Sapphire Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC Review

ccokeman - 2012-09-26 18:42:53 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: March 20, 2014
Price: $379.99

Sapphire Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC Introduction:

I have been looking at Sapphire's Vapor-X line almost since its inception back in 2008 and have seen how the implementation has been copied, but never quite improved upon by others. That is something Sapphire has done on its own, and have just recently moved up to a TRI-X option on the Vapor-X R9 280X that brings a trio of fans into the equation rather than just a pair of large fans to deliver the airflow needs of the cooling solution. By adding the third, smaller fan, the available area under the hood is increased for an overall boost in cooling performance without the associated noise problems that come with spinning fans up to get the cooing where you want it.

With the experience and history of success this option from Sapphire, it should do well cooling the Tahiti core down. The first version was used on Sapphire's successful Toxic Edition R9 280X that delivered great cooling results. If this cooling solution is an improvement we should be in for a beast of a card. Especially when we see that the Vapor-X gets all the build components used on the Toxic Edition, including solid capacitors, Black Diamond chokes, custom PCB, and digital controller. Effectively we can call this card Toxic Light! Packed with a big factory overclock on the core it should perform up to expectations in the gaming arena.

Priced at $379, the Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC is not an overpriced card with no feature set, but a fully loaded card ready to rock and roll! Let's dig into what Sapphire has put together for the gamer.

Sapphire Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC Closer Look:

Sapphire's packaging has always been one that stands out, with great imaging and plenty of information (both front and back) to give the consumer the full picture of how the card is equipped and the details on the feature set. The blue coloring conveys the image of a cool running card with nothing but the color of the package. The front panel shows that this is a factory overclocked video card that features Sapphire's own Vapor-X-based TRI-X cooling solution, comes with a six foot HDMI cable, and is CrossfireX and UEFI ready. The back panel shows an illustration of the TRI-X equipped card and a more detailed description of the feature set. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Internally we get recyclable materials that make up the packaging. The package has a foam insert that keeps this over sized card secure with little chance of damage, unless the box is just crushed. Underneath the foam core is another box that holds the expansive accessory bundle. In this you get an invitation to the Sapphire Select Club, an installation guide, driver disc, a pair of 4-pin Molex to PCIe power connectors (one 6-pin, one 8-pin), a CrossfireX bridge connection, and a six foot HDMI cable.

 

 

 

The packaging spells it out clearly, but we have to take a closer look at the card Sapphire has built for the gamer who does not want to step up to Toxic level performance for one reason or another.

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.

Sapphire Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC Specifications:

Display Support
4 x Maximum Display Monitor(s) support
Output
1 x HDMI (with 3D)
1 x DisplayPort 1.2
1 x Dual-Link DVI-D
1 x Dual-Link DVI-I
GPU
1000/Boost:1100 MHz Core Clock
28 nm Chip
2048 x Stream Processors
Video Memory
3072 MB Size
384 -bit GDDR5
6000 MHz Effective
Dimension
308(L)X108(W)X35(H) mm Size.
2 x slot
Software
Driver CD
SAPPHIRE TriXX Utility
Accessory
CrossFire™ Bridge Interconnect Cable
8-PIN to 4 PIN x2 Power Cable
HDMI 1.4a high speed 1.8 meter cable(Full Retail SKU only)

 

Sapphire Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC Features:






 

All information courtesy of Sapphiretech @ http://www.sapphiretech.com/presentation/product/?cid=1&gid=3&sgid=1227&pid=2131&psn=&lid=1&leg=0

Sapphire Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC Testing:

Testing of the Sapphire Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC 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 334.69 drivers while AMD-based cards will be using the Catalyst 14.1 beta 6 drivers. 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:

 

As the spitting image of the Toxic R9 280X from Sapphire, I was expecting Toxic level overclocking, but had to settle for a bit less than that. Sporting a factory boost clock of 1100MHz, this card already has a big factory overclock on the binned core so there was not a whole lot of margin left for the enthusiast to go after on this sample. Disappointing? Originally yes, but one you factor into the nature of the card and the factory boost clock, and that the voltage controls are locked out. We are working with a maximum voltage of 1.2v instead of the 1.3v we normally have access to.

Putting that into perspective, I had to push 1.3v through the highly binned core on the R9 280X Toxic from Sapphire to reach 1244MHz. Overall we get a decent clock speed of 1160MHz on the Vapor-X for the available voltage curve. Memory overclocking was excellent with a 200MHz boost over the as delivered 1500MHz (6000MHz effective) to 1700MHz (6800MHz effective) by just moving the slider up until 3DMark scoring started to suffer, then backing off about 20MHz. Overall the boost in clock speed pays off in higher results. The voltage limitation means that even with the available voltage maxed out this card is still going to run cool and quiet.

 

 

Maximum Clock Speeds:

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

 

 

  1. Metro: Last Light
  2. Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist
  3. BioShock Infinite
  4. Crysis 3
  5. Far Cry 3
  6. Battlefield 4
  7. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
  8. Batman: Arkham Origins
  9. Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0
  10. 3DMark

 

  1. Temperatures
  2. Power Consumption

Sapphire Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC Testing:

Part first-person shooter, part survival horror, Metro: Last Light is the follow-up 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FCAT Results:

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

In the comparison field I have three different versions of the R9 280X: two from Sapphire and one from ASUS. They are stacked performance-wise pretty much as the clock speeds on each card dictate. The R9 280X Vapor-X is between the Toxic Edition and the DCII card from ASUS. There was nothing out of the ordinary when looking at the FCAT results.

Sapphire Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FCAT Results:

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

FPS performance at 1920x1080 falls just short of the GTX 770 in this game, but is slightly higher than the lower clocked DCII card. The FCAT testing shows we get some sketchy frame times at 1920x1080 that fall within a 5ms window that tightens up a bit at 5760x1080.

Sapphire Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FCAT Results:

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

In BioShock Infinite you get over 100FPS at 1920x1080 and close to 40FPS at 5760x1080, putting the performance curve ahead of the GTX 770 in each resolution. The FCAT results show tight frame time variances that indicate smooth game play through the test run. Across the test field there are a few frame time spikes that seem game-related; not a card issue.

Sapphire Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FCAT Results:

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

 

At both 1920x1080 and 5760x1080, the Sapphire Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC delivers slightly more FPS than the GTX 770 and falls between the ASUS card and the Toxic Edition. Again there is nothing out of the ordinary when looking at the FCAT results, with the variance curve starting to creep up at the 95th percentile.

Sapphire Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FCAT Results:

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

 

In Far Cry 3, the Vapor-X gets the end user 70+FPS at 1920x1080 and just short of 30FPS at 5760x1080. Even so, outside of how the game dynamics are, the gameplay is fairly smooth as indicated by the FCAT results.

Sapphire Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC Testing:

Battlefield 4  is a first-person shooter developed by EA Digital Illusions CE and published by Electronic Arts. Battlefield 4 uses the Frostbite 3 game engine as a step up from the Frostbite 2 engine used in BF3. As the successor to Battlefield franchise the graphics are improved. Following a set release cycle Battlefield 4 was released for the PC in North America in October 2013 supporting DirectX 11 and now after multiple patches AMD's Mantle API.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FCAT Results:

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

At 1920x1080, Sapphire's Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC delivers right at 60FPS using the ultra preset. By the time it gets to the 5760x1080 resolution you have to reduce the eye candy or switch to AMD's Mantle API instead of using the DX 11 default API.

Sapphire Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC Testing:

Batman: Arkham Origins is the third installment of the Batman: Arkham series released in October 2013. This action-adventure game, based on DC Comics Batman super hero, was developed by Warner Bros. Games Montréal and released by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. Batman: Arkham Origins continues to use the Unreal 3 game engine.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FCAT Results:

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

In this iteration of the Batman: Arkham series, all three of the R9 280X cards perform within a couple FPS.

Sapphire Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC Testing:

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is a historical action-adventure open world video game developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag was released for PC in November of 2013 and uses the AnvilNext game engine. Set in the Caribbean, it follows the adventures of Edward Kenway over land and sea.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

FCAT Results:

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

Cranking up the visual quality in this game really beats up the FPS performance numbers. At 1920x1080, the Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC delivers 35FPS, or right on the number that the GTX 770 is delivering.

Sapphire Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FCAT Results:

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

 

Results in this test follow the architectures' capabilities and clock speeds, much like you see in 3DMark testing.

Sapphire Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC 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 test we see the Vapor-X R9 280X in the middle of the pack, performing right where it is supposed to.

Sapphire Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC Testing:

Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using Unigine Heaven Benchmark Version 4.0, with MSI 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 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 twenty minute cool down, with the fan speeds left on automatic in the stock speed testing and bumped up to 100% when running overclocked.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where Sapphire earns its keep with the Vapor-X cooling solution is when you put the card under a load. It is the coolest running card under load in the comparison field and is much cooler than the other factory overclocked and custom cooled R9 280X cards. Sapphire's Toxic Edition R9 280X uses a similar cooling solution, but the Vapor-X design takes that concept to another level by using three same sized fans and adding a massive vapor chamber to the base of the heat sink that really pays dividends.

Ramping up three fans is going to generate some noise. In this case the noise at 100% fan speed is not bad when compared to the squirrel cage fans used on reference cards. When the VBIOS controls the fans, the card is dead silent under load locked away in the chassis.

Sapphire Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC 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 Heaven Benchmark version 4.0 to put a load onto the GPU using the settings below. A fifteen 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 fifteen minutes of inactivity on the system with the lowest recorded power usage as the final result.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I see with this card from Sapphire is that it finally has gotten the power management working right on the money. It is the most power efficient R9 280X I have tested to date, both at idle and under load. This from a factory overclocked and custom cooled card that uses the same PCB as the Toxic Edition, also from Sapphire.

Sapphire Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC Conclusion:

Sapphire was the first AIB partner to fully embrace the benefits of Vapor-X cooling back in 2008 when it introduced Vapor-X cooling to the masses on the limited edition HD 3870 Atomic. From that point on Sapphire has taken the technology to new heights and have even built a line of cards around Vapor Chamber technology, aptly named the Vapor-X lineup. This iteration comes equipped with the latest TRI-X cooling solution seen on the Toxic Edition I just looked at recently, but with a few twists to make it perform all that much better. Specifically it's the addition of a massive vapor chamber that is used to carry all the thermal load from not only the Tahiti core, but the memory and power circuit up through five direct contact heat pipes to the dual aluminum fin arrays. In my testing it performed better than the TRI-X cooled Toxic Edition and even better than ASUS' vaunted Direct CU II cooling solution running stock and then overclocked.

Pretty impressive when you look at just the cooling performance, but that is not the entire picture presented by the Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC. By using three fans with the large cooling solution you end up spinning the fans slower, thus reducing the noise penalty to almost nothing. Even spun to 100% fan speed, the noise level on the card is far from objectionable; something that can't be said for the reference cooling.

By using the same PCB found on the Sapphire R9 280X Toxic that features solid capacitors, a six phase digital power circuit, and Sapphire's exclusive Black Diamond chokes, you get a card with a high end custom PCB and components that offer an improved lifespan with more efficient operation and higher potential overclocking. Another side effect is the lack of coil buzz or whine common on many builds. Basically what you get here, if you have not figured it out, is "Toxic Light" with the entire Toxic feature set, improved cooling, and different coloring to set the cards apart.

The one other true difference comes to light when overclocking. We all know one sample is not indicative of the entire line, but we see how aggressive the binning is between the Vapor-X line and the Toxic line. This sample clocked to 1160MHz on the core clock and screamed up to 1700MHz on the 3GB of Hynix memory for added bandwidth. This certainly helped performance in the 3DMark testing. Depending on the game test, Sapphire's Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC matched up best with the GTX 770, usually delivering higher FPS at 5760x1080. In every game the Vapor-X R9 280X TRI-X OC delivers smooth gameplay with high settings for a truly enjoyable gaming experience at 1080p resolutions.

Sometimes raw gaming performance is the only purchase factor, but for the rest of the world you have looks and how the card integrates into the build. The blue theme on this card looks great and will integrate well in blue themed builds. Sapphire's Vapor-X logo lights up to show what card you are running through the side panel as an added bit of bling.

Priced at $379, the price point puts it right on par with many of the non-reference GTX 770s for sale and is priced a bit more realistically than these cards have been selling for, thanks to the mining community. Overall this Vapor-X version of the R9 280X is the best cooling high end card I have tested that comes with excellent looks and low noise characteristics that make it well worth the $379 price point.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: