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Sapphire Radeon R9 290X 4GB Vapor-X OC Overclocked Video Card Review

Sapphire Radeon R9 290X 4GB Vapor-X OC Overclocked Video Card Review

We overclock the Sapphire R9 290X 4GB Vapor-X OC video card and see what kind of performance we can get out of it. Take a look at what Shawn has to say.

@ShawnBakerTW
Published Tue, Aug 5 2014 9:00 AM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:33 PM CDT
Rating: 94%Manufacturer: Sapphire

Introduction and Package

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

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VIEW GALLERY - 40 IMAGES

Coming off of some cheaper mid-range video cards, we move to the other end of the scale to see what's going on with AMD's highest-end single GPU offering, the R9 290X 4GB. We've always loved this card since its inception, and we think it has done a marvelous job of taking on the current generation of games.

The particular version we're looking at today comes from Sapphire and sits in as part of the Vapor-X series, a series that we've always loved, and one that has carried with it some awesome performance improvements when compared to the reference versions from AMD.

The Vapor-X Series has been an impressive one, and while Sapphire does offer some great improvements to clock speeds when it comes to comparing it to the reference version of the card, we're going to kick it up a notch and take the clock speeds even higher to see just what kind of performance we can get out of this single GPU beast from Sapphire.

We already know so much about Sapphire and the R series of video cards from AMD that it really feels like there's not a whole lot more that needs to be said here. So, saying that, let's just leave it here and move forward to see what's going on with the package of the Sapphire R9 290X 4GB Vapor-X OC.

Package - What comes inside the box

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Taking a look at the box, we have the black and blue color scheme that helps us recognize the card is part of the popular Vapor-X series. In the top right corner, you can see the model and series, while across the bottom we have some of the main features, which include the fact this card is an OC Edition and carries with it the Vapor-X cooler in a Tri-X setup. You can also see the fans are dual ball bearing as well for added quality.

Turning the box over, you can see that Sapphire offers a bit of a blurb on the left side with a picture of the card. On the right side of the box, you can see some of those main features mentioned on the front. Looking closely, you can see that most of the focus is on the cooler, with the main highlights covering the Vapor-X cooling technology, the Tri-X triple fan setup, and the Intelligent Fan Control (IFC) to help keep noise levels down when the card isn't under a huge amount of load.

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Moving inside the box, you can see the bundle is the standard Sapphire one, which includes a Quick Install Guide, a leaflet on Sapphire Technology Club, a driver CD, two dual Molex to 8-Pin PCIe power connectors, and an HDMI cable.

Along with all that, you can see that Sapphire has included a mouse pad, something that we also saw in the Vapor-X version of the R9 290 4GB. We're not really a huge fan of this addition. Sure, anything extra is nice, but the quality of it isn't great, and it just feels thrown into the bundle. The quality of it is just leaps and bounds away from the quality of the card that Sapphire has put together.

PRICING: You can find the Sapphire R9 290X 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 290X Vapor-X OC retails for $627.97 at Amazon.

Video Card Details and Specifications

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

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Taking a look at the card, you find yourself looking at a very familiar design. If you had a chance to look at our R9 280 4GB Vapor-X review, you'll see a setup that is pretty much identical. The massive three-fan heat sink covers the card from top to bottom and from left to right. The black and blue color scheme that Sapphire uses for the Vapor-X line is one of the best color schemes, and the overall quality of the heat sink is second to none.

The cooler has proven itself before on lesser models; today, though, it will really have its work cut out for itself as we take the time to overclock the card higher than the clocks Sapphire offers.

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Taking a look around the card, you can see that Sapphire has upgraded the power setup from the single 6-Pin PCIe and 8-Pin PCIe power connector to a dual 8-Pin PCIe power connector setup to offer greater power to the card. Moving closer to the front of the card, we get a chance to see the quality of the heat sink that Sapphire has got going on.

At the front, you can see in typical R9 290 series fashion that we don't have any form of CrossFire connectors. We do have a button instead of the standard switch to swap between the two included BIOS that cover a legacy mode and a UEFI one.

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Finishing our look at the I/O side of things, you can see we have two Dual-Link DVI-D connectors along with a single HDMI and DisplayPort connector. This is a typical setup when it comes to the connectivity side of things. You can also see some vents offered to help push the hot air out the back of the case.

Specifications

As we mentioned already, the Vapor-X version of the Sapphire R9 290X 4GB comes overclocked out of the box. Being a Vapor-X version also means that Sapphire is slightly more aggressive with the clocks.

Looking below, you can see the default core clock is 1080MHz, while the 4GB of GDDR5 comes in at 5640MHz QDR. This is a really nice out-of-the-box overclock as a reference-clocked card carries with it a core clock of 1000MHz, and the 4GB of GDDR5 comes in at 5000MHz QDR. The fact that Sapphire has chosen to overclock the memory is awesome. It continues to be something most companies neglect.

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As we mentioned in the introduction, though, we'll be overclocking the card even higher today. Looking above, you can see the final overclock finished at 1145MHz on the core, while the 4GB of GDDR5 was pushed to an extremely strong 6300MHz QDR.

This is a really strong overclock and should bring with it some excellent performance. We're really looking forward to seeing just what kind of performance we're able to get out of the card today.

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.

As always, we have a bunch of cards in our graphs here today, and thanks to having a look at a few video cards over the past few weeks, we're also seeing our newer benchmarks start to slowly fill up, which is fantastic.

As for the cards we have here today, sitting next to our overclocked Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC, overclocked to 1145MHz on the core and 6300MHz QDR on the memory, we have the lower-end R9 280X IceQ X2 Turbo Boost 2GB OC and the Vapor-X version of the R9 280X 3GB OC from Sapphire.

Moving into the 290 range of cards, we have the recently looked at HIS versions of the R9 290 4GB IceQ X2 Turbo and R9 290X iPower IceQ X2 Turbo 4GB running at 1100MHz on the core and 5700MHz QDR on the memory. As for the NVIDIA side of things, we have the reference GTX 770 2GB and 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 drama.

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 off with 3DMark 11, we can see that the performance from our heavily overclocked Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC is very strong as you'd both hope and expect. Let's move forward to see if this continues.

3DMark Fire Strike

Version and / or Patch Used: 1

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3DMark Fire Strike performance looks fantastic. You can see that the numbers are strong at both presets, and we're ahead of all of our other setups here thanks to that strong overclock we managed to achieve out of the card.

Benchmarks - 3DMark Sky Diver & Catzilla

3DMark Sky Diver

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1

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Sky Diver numbers look good, and you can see, thanks to our overclock on the Sapphire being stronger than the overclock we achieved on the HIS, the Vapor-X manages to sneak ahead to get another tick in the win column.

Catzilla

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.3

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Catzilla is one of our new benchmarks, and you can see the overclock we managed to achieve on the Sapphire versus the HIS seems to give us a solid increase in performance at both resolutions.

Benchmarks - Unigine Heaven & Phantasy Star Online 2

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 3

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While NVIDIA cards tend to favor Heaven due to the strong emphasis on Tessellation, you can see that, thanks to the strong overclock we managed to achieve on the Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC, the AMD based offering manages to score extremely well at both resolutions, coming out ahead of the competition.

Phantasy Star Online 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

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PSO 2 performance is just ballistic. You can see that we have a massive score coming out of the heavily overclocked Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC. PSO 2 has always loved massively overclocked cards, and you can see here the kind of performance gains the Sapphire card gets when compared to the reference version of the R9 290X 4GB.

Benchmarks - Lost Planet 2 & Just Cause 2

Lost Planet 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

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While you can see that under Lost Planet 2 the heavily overclocked Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC does fall short of our NVIDIA offering, the overall performance is extremely strong at all resolutions with playability not being an issue.

Just Cause 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Just Cause 2 performance across the board is fantastic, and just like Lost Planet 2, you're not going to run into any problems playing this game on the Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC.

Benchmarks -Metro Last Light & Nexuiz

Metro Last Light

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Metro Last Light sees our heavily overclocked Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC perform well at 1920x1200 and 1680x1050. At the highest resolution, though, you can see that even something older like Metro Last Light falls short of that 60 FPS number we're always-on the hunt for.

Nexuiz

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Nexuiz performance at 1680x1050 is strong, and moving to 1920x1200, you can see the heavily overclocked Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC is indeed the strongest out of the bunch here.

With that said, you do see it falls just short of that 60 FPS number we're always-on the hunt for by just a single FPS. Of course, falling short here means that 2560x1600 isn't an option as we plummet into the 30 FPS range.

Benchmarks - Sniper Elite V2 & Sleeping Dogs

Sniper Elite V2

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

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Sniper Elite V2 looks great across the board, and you can see our heavily overclocked Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC manages to come out ahead of the pack at all resolutions. These older games are really no issue for these higher-end offerings.

Sleeping Dogs

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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While the Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC doesn't manage to pull out the win at all resolutions here, you can see it does manage some extremely strong FPS across the board. At the highest resolution, we see that we're able to score a massively smooth 127 FPS average. This is fantastic news for those new 144Hz 2560x1440 screens.

Benchmarks - Hitman Absolution & Tomb Raider

Hitman Absolution

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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While Hitman Absolution performance is extremely strong across the board, it unfortunately suffers from that FPS wall that we typically see at almost all resolutions. The only time we don't see it hit that wall is at 2560x1600. Even then, though, we're scoring just shy of it with a 90 FPS average.

Tomb Raider

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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Tomb Raider numbers are fantastic across the board, and our heavily overclocked Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC puts out an impressive 47 FPS minimum and 70 FPS average at the highest resolution.

This is a strong average compared to the cards that sit closest to it, with the HIS offering scoring a 61 FPS average and the ASUS GTX 780 falling short of that 60 FPS number with a 52 FPS average.

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, you can see that our heavily overclocked Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC doesn't manage to come out in first. Instead, we see our ASUS GTX 780 score better across the board. Fortunately, the Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC does manage to score over 60 FPS at all resolutions.

Battlefield 4

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Origin Update

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Battlefield 4 numbers are strong across the board, and you can see that our heavily overclocked Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC has no problems coming out ahead of the competition and offering solid FPS at all resolutions.

Benchmarks - GRID Autosport

Grid Autosport

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

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GRID Autosport numbers aren't that exciting as we see the heavily overclocked Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC bouncing off of that FPS wall at all resolutions. At least we're fortunate enough to see playable numbers across the board.

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 Metro Last Light falls short of that playable 60 FPS we need at both resolutions.

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Even with AA and AF on, we see that the heavily overclocked Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC continues to hit that FPS wall that is present under GRID Autosport. We're really hoping a driver release can help remove this, or at least let the FPS wall come on at a later point.

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At 1920x1200, we can see Sleeping Dogs puts out a solid 69 FPS average. Moving to 2560x1600, though, sees the FPS plummet with an average of just 41 FPS.

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 up the resolution, we can see under Heaven that the heavily overclocked Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC scores just as we'd expect, coming out slightly ahead of the overclocked HIS R9 290X we tested recently.

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With the resolution cranked right up to 4K, we can see our heavily overclocked Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC manages to still score a solid 71 FPS average.

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Hitman Absolution at 4K isn't too bad. The minimum is really strong, but the 55 FPS average is just a little too low for our liking. With the game maxed out, though, we have plenty of room to move. I'd drop the detail slightly to get us into the 60 FPS range making sure our gaming experience was super smooth.

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While the 28 FPS minimum under Tomb Raider isn't too bad, you can see the average FPS sits just slightly higher at 34 FPS, a number that is just way too low for the game to be playable.

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GRID Autosport performance at 4K is nearly identical to that of Hitman Absolution. We have a strong minimum that sits in the mid 40 FPS range. The average, though, at 55 FPS is just a little too low for us, and we'd drop the detail slightly to get to that 60 FPS.

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 at the temperature numbers, the Vapor-X cooler does a fantastic job of keeping the R9 290X core at a reasonable temperature. The reference cooler at stock sees the GPU sit in the 90C range.

Looking above, you can see that the Sapphire offering is in the mid-70s, and it's worth noting that we've overclocked the core and we're throwing more voltage through it. These numbers are a real testament to the quality of the Vapor-X cooler.

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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While noise levels sit in the top half of the graph, the overall number isn't too bad, coming in at the mid-60 dB range.

The card is audible, but considering the performance we're getting out of it and the temperature range on the GPU, the Vapor-X continues to do an excellent job.

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 numbers on the card are quite high, coming in just shy of 600 watts. Looking at the graph, though, this is pretty standard for a R9 290X that is so highly overclocked.

We'd recommend a power supply that was sitting in the 750W+ range for a setup like this.

Pricing, Availability and Final Thoughts

Awesome! If we had to sum up the Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC in one word, it would simply be "awesome!" We love this card. What's not to love about it? Well, the price is on the steeper side of things as you'd expect. It's not the most expensive R9 290X 4GB on the market, but floating around the $600 mark does make it one of the most expensive.

Looking back through everything, though, we must admit that the price does feel more than justified. For starters, you've got that awesome Vapor-X cooler that works wonderfully. It did an excellent job of handling the clocks we threw at it today, which were extremely impressive. 1145MHz on the core and 6300MHz QDR on the memory are both awesome jumps from the reference clocks.

Compared to the out of the box clocks that Sapphire offers, they're also a really strong increase. On the topic of the out of the box clocks, though, this is another area in where Sapphire has done a really amazing job. The 1080MHz core clock is a strong increase, and one of the stronger ones we've seen. The big increase in the memory clock, though, is what really gets our attention, especially since memory clocks are something most companies tend to not worry about.

While we know the best gains come from the core overclock, we're never going to complain about a company taking the time to improve the memory clock. While the gains aren't as great when compared to the core, the gains still exist.

When it comes to the bundle, it's a very typical Sapphire one. The addition of the HDMI cable is nice, and the mouse pad is, well...included. We're not going to complain about the fact that we have something else thrown in the bundle, but it doesn't quite carry with it the same quality that the actual video card does, which in the end is all that really matters to most people.

The Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC is just an all-around high quality video card that people are no doubt going to want. The blue and black color scheme has become a personal favorite of mine and is really the icing on the cake. In the end, though, if you're overclocking or not, the Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC is just a stand out version of the R9 290X 4GB. You're going to pay a bit more for it, but we really feel that justifying the extra cost shouldn't be an issue.

PRICING: You can find the Sapphire R9 290X 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 290X Vapor-X OC retails for $627.97 at Amazon.

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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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