Sapphire Radeon R9-280X Toxic
Sapphire Has been AMDs premier partner for a long time now so it was only natural that when the new AMD R Series cards launched that we would have one with Sapphires special touches in hand rather quickly.
The model we have in hand is a R9-280X model which is a 7970 GHz model but its a Sapphire Toxic model which means it is their top clocked model. Being a 3GB model card we know that it is ready for high resolution and AA gaming and even crossfire up to 4 cards for maximum performance especially when pushing multiple high resolution displays.
The Sapphire Radeon R9-280X Toxic model comes with a MSRP of $349 which places it about 50 dollars above some other models such as the MSI gaming series card we also received. However this Toxic series is highly clocked and is one heck of a card so lets take a look at the feature set and performance to see if its worth the extra dough.
10 Phase Power Design
Sapphire has implemented a very strong VRM design for its cards including such choice components such as the Sapphire embossed Black Diamond chokes or inductors and Superfet metal cased mosfets along side all solid Japanese caps ready to deliver maximum power to the Tahiti GPU for insane levels of performance.
New Tri-X Cooler
Sapphire really did something special with the cooler on the 280X Toxic model as it employs a triple fan design with the two outward fans being larger than the middle fan.
Above you can see this and it strangely resembles the cooler on the 780 Lightning which we looked at recently and thats not a bad thing as that was a very capable cooler design although unlike the Lightning the Sapphire card utilizes a single fan controller for all fans which may be a good thing as manually adjusting two different fan controls can be a lesson in balance trying to find where each fan set is happy at when working in conjunction with the other.
The cooler frame itself has a nice bright orange to it which surrounds the center fan and gives it enough color to be exciting without making it stand out like a sore thumb.
Sapphire has its own overclocking software and has had it for awhile now called Trixx, while it is lesser known than those such as MSI’s Afterburner or EVGA’s Precision but it is still a capable tuning utility although its feature set is a bit lighter than some other offerings on the market.
Above you can see that the functionality is basic but the layout is super clean, I think with some time the features could be added to make this a great tuning utility.
The Toxic model cards are always pushing extreme clocks right out of the box and the 280X is no exception but also the Toxic model is designed with the right components to allow for extreme overclocks.
Above you can see the stock clock of the Toxic is 1150MHz on GPU which is more than we could clock the MSI model to and honestly that is very impressive so I am very excited to see exactly how far this card can be pushed.
A Closer Look at the Sapphire Radeon R9-280X Toxic
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The packaging for the Sapphire card is a spotUV type packaging which makes for a cool iridescent effect which is covered on the front by a robot like soldier and adorned by a few key feature icons. The rear of the box covers key features and also showcases the special cooling design employed on the Sapphire 280X Toxic.
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Here we see the accessory pack which includes a Mini Displayport to Displayport Adapter, dual power adapters, HDMI cable and even a crossfire bridge. Also the inclusion of a driver disc and user manuals. All of this is more than enough to get you running and even an included HDMI cable which is always nice in case you dont happen to have one on hand.
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The card itself really is good looking with its triple fan cooler in place and the black/orange color scheme holds up really well to the high performance image. The two outward fans are slightly larger while the inboard center fan is smaller and they all work in conjunction with eachother.
The backplate is in place covering most of the PCB with only small cutouts for key components such as the Black Diamond Chokes as you can see near the far end of the card.
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The display connectivity is about standard for what we have seen on the Kepler based lineup
- 2x DVI
- 1x HDMI
- 2x Mini-Displayport
This all digital connector arrangement allows for a multitude of displays in pretty much any connector mix you could chose to employ, and I do like that sapphire chose to employ Dual DVI connectors which allows for most standard displays without adapters to be used.
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Here you see that the custom PCB Sapphire 280x Toxic which utilizes dual 8 pin PCIe connectors to ensure plenty of power delivery even under the most extensive and strenuous loading conditions.
The Dual Crossfire bridge connectors allow for up to 4 Way GPU configurations for extreme gaming of benchmarking builds to ensure you can push the highest graphics performance possible from your rig.
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Stripping the cooler from the Toxic card you can see it is one massive piece. The base plate which contacts the GPU is a solid copper piece which is met from within by multiple Heatpipes to ensure fast transfer of heat away from the GPU into the cooling fin array.
the card you can see still has many parts needed to be removed such as the two VRM coolers. and also the backplate which mounts with screws from the front of the PCB into the backplate.
Once the backplate is removed you can see that there is a thermal pad which contacts some small VRM components on the rear of the PCB.
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The VRM you can see has top choice components including Black Diamond Choke/Inductor pieces which I thought were kinda cool when I saw the Sapphire logo printed on them as most people wont see this but its just a small detail that when noticed I thought was kinda cool.
the far edge fo the card you will find the dual Fan headers, now I can only assume that in order to keep from overloading the fan header units they split the load to a second header as the Toxic card operates under a single fan controller from what I can tell.
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The Sapphire Radeon R9-280X Toxic utilizes a Tahiti GPU exactly as we saw on 7970GHz edition cards but being a Toxic model I have a funny feeling there is some special binning in place due to the very high out of the box clocks utilized on this model.
The Sapphire Press button is used to switch between two BIOS Roms much like the toggle we have seen on other Radeon model cards. This switch allows toggling between the standard BIOS Rom or the UEFI Rom.
The OS we use is Windows 8 Pro 64bit with all patches and updates applied. We also use the latest drivers available for the motherboard and any devices attached to the computer. We do not disable background tasks or tweak the OS or system in any way. We turn off drive indexing and daily defragging. We also turn off Prefetch and Superfetch. This is not an attempt to produce bigger benchmark numbers. Drive indexing and defragging can interfere with testing and produce confusing numbers. If a test were to be run while a drive was being indexed or defragged, and then the same test was later run when these processes were off, the two results would be contradictory and erroneous. As we cannot control when defragging and indexing occur precisely enough to guarantee that they won’t interfere with testing, we opt to disable the features entirely.
Prefetch tries to predict what users will load the next time they boot the machine by caching the relevant files and storing them for later use. We want to learn how the program runs without any of the files being cached, and we disable it so that each test run we do not have to clear pre-fetch to get accurate numbers. Lastly we disable Superfetch. Superfetch loads often-used programs into the memory. It is one of the reasons that Windows Vista occupies so much memory. Vista fills the memory in an attempt to predict what users will load. Having one test run with files cached, and another test run with the files un-cached would result in inaccurate numbers. Again, since we can’t control its timings so precisely, it we turn it off. Because these four features can potentially interfere with benchmarking, and and are out of our control, we disable them. We do not disable anything else.
We ran each test a total of 3 times, and reported the average score from all three scores. Benchmark screenshots are of the median result. Anomalous results were discounted and the benchmarks were rerun.
Please note that due to new driver releases with performance improvements, we rebenched every card shown in the results section. The results here will be different than previous reviews due to the performance increases in drivers.
|Motherboards||ASUS Maximus VI Formula|
|Ram||Gskill TridentX 8GB (2x4GB) 2666Mhz 11-13-13 Dual-Channel Kit|
|CPU Cooler||Custom Liquid Cooling|
|Hard Drives||8x Western Digital RE4 2TB 7200RPM 3Gb/s Hard Drives (Raid 5)|
|SSD||3x Kingston HyperX 240GB SATA III 6Gb/s SSD|
|GPU||Sapphire Radeon R9-280X Toxic
Nvidia GeForce GTX 760 2GB Video Card
Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 3GB Video Card
Nvidia GeForce GTX TITAN 6GB Video Card
Nvidia GeForce GTX 690 4GB Video Card
|GeForce Drivers||327.23 (GTX 760,770, 780,TITAN and 690)
Catalyst 13.11 (AMD Radeon R9-280X)
|PSU||Thermaltake Toughpower XT 1475W Gold|
|Mouse||Tt eSPORTS Theron Gaming Mouse|
|Keyboard||Tt eSPORTS Meks G1 Illuminated|
Synthetic Benchmarks & Games
We will use the following applications to benchmark the performance of the R9-280X video card.
|Unigine Heaven 4.0|
|Batman Arkham City|
|Dirt 3 Showdown|
|Metro Last Light|
|Sniper Elite V2|
Here you can see the overclock in full swing as the Toxic easily swamps the 770 and even nears the 780 in the performance test.
In 3DMark Firestrike and extreme the Toxic card does very well and once again leapfrogs ahead of the 770 by a decent margin.
Unigine Heaven 4.0
Unigine Heaven is a benchmark program based on Unigine Corp’s latest engine, Unigine. The engine features DirectX 11, Hardware tessellation, DirectCompute, and Shader Model 5.0. All of these new technologies combined with the ability to run each card through the same exact test means this benchmark should be in our arsenal for a long time.
Heaven shows gains here as well as the Overclock of the Toxic model allows it to surpass the 770 by over 1FPS
Sleeping dogs being an AMD pushed game I was not surprised to see good performance but to see the Toxic literally just as fast as the 780 was a very big surprise.
Even after many years, Metro 2033 is still one of the most demanding DX11 video games available to really push the limits of your system. The toxic once again impresses with 10 FPS over the 770 and just 4FPS short of 780 which puts the Toxic in a performance/Price ratio that is very hard to beat.
Batman Arkham City
Batman Arkham City is a fun game and utilizes FXAA fully. It is nice to see the full screen anti-aliasing getting picked up by popular titles. Batman AC being a heavily Nvidia based game I knew AMD would not fare as well but the toxic came within reach of the 770 here which is very good and honestly an impressive result when you consider the Nvidia based game means it was optimized for Nvidia cards first and foremost.
Tomb Raider being a heavily AMD based game I was expecting good performance but to see the Toxic rip past the 780 was a big surprise to me and when you think about the price of a 780 card, or even a 770 which is still 50 dollars more than this Toxic this si shaping up to be an amazing value for gamers.
Metro Last Light
Here we have Metro Last Light which is a brand new game added to our testing platform as it just came out. If you thought Metro 2033 was stressful you have seen nothing yet. The particles and lighting, as well as the PhysX effects all add up to an amazing looking game that can put a stun even the most powerful system in its tracks. For testing we disabled PhysX to ensure a level playing field since it would put extra load on the Nvidia GPU but not the AMD so we ensured the settings were kept equal. Once again the Toxic pulls a nice lead over the 770 again.
Sniper Elite V2
Sniper Elite V2 is a fun game which, when first released, was quite stressful but still playable on most higher end cards. By now, most cards have surpassed it, and the 280X is no exception but here once again like the MSI card it simply cannot surpass the 770 and it comes very close to braking the 100 FPS mark.
Dirt 3 Showdown
Dirt 3 Showdown is a visually beautiful game with excellent lighting and overall motion blurring creating a real visual spectacle of a game. The Toxic card pulls in just behind the 770 with just over 2 FPS shy of being a dead heat. This should play very well even at the highest settings.
Overclocking on AMD is fairly straight forward as unlike Kepler there is no crazy algorithms to worry about which sometimes plagues power users as the Nvidia GPU boost utilizes many factors to calculate how it throttles.
AMD just lets you set the clock and power target percentage and your off to the races. Sapphire offers the Trixx app for overclocking or you can use any other app should you want to overclock the card with everything available on the market it really is as simple as choosing which you want to use.
The Sapphire Radeon R9-280X Toxic comes out of the box with a 1150 GPU clock and that was already above what i could achieve with the MSI card so I was a bit apprehensive to think I could push much further but I can now say I was very wrong.
The overclockling I honestly did not expect much but the more i pushed the clock the more it kept going and the GPU finally came to rest at a final stable clockspeed of 1230MHz which is nothing short of amazing.
Next up was memory which comes stock clocked at 6400MHz and once again this card wa sbuilt to clock as it just kept going all the way to 7600MHz which means we saw an effective clock increase of 1200MHz which is huge.
The GPU overclock came out to 7% over an already very high clock and the memory topped out at 16% at very close to 8GHz speeds which means this card not only was clocked well from the factory but it was designed to push the limits.
To measure the temperature of the video card, we used MSI Afterburner and ran Heaven Benchmark in a loop to find the Load temperatures for the video cards. The highest temperature was recorded. After looping for 10 minutes, Heaven was turned off and we let the computer sit at the desktop for another 10 minutes before we measured the idle temperatures.
|GPU Temperatures||Temperature (Idle/Load)|
|Nvidia GTX 690||32C/81C|
|Nvidia GTX TITAN||31C/67C|
|Nvidia GTX 780||30C/65C|
|Nvidia GTX 770||34C/79C|
|Nvidia GTX 760||31C/67C|
|Sapphire R9-280X Toxic||31C/68C|
The Tahiti GPU can pump some heat but the cooler in place on the Toxic is very capable. The only issue I can truly see would be that under load the cooler gets a bit louder than others I have tested but when placed in a chassis it is only slightly noticeable. One thing worth noting is that if I had the ability to adjust voltage downward I am betting the thermals could probably be lowered which would allow for lower fan speeds as it seems the Toxic has very choice GPUs which can clock very well so im sure Sapphire put a higher voltage in place just in case a GPU is a little weaker than others it will still hold the higher clock speed.
To get our power consumption numbers, we plugged in our Kill A Watt power measurement device and took the Idle reading at the desktop during our temperature readings. We left it at the desktop for about 15 minutes and took the idle reading. Then we ran Heaven Benchmark for a few minutes minutes and recorded the highest power usage.
The Toxic card even with its crazy high clock speed and triple fans pulls impressively low power as it barely exceeds that of the GTX770 we tested on the same platform and configuration.
Our Final Thoughts
When I first got the Toxic R9-280X it looked like an impressive and beastly card but I was in no way prepared for what this card could really do.
The out of the box clock is very high and offers a very high level of performance straight from the shelf. Overclocking can give you even more should you want to put in some effort to find where your specific card will be happy at.
The value of the Toxic card is simple to see as in some tests it can eclipse a 780 which is double its price and easily defeats the 770 which is 50 dollars more as well which makes this an amazing value for gamers looking for a high level of gaming punch.
Any gamer who may be in the market for a nice enthusiasts level graphics card with a great value would be out of their mind to not consider this card.