Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Review

ccokeman - 2013-10-08 20:01:40 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: October 27, 2013
Price: $349

Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Introduction:

As AMD's largest partner, Sapphire has had the leeway to put together some truly inspiring products in the past leading up to the launch of the R9 series Hawaiian Islands based video cards. Previous year's HD 7970 6GB Toxic Edition, the HD 5970 Toxic Edition, and the HD 4870X2 Atomic Edition are prime examples of taking the best that AMD has to offer and making it better. You ask, "aren't the reference versions good enough for gaming?" Sure they are, for the average gamer who is satisfied with the mean average. If you want more, that's when you start looking at the non-reference designs to see what each partner has to offer. In Sapphire's case, it has been at the forefront starting with the HD 3870 Atomic Edition back in January 2008. A card that was equipped with one of if not the first cooling systems with an integrated Vapor-X based contact surface to transfer the thermal load to the fin array. More recently Sapphire has taken steps to further refine the brand with Black Diamond single and double sided chokes coupled with a solid capacitor design to reduce the component operating temperatures upwards of 20 °C.

Last year's HD 7970 6GB Toxic Edition used a massive cooling solution to maintain temperatures well below those of the reference card. To do this Sapphire used a pair of fans pushing though a truly large fin array to keep temperature in check. On the R9 280X Toxic Edition we see the introduction of Sapphire's Tri-X three fan cooling solution that takes up less space vertically and uses a massive 10mm heat pipe to transfer the thermal load away from the core. Another improvement is the addition of dual firmware support for both UEFI-enabled and standard BIOS configurations. Ready to take advantage of the latest AMD and Windows technologies, the Sapphire R9 280X Toxic is, like its predecessors, a factory overclocked video card ready for the demanding enthusiast. Priced at roughly $349, it enjoys a price premium seen on many non-reference designs, especially those that use non-stock components.

If the past performance of Sapphire is any indication of how well this card is built and runs, than the rest of the R9 280X world may be put on notice.

Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Closer Look:

Sapphire packaging takes a step in a bold new direction with gold accents against a black background that no longer prominently features "Ruby", a fixture on the front of Sapphire's packaging for many years. Usually the Toxic and Atomic Editions feature some form of her, but this one features a mechanized soldier ready to go to battle. Both Sapphire specific and AMD standard feature sets are highlighted on the front panel and include the Toxic feature set, HDMI cable, the fact this card is a factory overclocked edition, and that Sapphire's own TriXX overclocking and tuning utility is included. AMD specifics include a 3GB frame buffer, Eyefinity support, and that the R9 280X uses AMD's Graphics Core Next architecture. The back panel looks more closely at what the Toxic Edition offers the end user with an image of the card that matches the color scheme on the package. Opening up the sleeve gets you to the standard no frils inner box that holds the R9 280X Toxic and the accessory bundle. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the package we see that the card is protected from ESD damage as well as transit damage by shipping the card in a foam enclosure that surrounds the card on all four sides. Inside a separate box under the card is the accessory bundle that holds both the documentation and hardware. All told you get the quick installation guide, registration information, driver/software disc, a six-foot HDMI cable, Crossfire Bridge connection, dual 4-pin molex to 6-pin PEG power connections, and a single mini DisplayPort to full size DisplayPort adapter.

 

 

As enticing as the specifications sound, the proof is in the pudding as they say. Let's dig a bit deeper into the Sapphire R9 280X Toxic to see how it implemented the solution.

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.

Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Specifications:

Display Support
5 x Maximum Display Monitor(s) support
Output
1 x HDMI (with 3D)
2 x Mini-DisplayPort
1 x Single-Link DVI-D
1 x Dual-Link DVI-I
GPU
1100/Boost:1150 MHz Core Clock
28 nm Chip
2048 x Stream Processors
Video Memory
3072 MB Size
384 -bit GDDR5
6400 MHz Effective
Dimension
308(L)X113(W)X41(H) mm Size.
2.2 x slot
Software
Driver CD
SAPPHIRE TriXX Utility
Accessory
 CrossFire™ Bridge Interconnect Cable
Mini-DP to DP Cable
8-PIN to 4 PIN x2 Power Cable
HDMI 1.4a high speed 1.8 meter cable(Full Retail SKU only)

 

Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Features:




 

All information courtesy of Sapphire Technology at http://www.sapphiretech.com/presentation/product/?cid=1&gid=3&sgid=1227&pid=2023&psn=&lid=1&leg=0#

Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Testing:

Testing of the Sapphire R9 280X Toxic will consist of running it and comparison cards through the OverclockersClub.com suite of games and synthetic benchmarks. This will test the performance against many popular competitors. Comparisons will be made to cards of a range of capabilities to show where each card falls on the performance ladder. The games used are some of today's newest and most popular titles, which should be able to provide an idea of how the cards perform relative to each other.

The system specifications will remain the same throughout the testing. No adjustments will be made to the respective control panels during the testing to approximate the performance the end user can expect with a stock driver installation. I will first test the cards at stock speeds, and then overclocked to see the effects of an increase in clock speed. The cards will be placed in order from highest to lowest performance in each graph to show where they fall by comparison. The NVIDIA comparison cards will be using the 320.18 drivers while AMD-based cards will be using the Catalyst 13.5 beta 2 drivers and latest CAP profile. The results generated in my testing were reached by utilizing the latest FCAT tools to illustrate the true picture of the gaming experience. To do so will require a second PC setup to capture the data stream generated by the compared video cards.

 

Testing Setup:

FCAT Capture Setup:

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

 

Overclocking:

When it comes to overclocking the latest Toxic Edition from Sapphire, the same rules that we have used for the last gen 7-Series cards still apply. As a factory overclocked card, the R9 280X Toxic comes out of the box with boost clock speeds of 1150MHz; what would normally be considered a pretty decent clock speed for Tahiti XT silicon. Having looked at a broad section of Sapphire's Toxic lineup over the past few years, Sapphire builds in some more head room for the enthusiast. Knowing that I was expecting to reach close to the 1250MHz mark or a 100MHz boost on clock speed by using Sapphire's own TriXX overclocking and tuning utility. Once I reached 1244MHz there was no amount of voltage available to stabilize the clock speed any higher. Anything over 1250mv was just adding heat to the equation that the Tri-X cooler would have to dissipate.

Memory overclocking on the R9 280X Toxic was just as impressive as last year's HD 7970 Toxic at 1666MHz. Even though it's only a small boost over the as delivered 1600MHz speed, it's enough to add some more scoring in 3DMark. Any way you cut it the card is almost maxed out from the factory leaving just a little overclocking margin. Not that this is a bad thing, but when you pay for the upper end it's what you get.

 

Maximum Clock Speeds:

Testing for the maximum clock speed consisted of looping Unigine Heaven 4.0 for 30 minutes each to see where the clock speeds failed when pushed. If the clock speed adjustment failed, then the clock speeds and tests were rerun until they passed a full hour of testing.

 

 

  1. Metro: Last Light
  2. Splinter Cell Blacklist
  3. Bioshock Infinite
  4. Crysis 3
  5. Far Cry 3
  6. Battlefield 3
  7. Batman: Arkham City
  8. Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0
  9. 3DMark

 

  1. Temperatures
  2. Power Consumption

Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Testing:

Part first-person shooter, part survival horror, Metro: Last Light is the followup to the extremely popular game Metro 2033. Developed by 4A games and published by Deepsilver, this game uses the 4A game engine. In this game set a year after the missile strike on the Dark Ones you continue on as Artyom as he digs deeper into the bowels of the Metro.

 

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking at just the FPS numbers it's amazing to see that the Sapphire Toxic is delivering performance only eclipsed by the GTX 780 in this game at both 1920x1080 and 5760x1080 resolutions. A surprising start to the benchmarking on this card.

 

FCAT Results:

At 1920x1080 and 5760x1080 the percentile charts are relatively flat, showing that the amount of outside the normal frame times are not present in this game. We see a more gradual rise, though, in the 5760x1080 testing. At 1920x1080 the frame times hang in the 20ms zone leading to a great game play experience, while at 5760x1080 the experience gets a little sketchy.

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Testing:

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist is the sixth installment in this franchise. Released in mid August 2013 in the US, it is published and distributed by Ubisoft. This game is built around the Unreal 2.5 game engine and uses Havok Physics. A new feature in this third person perspective game is a new game mechanic called Killing in Motion.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again we see Sapphire's hopped up Tri-X cooled R9 280X Toxic coming close to the performance of a card that costs at least $300 more at both 1920x1080 and 5760x1080 resolutions.

 

FCAT Results:

In the percentile charts, again we see a relatively flat performance curve showing there are not a lot of frame time spikes that influence this curve. While the frame time chart may look a bit far ranging, the frame times at 1920x1080 fall within a 4ms range on the R9 280X Toxic. At 5760x1080, the gameplay experience looks much rougher but still manages to stay under 30ms with a 15ms range in frame times from the R9 280X Toxic.

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Testing:

Bioshock Infinite, much like the first two installments of the franchise, is a first-person shooter known for its strong story and atmosphere. This third installment of the franchise no longer takes place in the underwater world of Rapture, but in the could city of Columbia. Utilizing many of the gameplay characteristics of the original games, Bioshock Infinite has garnered critical acclaim. Taking the player through a maze of outdoor and indoor scenarios, the action is not constrained by territory. Developed by Irrational Games and published by 2K Games, this iteration uses the Unreal 3 game engine.

 

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Bioshock Infinite, it looks as though AMD's involvement in the game pays off with the FPS results delivered by the R9 280X Toxic above those of the GTX 780 at both 1920x1080 and 5760x1080.

 

FCAT Results:

Again we see a fairly flat frame time rise towards the 95th percentile with just a few spikes in frame times that seem to impact all of the cards tested. At 1920x1080 the frame time variances are very well defined with about a 2ms swing outside of the same spike each card had in game. At 5760x1080 the variance grows with the higher amount of pixels being output to the displays. Even so there is only about a 12ms swing from higest to lowest with the R9 280X Toxic.

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Testing:

This third installment of the Crysis franchise, developed by Crytek and distributed by Electronic Arts, uses the CryEngine 3 game engine and requires a DirectX 11 ready video card and operating system due to its demanding graphics engine.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At 1920x1080 and 5760x1080, the the R9 280X Toxic can hold its own against one of the best video cards out, the GTX 780, when you look at the average FPS results.

 

FCAT Results:

Looking at the gameplay the frame time percentile charts show nothing out of the ordinary with a flat curve up to the 98th percentile. At 1920x1080 we get a smooth gameplay experience with frame times swinging within a 10ms range. As you would expect with FPS averages of around 20FPS, the frame time variance is going to be wider leading to a less fluid experience.

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Testing:

Far Cry 3 is the latest iteration in the Far Cry series. Released in the US in early December 2012, it uses the Dunia 2 game engine and is published and developed by Ubisoft. This action-adventure, first-person shooter offers both single player and multi-player modes.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At 1920x1080 and 5760x1080, the FPS performance delivered by the R9 280X Toxic is on par with the GTX 770 for the most part with a less than 1FPS margin recorded.

 

FCAT Results:

The percentile charts do not give us much to go on and again are pretty flat, showing the frame times are fairly tight given the circumstances. At 1920x1080 the frame time charts look pretty rough, but looking at the range of the variances we see some spikes of up to 8ms. At 5760x1080 the range increases dramatically due to the lower FPS results. In this game with the settings used the only GPU to get above 30FPS ws the GTX 780.

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Testing:

Battlefield 3 is a first-person shooter developed by EA Digital Illusions CE and published by Electronic Arts. Battlefield 3 uses the Frostbite 2 game engine and is the direct successor to Battlefield 2. Released in North America on October 25, 2011, the game supports DirectX 10 and 11.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In BF3, Sapphire's R9 280X Toxic again is within 5FPS of the GTX 780 at both resolutions, making a very strong case for itself. This card can handle the ultra preset at both resolutions with no problem.

 

FCAT Results:

What the results show us is that you get smooth gameplay from the R9 280 Toxic with both a single and three screen Eyefinity setup. The frame time variances look huge in the charts, but in reality are within a 5ms range at 1920x1080 and a 12ms range at 5760x1080. In the end you get fluid gameplay.

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Testing:

Batman: Arkham City is the sequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum released in 2009. This action-adventure game based on DC Comics' Batman super hero was developed by Rocksteady Studios and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. Batman: Arkham City uses the Unreal 3 engine.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Batman: Arkham City, Sapphire's R9 280X Toxic is again knocking on the door to levels of performance traditionally not reached by Tahiti-based silicon. At 5760x1080, the FPS margin between the R9 280X Toxic that $300 saves you and the GTX 780 is around 2FPS.

 

FCAT Results:

Looking at the percentile and frame time charts, the experience in this game is fairly smooth with the same spikes across all the comparison cards from each manufacturer. The short answer is you get great gaming with upper end settings.

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Testing:

Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0 is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on the Unigine engine. This was the first DX 11 benchmark to allow testing of DX 11 features. What sets the Heaven Benchmark apart is the addition of hardware tessellation, available in three modes – Moderate, Normal and Extreme. Although tessellation requires a video card with DirectX 11 support and Windows Vista/7, the Heaven Benchmark also supports DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11 and OpenGL 4.0. Visually, it features beautiful floating islands that contain a tiny village and extremely detailed architecture.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What you see performance wise in this tessellation heavy benchmark is that the GTX 780 and 770 deliver better FPS results than the R9 280X Toxic at 1920x1080 with the Toxic shrinking the gap at 5760x1080.

 

FCAT Results:

Looking through the percentile and frame time charts, we see nothing out of the ordinary with each card delivering a consistent performance. The frame time results are mirored from one card to the next and are stratified on the chart by how well the cards manage performance.

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Testing:

3DMark: The just-released version of Futuremark's popular 3DMark suite is designed to let a wider range of the user base make a comparative analysis of the gaming prowess of their systems from entry level PCs to notebooks and extreme gaming PCs.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In each of the tests run, the R9 280X Toxic is the second fastest card in the comparison field delivering performance above that of the GTX 770 and HD 7970 by sizable margins.

Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Testing:

As GPUs become more capable of pushing higher pixel densities, the use of panels supporting ever higher resolutions are hitting the market with prices dropping as better technology arrives. Monitors supporting resolutions up to 4K are available, but can be pricey depending on the screen size you are looking for. If you look at some of the non-name brand parts you can find some tremendous bargains at 2560x1440 and even find some deals on Ultra HD televisions that can be had as low as $700. I will be running six games through the UHD testing to see just what each card will do with high settings and reduced Anti-Aliasing levels. The test setup is the same as the one used for the balance of the GPU Testing with the exception of the switch to an ASUS PQ321Q 4K capable panel. The settings used for each game can be seen in OCC's 4K testing article.

Setting up the FCAT tools to be able to measure the output signal to the display creates some challenges in measuring the raw data just due to the screen size and is more along the lines of measuring the results when running a 5760x1080 resolution. You can take a look back at our introduction to FCAT or Frame Capture Analysis Tool for a more in depth look at the technology and hardware required to pull these results. While FRAPS is a valid measurement for what it does, it does not give an accurate picture of what is actually hitting the screen. For that reason we choose to stay with FCAT as our method for capturing FPS and illustrating anomalies in performance from one manufacturer to the other. To capture the data stream going to the PQ321Q, the setup is a bit different than capturing the data at lower resolutions. Since we have a two monitor setup basically with the UHD panel, we can hook up the hardware-based capture solution as indicated below to keep the data stream at a manageable level.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gaming Tests:

 

Splinter Cell Blacklist:

 

 

Crysis 3:

 

 

Far Cry 3:

 

 

Dirt 3:

 

 

Battlefield 3:

 

 

Batman Arkham City:

 

 

The allure of the Sapphire R9 280X Toxic is that it takes what Sapphire has done so well and moved it to another level to be able to deliver FPS performance that is on par with either the GTX 770 or GTX 780, depending on the game test run.

Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Testing:

Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using Unigine's Heaven Benchmark Version 4.0, with MSI's Afterburner overclocking utility for temperature monitoring. I will be using a resolution of 1920x1080 using 8xAA and a five-run sequence to run the test, ensuring that the maximum thermal threshold is reached. The fan speed will be left in the control of the driver package and video card's BIOS for the stock load test, with the fan moved to 100% to see the best possible cooling scenario for the overclocked load test. The idle test will involve a 20-minute cooldown, with the fan speeds left on automatic in the stock speed testing and bumped up to 100% when running overclocked.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At stock speeds, Sapphire's new Tri-X cooling solution on the R9 280X Toxic delivers load temperatures that are much cooler than the reference cooled card by a margin of 15 degrees. When you ramp up the fans to 100%, the margin shrinks as the reference card pushes the thermal load out of the chassis while you get some re-circulation of the thermal load that prohibits the R9 280X Toxic from improving much over the reference numbers, even with the more robust Tri-X cooling solution.

Where you do notice the difference is when you compare the noise of the three fan-equipped R9 280X and the reference cooled HD 7970. At idle the Tri-X is audible with the case open, but not so when the case is closed. Spin both cards up and the R9 280X Toxic can be heard, but is slightly quieter than the HD 7970 Toxic released last year. On the other hand we all know the call of the AMD reference cooling solution and how it causes the family dog to cringe at the noise.

Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Testing:

Power consumption of the system will be measured at both idle and loaded states, taking into account the peak voltage of the system with each video card installed. I will use Unigine's Heaven Benchmark version 4.0 to put a load onto the GPU using the settings below. A 15-minute load test will be used to heat up the GPU, with the highest power usage recorded as the final result. The idle results will be measured after 15 minutes of inactivity on the system with the lowest recorded power usage as the final result.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Equipped with a trio of fans, it takes some extra juice to push the R9 280X Toxic. Under load the card is not the most power efficient of the group in any way, shape, or form. Well overclocked and over volted out of the box, you have to guess that the R9 280X is going to fall into that high performance category. In both the load tests the card was more efficient than only the GTX 780. Equipped with solid build components and an 8+2+2 phase power design, the PCB and VRM components are built to handle a large power load.

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.

 

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