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

How We Tested Sapphire's Vapor-X R9 290X 8GB

Benchmarking Hardware And Software

We're interested to see what the extra RAM provides for the Radeon R9 290X when it comes to game performance. Sapphire's Vapor-X is factory overclocked, though, so in order to isolate the difference we need to set our reference Radeon R9 290X to the same 1030 MHz core and 1375 MHz memory clocks. Because of this, any performance delta between the two should be a result of the extra memory (although Sapphire's improved cooler will probably affect the results, too, by allowing the GPU to stay in a boosted state for longer periods).

We also wanted to see how Sapphire's new product compares to its main competition, the GeForce GTX 970. It wouldn't be fair to compare this premium 290X specimen to a run-of-the-mill reference card, so we opted for EVGA's Superclocked GeForce GTX 970. With an 1165 MHz nominal GPU clock, it is 115 MHz higher than the reference specification. It's 1750 MHz GDDR5 memory is standard for the series, thoguh.

We're testing games at what we consider to be smooth, playable settings. That means a minimum of 30 FPS, and an average of 40 FPS or more.  At 4K resolution, this usually requires lowering a significant amount of detail, but we want to produce meaningful results. Conversely, we should be able to crank up the details at 1080p.

We believe that the Vapor-X's memory advantage will show up when gaming at high resolutions (if at all), so we need a 4K display to test our theory. To this end, we chose ASUS' PB287Q. Unlike older models that require splitting a single video stream into two HDMI inputs, this 28" display is capable of displaying 3840x2160 video at 60 Hz over a single DisplayPort 1.2 cable. With a 1 ms GTG response time, 157 pixels-per-inch, and 10-bit color, this is a beautiful example of a 4K gaming monitor.

High-end graphics cards require a substantial amount of power, so XFX sent us its PRO850W 80 PLUS Bronze-certified power supply. This modular PSU employs a single +12 V rail rated for 70 A. XFX claims continuous (not peak) output of up to 850 W at 50 degrees Celsius.

We've almost exclusively eliminated mechanical disks in the lab, preferring solid-state storage for alleviating I/O-related bottlenecks. Samsung sent all of our labs 256 GB 840 Pros, so we standardize on these exceptional SSDs.

Test System
CPUIntel Core i7-3960X (Sandy Bridge-E), 3.3 GHz, Six Cores, LGA 2011, 15 MB Shared L3 Cache, Hyper-Threading enabled.
MotherboardASRock X79 Extreme9 (LGA 2011) Chipset: Intel X79 Express
NetworkingOn-Board Gigabit LAN controller
MemoryCorsair Vengeance LP PC3-16000, 4 x 4 GB, 1600 MT/s, CL 8-8-8-24-2T
GraphicsSapphire Vapor-X R9 290X 8GB1030 MHz GPU, 8 GB GDDR5 at 1375 MHz (5500 MT/s)AMD Radeon R9 290X Reference1000 MHz GPU, 4 GB GDDR5 at 1250 MHz (5000 MT/s)(overclocked to 1030 MHz GPU, 4 GB GDDR5 at 1375 MHz (5500 MT/s) for game tests)EVGA GeForce GTX 9701165/1365 MHz GPU, 4 GB GDDR5 at 1753 MHz (7012 MT/s)
SSDSamsung 840 Pro, 256 GB SSD, SATA 6Gb/s
PowerXFX PRO850W, ATX12V, EPS12V
Software and Drivers
Operating SystemMicrosoft Windows 8 Pro x64
DirectXDirectX 11
Graphics DriversAll Radeon cards: AMD Catalyst 14.9GeForce GTX 770: Nvidia 344.60 WHQL
Watch DogsVersion 1.04.497, Custom THG Benchmark, 90-sec FRAPS, Driving
Arma 3V., 30-sec. Fraps "Infantry Showcase"
Battlefield 4Version, Custom THG Benchmark, 90-Sec
Assassin's Creed IV: Black FlagCustom THG Benchmark, 40-Sec
ThiefVersion, Built-in Benchmark
Middle earth: Shadow of MordorVersion, Built-In benchmark
Alien: IsolationVersion 1.05, Built-In benchmark