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Sapphire Radeon R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC Video Card Review

Sapphire Radeon R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC Video Card Review

The Vapor-X series from Sapphire has impressed us before. Let's see how the series looks on the Radeon R9 280X 4GB OC as Shawn tells us all about it.

@ShawnBakerTW
Published Wed, Jul 23 2014 9:08 AM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:32 PM CDT
Rating: 94%Manufacturer: Sapphire Technology

Introduction and Package

Introduction of the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC

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VIEW GALLERY - 39 IMAGES

Moving away from the recently released Intel Pentium G3258 CPU, we're back into the video card side of things with the first one on the chopping block coming from our friends at Sapphire. Following the popular Vapor-X series, which has already impressed us a number of times with models from this generation and the previous one, we're today looking at another Vapor-X card that falls into the R9 series from AMD.

The R9 280X has always held a special place in our heart as it's that higher-end performance card that more often than not we can afford as it doesn't bust the bank. Sitting at around the $300 mark, depending on the brand and version, the R9 280X 3GB is a video card model that hits at a price point most people can justify when buying a video card.

While we can't deny the fact that most of us yearn for an R9 290 based card, the steep price increase to these 4GB models becomes a little out of reach for a lot of people. Instead, the R9 280X 3GB slides in perfectly. It's a nice step up from the models below it and does an excellent job of proving itself when compared to its big brothers.

That's enough rambling on, though. Most people would already understand how much we love the current crop of high-end AMD video cards and by now are probably already moving on to see what's going on with the package of the card. So, let's leave it at that and move forward with the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC video card.

Package - What comes inside the box

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Taking a look at the box, we really don't see anything out of the ordinary. Being a Vapor-X card means we have that blue theme going on, and the front of the box gives us all of the main details. Across the top, you can see the model clearly, while to the left we have the Sapphire logo with a sticker under it mentioning that the card is an Overclock Edition.

Across the bottom of the box, you can see some of the main features, which include 3GB of GDDR5 along with mention of the Vapor-X and Tri-X technology that is implemented into the cooling of the card. Turning the box over, we get our first look at the card along with a bit of a blurb on the left side, while the right side expands a little on those major features, which again include the VaporX and Tri-X technologies implemented into the heat sink fan design. You can also see standard AMD technologies here, including 3GB of GDDR5, AMD APP Acceleration, and Eyefinity support. Finally, you can also see support for the Sapphire TriXX overclocking software.

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Moving inside the box, you can see a very standard Sapphire bundle, with the Sapphire Select piece sitting under the standard quick install guide that is included. Moving along, you can see our standard driver CD, while across the bottom we're greeted with a CrossFire bridge and two dual-Molex to 8-Pin PCIe power connectors. Finally, we finish off with an HDMI cable that is commonplace in higher-end Sapphire bundles.

PRICING: You can find the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-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: The Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC retails for $339.99 at Amazon.

Canada: The Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC retails for CDN$402.20 at Amazon Canada.

Video Card Details and Specifications

Close up with the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC

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Moving onto the card, we are drawn straight to the blue and black color scheme that Sapphire is using on the card. I find this to be one of the best color combinations to show up recently. It's a nice change from the very common red and black color scheme that we often see. Unfortunately, we can't think of many motherboards this color scheme suits apart from one or two models from GIGABYTE that have a similar black and blue combination.

Moving away from the color combination, though, we have the actual heat sink fan design. The Vapor-X Tri-X cooler from Sapphire has always proven to perform well. Taking a look at the cooler, it should come as no surprise as to why it performs so well. The massive tri-fan heat sink setup sees a huge aluminum heat sink sitting behind three fans with a number of copper heat pipes helping pull the heat away from the core. We'll find out soon enough if the Vapor-X can continue to perform the way we want it to when we start testing it.

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Moving away from the cooler and taking the time to look what's going on in the other areas of the card, you can see that power comes in the form of two 8-Pin PCIe power connectors. This is up from the standard single 6-Pin and single 8-Pin PCIe power connector setup that is normally seen. This is normally done to provide more power to the card, helping overclocking. We'll take a look at just what Sapphire did with the overclock in just a moment.

Staying across the top of the card, but moving closer to the front, you can see we have our two standard CrossFire connectors along with a button instead of the standard toggle switch that lets us move between multiple BIOS that are installed on the card.

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Taking a look at the I/O side of things, you can see we have two Dual-Link DVI connectors; one is a DVI-D, while the other is a DVI-I.

Specifications

As we have already mentioned a few times today, the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC is an OC model as the name would suggest. Out of the box, you'll find a reference R9 280X 3GB carry with it a stock core clock of 1000MHz. As for the 3GB of GDDR5, you'll see that come in at 1500MHz or 6000MHz QDR.

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Taking a look above, you can see that Sapphire has chosen to bump the core clock up 100MHz, bringing it in at 1100MHz. As for the 3GB of GDDR5, like so many companies, they have chosen to leave the clock alone at 6000MHz QDR. We would've liked to have seen Sapphire bump this up a little, but instead they have chosen to go down the same path as most other companies by leaving it alone.

Test System Setup & FPS Numbers Explained

Test System Setup

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

We have a bunch of cards here in our graphs today starting off with the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC. Sitting below that, we have the AMD R9 270X 2GB, and above, we have the HIS R9 290 4GB IceQ X2 Turbo we recently looked at. Moving up, we've also included the AMD R9 290X 4GB running in "Uber Mode".

While we would normally leave it at that for the AMD side of things, we've also included the recently looked at HIS R9 290X iPower IceQ X2 Turbo 4GB running at 1100MHz on the core and 5700MHz QDR on the memory.

The main reason we've chosen to include this particular card is because it's the first card to use some of our new benchmarks that have been added recently. This means that the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC won't be sitting in these graphs all by itself.

As for the NVIDIA side of things, we've included just two cards. The first is the reference GTX 770 2GB, while the other is the ASUS GTX 780 Poseidon Platinum 3GB OC.

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 have 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 we have some great performance out the gate that sees our Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC get a good performance increase over the R9 270X 2GB.

3DMark Fire Strike

Version and / or Patch Used: 1

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Fire Strike performance looks great, and you can see that the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC doesn't sit all that far behind the R9 290 4GB IceQ X2 Turbo from HIS, especially when we look at the higher resolution Extreme preset.

Benchmarks - 3DMark Sky Diver & Catzilla

3DMark Sky Diver

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1

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Looking at one of our newest benchmarks, 3DMark Sky Diver, you can see the heavily overclocked HIS R9 290X iPower IceQ X2 Turbo sits a good chunk ahead of our Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC. This is no surprise as the model is a lot more expensive.

Catzilla

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.3

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Just like we see in 3DMark Sky Diver, the heavily overclocked HIS R9 290X sits well ahead of our Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC. Again, that is a card that is significantly more expensive, and the main reason we've included it today is so we have some other results in these new graphs that have just been added.

Benchmarks - Unigine Heaven & Phantasy Star Online 2

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 3

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Heaven performance is strong, and you can see we really do get a great performance gain over the R9 270X 2GB, which sits below the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC. Against the model above the R9 280X, you can see that it doesn't sit all that far behind the IceQ X2 Turbo version we have from HIS.

Phantasy Star Online 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

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PSO 2 performance is pretty strong here, and you can see that the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC performs at almost twice the speed of the R9 270X 2GB. You can see the R9 290 4GB from HIS jumps ahead a fair bit, but overall, the near 10,000 point score from the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC is an excellent number.

Benchmarks - Lost Planet 2 & Just Cause 2

Lost Planet 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

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Lost Planet 2 numbers are great across the board, with playable numbers being seen at all resolutions. At the highest resolution, we see a solid 73 FPS out of the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC. Looking above, you can see the R9 270X 2GB falls short of that 60 FPS number we want.

Just Cause 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Just Cause 2 numbers, just like Lost Planet 2 above, are great, with playable numbers being seen at all resolutions. Across the board, you can see that the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC manages to sit quite closely to the HIS R9 290 4GB IceQ X2 Turbo that sits above it.

Benchmarks -Metro Last Light & Nexuiz

Metro Last Light

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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While the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC manages to pull off playable FPS at 1680x1050, moving past that sees numbers that are just too low. The R9 290 4GB, on the other hand, manages to break the 60 FPS barrier at 1920x1200, and by a decent margin, too.

Nexuiz

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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While Nexuiz manages to just squeeze 60 FPS at 1680x1050, you can see that when moving to a higher resolution, the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC performs just way too slow. The R9 290 4GB also struggles at those resolutions. It does manage a little bit more breathing room at 1680x1050, though, with its 69 FPS average.

Benchmarks - Sniper Elite V2 & Sleeping Dogs

Sniper Elite V2

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

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Sniper Elite V2 numbers across the board look solid with the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC managing an excellent 68 FPS at the highest resolution.

Sleeping Dogs

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Sleeping Dogs continues the trend with great performance numbers across the board. The Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC has absolutely no problem putting out playable FPS at all resolutions, and you can again see that it's not all that far behind the R9 290 4GB that sits above it carrying a higher price tag.

Benchmarks - Hitman Absolution & Tomb Raider

Hitman Absolution

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Hitman Absolution numbers look good across the board with the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC. You can see, at the lower resolutions, we hit the same FPS wall that is present on the models above. Only at 2560x1600 does the card start to fall backwards. Fortunately, you can see the overall FPS is very solid, with a good minimum and average being seen.

Tomb Raider

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Tomb Raider performance on the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC is solid at both 1920x1200 and 1680x1050. It's only at 2560x1600 that we fall below playable FPS numbers. Looking above, you can see even the R9 290 and R9 290X struggle to offer playable FPS at this resolution.

Benchmarks - BioShock Infinite & Battlefield 4

BioShock Infinite

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Looking at BioShock Infinite, you can see the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC has no problem at 1920x1200 and 1680x1050. Just like the cards above it, though, we struggle at 2560x1600. While the R9 290 and R9 290X 4GB offerings do get closer to 60 FPS, they still remain below that playable number we're always-on the hunt for.

Battlefield 4

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Origin Update

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Battlefield 4 sees the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC performing really well at all resolutions, with gaming not being an issue across the board. At the highest resolution, you can see that the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC and the more expensive R9 290 4GB sit quite closely to each other.

Benchmarks - GRID Autosport

Grid Autosport

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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GRID Autosport performance is good across the board, with playable numbers being seen. You can see that, at the lower resolutions, the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC manages to outperform the higher-end, heavily overclocked R9 290X 4GB from HIS.

This tells us that AMD has been able to either remove the FPS wall that was present in Catalyst 14.6, or at least let it hit at a later point. We'll know more as we do more and more testing under this game.

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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With AA and AF turned on, you can see that overall performance is just way too low at both resolutions. Looking above, you can actually see all of our setups here struggle to hit that 60 FPS mark.

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You can see at the lower resolution that the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC manages to again outperform the higher-end R9 290X 4GB. Just like we saw on the previous page, this is clearly due to the fact that AMD has been able to remove or at least cause the FPS wall to come at a later point.

At 2560x1600, though, you see the two setups become separated, and the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC falls short of that 60 FPS number we're on the hunt for.

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Moving into Sleeping Dogs, we see that performance at both resolutions is just too low. Compared to the higher-end R9 290 cards, you can see that while they fall short at the higher 2560x1600 resolution, they both have no issue breaking past that 60 FPS number at 1920x1200.

Benchmarks - 4K - 3840x2160 Testing

4K - 3840x2160 Testing

4K monitors are the next step for gamers demanding the best in image quality. With four times the pixels of a standard 1920x1080 monitor (meaning 4x the intensity), 3840x2160 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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Cranking the resolution up, you can see that we're not actually all that far behind the R9 290 4GB that sits above it. Let's see how performance is in a real-world gaming environment, though.

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Looking at Sleeping Dogs, you can see both the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC and R9 290 4GB struggle to hit that 60 FPS number we're on the hunt for. It's not until we move to the top R9 290X 4GB that we've overclocked that we see a playable number with the 72 FPS average.

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Across the board, you can see the minimums and averages on all of our setups here are just too low. The 55 FPS average with the 47 FPS minimum seen on the heavily overclocked R9 290X 4GB is border line; we would prefer an extra couple of FPS on the average.

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Looking above, you can see that the FPS on all setups here is just way too low. The best average we have is 34 FPS coming from our heavily overclocked R9 290X 4GB.

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We finish off our gaming performance with GRID Autosport at our 4K resolution and see that the FPS is just too low on both setups. The heavily overclocked R9 290X 4GB is borderline, but just like we said under Hitman Absolutions, we'd prefer an extra couple of FPS on the average.

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 our Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC clearly sits towards the bottom of the pack, which is exactly what we want when it comes to the temperatures side of things. Fingers crossed that these low temperature numbers don't come at the cost of high noise levels.

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 CM 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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Looking above, you can see noise numbers sit a little north of the middle mark. You can see that the range from the middle of the pack to where the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC sits is just a single dB. Overall, the noise levels are impressive, especially considering the temperature numbers.

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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At a little over 450 watts under load, you can see the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC sits in the top half of the graph. For a setup like this, we recommend a quality 600-watt+ power supply to make sure you don't run into any problems.

Pricing, Availability and Final Thoughts

Coming in at around the $339 mark, the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC is indeed one of the more expensive R9 280X 3GB variants on the market at the moment. The simple question to answer when it comes to this situation is can the extra price that Sapphire charges over its competition be justified? The answer to that one is pretty easy: yes. While it's indeed one of the more expensive R9 280X 3GB cards, it does line up with other R9 280X 3GB cards that offer a much higher quality heat sink.

Compared to the R9 290 4GB, which is the next logical step up from this, the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC looks great. Coming in roughly $80-100 cheaper than the R9 290 4GB, the price separation is something a lot of people will notice. At around the $300 mark, the R9 280X continues to be an attractive option for gamers who are really looking to get serious bang for buck. It sits at that sweet spot at a price point people can justify.

When it comes to performance, the numbers are pretty much as you'd expect; we're sitting behind the R9 290 4GB. The decent core bump Sapphire has offered, though, does help draw it in a bit, and at the highest resolution, you can see that performance can be quite close at times. The other thing we see quite often is when the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC does fall short at the highest resolutions, the R9 290 4GB also falls short.

It's important to remember, though, that the higher-end offering does sit closer to that 60 FPS mark, and if you do want to play at that particular resolution, you're going to need less of a detail drop. 1920x1200 or 1920x1080 is indeed the sweet spot for this card. As for AA and AF being an option, it's going to depend on the particular game. While you see some games don't have an issue, others are just way too far below where we need it to be.

When it comes to the bundle, Sapphire indeed manages to get the edge. While it's not much, the inclusion of the HDMI cable is an extra that isn't really seen from other companies. It's not a lot, but I won't deny that having an extra HDMI cable laying around has come in handy a few times.

Overall, the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC is pretty much what you'd expect: a really strong performing, great looking, and well put together video card. While it's priced a little higher than some of its competition, we don't have a huge issue justifying the price difference thanks to the quality of the card.

PRICING: You can find the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-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: The Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC retails for $339.99 at Amazon.

Canada: The Sapphire R9 280X 3GB Vapor-X OC retails for CDN$402.20 at Amazon Canada.

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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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