Sapphire’s ITX Compact R9 380 is the first card I’ve tested based on AMD hardware in this price class. Previously, I tested four GTX 960s, which are all direct competition in both price and performance. Given Sapphire's compact form factor, I was really expecting a loud card that ran hot. I was pleasantly surprised to find that just isn’t the case.
Sapphire did a wonderful job on this card's cooling solution. The four heat pipes effectively dissipate heat, and the dual ball bearing fan proved quiet, even under load. It would be nice to have the fan shut off completely at idle. But even at its lowest setting, our audio equipment didn't pick it up.
As for performance, I was happy with the results. Some of the tests settings I chose were too much for the GPU, but in every case, you could dial those details back for a more enjoyable experience. At the beginning of this story, I asked if Sapphire’s ITX Compact R9 380 could be used in a living room gaming PC, and the answer is yes. Most enthusiasts would be happy to have it for gaming at 1080p.
I also wondered if it would be a suitable choice for gamers attending LAN parties. While I didn’t test any popular esports titles, today's top competitive games don't require top-tier graphics cards. This is more than enough rendering power to drive those games at 1080p and potentially even higher, though on-board memory will almost certainly become a limiting factor.
I was pleasantly surprised by this little card's overclocking headroom, too. Despite the tiny stature of its heat sink, Sapphire managed to cram in four copper heat pipes and they proved their worth. The GPU jumped by more than 100MHz, yet the temperature only increased by a few degrees. Performance was also noticeably improved in many tests.
Sapphire’s ITX Compact R9 380 delivered reasonable performance in most of our suite, yielding playable frame rates in all but one of our tests. Shadow of Mordor proved too much for this card to handle with the Very High preset enabled. That may be due to its 2GB of on-board memory though, since the GeForce GTX 960 suffered a similar fate. GTA V was also hampered by available memory. The settings used exceed what we had available, according to the game (though you can't trust the built-in indicator; it's not entirely accurate). The rest of our tests sometimes dipped into the 30 FPS range, so many gamers will want to scale back on detail or buy a higher-end model.
Kevin Carbotte is an Associate Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware, covering Graphics.