga  Tonga Hawaii Hawaii
Manufacturing Process 28nm 28nm 28nm 28nm
Transistors 5000M 5000M 6200M 6200M
Stream Processors 1792 1792 2560 2560
Core Clock 965MHz 985MHz 957MHz 1010MHz
ROPs  32 / 112  32 / 112 64 / 160 64 / 160
Memory 2048MB 4096MB 4096MB 8192MB
GDDR5 Memory Clock 1375Mhz 1450Mhz 1350MHz 1500MHz
Memory Bus Width 256-bit 256-bit 512-bit 512-bit
Memory Bandwidth 179.2GB/s 185.6GB/s 345.6GB/s 384GB/s
Typical Board Power (TDP)  <200W 225W <300W 375W
Warranty 2 Years 2 Years 2 Years 2 Years
Launch Price $214.99 $219.99 $259.99 $329.99
  As you can see the stuff under the hood of the GPU remains the same, but process enhancements during GPU manufacturing has allowed AMD and their board partners to increase the clock speed of the GPU and memory while not increasing the TDP of the board (Sapphire didn't give exact TDP's for the R9 200 series cards). The memory has been doubled from the original amount the the cards launched, which is one of the biggest changes on the new Radeon R9 300 series of cards. You can find a Sapphire Radeon R9 290 with 8GB of memory on it today, but the all the Radeon R9 390 cards come with that amount. The price on the cards have gone up, but most of that is due to extra memory cost.   Sapphire-Nitro-390-Overview One of the first changes Sapphire made with the Nitro series, is that there will be only one card in the series for each step.  If you want an AMD Radeon R9 390 graphics card, there is only one Nitro 390.  Of course, there are other Sapphire 390 cards available with different features, but if you want a great AMD 390 card without focusing on the extras, the Nitro series is your choice.  Finally, the Nitro 300 series brings a new way to select a graphics card, with Sapphire rating system that should take the guess work out of which graphics card is better (ie a rating of 4 is better than 3). With the Nitro series, Sapphire is taking away flashy colors. For this reason, each of the graphics cards in the Nitro 300 series will look very similar.  They will have a black fan shroud with grey highlights.  The high quality components that has gone into the Nitro series includes Sapphires Black Diamond chokes, long life capacitors, dual ball bearing fans and an enhanced Intelligent Fan control system. Sapphire-Nitro-380-Overview In addition to the new Nitro graphics cards, Sapphire has launched a new community website for enthusiasts and gamers.  Sapphire Nation will serve as a hub for Sapphire's promotions, social media campaigns, news and reviews by fellow gamers.  They already have a good amount of content available for you to take a look at, with much more planned. Let's take a quick look at the new Sapphire Nitro cards and then get to doing some performance testing.

Sapphire Radeon Nitro R9 380 and R9 390 Video Card

Nitro 380 [gallery ids="166311,166310,166312"] The box for the Nitro 380 is pretty basic, calling out the main features that the graphics card provides.  Such as the 4GB of GDDR5 memory, support for 1440p gaming, Dual-X fans, and being Overclocked.  The back of the box doesn't provide much detail, just calling out a little of what Nitro offers, focusing on offering what the majority of PC gamers want; and pointing out it receives a 3 on Sapphire's new performance scale; ideal for high quality gaming at 1080p.  Internally, the card is packed in a foam block.  The Nitro 380 comes with a driver disc, installation guide and a DVI to VGA adapter. [gallery ids="166436,166439,166438,166440"] The Sapphire Nitro 380 uses a standard dual slot design, and follows the new Sapphire Nitro color scheme of being black with grey highlights.  The Nitro 380 is 9.5inches in length, making it a little longer than a mATX motherboard; it should fit in most cases.  However, one word of warning, the PCB is about 3/4 inch taller than the expansion bracket, I have run into issues with certain cases (Corsair Air 240 comes to mind) that utilize tool-less brackets using video cards with PCB's taller than the expansion brackets.  Cooling is provided by two 100mm fans, and four copper heatpipes that run the heatsink. For video connections, it includes one DisplayPort, HDMI, DVI-I and DVI-D ports.  Unfortunately, as Sapphire has not provided the specifics, it's rather difficult to tell which of the various specifications each of those ports utilize.  Power requirements on the Nitro 380 calls for a 500W power supply with two 75W 6-pin PCI-E connectors.  If you run the Nitro 380 in CrossFire mode, you'll need an 800W power supply.  There are no LEDs or anything flashy on the Nitro 380, it is designed to be a basic card manufactured with the premium components. Nitro 390 [gallery ids="166298,166297,166299"] The Nitro 390 is packed exactly like the Nitro 380, the same type of information is provided. The differences are apparant from the front, 8GB of GDDR5 memory, geared for 4k gaming, Tri-X fans, AMD FreeSync and being Overclocked.  The back of the box doesn't provide much detail, just calling out a little of what Nitro offers; we can see it receives a 4 on Sapphires performance rating scale; max quality gaming at 1080p, and high quality gaming at 4K.  Internally, the card is packed in a foam block.  The Sapphire Nitro 390 includes a 6ft HDMI cable instead of the DVI to VGA adapter. [gallery ids="166301,166305,166303,166304"] The Sapphire Nitro 390 also uses a dual slot design, and follows the new Sapphire Nitro color scheme of being black with grey highlights.  The Nitro 390 measures 12.25inches long, with the fan shroud extending 3/4inch above the expansion slot bracket.  While the fan shroud is taller than the expansion slot brackets, it is angled, so it should provide some additional clearance for tool-less brackets that might otherwise run into the shroud if it had a squared corner.   For cooling, the Nitro 390 uses the Tri-X cooling system with three 80mm fans.  The heatsink has five copper heatpipes to aid in cooling. For video connections, it includes three DisplayPort, one HDMI, and one DVI-D video ports.  Unfortunately, as Sapphire has not provided the specifics, it's rather difficult to tell which of the various specifications each of those ports utilize.  Power requirements on the Nitro 390 calls for a 750W power supply with two 150W 8-pin PCI-E connectors.  Running the Nitro 390 CrossFire mode, you will want to have a 1,000W power supply.  Along the top edge, there are no fancy LEDs, however the 390 does include the Sapphire dual BIOS which is activated with their S button.  

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 all patches and 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 2560x1440 resolution. We will be comparing the Nitro 380 and Nitrio 390 to the following video cards:
Intel Z97X/1150 Platform
The Intel Z97 platform that we used to test the video cards was running the Gigabyte Z97X-UD3H-BK motherboard that we recently took a look at.  The processor used was the Intel i5-4690K at the stock speed of 3.5Ghz.  Installed for memory was the Kleev Neo 2400Mhz DDR3 8GB kit running at its rated speed of  11-13-13-31 @2T  Two SSD's were included in the test system, an Intel 520 series 180GB was used for the operating system, while an OCZ Vertex 4 stored the games.
Gigabyte-Z97X-UD3H-BK-Benchmarks-CPUZ Here are the exact hardware components used in our test system
Intel Z97 Test Platform
Component Brand / Model Live Pricing
Processor Intel i5-4690K Click Here
Motherboard Gigabyte Z97X-UD3H-BK Click Here
Memory Kleev Neo 8GB 2400Mhz Click Here
Video Card Varies Click Here
OS Solid-State Drive Intel 520 Series 180GB Click Here
Game Solid-State Drive OCZ Vertex 4 256GB Click Here
Cooling DeepCool Captain 120 Click Here
Power Supply Lepa-G G650-MAS Click Here
Operating System Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit Click Here
Monitor Dell U2715H Click Here
Sapphire Nitro R9 380 Sapphire-Nitro-380-GPUz Sapphire Nitro R9 390 Sapphire-Nitro-390-GPUz

Sapphire Nitro 390 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 VDDC Offset is a little tricky, it started out at 12 and could be increased to 18; from 19 - 22 it would revert back to 18, then it would jump to 25 for a while. Sapphire-Nitro-390-Benchmarks-Trixx Sapphire Nitro 390 Overclock Sapphire-Nitro-390-Benchmarks-Trixx-OC Increasing the GPU Clock in 10MHz increments, and running 3DMark we were able to achieve a maximum OC of 1210MHz before the system became unresponsive, before getting there above 1160Mhz we started having graphic issues.  Increasing the VDDC Offset to 25, our final overclock was 1183 without any graphic issues.  Next we started increasing the Memory Clock, using the same method, at 1790MHz the system was flawless, anything above that we started  having issues with lock-ups. Sapphire-Nitro-390-Benchmarks-GPUZ-OC Going from a base GPU Clock of 1010MHz to 1183MHz is a 17% increase.  While the Memory Clock went from 1500Mhz to 1790Mhz, a 19% increase!  Not a bad boost in clock speeds. Sapphire Nitro 390 Stock Sapphire-Nitro-390-Benchmarks-3DMark Sapphire Nitro 390 Overclocked (1183MHz / 1790Mhz) Sapphire-Nitro-390-Benchmarks-3DMark-OC With a 17% increase in GPU Clock speed and a 19% increase in Memory Clock speed, we saw that translate to a 608 point increase in 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme.  That represents a 12.5% performance gain!  As we will see shortly the sound level of the Nitro 390 did not change much during testing.  Even when overclocked, the noise level did not increase anymore than it did during standard load testing.  The temperature however went up an additional 8C, reaching 59C at it's peak when overclocked.

3DMark Fire Strike Extreme

3dmark-fire-strike 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.
At the standard settings, the Sapphire Nitro 380 received a score of 3575 in 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme.  This is broken down into 3801 Graphics, 7807 Physics, and 1583 Combined scores. Sapphire-Nitro-390-Benchmarks-3DMark The Sapphire Nitro 390 received an overall score of 4893 in 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme.  A Graphics score of 5250, Physics score of 7810, and a Combined score of 2365 made up the Overall score. Sapphire-Nitro-380-+-390-Charts-3DMark-Overall Sapphire-Nitro-380-+-390-Charts-3DMark-Detail Benchmark Results:  As we will soon see, 3DMark starts a pattern of scores.  The 280 and 380 score nearly the same, while the 290 and 390 get nearly identical results.  What's different here though is that the GTX 970 received around a 5% better score than the Nitro 390.  In real world testing they're a little closer in scores.

Grand Theft Auto V

GTA V Grand Theft Auto V, currently one of the hottest PC games, was finally released for the PC on April 14, 2015.  Developed by Rockstar, it is set in 2013, the city of Los Santos.  It utilizes the Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (RAGE) which Rockstar has been using since 2006, with multiple updates for technology improvements. GPU-Game-Settings-GTA-V In Grand Theft Auto V we pushed everything to the maximum, this estimated that it would need 4064MB of video memory to run smoothly. Sapphire-Nitro-380-+-390-Charts-GTA-V Benchmark Results:  The Sapphire Nitro 390, scored only slightly faster than the previous generations 290.  The 280 and 380 received nearly the same scores in GTA V.


Thief 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. GPU-Game-Settings-Thief   Using the integrated benchmark, Thief was tested with the Very High quality setting at the 2560x1440 resolution.   Sapphire-Nitro-380-+-390-Charts-Thief Benchmark Results:  In Thief's integrated benchmark, the 280 and 380 received identical scores.  The more advanced cards, 290 and 390 received a 2.5 FPS difference.

Witcher 3

Witcher-3 Released in May 2015, the Witcher 3 is the final game in the Witcher series.  It utilizes the REDengine3 with Umbra 3 developed by the developer, CD Projekt RED.  It features the hero, Geralt, on a quest to eliminate the Wild Hunt and rescue his adoptive daughter.  Taking place in an open world that is one of the largest worlds in a game, it includes multiple ecosystems, a day and night cycle, dynamic weather, and roaming NPC's. GPU-Game-Settings-Witcher3 The Witcher 3 is a graphics intensive game we ran on the Ultra setting.  As the Witcher 3 does not include an integrated benchmark, we will utilize FRAPS to obtain the FPS.  In an open world game, where NPC's and monsters randomly roam, it can be difficult to get a good idea of the performance.  To minimize the randomness, we selected a road near the beginning of the game to run from one point to another.  This was done several times to get a good sampling, and the results averaged. Sapphire-Nitro-380-+-390-Charts-Witcher-3 Benchmark Results:  Just as you might expect, the 280 and 380 scored rather close, however with a 2 FPS difference.  The 290 and 390 received pretty much identical scores.

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider E3 2012 Trailer Shows New Game Direction Marketed as a reboot of the Tomb Raider series, it was released in March 2013.  It is an action-adventure game with a much younger female lead character, Lara Croft.  It establishes the origins of Lara Croft for a second time, putting her on an island where she much save her friends and escape while be hunted.  Played in a third person perspective, survival is key, with elements of exploration and combat. GPU-Game-Settings-Tomb-Raider Using the integrated benchmark, Tomb Raider was tested with the Ultimate quality setting at the 2560x1440 resolution.
Benchmark Results:  The 280 and 380 received near identical scores in Tomb Raider's benchmark, while the 290 and 390 were separated by 2 FPS.

Temperature & Noise Testing

Sapphire Nitro 380 GPUz Temperatures Sapphire-Nitro-380-GPUz-Temps Sapphire Nitro 390 GPUz Temperatures Sapphire-Nitro-390-GPUz-Temps   Sapphire-Nitro-380-+-390-Charts-Temps Temperature wise we saw a good decrease when compared to the previous generation, while gaming the Nitro 380 was 7C cooler than the 280x, which was the same difference between the 290x and the Nitro 390.  Both cards were cooler than the GTX 970 by 6C (Nitro 380) and 20C (Nitro 390).  If temperature is important, the Nitro 390 is definitely the clear choice.  Of course that comes with a price, which we will take a look at now. Sound 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 6 inches from the side panel (which has been removed for this testing), and a wind cover on the sensor.  With a base system sound level of 38.1 the sound level of Sapphire Nitro cards were evaluated at their default fan speeds.  We did not adjust the fan speeds manually.
To be honest, when I first plugged in the Nitro 390, I thought something was wrong with the card or its fan was running at 100%.  However, it was at 20%, I tested the noise level at 100% and it went up around 3dBA, which was surprising.  The fans on the Sapphire Nitro 390 makes for a very loud GPU, but it is certainly cooler than any of the other cards tested.  Something tells me the Intelligent Fan Control isn't working properly on the Nitro 390, yet.

Power Consumption

Sapphire-Nitro-Cards 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 with no software running.  For the load conditions, Crysis 3 was played for 30 minutes at 2560x1440 resolution.  In both cases, the peak power reading was recorded.Sapphire-Nitro-380-+-390-Charts-Power-Consumption Power Consumption Results:  Between the R9 280 and the Nitro 380, there is around 60W difference when under a load.  The difference between the R9 290 and Nitro 390 though was reversed, the Nitro 390's power usage went up around 17W.  This leads me to wonder if something wasn't right with the card, especially if you take into account the noise level from the fans.

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

Over the course of two days I've been able to spend with the Sapphire Nitro R9 380 and R9 390, performance wise I have to say I'm underwhelmed; that's not Sapphire's fault though.  If I was looking for an upgrade over the previous generation 280, the 390 wouldn't be it.  In my testing of the cards the performance between the previous generation and the new generation 300 series cards are identical. Sapphire-Nitro-Cards So why would AMD do a refresh of their graphics processor rather than a complete upgrade?  To be totally honest, I don't have a good answer for you.  Everything that we know of the 300 series we know the 200 series is capable of.  Running through the presentation that AMD provided, DirectX 12, FreeSync, 8GB of GDDR5, Virtual Support Resolution, and 4K support. frtc The only thing I see that's really different is that the 300 series includes Frame Rate Targeting, which is designed to reduce heat, noise and power consumption, by allowing users to set a target frame rate for their games.  Of course, this isn't new either, several games currently have frame rate locks on their games. Sapphire-Nitro-390-Box-Front Sapphire has done a great job at making it easy for the average gamer with the Nitro series.  You don't need to know which of the dozen 390 cards you have if you get the Nitro 390.  Implementing the rating system is great if you always look at Sapphire's cards, again, making it easy for the average gamer to know what card is better. Then again you already have the ratings on big online retailers like Amazon and Newegg and then all the review sites that Sapphire sends cards to. LiquidVR is one of the only new features on the AMD 300 series cards that I have not seen mention of before.  This technology is designed to make Virtual Reality more comfortable and realistic than previously possible.  This is done by using AMD's sub-system to reduce motion latency to less than 10ms which should reduce motion sickness.  Crytek is one of the companies looking to implement this new technology into their games, and has released a short video showing it's effect. If you are looking for a new graphics card to replace a graphics card that is several generations behind, the Sapphire Nitro 300 series would be a good choice.  Sapphire has included the highest quality components and the best features of their graphics card in an easy to choose new line.  The Sapphire Nitro 390 (part number 100382NTOCL) has just become available for order and can be found online for $329.99 plus shipping while the Nitro 380 (100384NT4GOCL) will run $219.99 plus shipping. If you have a graphics card from the previous generation (280 and 290), there is no need to upgrade to the 300 series card, I would wait for the next generation or the AMD Fury graphics chip. Taking a quick look at the pricing for the previous generation graphics cards, to get a comparable graphics card with the same amount of memory as the Nitro 390, you'll spend around $374.99.  This can make a difference in gaming at higher resolutions. Legit Bottom Line:  If you have been considering a new graphics card, the Sapphire Nitro series looks to be a great option.  The Nitro 390 is priced close to $50 less than the previous generation's R9 290 with 8GB of memory.  Noise, Power and Temperature appears to be improved over the 200 series graphics cards as well.