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Sapphire Radeon R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC Video Card Review (with 4K tests)

Sapphire Radeon R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC Video Card Review (with 4K tests)

Shawn tests the recently released Tri-X version of the popular Radeon R9 290 from Sapphire - and we have 4K 2160p testing included for the first time.

@ShawnBakerTW
Published Mon, May 19 2014 9:00 AM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:32 PM CDT
Rating: 94%Manufacturer: Sapphire

Introduction and Package

Introduction of the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC

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VIEW GALLERY - 36 IMAGES

Much to my surprise, I discovered that the R9 290 4GB is a card that we haven't tested too much. Instead, we've seen companies focus on the models that sit either side of it. We've seen both a large amount of R9 290X and R9 280X video cards. The R9 290, though, has been slightly neglected, and to be honest, we're not too sure why.

Having tested the reference version and the Sapphire version in CrossFire, we found ourselves extremely happy with what was being offered from the model. Why companies haven't to chosen to promote it more has left us a little puzzled. Saying that, though, we now have a pair of the cards on hand from Sapphire and look forward to seeing what the Tri-X version can do today and the Vapor-X version at a later date.

What makes this review even more exciting for us here at TweakTown, though, is the fact it's the first one that will be making use of our brand new Dell P2815Q monitor. If you're not quite sure what exactly makes this monitor special, it's the massive 3840 x 2160 or "4K" resolution that it carries. With a .16mm dot pitch, the need for AA and AF is almost negated due to the fineness of the pixels. From a load perspective, the 3840 x 2160's massive 8,294,400 pixels is equivalent to four 1920 x 1080 monitors, meaning that this single monitor places more load on your video card than a three screen 1080p Eyefinity or Surround Vision setup. Let's leave it at that, though, and check out the package of the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC before getting into the fun stuff.

Package - What comes inside the box

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Taking a look at the front of the box, we've got a very standard setup from Sapphire. You can see the model in the top right corner, which is of course the R9 290. Next to that, you can see that this particular card is also part of the Tri-X series. Across the bottom, you can see some of the main features, which include the fact this is an OC Edition card, offers 4GB of GDDR5, and supports 4K gaming, to name just a few.

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Turning the box over, you can see we've got a blurb on the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC on the left side, while the right gives us a slight rundown on some of the major features, including the overclock, Tri-X cooling system, and HDMI with 4K support.

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Opening up the box and looking at the bundle, you can see a fairly standard Sapphire bundle, which includes the normal line up of paperwork alongside our Driver CD. From the cable side of things, you can see we've got a Molex to 6-Pin PCIe and Molex to 8-Pin PCIe power connector included along with an HDMI cable, an extra that Sapphire often includes on its mid-range and up models.

Video Card Details and Specifications

Close up with the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC

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Moving onto the card, you can see the massive Tri-X cooler that takes up the entire PCB except for a tiny bit at the bottom. This isn't the first time we've seen the Tri-X fan. Earlier in the year, we saw it on the R9 290X 4GB Tri-X from Sapphire. It did a good job of impressing us then, and we're hoping it does a good job again here today.

The Tri-X name, of course, comes due to the three fan setup that sits atop a massive heat sink. Looking behind the center fan, you can see the main plate over our GPU and a number of copper heat pipes coming out of it helping to draw the heat away from the core. This is a serious cooler, and we expect some serious performance out of it.

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Taking a look around the card, you can see the overhang that is present in the first image. It really goes to show just how massive this cooler is. Moving away from that, though, you can see that power comes in the form of a single 8-Pin and 6-Pin PCIe power connector. Staying across the top of the card but moving towards the front, you can see we've got a little switch that lets use move between two BIOS. Being an R9 290 series based card means that we don't have any CrossFire bridges. AMD eliminating the need for a CrossFire bridge on the R9 290 series is a really nice little feature that helps make for a clean setup.

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Finishing our look at the card, we head over to the I/O side of things where we find two Dual-Link DVI-D connectors alongside a single HDMI and DisplayPort connector. Here you can also see some vents that are designed to help push some of the hot air out the back of your case. This is a fairly typical I/O setup and brings with it no real surprises.

Specifications

Moving onto the specifications side of things, we mentioned in the start that this is an OC model from Sapphire. While normally we would take to MSI Afterburner and overclock the card further ourselves, because this is the first non-reference OC card we've looked at, we've decided to leave it alone. Along with that, the fact that we've also got the Vapor-X card sitting behind us means we'll take to overclocking with that one.

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Looking above, you can see that Sapphire has pushed the core of the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC up to 1000MHz. This is up from the reference 947MHz clock. As for the 3GB of GDDR5 memory, unlike most companies, Sapphire has also chosen to give that a bump.

Looking above, you can see we move from the stock 5000MHz QDR to a slightly increased 5200MHz QDR.

Test System Setup & FPS Numbers Explained

Test System Setup

We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: Intel, ASUS, and Corsair.

As always, we've got a bunch of video cards in our graphs here today. Alongside our Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC, we've got the MSI R9 280X Twin Frozr Gaming OC overclocked even higher with a massive 6GB of GDDR5.

Alongside that, we've got our reference R9 290 4GB and R9 290X 4GB running in "Uber Mode." As for the NVIDIA side of things, we've got both the reference GTX 770 2GB and the recently looked at ASUS GTX 780 ROG Poseidon Platinum 3GB OC.

What we're most excited about today, though, is the fact that this is our first review utilizing our new 3840 x 2160 4K Dell Monitor. The way we're approaching this resolution in our reviews is the same way we approach our AA and AF testing.

At the end of the benchmarking, you'll see a new page that will include our video card tested at 3840 x 2160 on a few benchmarks to give us an idea of how our particular video card handles the massive resolution. We'll be testing our full benchmark line up at the resolutions on particular cards in separate articles, so keep an eye out for them.

The FPS Numbers Explained

When we benchmark our video cards and look at the graphs, we aim to get to a certain level of FPS which we consider playable. While many may argue that the human eye can't see over 24 FPS or 30 FPS, any true gamer will tell you that as we climb higher in Frames Per Seconds (FPS), the overall gameplay feels smoother. There are three numbers we're looking out for when it comes to our benchmarks.

30 FPS - It's the minimum number we aim for when it comes to games. If you're not dropping below 30 FPS during games, you're going to have a nice and smooth gaming experience. The ideal situation is that even in a heavy fire fight, the minimum stays above 30 FPS making sure that you can continue to aim easily or turn the corner with no dramas.

60 FPS - It's the average we look for when we don't have a minimum coming at us. If we're getting an average of 60 FPS, we should have a minimum of 30 FPS or better and as mentioned above, it means we've got some smooth game play happening.

120 FPS - The new number that we've been hunting down over recent months. If you're the owner of a 120 Hz monitor, to get the most out of it you want to get around the 120 FPS mark. Moving from 60 FPS / 60 Hz to 120 FPS / 120 Hz brings with it a certain fluidity that can't really be explained, but instead has to be experienced. Of course, if you're buying a 120 Hz monitor to take advantage of 3D, an average of 120 FPS in our benchmark means that in 3D you will have an average of 60 FPS, which again means you should expect some smooth gameplay.

Why are some graphs incomplete?

Adding new game benchmarks is a long, tedious and time consuming task as every video card has to be re-tested in those new benchmarks. Because of that reason we have always just evaluated our benchmark line up every six months. To stay up to date and current with the latest benchmarks and games available, we've changed our approach to adding new benchmarks.

Our benchmark line up will progress and be updated as newer more intensive games with benchmarks comes to light. While this will mean that initially you may only see a single video card in those particular graphs, as the weeks go on and we test more and more video cards, the results will grow quickly. This will help keep our benchmark line up as up to date as possible as we introduce and remove games on a constant basis.

Benchmarks - 3DMark

3DMark 11

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1

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Starting out with 3DMark 11, you can see the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC is strong. We've got a solid performance boost over the reference card that we hope is seen throughout our benchmarks moving forward.

3DMark Fire Strike

Version and / or Patch Used: 1

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Starting off with Fire Strike, you can see some great performance coming out of the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC. You can see the overclock gives us a clear performance increase over the reference card here.

Benchmarks - Unigine Heaven & Phantasy Star Online 2

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 3

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Heaven continues the trend of strong performance gains at both resolutions. You can see here we're not all that far away from the reference R9 290X 4GB.

Phantasy Star Online 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

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PSO 2 has always benefited well from an overclock, and looking above, you can see that the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC sits quite close to the more expensive R9 290X 4GB running in "Uber Mode."

Benchmarks - Lost Planet 2 & Just Cause 2

Lost Planet 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

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Looking above, you can see our two R9 290 4GB cards perform quite similarly at 1920 x 1200 and 2560 x 1600. Looking at 1680 x 1050, though, you can see the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC manages to have a slight increase.

Just Cause 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Just Cause 2 sees a nice performance boost at all resolutions, which puts the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC right on the tale of the R9 290X 4GB in "Uber Mode" again.

Benchmarks - F1 2012 & Metro Last Light

F1 2012

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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F1 2012 sees the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC perform well at all resolutions with playable numbers not being an issue. We again see a performance increase come out of the setup, and overall, we see that again the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC sits quite close to the more expensive R9 290X 4GB running in "Uber Mode."

Metro Last Light

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Metro Last Light sees nice performance at both 1920 x 1200 and 1680 x 1050. At 1920 x 1200, you can see that the overclock Sapphire has given the R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC is enough for the model to move out of the 60 FPS range, which the reference card sees, and into the 70 FPS range, which the Sapphire offering manages.

Benchmarks - Dirt Showdown & Nexuiz

Dirt Showdown

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Dirt Showdown sees a performance increase at all resolutions, and here you can see that the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC manages to outperform the "Uber Mode" R9 290X 4GB slightly across the board.

Nexuiz

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Looking above, you can see that the overclock we've got on the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC helps us move away from the 60 FPS range on the reference card and into the 70 FPS range on the Sapphire one like we saw under Metro Last Light.

While we manage to see some nice gains at the other resolutions, it's not enough for the game to be playable. We do see that, at the higher resolutions, the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC manages to outpace our R9 290X 4GB in "Uber Mode."

Benchmarks - Sniper Elite V2 & Sleeping Dogs

Sniper Elite V2

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

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Sniper Elite V2 numbers are strong across the board with a nice little performance increase being seen on the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC. Compared to the R9 290X in "Uber Mode," you can see that the Sapphire offering manages to perform just a single FPS behind the more expensive video card.

Sleeping Dogs

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Sleeping Dogs sees a nice little performance increase across the board, which sees the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC come out ahead of the R9 290X 4GB in "Uber Mode" at both 1920 x 1200 and 1680 x 1050.

Benchmarks - Hitman Absolution & Tomb Raider

Hitman Absolution

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Pretty much bouncing off an FPS wall, you can see the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC, like the reference card and even the higher-end R9 290X 4GB in "Uber Mode," perform quite similarly to each other with little difference being seen.

Tomb Raider

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Tomb Raider sees the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC get a nice performance increase over the reference R9 290 4GB. Thanks to the overclock, you can see it's not actually all that far away from the more expensive R9 290X 4GB in "Uber Mode."

Benchmarks - BioShock Infinite & Battlefield 4

BioShock Infinite

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Looking at the BioShock Infinite numbers above, you can see that the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC performs extremely close to the reference card with an extra FPS being seen at the lower resolutions and no change at the highest. More importantly, the R9 290 4GB continues to fall short of the FPS we need at the highest resolution.

Battlefield 4

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Origin Update

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Battlefield 4 sees a bit of fluctuation but nothing major. Overall, you can see the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC offers strong, playable FPS at all resolutions.

Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AF

High Quality AA and AF Testing

While we test all our games with maximum in-game settings, turning on Anti-Aliasing (AA) and Antistrophic Filtering (AF) helps take the intensity of our testing to another level.

Here we see video cards go from playable FPS to unplayable FPS, and the real power houses continue to help break that 60 FPS mark we always aim for to provide a smooth gaming experience.

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While Metro Last Light sees a slight performance boost at both resolutions when AA and AF is turned on, you can see that the overall FPS continues to be too low as we fall well short of that 60 FPS number we're on the hunt for.

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Just Cause 2 sees a nice performance bump at both resolutions with playable numbers being seen at both 1920 x 1200 and 2560 x 1600. Compared to the R9 290X 4GB running in "Uber Mode," you can see the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC sits just a single FPS behind.

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Thanks to the overclock Sapphire is offering on the R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC, you can see at 1920 x 1200 we're able to move from the unplayable FPS realm into the playable 60 FPS one. This is exactly what we like to see when overclocking is thrown into the mix.

Benchmarks - 4K - 3840 x 2160 Testing

4K - 3840 x 2160 Testing

4K monitors are the next step for gamers demanding the best in image quality. With 4x the pixels of a standard 1920 x 1080 monitor (meaning 4x the intensity), 3840 x 2160 brings with it a new level of intensity to video cards.

Wanting to make sure that you're buying the right video card for a monitor that offers such a large resolution, we test the latest and greatest video cards in a couple of benchmarks to give you an idea of just what kind of setup you require.

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It's difficult to know just how the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC sits against other cards. While not the most useful benchmark here, in time as the results grow, we'll get a good idea of how video cards handle this synthetic benchmark, which has a heavy emphasis on tessellation.

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Looking under Sleeping Dogs, it's really quite amazing to see that the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC manages to offer a playable 62 FPS at this ultra-high resolution. Of course, we'd prefer a little more breathing room, but this is a number we're not complaining about.

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While Hitman Absolution sees a nice minimum score, you can see the 49 FPS average is just too low for the game to be playable.

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We finish our 4K testing with Tomb Raider, and you can see with a minimum and average in the 20s, this just isn't going to happen.

Temperature & Sound Testing

Temperature Test

The temperature of the core is pulled from MSI Afterburner with the max reading used after a completed run of 3DMark Vantage at the Performance preset.

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Looking above, you can see that the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC sits almost directly in the middle of the pack when it comes to temperature levels. 68C is a solid number as the reference card had a massive load temperature of 90C.

Sound Test

Pulling out the TES 1350A Sound Level Meter, we find ourselves quickly yelling into the top of it to see how loud we can be.

After five minutes of that, we get a bit more serious and place the device two centimeters away from the fan on the card to find the maximum noise level of the card when idle (2D mode) and in load (3D mode).

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As for the noise side of things, you can see we're sitting in the top half of the graph. Overall, though, 64.2dB isn't too bad, especially when you consider the temperature drop over the reference cooler.

Power Consumption Testing

Power Consumption Test

Using our PROVA Power Analyzer WM-01--or "Power Thingy" as it has quickly become known as to our readers--we are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated video cards installed. Keep in mind that it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into AC wall socket).

There are a few important notes to remember, though. While our maximum power is taken in 3DMark06 at the same exact point, we have seen in particular tests the power being drawn as much as 10 percent more. We test at the exact same stage every time, so tests should be very consistent and accurate.

The other thing to remember is that our test system is bare minimum--only an SSD hard drive is used with a single CD ROM and minimal cooling fans.

So while the system might draw 400 watts in our test system, placing it into your own PC with a number of other items will result in a higher draw.

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Power draw sits in the middle of the pack at just under 450 watts. For a setup like this, we'd recommend a solid 650-watt power supply.

Pricing, Availability and Final Thoughts

Coming in at a little over $400, the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC finds itself sitting in the middle of the pack. While we've got a couple of cards that sit below it, we've also got a number of cards that sit above it. We would expect the card to carry with it a slight premium over standard models. What we would hope, though, is that it doesn't sit right at the top of the pricing pyramid unless it was something like a TOXIC Edition.

Moving away from the price of the card and onto everything else that surrounds it, you can see when it comes to the bundle we've got a pretty standard Sapphire setup. You've got the normal inclusions like our Driver CD, Paperwork, and needed power cables. In typical Sapphire fashion, you can see, like they do with most mid-range and upwards, the company has included an HDMI cable in the bundle. While you might not need it, the inclusion, as we always say, is handy. A number of devices continue to not include an HDMI cable, and having a spare one floating around the house is never a bad thing.

As for the card itself, Sapphire has done a really good job. The Tri-X fan is a great cooler. We saw it perform well on the R9 290X 4GB from them, and today it again does an excellent job. What we really like, though, is the overclock that Sapphire is offering us. They've given the core a nice bump, but unlike most companies, they have not chosen to ignore the memory clock. Instead, they've also given the 4GB of GDDR5 a slight performance bump. Combined with the core increase, we receive a really nice little performance boost across the board.

When it comes to performance, you can see the overclock gives us a nice little boost in performance in almost every benchmark. As for benchmarking at 4K, the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC does indeed fall short under the most intensive benchmarks like Hitman Absolution and Tomb Raider. Surprisingly, you can see that it manages to just scrape past that 60 FPS number we need under Sleeping Dogs. We're looking forward to growing our 4K results database over the coming weeks and months.

There's little to fault about the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC. Sapphire, as always, has put together a really nice card. We've got a strong cooler, nice bundle with that little bit extra, and an overclock that has seen a bump in both the core and memory clock. If you're after something that sits a little over $400, the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC is an excellent option. We're looking forward to testing the more expensive Vapor-X version of the card, which has also just arrived.

PRICING: You can find the Sapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC for sale below. The prices listed are valid at the time of writing but can change at any time. Click the link to see the very latest pricing for the best deal.

United States: TheSapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC retails for $444.36 at Amazon.

Canada: TheSapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC retails for CDN$541.70 at Amazon Canada.

Australia: TheSapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC retails for $711.99 AUD at Mighty Ape Australia.

New Zealand: TheSapphire R9 290 4GB Tri-X OC retails for $749.99 NZD at Mighty Ape NZ.

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Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.

We openly invite the companies who provide us with review samples / who are mentioned or discussed to express their opinion. If any company representative wishes to respond, we will publish the response here. Please contact us if you wish to respond.

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