Clock Speeds, Cooling and Noise
Just like we discussed in our first custom R9 290X review, the most important data point for the Sapphire R9 290X Tri-X is how well it maintains its rated clock speeds by keeping the Hawaii GPU cool. Unlike the ASUS model though, the Sapphire card does away with the top BIOS switch's functionality of switching between different performance settings. Instead, Sapphire claims one position represents a UEFI boot mode (though neither position caused me any issue in testing).
Let's judge how well the Sapphire Tri-X cooled R9 290X maintains its overclocked speed of 1040 MHz. To see this over an extended period of time, we are looking at 25 minutes of consistent, looped gameplay in Metro: Last Light. This is the same testing loop utilized in our discussion of the 290X variance problems from last month. We will be comparing this new custom R9 290X from Sapphire to the ASUS DirectCU II model, the reference card we got from AMD initially as well as the reference cooled Sapphire R9 290X that we purchased ourselves that uses the stock cooler.
For this test, all three cards are in their default state. That means the sampled and Sapphire R9 290X are in Quiet mode while the R9 290X is in performance mode.
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Right away we see solid results from the Sapphire Tri-X card – the red line shows that the clock rate of the GPU never dips below the 1040 MHz except when the test is reloading the level. The yellow line represents the ASUS card that runs 10 MHz higher, but clearly the custom cooled Sapphire Tri-X card is performing much better than the reference cooled press sample or retail purchased Sapphire option.
The result of these 25 minutes runs and the average frame rate can be quite telling of your overall performance with the various R9 290X options. Without a doubt both the ASUS DirectCU II and the Sapphire Tri-X units provide the most consistent clock speed and gaming experience because of it.
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The fan speed on the Tri-X cooled Sapphire unit hits about 1950 RPM consistently through the 25 minute gaming session but it does spike to as high as 2000 RPM as we exit the graphic. But because these fans are different, the important data is on the next graph with sound levels.
As it turns out, the Sapphire R9 290X Tri-X runs slightly quieter than the ASUS DirectCU II cooled R9 290X although that delta is pretty minimal. Both custom cooled cards are MUCH more quiet than the reference cooler; the Sapphire Tri-X is 6.9 dbA lower in our testing.
Even better, the Sapphire card is able to maintain clocks and lower noise levels while keeping the GPU temperature at 74C, lower than both the reference model and the ASUS DirectCU II unit.
Power consumption remains pretty static in our testing between all of the R9 290X models, regardless of cooler or PCB design.
Just like we saw with the ASUS DirectCU II model of the R9 290X, the Sapphire Tri-X is able to maintain the performance levels from the Hawaii GPU that we came away expecting but didn't find possible with the stock cooler.