Overclocking and Conclusion

My overclocking testing with the Sapphire Tri-X R9 290X was done using Sapphire's latest beta version of Trixx tweaking utility.  With it, I was able to increase the VDDC offset on the GPU to help push the frequency.

My stable limit (with our sample) was 1225 MHz on the GPU at a 200 mV offset.  In GPU-Z, the voltage reported as high as 1.297v which obviously varied depending on the load from the game on the GPU.  

In our ASUS DirectCU II R9 290X review, our overclocking results topped out at 1150 MHz which is quite a bit lower than what we saw here.  Other than the standard variance claims that you get with any kind of overclocking it is also worth noting that, while the ASUS card stuck at 1150 MHz during extended gaming runs, the Sapphire Tri-X does drop below the 1225 MHz frequency.

In this 450 second segment of our 25 minute test and stability run, the Sapphire Tri-X card has several occurrences of clock rate fluctuation when set to 1225 MHz on the GPU.  The AMD PowerTune technology allows this to occur and because the Sapphire retail model is seeing this only when overclocked, I think this demonstrates the original intent of the technology.  

Taking those clock rate changes into account, the Tri-X was running at an average clock speed of 1214 MHz when set to 1225 MHz, a nice bump of 14% over the standard clock rate of the card out of the box.

 

Performance

Just like I saw with the ASUS DirectCU II R9 290X card from earlier in the month, the Sapphire Tri-X R9 290X fixes basically all of the problems and complaints I had with the reference design of the Radeon R9 290 and R9 290X products.  These GPUs are meeting their specified clock speeds without complaints and are doing so with lower temperatures (and even lower noise levels) as well.  

The base clock rate of the Hawaii GPU on the Sapphire card is 1040 MHz and, while that is only 40 MHz higher than the rated speed of the reference designs, it makes the Tri-X model a much faster GPU in practice. The reason?

In very similar fashion to the ASUS card before it, the Sapphire R9 290X Tri-X stays at its 1040 MHz rate speed nearly 100% of the time during extended gaming sessions.  That is not true in the reference designs and especially not true in the retail tested models which averaged 869 MHz; they were well below the rated 1000 MHz from AMD's specifications.

Adding other GPUs into the mix, including NVIDIA's options and the ASUS DirectCU II model, the story is once again interesting.  The GeForce GTX 780 Ti is once again fighting for its dominance.  When it was released, the R9 290X had clock variance and noise concerns that kept the $699 NVIDIA juggernaut in the driver's seat.  With the release of the Sapphire R9 290X Tri-X (and others) coming down the pipe that seat might have a new resident.  Like the ASUS option, the Sapphire card performed better than the GTX 780 Ti in Bioshock Infinite and Crysis 3 while the GTX 780 Ti's only definitive victory came in Battlefield 3.  In the three other games tested, the cards were so close that I'll call it a performance tie.

Pricing and Availability

When I reviewed the ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II card ASUS gave us a great MSRP of $569 ($20 over reference) but didn't promise availability until mid-January.  Sapphire is going to be asking $50 over the base price for its Tri-X card but said we could see availability before the new year.  A quick check at Newegg.com shows the card in its system, but out of stock.  I am not sure if it ever was in stock yet – hopefully I'll get feedback on that soon.  

I wouldn't hold out hope that you'll find wide spread availability until the same mid-January time frame though.

If all of these cards were available today, the Sapphire Tri-X model would be one of, if not THE best option for high end enthusiast gamers on the market.  As it sits now, gamers are forced to either wait and see what happens to pricing and availability to the new R9 290X models in January or they can decide to buy a GeForce GTX product today.  It's a tougher choice for many than I think AMD and its partners would like to admit.

Final Thoughts

Sapphire's R9 290X Tri-X 4GB graphics card is among the fastest we have ever tested at PC Perspective.  Its overclocked settings out of the box, at 1040 MHz GPU clock, are a bit lower than the ASUS model but some very simple and basic overclocking can easily level the playing field.  The GeForce GTX 780 Ti now has another strong competitor in the performance department that also comes with a $100 lower price tag.  

Once again, my conclusion is based solely on the fact that these parts SHOULD be available at these prices sometime in the not-too-distant future.  If the retail partners and etailers continue to jack up the prices on AMD's R9 series of graphics cards, our outlook could change pretty dramatically. For now, the Sapphire R9 290X Tri-X 4GB looks to be another fantastic retail Hawaii GPU.

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