Sapphire Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC Reviewccokeman - March 20, 2014
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Sapphire Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC Closer Look:
Looking at the Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC, it's like having a bit of déjà vu. But wait, the colors all wrong for the Toxic Edition. There's no orange in sight, but a bright metallic blue takes its place to convey the image of "cool". Built starting with the same 28nm GCN architecture Tahiti-based platform and PCB, the Vapor-X R9 280X is equipped with a new version of the TRI-X cooling solution that uses a large by huge vapor chamber, along with the massive heat pipe-based cooler in place of the copper contact surface on the Sapphire R9 280X Toxic. From the front we see a trio of 100mm dust proof fans that supply the airflow through the cooling solution. On the back side there are mainly surface mount components. The side view shows the card is a two slot design that does not infringe upon the third slot. Measuring just over 12 inches in length, the cooling solution is a bit longer than the PCB. You will want to make sure your chassis of choice can accommodate cards in excess of 308mm. Most now do, including some of the mini ITX-based chassis.
Display connectivity is standard for the platform, but you will not need any active adapters to allow multi monitor support. Sapphire's Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC comes with a pair of DVI ports; a single HDMI that supports Deep Color, 7.1 High Bitrate Audio, and 3D Stereoscopic; as well as a full size DisplayPort 1.2 port with support for Multi-Stream to drive up to four panels. Eyefinity is supported with up to a 16K x 16K panel. The back end of the card features a few additional vents for the shroud that are more a visual cue than functional. Flipping the card over you can see the back fin array overhangs the PCB to discharge the thermal load directly through the heat sink and into the airflow through the chassis.
A pair of Crossfire bridge connections show that CrossfireX configurations of up to four cards can be used in a motherboard that supports the feature. Next to the bridge connections is a switch that is used to enable a UEFI ready vBIOS to take advantage of this feature when running Windows 8. Power requirements for this card are a pair of PCIe 8-pin power connections to supply up to 375 watts to the card when combined with the 75 watts delivered through the 16x PCIe slot. A 650 to 750 watt power supply should be fine when using this card. You get a little bling factor outside the massive cooler and metallic blue accents with the light up Vapor-X logo on the top of the heat sink shroud.
Stripping the TRI-X cooling solution off the PCB, you can see how elaborate the cooling solution really is and how well the design integrates into the heat generating components on the board. Solid capacitors and Black Diamond chokes coupled with an IR 3567B 6+2 phase digital controller make up the base of the digital power system. On the back of the PCB under the MOSFETs are six phase LEDs that light up during use to provide a good visual that illustrates the amount of phases in use at any given time.
The shroud comes off the dual fin array cooling solution with a quartet of screws, allowing a closer inspection of the namesake of this card, the Vapor-X-based cooler. Sapphire puts a large vapor chamber into the base of the cooler assembly that helps pull the thermal load out of not only the core, but the power circuit and VRAM. Large thermal pads provide the conduit to the metal base. Using a vapor chamber means that you do not have a copper contact surface carved out with a mill, but a smooth surface that is formed along the bottom of the vapor chamber. A total of five copper heat pipes are used, 2x6mm and 3x8mm, in a direct contact configuration to take the load to the dual aluminum fin arrays. Circled in red you can see the corner of the vapor chamber.
A trio of FirstD PWM controlled dust proof fans are used to provide the airflow needs of the Vapor-X cooling solution. The change here on the Vapor-X version of the TRI-X cooler, when compared to the version used on the Toxic Edition, is the use of three same size fans instead of one smaller and two larger fans to make up the airflow.
AMD's 28nm Tahiti XTL core is really an improved process core that features the same GCN architecture and specifications as the previous Tahiti parts. Additions include improved API support for DX 11.2, AMD's own API Mantle, 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 similarly to the Toxic Edition thanks to the core clock speeds of 1000MHz using a Boost clock of 1100MHz. Hynix GDDR5 modules with part number H5GQ2H24AFR-R0C are used to make up the 3GB frame buffer and are rated for operation at 1500MHz. Where you see the major difference in the core is the binning process. The Vapor-X will get a lower binned core than Sapphire's own R9 280X Toxic.
Now you see where Toxic Light comes from. You get the base Toxic card with a seriously improved cooling solution and a lower binned core running at a lower boost clock. Outside of that, let's see if the Vapor-X R9 280X can live up to its parts complement and deliver excellent gaming performance.