SAPPHIRE VAPOR-X R9 290X TRI-X OC Video Card Review

We take a look at the SAPPHIRE Vapor-X R9 290X TRI-X OC video card which has the highest factory overclock we've ever encountered on any AMD R9 290X video card. This video card is feature rich and very fast. We'll overclock it to the highest GPU clocks we've seen yet on R9 290X and compare it to the competition.

Introduction

We've got a high-end custom, and thus carrying a price premium, AMD Radeon R9 290X GPU based video card to show you today. It has been a while since we've evaluated a high-end custom SAPPHIRE VAPOR-X model of video card, but today we are going to do just that.

SAPPHIRE has several branded video cards all sporting an "X" in the name. You will find the Vapor-X video cards, Dual-X video cards, TRI-X video cards, FleX video cards, and TOXIC video cards. Each of these denote certain feature sets available for each GPU these video cards are built around. Today we are interested in the Vapor-X technology that is featured on the SAPPHIRE VAPOR-X R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 TRI-X OC (UEFI) video card we are evaluating today.


Vapor-X

SAPPPHIRE has a webpage dedicated to Vapor-X technology including a whitepaper, video demonstration and a listing of all video cards with the technology. Vapor-X technology represents the type of cooling for video cards known as Vapor Chamber cooling.

Vapor Chamber Technology is based on the same principles as heatpipe technology. A liquid coolant is vaporized at a hot surface, the resulting vapor is condensed at a cold surface then the liquid is returned to the hot surface. The recirculation process is controlled by a wick system. SAPPHIRE Vapor-X flattens the whole system into a slim chamber - which in the graphics application is mounted in contact with the surface of the graphics chip. Actually, the coolant is water آ– but because the chamber is evacuated to a very low pressure, the vaporization process occurs at a much lower temperature than normal boiling point. The complex wick arrangement inside the module controls the flow of water and water vapor so that the system can be used in any orientation.

(Editor’s Note: AMD was the first to vapor chamber and since then has moved away from it in reference video cards. However NVIDIA has wholeheartedly moved into use vapor chamber cooling for its reference video cards.)

SAPPHIRE VAPOR-X R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 TRI-X OC (UEFI)

The video card we are evaluating today is the SAPPHIRE VAPOR-X R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 TRI-X OC (UEFI), which is over $600. You can find one available on Amazon right now for $627.97 with a list price of $659.

The first thing you will notice is the long name, with plenty of modifiers to detail the features on this AMD R9 290X GPU based video card. We already talked about the Vapor-X technology, denoted in the name. Naturally 4GB GDDR5 stands for the 4GB of GDDR5 memory on board. The remaining three modifiers are very important.

TRI-X stands for the SAPPHIRE fan technology in use on this video card. Simply put, this means SAPPHIRE is using three fans to exhaust heat more efficiently than dual fan solution.

OC stand for this video card being factory overclocked out of the box. In fact, this has the highest factory overclock we've ever seen on an AMD Radeon R9 290X GPU based video card to date. The GPU is set to run at 1080MHz, for comparison reference spec is 1000MHz. The memory is set to run at 5.64GHz, for comparison the reference spec is 5GHz. This overclock is as high as we've achieved for the total overclock of other R9 290X cards. This is impressive.

UEFI stands for Unified Extensible Firmware Interface. This is a new interface meant to replace BIOS. The benefits of UEFI on this video card are improved boot times and resume times and secure boot. This feature can be enabled or disabled with a button on top of the video card. By default it is in legacy mode, with UEFI disabled. Turning it on is as simple as pushing the button, and the button lights up blue. The button also acts as a dual-BIOS for the video card.

Now, that may be all that is displayed in this very long video card name, but the fun does not stop there. SAPPHIRE has customized this video card in many other ways that make it the ultimate AMD Radeon R9 290X GPU based video card we've evaluated to date.

IFC stands for SAPPHIRE Intelligent Fan Control. There is a switch on the back of this video card that has a default setting of "On" but you can turn it to "Off" if you chose. This feature is called IFC, Intelligent Fan Control. This technology from SAPPHIRE allows the video card to shut down two of the three fans while running at idle, or light gaming where the temperature remains at a certain level. When the load and temperature increase, the fans turn on. Now, the middle fan is always on at all times, even with IFC on. If this sounds a lot like ASUS STRIX technology, it does to us as well, except in this case the middle fan always remains on while ASUS STRIX turns off all the fans for complete passive cooling.

The GPU must remain below 60c in order for two of the fans to stay off with IFC on. Once the temperature goes above 60c the other two fans kick on. SAPPHIRE claims the noise level is about 20-29% lower with IFC on and the fans disabled in idle speed compared to all three fans running. This is naturally implemented to quell the big complaint that AMD R9 290X video cards run loud. If you turn IFC off all three fans run at the same speed all the time.

Better Components - This being a premier video card from SAPPHIRE it carries the best hardware components for a full custom Printed Circuit Board design. This video cards sports SAPPHIRE Black Diamond chokes. SAPPHIRE claims its patent pending chokes are 10% cooler and offers 25% more power efficiency than a other high end chokes. SAPPHIRE is using high-polymer, aluminum capacitors for better overclocking and longer life span.

PCB Heat spreader - SAPPHIRE is using a PCB Component Heat Spreader.

Along the edge of the card the PCB is extended and one of the copper layers left exposed. An additional heatsink mounted directly to this copper layer allows heat absorbed into the PCB from the GPU and other components to be transferred to the heatsink and cooled by the airflow. This feature alone can reduce core temperature by 2 degree C.

Temperature LED Logo - The SAPPHIRE branding on the edge of the video card, which lights up with LEDs is not just pretty, it is functional. The logo is a temperature color indicator. From 0-60c the logo turns blue, when the GPU heats up to 60-80c it turns yellow, and if it exceeds 80c it turns red. We never saw the logo turn red during gaming, it always stayed yellow. In fact to get a screenshot with it red we had to crank up the voltage and greatly overclock, and only then it only happened a couple of times.

Other features of this video card include HDMI with 3D support, DisplayPort v1.2 and dual-link DVI. SAPPHIRE recommends at least a 750W PSU for this video card. Again, the overclock is extremely impressive and will make this a fast video card. There are a lot of features, and it is certainly worth researching this webpage.


Pictures

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The box represents all the special features on the video card and lets you know it is an OC video card. Inside the box is a mouse pad, driver CD, manual and brochure. You will find power splitter cables and an HDMI cable.

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This video card is quite long, it measures 12" in length. There is that bit of raised PCB on the upper edge which adds a heatsink to reduce temperatures by 2c. Two 8-pin power connectors are required. The video card has a solid feel and weight to it. It doesn't feel like you will damage it by holding it, the heatsink cover is not as flimsy as it looks in the screenshots. The only issue is that the fan blades hover quite close to the heatsink, it is possible to actually bend the fan blades out of place if you put a lot of pressure on these when holding the card.

There are heatsinks everywhere on this video card. The RAM has heatsinks, the MOSFETS have heatsinks, the chokes have heatsinks, the entire backside has a large heatplate. Anything that can have a heatsink placed on it, has one.

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You can see the heatpipes and plate are copper. The IFC switch is easy to access, and you can do it on the fly with the video card running. We ran it on "On" for all the gameplay tests and we turned it "Off" for the overclocking tests. The UEFI button is easy to press, we tried it on and off and have UEFI boot results in the conclusion.

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You can see the three different colors of the LED logo showing us visually the temperature of the GPU.

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This video card looks quite good in our system.