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Sapphire R9 290 Vapor-X OC Review


Author: SKYMTL
Date: May 25, 2014
Product Name: R9 290 Vapor-X OC
Part Number: 100362VXSR
Warranty: 3 Years

It’s been a while since we last reviewed an R9 290 here at Hardware Canucks; nearly two months in fact. During that time, the R9 295X2 launched, NVIDIA announced the TITAN Z, details about DirectX 12 came out and AMD rolled out another Never Settle gaming bundle. Meanwhile, Sapphire’s R9 290 Vapor-X OC, one of the fastest cards available right now, was shown for the first time and we’ve finally been able to take a closer look at it.

Amongst all that industry news one of the most important news items for gamers went largely overlooked: due to various factors, some of the wind went out of the sails of crypto currency mining. Now some of you may be wondering what mining has to do with this review and the answer to that is simple: due to their relative strength in crunching numbers, the AMD’s graphics cards’ retailer-bound pricing structure was literally tied at the hip to the popularity of Bitcoin, Litecoin and countless other virtual currencies. At the height of the mining craze Radeon GPU prices hit stratospheric levels but, as the market has rebalanced, things are finally beginning to settle down.

After AMD launched their Hawaii architecture last year, we saw quite a few custom versions of the R9 290X and R9 290. However, other than stable clock speeds granted by upgraded heatsinks, very few of them offered significant performance increases over the reference version. Now, the board partners have moved into “phase two” of their rollout with higher end offerings like Sapphire’s Vapor-X and Toxic, ASUS’ Matrix, Gigabyte’s Super Overclock and some interesting additions from PowerColor, VisionTek and others.

By being one of the first out of the gate Sapphire’s R9 290 Vapor-X OC has to set the bar pretty high. With that in mind they’ve pushed the card’s clock speeds to titanic levels with the core easily hitting the 1030MHz mark while the GDDR5’s frequency is the highest we’ve seen to date at 5600MHz.

Those are some impressive figures but they’re no surprise since Sapphire has been actively binning cores and memory IC’s for the limited edition R9 290 Toxic (a card which won’t be making its way to North America). Any of those which don’t quite pass the higher binning process get sent down one tier, tested again for use in the OC Vapor-X. If they don’t pass this card’s still-stringent guidelines, they’re pushed into a slightly lower-end SKU like the Tri-X OC. Other than directing perfectly allocating premium resources into Sapphire’s flagship products this process could also lead to more overclocking headroom for the R9 290 OC Vapor-X.

With an extremely high performance threshold that could conceivably challenge many R9 290X products and an awesome heatsink, it almost goes without saying that Sapphire is charging a premium for the R9 290 Vapor-X. Let’s cut right to the chase then: it retails for $470. That’s a hefty price to pay considering many custom R9 290 cards retail for $399 while some are even going for $370 when on sale. When placed alongside the Never Settle offer, this represents a phenomenal value. Sapphire’s Vapor-X also gets access to those free games and from a specs perspective alone, it looks like a pretty good buy as well. A 15% premium for such feature-rich product with a highly binned core is more than reasonable in our books provided this R9 290 can deliver on all its promises.

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