Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Reviewccokeman -
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Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Closer Look:
Right up front you can see the major changes from Sapphire's Vapor-X inspired solutions that that took up 2.5 to three full slots on the motherboard to the new Tri-X cooling design that takes up just two slots but is extended over the back edge of the PCB. At 308(L) X 113(W) X 41(H) mm in size, the R9 280X is no small card. If you don't speak metric then that's close to 12.15 inches in length. Even at that size most chassis should accommodate the card with little fanfare. Going back to the Tri-X cooling solution, we have a new look from Sapphire that uses a trio of aerofoil blade dust proof fans; the two end fans are 100mm in size while the center fan is 70mm in size. The color scheme matches the packaging for a consistent look front to back.
The back side of the PCB is covered with a large plate to support the PCB as well as offer additional cooling capacity for the surface mount components on the back side of the PCB. An opening is seen around the center of the GPU core socket and at the back end of the card where the back side of the double sided Black Diamond Chokes are attached as part of the 8+2+2 phase power circuit. The top view shows an orange shield that is used to cover voltage measurement points on the top of the PCB while the bottom shows that a motherboard with a x16 PCIe 3.0 slot will be needed to use this card.
Based on AMD's Tahiti XTL core, the Sapphire R9 280X Toxic come with a big factory clock speed of 1100MHz with a boost clock of 1150MHz and a 1600MHz clock speed on the 3GB of GDDR5 memory. Binned this high it will be interesting to see just how much overclocking margin is available.
Connectivity on the R9 280X Toxic is going to mirror what we had with the HD 79XX series cards, using a pair of Dual Link DVI ports, an HDMI 1.4a port, and a pair of Mini DisplayPort 1.2 ports. DisplayPort 1.2 is supported and by using an MST hub up to six displays can be connected in a six panel Eyefinity configuration. With most of the card open on the sides and rear, the majority of the thermal load will be dumped into the chassis. Even so some of the thermal load will make it through the large opening in the mounting bracket. The back end of the card is open with a bracket that supports the rear 10mm heat pipe-equipped fin array. The heat sink and shroud hang over the back end of the PCB by about 1.5 inches, extending the length of the card.
The top side of the card features the Crossfire bridge connections that allow support for up to 4-Way CrossfireX as long as the motherboard can handle the configuration. Upcoming R9 series cards will support Crossfire without the need for a bridge connection. Right under the bridge connections are a series of LEDs the light up to show the temperature of the PCB instead of the GPU core temperature or power usage. On the business side of the PCB is a push button used to enable/disable UEFI mode to take advantage of Secure Boot in Windows 8. Power is supplied through a pair of 8-pin PCIe power connections when coupled with the 75W from the PCIe x16 slot are good for up to 375W of current draw. Sapphire recommends a 750W power supply when using one of these highly overclocked beasts and a 1000W power supply when using a pair in a CrossfireX configuration. The Sapphire logo and PCB temperature LEDs light up in a brilliant gold color when the card is powered up. Pairing this card with MSI's MPower Max would be an interesting look.
Stripping the Tri-X cooling solution off the R9 280X Toxic shows a power layout that looks eerily similar to that used on the HD 7970 6GB Toxic last year. You get a 12 layer PCB, 10 phase power circuit (8+2+2) that uses solid capacitors, and Sapphire's proprietary Black Diamond double sided chokes to run up to 20 °C cooler for a 10x improvement in lifespan over hotter running designs. Voltage control is handled by a ChiL CHL8228G 8-phase dual output PWM Controller. The bulk of the power control circuitry is cooled with passive heat sinks that recive airflow from the Tri-X cooling fans. Under the orange shield are a series of solder points that can be used to measure voltage or add on wiring for easier measurements. Something that could be setup from the factory if there was enough interest.
Cooling performance is one of the hallmarks of the Toxic series and has to be addressed to run the big clock speeds these cards come equipped with right out the door. New for this card, the R9 280X Toxic, is a trio of aerofoil blade fans that push the airflow through the dual fin array cooling solution. The shroud is mounted to the fin array with a quartet of screws. This mounting still causes some vibration when the fans are run in the 75% range that clears up after reaching 85% fan speed. Each of the fans is a dust proof design and are manufactured by FirstD. The fans on the ends are 100mm in size while the middle fan is only 70mm in size to keep the fan shroud size consistent.
Under the shroud is the dual fin array cooling solution. A pair of 6mm heat pipes push the thermal load to the front fin array while the back array carries the bulk of the thermal load through a pair of 8mm heat pipes along with the signature 10mm heat pipe that runs straigt down the middle of the array. There is no shortage of capacity here. The base is smooth, although you can see machine marks in the copper around the core contact point. Thick thermal pads are used to transfer the thermal load from the GDDR5 modules to the aluminum base. Cooling the VRM circuit is a passive heat sink that uses airflow from the Tri-X fans to keep the power supply constant.
AMD's 28nm Tahiti XTL core is really an improved process core that features the same GCN architecture and specifications for the most part. Additions include improved API support for DX 11.2, AMD's own API Mantl,e and Open GL 4.3. Transistor count stays at 4.31 billion, the stream processor count stays at 2048, texture units at 128, and ROPs stay at 32. GDDR5 memory is used in a 3GB capacity and is still running on a 384-bit bus. Performance scales upwards thanks to the core clock speeds of 1100MHz using a Boost clock of 1150MHz. Hynix GDDR5 modules with part number H5GQ2H24AFR-R0C are used to make up the 3GB frame buffer and are rated for operation at 1500MHz, but are set to run at 1600MHz on the R9 280X Toxic.
On paper and on closer inspection Sapphire has a killer card in the R9 280X Toxic. However pretty looks and a well thought out package can take a turn for the worst if not implemented right. In the past Sapphire has had its act together, so let's see if this card falls in line with that expectation.