Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro OC 4GB Video Card Review

AMD Radeon R9 380X AMD launched this week what is likely their last desktop graphics card of 2015, the AMD Radeon R9 380X. AMD is hopeful that this card at the $229 price point (£185 inc. VAT for our readers in the UK) will be just what gamers will be looking to purchase this winter now that most of the big name games have come out for the holiday gaming season. The Radeon R9 380X is touted as being faster than the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 and help fill the performance and price gap in the NVIDIA lineup between the GeForce GTX 960 and GTX 970 graphics cards. AMD Radeon R9 380X Placement The AMD Radeon R9 380X uses the Antigua XT GPU, which is basically a fully enabled version of the Antigua Pro core that was used on the Radeon R9 380 that was released in June 2015. Some of our readers might recall that the Radeon R9 380 was a re-brand/speed-bumped Radeon R9 285 video card that was powered by the Tonga GPU that came out in August 2014. So, the AMD Radeon R9 380X GPU uses a fully featured GPU core that has been around for some time. That means we have a GCN 1.2 feature set card made on the 28nm manufacturing process.  We wonder why AMD didn't release a fully featured Antigua/Tonga core in 2014, but better late than never right? Radeon R9 380x Specs The Radeon R9 380X has 2,048 processors, 128 texture units and 32 ROPs all tucked inside the fairly tiny 359mm^2 die. Many expected that AMD was holding something back when Tonga first came out and it appears that was true. The R9 380X has 4GB of GDDR5 memory running on a 256-bit bus at 1425 MHz or 5,700MHz effective. This is good for 182MB/s of memory bandwidth with the standard reference configuration. The core clock speed is 970MHz, but you'll see many add-in board partners bringing overclocked cards to market well about this clock speed. The AMD Radeon R9 380X reference design as two 6-pin PCIe power connectors and is rated at 190W for typical board power. AMD also says that the Radeon R9 380X supports DirectX 12, TrueAudio, Virtual Super Resolution, Frame Rate Target Control and FreeSync. Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro OC Video Card All the usual AMD board partners will be releasing cards, but we were sampled the Sapphire Radeon R9 Nitro OC 4GB that is available for $239.99. This card is priced $10 higher than the Suggested Retail Price due to being an overclocked version. Sapphire bumped up the clock speeds on this card to 1040 MHz on the core and 1500 MHz (6000 MHz effective) on the Elpida GDDR5 memory, so it's running a good deal faster than the reference cards. The downside to this is that Sapphire says that it consumes 225W of power up from the 190W seen on the reference card. You also get an improved GPU cooler, a backplate and more. Let's take a closer look at the Sapphire Radeon R9 Nitro OC 4GB video card and then see how it performs!  

Sapphire R9 380X Nitro Retail Box and Bundle

The card that we are looking at today is the Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro OC 4GB, which is sold under part number 299-4E308-100SA. This is custom, factory overclocked card that carries an MSRP of $239.99. For that price you end up with a card that is said to be ~7% faster than AMD's R9 380X reference card thanks to the 1040MHz core clock and 1500MHz memory clock. The AMD Radeon R9 380X reference design has a base clock of 970 MHz and a memory clock of 1425MHz. This is also a Sapphire Nitro series card, which means you get Dual-X GPU cooling with ball bearing fans and copper heatpipes, black diamond chokes and for the very first time in the Nitro series a backplate! Sapphire R9 380X Video Card Retail Box The retail box for the Sapphire Radeopn R9 380X Nitro card is pretty eye catching and lists some of the key features on the front of the box. The back of the box highlights more features and says that the Sapphire Nitro Radeon R9 380X has a SPI rating of 3 and offers 1080P gaming in high detail levels in most games, resulting in powerful gaming performance.   Sapphire R9 380X Video Card Retail Box Bundle Inside the Sapphire R9 380X Nitro OC packaging, the card is securely packed inside the box. The included accessories include the installation guide, driver and utility disc, Sapphire case sticker, DVI-to-VGA adapter and of course the R9 380X Nitro OC card!

Sapphire R9 380X Nitro Video Card Design

Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro OC Video Card The Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro OC 4GB video card features the usual black design with platinum accents and measures in at 237.5 x 126.5 x 41 mm in dimension. This makes the R9 380X Nitro just 9.35-inches in length, so you shouldn't have any issues fitting inside the vast majority of PC cases on the market now or in yesteryear. Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro OC Video Card The Sapphire Dual-X GPU cooler has twin ball-bearing 10cm fans that are designed to stop spinning in light load scenarios for silent operation. On our open air test system the card wasn't cool enough for the fans to not spin once the system was on for a handful of minutes and the heatsink warmed up. Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro OC Video Card Top Along the top edge of the R9 380X you'll find two 6-pin PCIe power connectors. Sapphire recommends at least a 500W power supply for their R9 380X video card for proper operation. Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro OC Video Card Bottom From this angle you can see the four copper heat pipes that make up the Dual-X GPU cooler. These heat pipes don't make direct contact with the GPU, but we are hopeful that it cools well as the aluminum fin array is large and there are four heat pipes tucked under the fan shroud on this card! Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro OC Video Card Back The Sapphire Radeon R9 380X comes with black back plate as production costs have come down enough for it to be included on the Nitro series. When we were first told about the Nitro series we were told it would be a budget minded card aimed at gamers and features like the backplate would be removed due to cost reasons. We are glad that Sapphire is able to include a backplate for this series without increasing the price. Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro OC Video Card Video Outputs Sapphire went with one DisplayPort 1.2 output (max 4096x2160) as well as single HDMI 1.4 (max 2160P) and a pair of Dual-Link DVI ports (max 2560x1600) when it comes to video outputs. Sapphire includes a DVI to VGA adapter in the accessory bundle, so the R9 380X Nitro OC video card should be able to connect to pretty much any monitor that you own. This card can't do 4K60 through the HDMI 1.4 port though, so it does have some display limitations since it lacks HDMI 2.0. Now that we have a good understanding of what the Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro OC card is we can take a look at the test system and get straight into testing!

Test System

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 10 Pro 64-bit and benchmarks were completed on the desktop with no other software programs running.  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: R9 380X Test System

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 did. gpu-test-system-specs Here are the exact hardware components that we are using on our test system:
The Intel X79 Test Platform

Component

Brand/Model

Live Pricing

Processor Intel Core i7-4960X
Motherboard
ASUS P9X79-E WS
Memory
16GB Kingston 2133MHz
Video Card Various
Solid-State Drive OCZ Vertex 460 240GB
Cooling Intel TS13X (Asetek)
Power Supply Corsair AX860i
Operating System Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit
Monitor Sharp PN-K321 32" 4K
  Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro OC 4GB Card GPU-Z Info: Radeon R9 380X GPU-Z 380x-gpuz-idle

Battlefield 4

bf4-screenshot 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 been 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. bf4-settings 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 with these settings on the Shanghai level. All tests were done with the DirectX 11 API unless noted in the chart. bf4-cpu-utilization 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. bf4 Benchmark Results: In Battlefield 4 with Ultra settings at Full HD 1080P resolutions we found that all three video cards were somewhat close, but the ASUS GeForce GTX 950 STRIX 2GB was more than 10% faster than the MSI Radeon R7 370 2GB video card. bf4-time Benchmark Results: Here is a look at the performance over time and you can see that the ASUS GeForce GTX 950 STRIX was faster than the MSI Radeon R7 370 across the entire benchmark run!

Grand Theft Auto V

GTAV 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 and 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. gtav-settings gtav-settings2 gtav-settings-advanced In Grand Theft Auto V we set the game to run with no MSAA with 16x AF and high image quality settings as we didn't want the GPU to bottleneck the system too bad, but wanted a setup that your average gamer would actually play on. gtav Benchmark Results: In GTA V we ran the games built-in benchmark three times and averaged the numbers. The Sapphire Radeon R9 380X had the best average frame rate with 85.1 FPS, but the minimum frame rate was 25% lower than the EVGA GeForce GTX 960 SSC video card. We could sense the lower frame rates at times in the game since they were dipping below 30 FPS and you can notice that when you are cruising along at 60+ FPS and then all of a sudden drop down that low. 

Metro Last Light

 

MetroLL-SS

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. metroll-settings 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. metroll-cpu-utilization

We again found around 20% CPU usage on Metro: Last Light.

metro-1920 Benchmark Results: Something certainly isn't looking right with the Radeon R9 380X in Metro: Last Light. We tried Catalyst 15.11.1 and even the unreleased Crimson 15.11 beta drivers and both drivers had the same issue. We even re-installed Windows 10 with the first major update on a clean drive and still encountered the same issue. metro Benchmark Results: Something isn't right with the Radeon R9 380X on this game title! core-clock
We charted the GPU core clock in the chart above from the GPU-Z log to show what is going on. When we started the game and loaded our last save and the game was found to run fine for the first few seconds with performance in the 70 FPS range. After moving around for a bit the performance drops below 25 FPS and the clock speeds are bouncing around 600 MHz. When we went to exit the game by hitting esc and going to the in-game menu the performance and core clock goes back to normal 3D speeds.  Something is causing the GPU load to be inconsistent and that is causing the GPU core and memory clock speeds to operate no where near where they should be when gaming. Legit Reviews has contacted AMD and Sapphire to let them know about the issue we saw in Metro Last Light. Both of our contacts responded that they don't have this game title or a similar setup, so it looks like we won't be getting a response soon.

Thief

thief 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. thief-settings   We ran Thief with the image quality settings set at normal with VSYNC disabled. dayz-cpu-utilization 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. thief-1920 Benchmark Results: The EVGA GeForce GTX 960 SSC 4GB video card averaged ~81 FPS, but the Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro was able to average ~86 FPS! The minimum frame rate was above 60 FPS on both the GTX 960 and R9 380X at 1080P resolution.  thief-time Benchmark Results: Nothing out of the ordinary here, but you can see how the GeForce GTX 960 and Radeon R9 380X are pretty close to one another when it comes to gaming performance in Thief.

3DMark 2013

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.

3DMark Fire Strike

  Fire Strike Benchmark Results:

firestrike

Benchmark Results: The 3DMark Fire Strike benchmark had the Sapphire R9 380X Nitro OC card coming in with an overall score of 8,198 and a GPU score of 9,253. The slightly less expensive EVGA GeForce GTX 960 SSC video card had an overall score of 7,054 versus and then you have the 6,156 score on the ASUS GeForce GTX 950 STRIX 2GB video card.

Temperature & Noise Testing

Temperatures are important to enthusiasts and gamers, so we took a bit of time and did some temperature testing on the the ASUS version of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 950 video card. Sapphire Radeon R9 380X 4GB Idle Temps: 380x-gpuz-idle The Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro OC video card had no fans spinning when we the system is only one for a couple minutes, but once the cards heatsink warms up the fan slowly spins at 172 RPMs. It was spinning so slow that you couldn't hear any fan noise over the CPU's closed-loop water cooler and the temperature of the system was observed being 50C. Sapphire Radeon R9 380X 4GB Load Temps: 380x-gaming-load When gaming we hit 70C in a room where the temperature was 67F (20.5C) after playing Star Wars Battlefront for about an hour, so the load temps are certainly acceptable.Note the fan speed got up to 1285 RPM and we were using about 3.4 GB of the cards 4GB frame buffer on our 1080p test suite! temps

Sound Testing

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.

noise The only card that has fans spinning at idle is the Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro and they are spinning under 200 RPM, so the idle noise is basically same on all of the cards. The reason the system is above ambient noise levels is due to CPU's water cooler fans and pump noise. We didn't notice any choke noise when gaming, but the fan speed was up to ~1300 RPM while gaming and that increased the noise level up to 48.6 dB.

Power Consumption

Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro OC Video Card 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 1920x1080 and recorded the average idle reading and the peak gaming reading on the power meter. power-consumption Power Consumption Results: The system with the Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro 4GB video card used 104 Watts at idle when the system first starts, but as the card heats up the fans kick on and the power consumption level increased and then remained at 112 Watts. At full load while gaming the system was pulling 351 Watts from the wall, which is actually a bit higher than we expected from this card as AMD says that it has a typical board power of 190W. AMD hasn't been winning the power battle for mainstream desktop cards in years and that is still true here at the end of 2015.

Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro OC Video Card Overclocking

We spent an afternoon overclocking the Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro OC 4GB video card to see how much higher we could get the clock speeds.   380x-gpuz-oc2 In case you forgot, the Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro graphics card is already factory overclocked up to 1040 MHz base and the 4GB of GDDR5 memory is clocked at 1500MHz (6000 MHz effective).

380x-gpuz-oc

By using the AMD OverDrive utility to overclock the card we were able to take the core of the GPU up to 1123 MHz and the memory to 1600 MHz (6400 MHz effective). This isn't a huge overclock, but it's an 8% increase on the GPU clock speeds and that should give us a nice gain when gaming. oc-load With this overclock we found that while gaming that the card used 13W more power on average and was running 1C hotter with the fans running about 35 RPM faster. This made the card noise go up to 49.3 dB (48.6dB stock when gaming), which isn't that bad. Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro OC Stock: 3dmark-firestrike Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro OC Overclocked: 3dmark-firestrike-oc By overclocking the Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro OC 4GB video card we were able to take the stock score of 8,198 and raise it up to 8,634. This is a 436 point increase in our overall 3DMark score, which represents a performance gain of 5.3 percent. BF4 OC In BF4 we also saw a 5.8% performance increase as well, so you can get a significant performance boost by overclocking this card. Who doesn't want a little more gaming horse power if its free?

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

Sapphire R9 380X Video Card Retail Box The AMD Radeon R9 380X appears to be a pretty solid video card for the $230-$240 price points. This video card can easily play the latest game titles on a 1080P display and should even perform decently for those looking to step up to a 1440p display. From an architectural standpoint we aren't seeing much new, but the fully featured GPU used on this card looks to be able to out perform a GeForce GTX 960 overall and do so with not that much higher of a price tag. This card is also much cheaper than a Radeon R9 390 and a GeForce GTX 970, so it fills a nice price point. Once the prices settle down a bit and rebates start coming, it is possible that we'll see some of these cards in the $199 to $209 price range. That is exciting as the card has solid performance and would best NVIDIA's offerings this price point.  It's been some time since we've seen AMD win on the performance front for a sweet spot price point like this, so it will be interesting to see how NVIDIA responds. We just recently saw the GeForce GTX 960 available for $189 on Newegg, so they might just slash prices more on their GTX 960 cards to make them a better 'deal' despite not winning the performance front. Sapphire Radeon R9 380X Nitro OC Video Card We did all our testing on AMD Catalyst 15.11.1 beta drivers, but keep in mind that a major AMD Radeon Software refresh is coming this month with the release of Crimson drivers. We aren't sure how much, if any, those drivers will boost the performance of this card, but if it helps then this card will be an even better buy! The only negative on this card with regards to performance it energy efficiency as it does use more power than comparable cards! LR Recommended Award
Legit Bottom Line: If you are gaming on a 1080P or 1440P display and want a graphics card that can handle the latest game titles for around $230 the AMD Radeon R9 380X is hard to ignore!