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Sapphire Nitro R9 390 8G D5 Review

With all of the focus on AMD’s Fury and its HBM, there isn't much attention being paid to the more affordable Radeon R9 390. Is it possible that we missed a gem?

How We Test

Test System

In order for us to compare results between cards reviewed by any of our reviewers, Tom’s Hardware standardized the test bench that we all use for 2015. By doing this, each of our locations can have different sets of cards and still compare from the pool of results that any of us have obtained. Starting with an MSI X99S XPower motherboard, each test bench has an Intel Core i7-5930K overclocked to 4.2GHz, 16GB of Crucial Balistix Sport DDR4, two Crucial 500GB SSDs and an 850W power supply from be quiet!.

Software and Drivers

In the recent Sapphire Fury Tri-X article, I received a lot critical feedback about the 15.15 driver. When the card was supplied to me for testing, I only had a limited time with it, and sadly that sample had to be returned after a few days (before AMD released its latest driver). For this evaluation, all tests run on the R9 390 Nitro Overclocked are performed using AMD's 15.7 Catalyst release. An R9 380 is thrown in for comparison at 1080p, if only for a bit of performance perspective at different price points. That board was tested using the 15.7 Catalyst driver as well.

I also have a comparison to the Fury. Its results come from our prior review, so the scores were generated using 15.15. Igor did manage some spot tests that indicated 15.7 had no meaningful impact on frame rates, so our numbers should reflect Fiji's performance accurately. The results from the 290X are also pulled from the Fury Tri-X review, which were actually carried over from the Fury X review from May.

Results from the GTX 970 SC were run on the latest WHQL Nvidia driver, 353.30, as we did not have previous results for this card on this test bench. The GTX 980 results were pulled from our initial GTX 980 Ti review, and as a result use driver version 347.25 (except for GTA V, which was tested using 352.90 beta).

Direct XDirectX 11
Graphics DriversGeForce GTX 980 Ti: Nvidia 352.90 Beta DriverAll GeForce Cards in Grand Theft Auto V and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: Nvidia 352.90 Beta DriverGeForce GTX Titan X, 980, and 780 Ti in all other games: Nvidia 347.25 Beta DriverRadeon R9 290 X: AMD Catalyst 15.5 BetaRadeon R9 Fury X and Fury: AMD Catalyst 15.15

Benchmarks

Middle-earth: Shadow of MordorBuilt-in benchmark, 40-sec Fraps, Ultra preset
Battlefield 4Custom THG Benchmark, 100-sec Fraps, Ultra preset
Metro Last LightBuilt-in benchmark, 145-sec Fraps, Very High preset, 16x AF, Normal motion blur
Tomb RaiderVersion 1.01.748.0, Custom THG Benchmark, 40-sec Fraps, Ultimate preset
Far Cry 4Version 1.9.0, Custom THG benchmark, 60-sec Fraps, Ultra preset
Grand Theft Auto VBuild 350, Online 1.26, In-game benchmark sequence #5, 110-sec Fraps, FXAA: On, MSAA: 2x, Texture Quality: Very High, Shader Quality: Very High, Shadow Quality: High, Reflection Quality: Very High, Water Quality: High, Particles Quality: Very High, Grass Quality: High, Soft Shadows: Softer, Post FX: Very High, Anisotropic Filtering: 16x

Noise

To measure sound levels, I took readings with a handheld dB meter positioned two inches from the card's I/O bracket. The meter I have at my disposal is only sensitive to 35 dB, so anything lower than that registers as zero. If the card makes an audible noise that the meter does not detect, I mark it as 34 dB. If no audible noise is observed, then it receives a 0 dB result on the graph.

Power

To test power consumption using our reference platform, a bit of creative math is needed. Since Haswell-E processors don’t have integrated GPU cores, we can’t boot the system without a discrete board installed to get a baseline. We are able to estimate consumption based on the approximate power draw of the test bench, though. In our observations, we’ve found that the approximate power draw from everything other than the GPU is 120W. By deducting that from the recorded wattage reported on our in-line power meter, we can calculate the approximate draw of the GPU.

  • Jeffs0418
    :sarcastic: How about an updated hierarchy chart?
    Reply
  • youcanDUit
    great review. i have a question about AMD and project vulkan. do AMD cards benefit from vulkan, like they do (did) from project mantle with the GCN1.1+? also it was said that implementing different multi card setup on DX 12 is harder than anticipated, is project vulkan capable of such feat?
    Reply
  • uglyduckling81
    It's good to see competition so close. It does beg the question as to why hardware several years old is still leading the charge.
    Both companies seem to be in a bit of a pit. Hopefully the new manufacturing node size will gets things going again.
    I am pretty happy with my GTX970 though. It's a nice card.
    Reply
  • Taintedskittles
    I m so torn between getting a 390 or gtx970. (1st world problems)

    If amd gvr were as good as shadowplay it wouldn't be a contest. But shadowplay is only a 1-2 fps hit compared amd gvr 10-20fps loss. The gtx 970 uses about 100w less than the 390 under load. But the 390 has better specs on paper & seems more future proof. Plus I m worried I'd be stretching my 650w psu with the 390.
    sigh.....
    note: using hd7870, Ive tried out gvr & its horrible, currently using dxtory & obs.
    Reply
  • VaporX
    Tainted, GVR options abound that great features. I have used OBS with some really neat overlay options and Raptr has a solid set of features as well.

    As for the PSU, you should be just fine. I run a Nitro 390 on my demo rig and do so with a 450 watt PSU and no issues. In fact at gaming load I have not yet seen the computer push over 400 watts total power load.

    Under typical gaming loads the 390 pulls about 80 watts more power. Our cooling solution means this is not a heat issue as we easily handle any heat generated by the card. 80 watts equates to nothing in power usage over typical gaming sessions. Assuming 8 hours per day, every day it would mean a difference at the end of the year of about $25 in extra electric charges.
    Reply
  • vertexx
    It's time for an updated "Best GPUs for the $$"
    Reply
  • Daniel Ladishew
    Why is the 980 missing from so many of these charts? There should be a 3rd party OC 980 (not the reference) in every chart if your really wanting to compare price/performance across these options. Is this on purpose to make the 390 look better or a lack of comprehensive testing?
    Reply
  • MrVic87
    I've been holding out a while to upgrade my GTX 760. Truthfully, I've been patiently waiting to see what Nvidia is going to come up with to counter the AMD 300 cards. Each article I've read, each video benchmark I've watched, just shows the same result, the 390/390x cards outperforms the 970/980! Not by much but it's noteworthy. I guess my money is truly going for the red brand this time around.
    Reply
  • kiniku
    I've been holding out a while to upgrade my GTX 760. Truthfully, I've been patiently waiting to see what Nvidia is going to come up with to counter the AMD 300 cards. Each article I've read, each video benchmark I've watched, just shows the same result, the 390/390x cards outperforms the 970/980! Not by much but it's noteworthy. I guess my money is truly going for the red brand this time around.

    "Not by much but noteworthy." LOL How does that work? But sure if you'd like your rig having to draw and dispense 100+ watts of internal heat for 3-5 more noteworthy FPS then knock yourself out.
    Reply
  • plasmastorm
    Got myself an MSI 390 to replace my evga 660ti 3gb. Holy poo what an upgrade !

    Was running stupidly hot at 84c for a week but then noticed that was due to the game, Mech warrior online using dx 11 which has known issues on a lot of cards, not just AMD.

    More than happy with it and happily clocks to 1720 core with an 83% asic
    Reply