Sapphire's Vapor-X R9 290X 8GB: The More, The Merrier?

It's no surprise that Sapphire is bringing an 8GB version of the Radeon R9 290X to market. The company showed off it's 8GB Vapor-X and Toxic-branded prototypes of the Radeon R9 290X back in January at CES. If anything, we're surprised it took this long to get here.

Better late than never, though. Today Sapphire introduces its Vapor-X R9 290X 8GB card, a factory overclocked model with twice the amount of RAM found on the reference 290X that was released just over one year ago. A lot has changed in that year, but most importantly Nvidia has launched the similarly-performing $330 GeForce GTX 970, pushing the Radeon R9 290X's original $550 MSRP down to a the same range. From a marketing perspective the timing is right for Sapphire to release a 290X with twice the video memory, at a time when the Radeon R9 290X can use an edge against the tough Nvidia competitor.

Having said that, savvy PC enthusiasts know that more RAM doesn't equal more performance in the vast majority of situations. It does allow gamers to select high-resolution texture sets without a penalty, though, and it can make a noticeable difference in some game titles at very high resolutions such as 2560x1440 and beyond. In an age where 4K monitors are becoming more common, 8GB of graphics memory has never been more apropos.

Sapphire isn't traditionally considered a high-end brand, but one look at the Vapor-X tells you that someone in the company is working hard to change that image with the use of high-quality materials and solid construction. The full-height 122mm (4 3/4") PCB is a respectable 280mm (11") long, with the fan shroud extending to 298mm (11 5/8"). It takes up slightly more space than two PCIe slots, with the cooler about 49mm (1 15/16") wide. At 1.27 kg (2 lb 13 oz), it's no lightweight, either.

Sapphire's Vapor-X comes with a 1030 MHz core clock (30 MHz higher than the reference spec), but the memory runs at an impressive 1375 MHz, 125 MHz more than the standard 1250 MHz clock. As we mentioned, the Vapor-X carries 8 GB of the stuff, of course.  Sapphire claims to have developed a new VRM engine with digital power control and a 10-phase power delivery system, which you can see on the back of the card. The two thin slits between each bank of five VRMs illuminate during operation, too.

The aluminum fins pull heat away from the cooling block and vapor chamber via two 8mm and two 6mm copper pipes. Three 90mm fans are present, but when the temperature is low only the center fan will spin, reducing its noise footprint. We're not sure why, but users have the option to force all three fans on all the time via a switch on the side of the card.

Two 8-pin power inputs indicate an available 300 Watts of power in addition to what's provided by the PCIe slot. This is beefier than the reference model's 6-plus-8-pin configuration, and should provide extra oomph for overclockers. The card's BIOS allows for an impressive 50% increase in the power target, by the way. The extra RAM will probably draw noticeably more power than the reference model, which is something we'll look at in our tests.  

Sapphire includes an illuminated  Dual BIOS switch that allows the user to select either legacy or UEFI compatibility modes, which also allows a ROM flash without the worry of bricking the card. You won't see any CrossFire bridges here, since the Radeon R9 290 series doesn't require them.

The Sapphire logo on the top of the card illuminates blue when the card is cool, and changes from yellow to red as the temperature increases under load. Its not especially useful,. but it's a fun bling feature.

The Vapor-X R9 280 is equipped with a DisplayPort, a full sized HDMI, and two dual-link DVI-D outputs. Triple monitor Eyefinity setups do not require active adapters as they used to on Radeon cards.

The well-appointed bundle includes a 6' HDMI cable, two dual-molex-to-8-pin PCIe power adapters, manual, registration card, driver CD, case sticker, DVI-to-VGA adapter, and mini-DisplayPort-to-DisplayPort adapters. A thin mousepad is also included, a value-add that Sapphire now includes with many of their graphics cards.

That's a good look at the hardware. Now let's see what it can do.

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  • Magiclic
    The graphics regarding load temperature, noise, power and the one in the conclusion are really tiny to visualize them correctly and clicking in them just opens them in another window but at the same size.

    The rest of them are fine, so I think it's a formatting problem.
  • Motoxyogi
    Any chance of benchmarking these new cards for software other than games? I know that the vast majority of readers won't even look at it but I for one would like to know how the vapor 8 x and gtx 9xx series perform in 3D CAD software
  • jakjawagon
    Toms is getting more and more adblock-unfriendly. First the comment box doesn't load on most articles with adblock enabled, now the graphs don't load. Tested on Firefox and Chrome on Windows 8.1 64bit and Firefox on Android. No graphs. This is especially disappointing after all the recent articles on TomsGuide about malvertising. Tried disabling adblock and page is covered with a huge ad for health insurance.
  • jakjawagon
    I should really check the whole article before commenting. Graphs are missing on pages 3 and 4, but present on 5 and 6.
  • chrysalis
    sadly tomshardware seem in a time warp, in 2014 and beyond lots of vram is needed even for 1080p. think watchdogs, shadow of mordor as well as many other upcming AAA games, all huge vram requirements.
    I had to ditch my gtx 760 which is only a few months old, and I think it is inevitable a 8gig nvidia card will be launched within 6 months on the 900 series.
  • SGM26
    Not really a fair comparison. They should have compared Sapphire's 4GB Vapor-X to the 8GB variant, or at least added it into the charts.