Sapphire R9 290 4GB TRI-X OC Review
After months of waiting and some pretty high expectations, custom versions of AMD’s ridiculously popular R9 290-series cards have finally been trickling into the retail channel. Granted, crypto currency miners are snatching them up before most gamers can press the “buy” button, some significant strides have been made towards improved availability. While we’ve already taken an in-depth look at ASUS’ R9 290X DirectCU II OC, in this review we’re going towards a slightly more affordable price point with the Sapphire R9 290 Tri-X OC.
At first glance the R9 290 Tri-X OC may seem like a straightforward custom card with the usual massive heatsink but Sapphire has been keen to point out that a ton of development went into this product. With the Hawaii cores housed within all R9 290 cards outputting a significant amount of heat, designing the Tri-X cooling solution was a challenge. Some of this development cost has carried over into this card’s cost as well considering it currently goes for around $599, making it $100 more expensive than the reference version and exactly the same price as most vanilla R9 290X’s. That’s still a far cry from the custom R9 290X cards though, which frequently hit the $700 mark.
Think those prices are nuts? You're not the only one. Even the reference R9 290X and R9 290 have seen drastic price increases of $100 over their respective initial launch costs. Unfortunately, the laws of supply and demand have caught up to AMD in a big way. Board partners like Sapphire whose MSRP for the Tri-X is actually $449 rather than the $599 it currently goes for.
In order to justify this card’s relatively steep premium over the reference version, Sapphire has attempted to capitalize upon their “OC” designation. In this case, the core frequency receives a modest bump of 50MHz while the memory also gets a very minor upgrade to 5.2 Gbps despite there being plenty of available overhead. This likely won’t result in all that much of a visible performance boost but Sapphire’s real focus here is to lower the original R9 290’s high acoustic signature.
Since the R9 290 doesn’t have quite as many problems hitting its maximum frequencies as its more powerful sibling and AMD’s Boost doesn’t take full advantage of additional thermal overhead, in order to get additional performance you’ll need to overclock the card. Luckily, as you’ll see a bit later, the R9 290 Tri-X OC was a very willing participant in our clock speed endeavors, partially due to the inclusion of a thoroughly revised TriXX utility.
The R9 290 Tri-X represents a significant departure from Sapphire’s older designs, a change which was necessitated by the higher thermal output of AMD’s latest architecture. In this case, Sapphire has added an extensive, triple-section heatsink to the R9 290 which uses a stunning black / orange color scheme. Unfortunately, it does add 1.25” to the already long reference design but with a length of 11.75”, it shouldn’t have too many issues fitting into most new ATX cases.
With its three 80mm cooling fans, an extensive aluminum fin array and a vapor chambered contact plate. The build quality here is immaculate even though the shroud is manufactured out of plastic. Sapphire hasn’t seen the need to place a secondary heatsink over their memory modules, though the VRMs do get some attention with the inclusion of a form-fitting aluminum plate that’s actively cooled by the Tri-X fans.
Sapphire’s inclusion of a dual BIOS switch represents a bit of window dressing since both locations are populated by the same BIOS file. On the positive side, this gives you a blank slate to work with should you choose to upload a modified one.
The input and output connectors of this card remain in their reference form. This means video output receives a trio of choices: HDMI, DisplayPort and DVI. Meanwhile, the power connectors include an 8-pin plus 6-pin combo.
One thing Sapphire hasn’t done is upgrade components so the PCB below this high end cooler remains in its reference form. That’s a bit unfortunate considering you’re paying $100 more for what amounts to an upgraded heatsink and slightly higher frequencies. Expect a fully custom R9 290 from Sapphire when they get around to launching their Toxic series.
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