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Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Review

ccokeman    -   October 27, 2013
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Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Conclusion:

So there you have it, another custom built card from Sapphire that takes what AMD has to offer and bring it kicking and screaming to reach another performance plateau. Considering that the R9 280X Toxic is built upon the aging Tahiti XT core, the performance squeezed from this card allows it to play well above its price point of $349. Not to draw the wrong conclusion, but this card does what last year's HD 7970 6GB Toxic Edition card did and does just about everything better when you look at gaming performance and to some degree power consumption. Let's start with the gaming performance of the Sapphire R9 280X Toxic. Throughout the resolutions tested, the card was markedly better than the HD 7970 in every single test while delivering performance on par with or better than the GTX 770, again through each test. Depending on the test the R9 280X Toxic could deliver FPS results within a couple FPS of the GTX 780, which costs better than $300 more in most cases. Something I found simply amazing coming from the older 28nm tech.

To reach these levels of performance Sapphire had to throw the book out and start from scratch on the PCB, which looks eerily similar to last year's Toxic Edition card. Any way you cut it the R9 280X Toxic Edition is Sapphire's Halo card in the R9 280X product stack and gets what has to be a binned core attached to a 12 layer PCB equipped with Sapphire's own proprietary Black Diamond double sided chokes, 10 phase VRM, and solid aluminum capacitors. By using these components that run up to 20 °C cooler, you get a longer lasting part that is more efficient. Even with that robust design the R9 280X Toxic runs close to the top of the comparison charts in terms of power used. As a custom card, the R9 280X is still able to reap the benefits of AMD's Zero Core technology to keep the power used lower at idle speeds.

Running with default clock speeds of 1100/1150MHz on the core and 1600MHz on the GDDR5 memory, the robust power circuit is needed to keep all of the parts running at spec speeds. As high end as the card is, there is more clock speed available if you choose to go after it. In this case on this core and memory combination I was able to pull another 94MHz out of the core and 66MHz more out of the memory. Not huge numbers by any stretch, but nevertheless it leads to increased FPS in games. Again not much more but every bit helps.

Running at such high speeds out of the box, Sapphire needed a cooling solution that was capable of keeping the card cool and quiet when gaming. Not everyone uses headphones, but the reference cooler on the HD 7970 is a screamer when you ramp it up. It cools well but the noise will drive the family dog nuts. In the past Sapphire had used a dual aerofoil blade equipped, heat pipe-based cooling solution on the Toxic cards, but with the move to the R9 280X designation it chose a three blade configuration called Tri-X cooling. This design is now a two slot solution whereas last year's HD 7970 Toxic and Vapor-X Edition cards were 2+ slot cards. This added room means two cards in Crossfire can fit on most motherboards comfortably.

The signature feature is the 10mm heat pipe used to carry the bulk of the thermal load to the dual fin arrays. The stock testing showed that the cooling solution was a 15 degree improvement over a reference design. Add in the fact that it does this quietly by comparison and you have a winner. To ensure you keep the best cooling possible you will want to make sure that your chassis has adequate airflow through it, as this card can dump a good chunk of the thermal load into the chassis. If you have a case window you can look at the status of the onboard LEDs right behind the CrossfireX bridge connections to let you know if the PCB is getting a bit warm. In my testing and chassis I found that I never went above three LEDs lit.

As people move to Win 8 (8.1) and are using motherboards with UEFI BIOS, Sapphire has made this card with dual firmware support that is compatible with the Secure Boot featureset. It's as simple to use as just pushing a button because that's all there really is to it. Visually the R9 280X Toxic is a good looking card that should fit into the color schemes of a few motherboards I can think of. The back plate adds structural rigidity as well as cooling for the rear board components, not to mention showing off which card you are running in a chassis sporting a windowed side panel. If that's not enough, the Sapphire logo on the shroud lights up in gold to further drive the point home.

I have to say that Sapphire has pushed the envelope a little further on this card, driving performance up yet another notch to truly challenge cards that cost quite a bit more in just raw performance metrics. I have seen and used a broad section of Sapphire's Toxic and Atomic Edition cards in the past, and this one keeps that performance legacy alive with a great performing, cool running card that games well above its price point of $349.

 

Pros:

  • Tri-X cooling
  • Temperature LEDs
  • Looks 
  • Performance
  • Overclocking
  • Noise
  • 8+2+2 phase power design

 

Cons:

  • Power efficiency


 

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