Sapphire Radeon R9 280 Dual-X 3GB Graphics Card Review

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 Dual-X
by Rob Williams on July 16, 2014 in Graphics & Displays

When we took a look at EVGA’s GeForce GTX 760 Superclocked a couple of weeks ago, we lacked the ideal card to compare it to. With Sapphire’s Radeon R9 280 Dual-X in the house, retailing for just $10 shy of EVGA’s, we’ve managed to remedy that problem. So, let’s dive in, and see how both fare through our battery of tests.


At the conclusion of my look at EVGA’s GeForce GTX 760 Superclocked a couple of weeks ago, I said that I’d be following-up to the article with another; one that pit the card against its closest competitor: AMD’s Radeon R9 280. As this article exists, and I’m not one to use misleading intros, you’d be right to guess that this article is that follow-up.

According to their suggested retail prices, AMD’s Radeon R9 280 and NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 760 are priced the same: $249. However, as is typical of PC hardware, SRPs never last for long. At the time of writing, the least-expensive overclocked GeForce GTX 760 at Newegg comes from GIGABYTE, priced at $240. On the AMD side, Sapphire’s Radeon R9 280 Dual-X is priced at $230, or $210 after a mail-in rebate.

This should be a fun match-up.

With a launch price of $249, it’s not too hard to gauge where the R9 280 falls into place. Today, that price for a GPU means that it should be able to run all of today’s games at 1080p with high detail settings while delivering playable framerates. As a reviewer, I don’t expect many people to pick up a $249 GPU if they have 1440p in their sights, but I do love it when cards of that price-range manage good framerates in at least some games at that resolution. Fortunately, both AMD’s R9 280 and NVIDIA’s GTX 760 are able to deliver there (as can be seen on the Best Playable page later in the article).

Before going further, take a good look at Sapphire’s Dual-X offering:

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 Dual-X - Glamour Shot

One thing that’s synonymous with special edition cards like the Dual-X is that they’re overclocked; this card is no exception. However, given the fact that the R9 280 reference clocks are 827MHz Core and 5,000MHz Memory, the jump here seems minimal: 850MHz Core and 5,000MHz Memory – that’s right, the memory is left alone. The boost has also been, well, boosted, from 933MHz to 950MHz. You can expect the card to run at 950MHz more often than not while gaming, as long as temperatures don’t become an issue (as we’ll see later, that should never be the case).

Four video ports can be found at the back of the Dual-X: 1x HDMI, 1x DisplayPort, and 2x DVI.

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 Dual-X - Video Connectors

At the opposite end of the card we find 2x 6-pin PCIe power connectors, which is more than enough to handle the spec’s 200W TDP. It’s worth noting that NVIDIA’s GTX 760 has a 170W TDP, so it’ll be interesting to see if that power difference is reflected later on – especially in temperatures, since both cards use dual-fan solutions.

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 Dual-X - Power Connectors and End of Card

Not pictured, Sapphire includes a couple of different items in the box: Documentation, driver CD-ROM, 2x Molex-to-PCIe adapters, and a CrossFire bridge.

AMD Radeon SeriesCoresCore MHzMemoryMem MHzMem BusTDP
Radeon R9 295X2563210188192MB5000512-bit500W
Radeon R9 290X281610004096MB5000512-bit250W
Radeon R9 29025609474096MB5000512-bit250W
Radeon R9 280X2048<10003072MB6000384-bit250W
Radeon R9 2801792<9333072MB5000384-bit200W
Radeon R9 270X1280<10502048MB5600256-bit180W
Radeon R9 2701280<9252048MB5600256-bit150W
Radeon R9 2651024<9252048MB5600256-bit150W
Radeon R7 260X896<11002048MB6500128-bit115W
Radeon R7 260768<10001024MB6000128-bit95W
Radeon R7 250X640<10001024MB4500128-bit95W
Radeon R7 250384<10501024MB4600128-bit65W

It’s neat to realize that despite costing a modest ~$230, the R9 280 is just the fifth model from the top. Meanwhile, the seven GPUs falling below it cover a mere ~$110 gap; the price range of $80 – $190.

When you’re looking to purchase a GPU at a given price-point, it’s sometimes useful to consider the models directly above and below it. After all, you might be able to save a lot of money for a card that doesn’t perform much worse at all, or vice versa. In the case of the R9 280, though, it’s placed “too well”. The R9 270X, for example, cuts 33% of the cores – and that to me just puts it out of the running when the intent is to get a great-performing 1080p card. On the other side of the coin, the R9 280X bumps the cores by 15% and the boost by 7%, but it also costs at least $60 more.

For its price-range, it’s hard to beat the attractiveness of the R9 280. So with that said, let’s see how it performs, with the help of Sapphire’s Dual-X.

  • Dwayne Glode

    I actually expected the 760 to beat the 280. Way to go team Red!!!.

    • Rob Williams

      The match-up is super-close, but I do give AMD kudos here. I just wish the lowest of the low pricing could be had without mail-in rebates. No one likes those things =/

      • xOptix78

        Agreed – MIRs are da debil.

        Man, I’d love to get my mitts on that card when I get a new monitor. My 7850 can push about 28 FPS in WildStar with everything maxed out, but that’s in an unpopulated area without much happening on the screen. I’ve had it dip as low as 13 FPS in some of the areas that load the GPU.

        All in all, it’s nice to see AMD keeping pace.

        • Rob Williams

          Whoa, 13 FPS is HARSH. Yes, I definitely side by your need for a new GPU.

  • Major Tom

    Really good review, this guy does some of the best I’ve seen. Just picked up this 280 for $164, and I love it.

    • Rob Williams

      Wow, that’s some nice horsepower for $164 (especially when you consider the -much- slower 750 Ti retails for $150). Nice score.

      • Major Tom

        Thanks, I have to agree. NewEgg $184 with a $20 Mail in rebate.

        What they don’t tell you is that you have to up the TDP offset on this card to get it to maintain turbo clocks all the time, or more than an hour. Which is sneaky, because that will get you through benchmarks (I had the turbo stay locked the whole time I benched it on 3D Mark and Heaven Benchmark 4.0), but game with it in real world applications, and it throttles ALL OVER THE PLACE after an hour (as it did with Assetto Corsa), and I mean goes down below base clock to the 600 and 700 Mhz range. However, once you increase the TDP offset, you really can OverClock the crap out of it and have the turbo clock stay locked THE ENTIRE TIME. This should be noted by all. On a side note, it has never gone above 72* C, but it has no thermal sensor on the VRMs, and I think that is what was throttling it in the first place.

        • Rob Williams

          I was going to say… it seemed interesting that it was TDP throttled when that sounded more like a temperature thing. That’s kind of surprising, and something I need to keep in mind myself.

          • Major Tom

            I’m sorry, it’s not a TDP offset, it’s an option in CCC called “power limiter”. When I first received it, it ran at 71* for an hour, and then started throttling all over the place, BUT STILL AT 71*C.
            I searched all over the net for problems with the 280, but it wasn’t until I searched Tom’s Hardware for “problems with 7950″ that I found the fix. This is the ONE instance where I would recommend OC the GPU with Catalyst Control Center (Gasp!)
            It was also reading there that lead me to believe that it’s throttling based on VRMs, which apparently not many 7950s of any version came with sensors on.

            I wonder if the 280X or the 290 share this?

            Note: I don’t think the setting is a voltage changing setting either, when I change the clocks in CCC, they change in Trixx, but when I configure this offset, it does NOT change the VDDC setting in Trix (which one reviewer burned the card dead with)

          • Rob Williams

            This is so hard to make sense of. Power Limiter would definitely be the TDP offset, but how it doesn’t increase the temperature or voltage when you push the card higher is just… weird. It sounds like a bug in the driver or something to me, though it’s hard to say if it affects just that card or others. I am betting it would affect the 7950 though, considering the cards are not much different (versus your 2800.

          • Major Tom

            It definitely affects the 7950 and 7970, from what I’ve read on the forums, it wasn’t until I stopped searching “R9 280″ and started searching for throttling on the 7950 that I found the “fix”

            I hadn’t noticed that you could scroll down on the Trix overclocking tab (until yesterday in fact) and there is a forth option, the powertune setting. OEM samples with aftermarket cooling really should have come like this.

            I don’t think the throttling is based on temps, from this fix, but on power draw, which makes sense considering the power usage would increase fast at first and then slowly increase to a plateau as the fans increased RPMs to keep the card at 71-72* C. I benched the temps with more than one program to be sure I was getting them right, that’s when I suspected the throttling originated from something else. The unfortunate thing is anyone who doesn’t graph their GPU clock speeds while using it will never know this is happening, besides seeing the side effect in the frame rates, as many people did in the forums, and were also puzzled by the lack of high/ changing temps.

            Once you do up the “power tune” offset though, it holds clocks rock solid, and I’ve been posting this solution everywhere I can. It overclocks like a champ at that point as well, as one reviewer got it to out-bench the 7970 and the GTX 770:


            The guy at Legit Reviews killed his sample when over-volting it to get the core above 1075, but most everyone else has been able to achieve crazy high clocks on both the core and the Hynix memory.

            Sorry for the wall of text :-), kinda geeked out there. Now get back to reviewing things for us. hahaha

          • Rob Williams

            Wow, thanks a ton for the verbose explanation. I can’t comment much, but I am glad to be aware of this issue. I almost never overclock due to lack of interest, so I never noticed this before.

            I am glad you are not hitting a roadblock though. On the 960 I just reviewed, my overclock basically increased performance by a mere 3 FPS on average, and that’s not what I’d call “worth it”. If you look at the 970/980 overclocking article I did, there were literally differences of 10 FPS in some cases – much more worth it ;-)