SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X Video Card Review

SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X Video Card Review

SAPPHIRE introduces a second Radeon R9 290X video card with 8GB of VRAM to its growing arsenal, this time with its Tri-X cooler.

| Mar 20, 2015 at 9:08 am CDT
Rating: 88%Manufacturer: SAPPHIRE

Introduction

I've only been in the shoes of the Video Card Editor for just over a month now, but I've written four reviews of NVIDIA cards with this review being the first AMD review I've written. I wrote some news a couple of weeks ago when SAPPHIRE announced its new SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X video card, so I reached out to the company to secure a sample for review.

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Well, days later it arrived, so I got right into it. I already have the Vapor-X version of the 8GB card from SAPPHIRE, but this is the new Tri-X version that I was excited to test out. SAPPHIRE has had a great run with its Tri-X coolers, as they've been popular among all types of consumers.

There aren't many cards with 8GB of VRAM, but there are less games that can fully utilize the 8GB of VRAM, so we will do some specific testing on the SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X to see if the 8GB of VRAM makes a difference. I don't think it will, but we have some tricks up our sleeve that will try and get that 8GB of VRAM crying for mercy.

Quick Specs

SAPPHIRE is using the ageing, but still impressive Hawaii XT GPU, which has SAPPHIRE's excellent Tri-X cooler on top. We have 8GB of VRAM versus the usual 4GB of VRAM, a 512-bit memory bus coming in off the back of the various 128-bit and 256-bit memory buses we've been using on the Maxwell-based cards from NVIDIA.

We're seeing SAPPHIRE tweak an architecture that AMD unveiled back in 2013, so there's not much more they can do with the card unless they think outside of the box like SAPPHIRE has, providing 8GB of VRAM and splashing an improved cooler with its Tri-X technology.

Availability & Price

SAPPHIRE is selling the Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X video card on Newegg right now for $459.99, which is not too bad at all considering you get 8GB of VRAM. There is plenty of stock, with a limit of 5 per customer enforced by Newegg.

The Packaging & Box Contents

SAPPHIRE has always had good looking boxes for its VGA cards, with the trend continuing on the Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X. Let's start with the front of the box.

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As you can see, we have SAPPHIRE teasing the Tri-X cooler in the top right, while the 8GB of VRAM makes a splash in the bottom left.

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On the back, we can see that SAPPHIRE has made a mistake here - on the right they have displayed the use of the R9 290X GPU, but the second box lists 'Fast Memory' and then SAPPHIRE explains that the card has "4GB of super-fast 512 bit GDDR5 memory" where it should say 8GB. Something small, but other than that we have a recap of the various features that the card is capable of.

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The top and bottom of the box don't have much going on, with the bottom of the box telling us the display connectors, and system requirements.

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Opening the box, we have some secure packaging for the card - something nice to see as usual from SAPPHIRE.

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Inside of the box, we have a few goodies: a mouse mat, product registration, a driver installation CD, quick installation guide, HDMI cable and a point of contact for SAPPHIRE.

Detailed Look

SAPPHIRE has been making great looking video cards for quite some time now, but its Tri-X coolers not only look good, but they are also incredibly efficient at keeping the Radeon R9 290X cool, while also being quiet. Let's take a detailed look at the SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X.

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Starting with the front of the card, we have the triple-fan cooler and the beautiful orange and black theme.

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After testing and reviewing various GeForce video cards with a back plate, the lack of a back plate is weird - something I'm sure we're going to see used on the upcoming Radeon 300 series.

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From the bottom, we can see that this is a dual-slot card with its cooler protruding just enough that it is a kind of 2.2-slot card.

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This time from the top.

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A closer look at the dual 8-pin PCIe power connectors.

Card Specifications & Cooling Setup

SAPPHIRE has a few members in its factory overclocked cards, where today we have the lowest of them all - the Tri-X. In this family, there's the Tri-X OC, Vapor-X and Toxic. They have varying cooling setups, with varying factory overclocks. This doesn't make the SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X Tri-X 8GB a bad card, because the selling point that we have here is the 8GB of VRAM.

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The detailed specifications of the SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X video card.

The biggest thing to take away from this is that it's running the Hawaii-based R9 290X GPU that AMD released in late 2013, but SAPPHIRE has splashed its cooler on top as well as doubling the VRAM from 4GB to 8GB.

Cooling Setup

SAPPHIRE's Tri-X cooler is an exciting piece of kit, something that I always enjoy working with. I've built various systems for friends over the years, and in my old job building custom gaming PCs for various clients in my state, one of my go-to choices was a SAPPHIRE GPU and its Tri-X cooler.

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The Tri-X cooler on this card is using three 85mm fans, so there's plenty of airflow across the massive heat sink design that SAPPHIRE has deployed here on the Radeon R9 290X Tri-X 8GB.

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The heat sink assembly on the card is split into two, one that covers the GPU itself, with the second part keeping the VRM circuitry nice and cool. There are five copper heat pipes that move from the GPU to the heat sink, which routes the heat over the entire heat sink, leaving those three fans to cool it all down.

Testing Method & Test System Configuration

We've been slowing reviewing GPUs, and after this review we will be adding some of the higher-end AMD Radeon GPUs to our benchmark charts. We have a Radeon R9 290X, Radeon R9 295X2 and a few others that we're going to throw into the lineup very shortly.

Testing Method

Because I'm just starting out reviewing GPUs, we're going to slowly evolve our benchmarking setup. I'm not going to dive into the deep end and start testing out real-time FPS, as this will hurt the quality of the reviews. Instead, I'd like to nail these initial reviews and then we can start doing real-time numbers of games like Far Cry 4, and Star Citizen. For now, I've played Battlefield 4 on a 64-player server to provide some real-world performance numbers.

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For now, I'm going to be using the same suite of benchmarks I've been using on my Tweakipedia articles, which uses a mix of synthetic benchmarks with Futuremark's 3DMark and Unigine Heaven. After that, we have a bunch of titles with built-in benchmarks (which does not represent actual in-game performance) but they are repeatable for you at home to gauge the performance of your PC or GPU.

Over time, I will be adding in new benchmarks and a new section that will concentrate solely on real-time gaming benchmarks. This will take more time per review, as I'll have to invest time into actually physically playing the games, but it'll be worth it in the long run. For now, let's get right into the synthetic benchmarks and see how this SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X performs.

Something Different

Most people purchasing the SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X will be gaming at various resolutions ranging from 1080p to 1440p, but the 8GB of VRAM comes into play much more at 1440p and 4K (and above). The card can handle all three resolutions without a problem, but I found the sweet spot on the card to be 1440p, especially on our ASUS ROG Swift PG278Q monitor, with its 144Hz refresh rate and G-SYNC technology.

Test System Configuration

We only recently built our new X99-powered system, something you can read about here. As for the detailed specifications, this is what we're running:

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  • CPU: Intel Core i7 5820K processor w/Corsair H110 cooler
  • Motherboard: GIGABYTE X99 Gaming G1 Wi-Fi
  • RAM: 16GB Corsair Vengeance 2666MHz DDR4
  • Storage: 240GB SanDisk Extreme II and 480GB SanDisk Extreme II
  • Chassis: Lian Li T60 Pit Stop
  • PSU: Corsair AX1200i digital PSU
  • Software: Windows 7 Ultimate x64
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We're running the system at stock CPU speeds, which will provide more of a 'real-world' feel to our benchmarks. Sure, this isn't an i7-5960X at 5GHz, but what person is going to team up an incredibly expensive CPU with a mid-range GPU? Not many.

Our GPU tests are changing, shifting toward more of a real-world feel. But don't worry, we will be doing some crazy balls-to-the-wall tests that will see serious overclocks, Extreme Edition processors, and much more in the coming months. For the most part, we will be doing more real-world testing by teaming up the right processor with the right GPU in its price category.

Even still, most people would be running an LGA 1150 socket Core i5 or mid-range AMD FX-8350 with a GeForce GTX 970, so we're still giving it some better guts as a CPU.

Benchmarks - Synthetic (3DMark and Heaven)

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3DMark Fire Strike Extreme - 1440p

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3DMark Fire Strike Ultra - 4K

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Heaven - 1080p

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Heaven - 1440p

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Heaven - 4K

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Starting off with our 3DMark test at 1080p, the SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X instantly beats the GTX 970 from ZOTAC, and bites at the toes of the reference GeForce GTX 980. The same applies to 1440p and 4K.

Heaven is a hard benchmark, with the R9 290X 8GB Tri-X losing out to the GTX 970 from ZOTAC and the reference GTX 980 at 1080p, but it beats the GTX 970 at 1440p, equals the GTX 9780 and loses by a huge 12FPS to the GTX 980.

At 4K, it loses to the GTX 980 once again, and by 1FPS to the GTX 780, but it beats the ZOTAC GeForce GTX 970 by 4FPS.

Game Benchmarks (1080p)

This is one game that we did differently, as it does not feature a built-in benchmarking feature. When it comes to Battlefield 4, there are countless ways you can benchmark it. Some find a spot in the single player campaign which is easily repeatable, and use that. For our testing, we've chosen to use a 64-player online multiplayer server for real-time performance statistics.

We joined a 64-player map and played for five minutes using FRAPS, pulling our minimum/average and maximum FPS. We did this for each test, we run the game for 5 minutes at 1080p/1440p and 4K two times each. One time with Medium settings, and another with a custom Ultra preset (disabling AA). It's time consuming, but it gives us a perfect look into true real-world performance.

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And again, this time with the Ultra preset.

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GRID Autosport

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Metro: Last Light

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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

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Thief

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Tomb Raider

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BioShock Infinite

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DiRT Showdown

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You can find our performance summary of all of our gaming tests later in the review.

Game Benchmarks (1440p)

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GRID Autosport

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Metro: Last Light

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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

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Thief

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Sniper Elite 3

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Tomb Raider

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BioShock Infinite

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DiRT Showdown

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You can find our performance summary of all of our gaming tests later in the review.

Performance - 4K

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GRID Autosport

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Metro: Last Light

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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

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Thief

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Sniper Elite 3

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Tomb Raider

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BioShock Infinite

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DiRT Showdown

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You can find our performance summary of all of our gaming tests later in the review.

Performance Summary

For the most part, this is an overclocked Radeon R9 290X, with double the framebuffer. 8GB of VRAM is mostly useless today, but we've done some testing at '8K' and found that it is very useful there. For now, 4K isn't even mainstream, with 1440p only beginning to become more adopted.

In saying that, 4K monitors are getting much cheaper, where I think we'll see them adopted much quicker as we slide into the second half of 2015. The SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X handled everything we threw at it without a problem, either equaling the performance of the Maxwell-based GeForce GTX 980, beating it, or losing to it slightly. Let's begin with a look at performance at 1080p.

Performance at 1080p

As usual, we'll start with separate thoughts on Battlefield 4 where our Medium testing showed it to pump out 160FPS average, against the GTX 970 and GTX 980 which push 169FPS average each. Not too bad at all, but we begin to see a swing to SAPPHIRE and AMD's favor when we crank it up to Ultra, with the R9 290X 8GB Tri-X scoring a great 150FPS average, leaving the GTX 970 and GTX 980 in its dust.

GRID: Autosport saw the SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X managing 119FPS average against the GTX 970's 137FPS and GTX 980's 140FPS average. Metro: Last Light is generous when it has more VRAM to work with, with the SAPPHIRE card beating the entire line up of cards.

Another lover of VRAM is Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, where the R9 290X 8GB Tri-X dominated with 82FPS average, with the closest card being the GeForce GTX 970 from ZOTAC which scores 72FPS.

Thief, Sniper Elite 3 and Tomb Raider all see the SAPPHIRE losing out to the big guns on the GTX 980.

Performance at 1440p

The additional VRAM on the SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X should come better into play at 2560x1440, where we see it kicking the ass of the GTX 780, GTX 970 and GTX 980 cards at 1440p in Battlefield 4. The R9 290X 8GB Tri-X provides 147FPS average, 20FPS+ above the competing high-end parts from NVIDIA.

When the Ultra preset (minus AA) is enabled, the 8GB of VRAM doesn't help too much as it's now over to the power of the GPU itself, with the R9 290X 8GB Tri-X losing to the GTX 980 by a single frame. It still beats the overclocked GTX 970 from ZOTAC by a huge 20FPS, though.

GRID: Autosport doesn't do much with the additional VRAM, but we see 101FPS average which is more than enough at 1440p. Metro: Last Light has the R9 290X 8GB Tri-X pushing out 52FPS average, while the GTX 980 scores 55FPS.

Shadow of Mordor is where we usually see our GPUs crawling on their knees begging for mercy, but the SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X scores 61FPS at 1440p, which is a great result. The GTX 980 beats it however, with 65FPS average.

Performance at 4K

Cranking things up to 4K, is where we want to be with a card like this. Starting with our Battlefield 4 numbers at 3840x2160 and the Medium preset, we have the SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X performing quite well, with 79FPS average - compared to the 80FPS on the GTX 980.

Metro: Last Light has the R9 290X 8GB Tri-X just 6FPS behind the GTX 980, while in Shadow of Mordor, the R9 290X 8GB Tri-X topples the GTX 980 by 2FPS at 4K.

We see the R9 290X 8GB Tri-X coming close to the GTX 970 and GTX 980 at 4K in Thief, with 34FPS against the NVIDIA cards with 41FPS and 37FPS for the GTX 970 and GTX 980, respectively. Sniper Elite 3 had the Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X scoring 68FPS, which was 3FPS off of the 71FPS that the GTX 980 managed.

Overclocking

We were able to really crank up the SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X, up from its stock GPU clock of 1020MHz to 1163MHz, while the RAM we were able to really drive up from 1375MHz to 1575MHz. This was a great achievement, with the card keeping itself nice and cool thanks to that Tri-X cooling technology.

With that overclock in mind, we jumped right into our testing. We test our overclocked video cards at 1440p, with Battlefield 4 run twice (Medium and Ultra minus AA), Metro: Last Light, 3DMark and Unigine Heaven. Let's jump right into it.

Battlefield 4

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Not the best results for the first test, with 120FPS average against the stock clocks which managed 147FPS. The minimum FPS plummets from 111FPS on the stock clocks, to just 83FPS on the overclocked settings.

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The Ultra (without AA) results are much better, and while our average result is 4FPS lower, the minimum is dragged up from 50FPS to 60FPS, which is just as impressive as an increased average FPS.

Metro: Last Light

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The overclock on our R9 290X 8GB Tri-X comes into play with Metro: Last Light, increasing the frame rate from 52FPS on stock clocks, to 61FPS - beating the GeForce GTX 980 in the process.

3DMark Fire Strike Extreme - 1440p

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3DMark sees a huge improvement thanks to our massive overclock.

Heaven - 1440p

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Heaven has a great improvement, increasing from the 44FPS on stock clocks to 50FPS.

Power Consumption, Sound Testing and Software

The SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X consumes a serious amount of power compared to the likes of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980, consuming up to and sometimes over 450W (full system). It'll be interesting to see how much this is reduced when AMD launches the new Radeon 300 series in the next few months.

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As you can see, when the SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X card consumes a gigantic 625W maximum when overclocked. It did spike to 690W during some of our Metro: Last Light testing, which was quite scary to see from a single GPU setup.

Sound Testing

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We're finally setup with some sounds testing equipment, where the SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X pushes out some serious sound at 100% fan speed. At 50%, it's much better - and that is enough to keep your card nice and cool.

We will be filling this chart out in the next week or two, with all of our cards tested so far.

Software

We actually took a very detailed look, at SAPPHIRE's impressive OC software 'Trixx' a while ago now on so things haven't changed much there at all.

It's still an impressive piece of software, and made the overclocking process on our SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X much easier to deal with.

What's Hot, What's Not & Final Thoughts

This is where you can fast forward to the final section of the review, and get a quick recap and points on the SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X.

8GB of VRAM: I don't like to use the words "future proof", but 8GB of RAM on a card these days, it's great to have this on your side.

Strong Performance: The Radeon R9 290X is still a great GPU, and with SAPPHIRE's tweaks and out-of-the-box overclock, we have a great performing card.

Huge Overclocking Capabilities: There is some serious overclocking headroom on the SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X, and I'm sure more than what we found here today. The trade off, is the gigantic power consumption, though.

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SAPPHIRE's Great Tri-X Cooling Technology: Even during our most strenuous testing, the card never got loud, and always felt just hot - but not too hot you can't touch it - after testing. This is a testament to SAPPHIRE's great cooling technology.

"Future Proof": I hate using the words "future proof", but the SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X is more future proof than you think. we recently did some testing and found that 8GB of VRAM will definitely be part of the future of PC gaming.

It Looks Great: I'm a big fan of SAPPHIRE's styling, with the Tri-X cooler styling looking super slick.

What's Not

High Power Consumption: This isn't something that is SAPPHIRE's fault directly, as it's more of the Hawaii-based architecture of the Radeon R9 290X from AMD. Our entire system was pulling more than 450W, which is quite high considering the GeForce GTX 980 provides nearly identical performance for under 300W.

Final Thoughts

What a first AMD video card to review! Sure, the Radeon R9 290X has been out for so long now, over 18 months, but add-in board partners like SAPPHIRE are continuing to offer new tricks. SAPPHIRE has provided 8GB of VRAM here, which is something you have to take into consideration when purchasing this.

Would I recommend you buy this card? Well, yes and no. If you need to buy something right now, and you're an AMD Radeon fan - yes, definitely yes. The performance is here, the features are continuing to grow with AMD, and you're getting a seriously good card all-round.

But, AMD is so close to launching its Radeon 300 series where the flagship GPU, the Radeon R9 390X, should launch and destroy the R9 290X by 20-30%. I'm sure we're going to see 8GB cards offered by default - and if we don't, I'll be disappointed.

The SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X is a smash hit of a card, released a little too late with the Radeon 300 series right around the corner.

Last updated: Apr 7, 2020 at 12:33 pm CDT

TweakTown award
Performance (overclocking, power)95%
Quality (build, design, cooling)95%
General Features (display outputs, etc)85%
Bundle, Packaging & Software90%
Value for Money75%
Overall Rating88%

The Bottom Line: While we have a great factory overclock, the fact that you can squeeze a huge overclock out of the SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X 8GB Tri-X is just gravy. Oh, and 8GB of VRAM doesn't hurt, either.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR -

Anthony is a long time PC enthusiast with a passion of hate for games built around consoles. FPS gaming since the pre-Quake days, where you were insulted if you used a mouse to aim, he has been addicted to gaming and hardware ever since. Working in IT retail for 10 years gave him great experience with custom-built PCs. His addiction to GPU tech is unwavering.

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