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

Date: July 16, 2014
Author(s): Rob Williams

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.



Introduction

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 Series Cores Core MHz Memory Mem MHz Mem Bus TDP
Radeon R9 295X2 5632 1018 8192MB 5000 512-bit 500W
Radeon R9 290X 2816 1000 4096MB 5000 512-bit 250W
Radeon R9 290 2560 947 4096MB 5000 512-bit 250W
Radeon R9 280X 2048 <1000 3072MB 6000 384-bit 250W
Radeon R9 280 1792 <933 3072MB 5000 384-bit 200W
Radeon R9 270X 1280 <1050 2048MB 5600 256-bit 180W
Radeon R9 270 1280 <925 2048MB 5600 256-bit 150W
Radeon R9 265 1024 <925 2048MB 5600 256-bit 150W
Radeon R7 260X 896 <1100 2048MB 6500 128-bit 115W
Radeon R7 260 768 <1000 1024MB 6000 128-bit 95W
Radeon R7 250X 640 <1000 1024MB 4500 128-bit 95W
Radeon R7 250 384 <1050 1024MB 4600 128-bit 65W

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.

Test System & Methodology

At Techgage, we strive to make sure our results are as accurate as possible. Our testing is rigorous and time-consuming, but we feel the effort is worth it. In an attempt to leave no question unanswered, this page contains not only our test-bed specifications, but also a detailed look at how we conduct our testing.

Test Machine

The below table lists our testing machine’s hardware, which remains unchanged throughout all GPU testing, minus the GPU. Each card used for comparison is also listed here, along with the driver version used.

Graphics Card Test System
Processors Intel Core i7-4960X – Six-Core @ 4.50GHz
Motherboard ASUS P9X79-E WS
Memory Kingston HyperX Beast 32GB (4x8GB) – DDR3-2133 11-12-11
Graphics EVGA GeForce GTX 760 2GB SC – GeForce 334.89 (Feb ’14)
Sapphire Radeon R9 280 Dual-X 3GB – Catalyst 14.1 (Feb ’14)
Audio Onboard
Storage Kingston HyperX 240GB SSD
Power Supply Cooler Master Silent Pro Hybrid 1300W
Chassis Cooler Master Storm Trooper Full-Tower
Cooling Thermaltake WATER3.0 Extreme Liquid Cooler
Displays ASUS PB278Q 27″ 2560×1440
Dell P2210H 22″ 1920×1080 x 3
Et cetera Windows 7 Professional 64-bit

NOTE: Because this article is focusing on a performance battle between Sapphire’s Radeon R9 280 Dual-X and EVGA’s GeForce GTX 760, I’ve benchmarked both using the same generational driver for the sake of fairness. NVIDIA’s GeForce 334.89 was released in early February, and so was AMD’s Catalyst 14.1. With that in mind, performance may be improved in some cases with newer drivers.

Notes About Our High-end System

The goal of our performance content is to show you as accurately as possible how one product compares to another – after all, you’re coming to us for advice, so we want to make sure we’re giving you the best possible information. Typically, one major step we take in ensuring that our performance results are accurate is to make sure that our test systems are void of all possible bottlenecks, so for that, high-end components must be used.

In the case of our graphics card test system, the processor chosen has six-cores and is overclocked far beyond reference clocks. Most games nowadays are not heavily CPU-bound, but by using such a chip, we feel that we completely rule it out as a potential bottleneck. The same can be said for the use of an SSD (as opposed to latency-ridden mechanical storage), and even our memory, which is clocked at the comfortable speed of DDR3-2133.

Why this matters to you: Our test PC is high-end, and it’s very likely that you’d encounter a bottleneck quicker than us. Our goals are to rid all possible bottlenecks, whereas yours is to build the PC you need. In our case, we need to go overboard to attain as accurate a representation of a graphic card’s performance as possible.

If your PC has at least a modern (~2-years-old) quad-core or better processor, and at least 8GB of fast memory (DDR3-1866+), that chances of you running into a bottleneck with today’s hottest game is admittedly low. If you’re using lower-end gear, you can absolutely expect that the rest of your system could be a bottleneck. It should be noted, though, that if you’re seeking out a lower-end graphics card, the importance of a bottleneck would of course be lessened.

Unfortunately, we’re not able to test a single card on multiple PC configurations; each single card we test takes at least 3 hours to test, with another 2 hours added on for each additional resolution, and at least another 1~2 hours for our Best Playable results (for up to 11 hours of mostly hands-on testing for a high-end model).

Please bear all of this in mind. If you’re unsure if your PC could prove to be a bottleneck, our comments section exists for such questions.

When preparing our test-beds for any type of performance testing, we follow these guidelines:

General Guidelines

To aid with the goal of keeping accurate and repeatable results, we alter certain services in Windows 7 from starting up at boot. This is due to the fact that these services have the tendency to start up in the background without notice, potentially causing inaccurate test results. For example, disabling “Windows Search” turns off the OS’ indexing which can at times utilize the hard drive and memory more than we’d like.

The services we disable are:

For further fine-tuning, we also use Windows’ “Classic” desktop theme, which gets rid of the transparency that can sometimes utilize a GPU in the background.

Vendor Favortism

Sometimes, either AMD or NVIDIA will work with a game studio to help their development process along. As history has proven, this often results in a game that is tuned better for one vendor over the other, although sometimes the tides can change over time, resulting in the competing vendor offering the better experience.

One of our goals is to provide as neutral a benchmarking suite as possible, so while it’s impossible to avoid games sponsored by either of these companies, we can at least make an effort to achieve a blended list. As it stands, our current game list and their partners are:

(AMD) – Battlefield 4
(AMD) – Crysis 3
(AMD) – Sleeping Dogs
(NVIDIA) – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
(NVIDIA) – Metro: Last Light
(NVIDIA) – Splinter Cell Blacklist
(Neutral) – GRID 2
(Neutral) – Total War: SHOGUN 2

With that, let’s move on to a quick look at the game settings we use in our testing:

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag Benchmark Settings

Battlefield 4

Battlefield 4 Benchmark Settings

Note: The “High” preset is used for multi-monitor configurations.

Crysis 3

Crysis 3 Benchmark Settings

Crysis 3 Benchmark Settings

Note: The “Medium” preset is used for multi-monitor configurations.

GRID 2

GRID 2 Benchmark Settings

GRID 2 Benchmark Settings

GRID 2 Benchmark Settings

Metro Last Light

Metro Last Light Benchmark Settings

Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs Benchmark Settings

Sleeping Dogs Benchmark Settings

Splinter Cell Blacklist

Splinter Cell Blacklist Benchmark Settings

Splinter Cell Blacklist Benchmark Settings

Total War: SHOGUN 2

Total War SHOGUN 2 Benchmark Settings

Unigine Heaven

Unigine Heaven 4 Benchmark Settings

Game Tests: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Battlefield 4

Given the sheer number of titles in the Assassin’s Creed series, it’s a little hard to believe that the first game came out a mere six years ago. You could definitely say that Ubisoft hit the ball out of the park with this one. To date, we’ve never considered an AC game for benchmarking, but given the number of graphical goodies featured in the PC version of Black Flag, that trend now ends.

Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag - 1920x1080

Manual Run-through: The saved game starts us not far from the beginning of the game under a small church which can be climbed to synchronize with the environment. To kick things off, I scale this church and rotate the camera around once, making sure to take in the beautiful landscape; then, I climb back down and run all the way to the water (the top of this small church and the water can be seen in the above screenshot).

Note: For some reason, Ubisoft decided to cap the framerate to 60 FPS in Black Flag even if Vsync is turned off. For most games, this would ruin the chance of it appearing in our benchmarking, but because the game is graphically intensive, I’ve chosen to stick with it, as at higher resolutions, reaching 60 FPS is a perk that will belong only to high-end graphics cards.

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 - Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (1920x1080)

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 - Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (2560x1440)

I mentioned on the first page that both of the cards I’m comparing here debuted at the same price-point, but I’m sure these charts could have revealed that on their own. Both cards deliver great performance at 1080p.

Battlefield 4

Thanks to the fact that DICE cares more about PC gaming than a lot of developers, the Battlefield series tends to give us titles that are well-worth benchmarking. Battlefield 3 offered incredible graphics and became a de facto benchmark immediately, so it’s no surprise, then, that BF4 follows right in its footsteps.

Battlefield 4 - 1920x1080

Manual Run-through: The Singapore level is the target here, with the saved game starting us on an airboat that must be driven to shore, where a massive battle is set to take place. I stop recording the framerate once the tank makes its way to the end of this small patch of beach; in all, the run takes about 3 minutes.

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 - Battlefield 4 (1920x1080)

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 - Battlefield 4 (2560x1440)

This kind of matching-up is no doubt going to be the theme for the rest of the article. While I’d wager that 50 FPS might be totally playable for a game like AC IV: Black Flag, 60 FPS is definitely more ideal for an FPS like BF 4. Luckily for you, I see what it takes to make that framerate happen on the Best Playable page.

Game Tests: Crysis 3, GRID 2

When the original Crysis dropped in late 2007, it took no time at all for pundits to coin the phrase, “Can it run Crysis?“, almost to the point of self-parody. At the time, the game couldn’t have its graphics detail maxed-out on even top-of-the-line PCs, and in reality, that’s a great thing. I’d imagine few are opposed to knowing that a game could actually look better down the road as our PCs grow into them. As the series continued, Crytek knew it had a legend to live up to, and fortunately, Crysis 3 (our review) lives up to the original’s legacy.

Crysis 3 - 1920x1080 Single Monitor

Manual Run-through: There’s no particular level in Crysis 3 that I could establish was “better” for benchmarking than another, but I settled on “Red Star Rising” based on the fact that I could perform a run-through with no chance of dying (a great thing in a challenging game like this one). The level starts us in a derelict building, where I traverse a broken pipe to make it over to one rooftop and then another. I eventually hit the ground after taking advantage of a zipline, and make my way down to a river, where I scurry past a number of enemies to the end spot beneath a building.

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 - Crysis 3 (1920x1080)

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 - Crysis 3 (2560x1440)

Crysis 3 lives-up to the tradition of a game that requires a good amount of GPU power to run well while looking well, but both of these cards manage to deliver a fantastic gameplay experience at 1080p.

GRID 2

For those who appreciate racing games that are neither too realistic nor too arcade-like, there’s GRID. In GRID 2 (review), the ultimate goal is to build a racing empire, starting from square one. Unlike most racing titles that have some sort of career, the goal here isn’t to earn cash, but fans. Whether you’re racing around Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina or tearing through a gorgeous Cote d’Azur coastline, your goal is simple: To impress.

GRID 2 - 1920x1080 Single Monitor

Manual Run-through: The track chosen for my benchmarking is Miami (Ocean Drive). It’s a simple track overall, which is one of the reasons I chose it, and also the reason I choose to do just a single lap (I crash, often, and that affects both the results and my patience). Unlike most games in the suite which I test twice over (save for an oddity in the results), I race this one lap three times over.

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 - GRID 2 (1920x1080)

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 - GRID 2 (2560x1440)

As covered on the testing methology page, GRID 2 is a neutral title in the AMD vs. NVIDIA battle, but despite the nearly equal performance we’ve seen up to this point, AMD’s card managed to surpass NVIDIA’s here by a fair margin. Both cards deliver great performance at 1080p, while AMD’s card might have an easier time getting away with these detail settings at 1440p for some gamers.

Game Tests: Metro Last Light, Sleeping Dogs

Crysis has become infamous for punishing even top-end systems, but let’s be fair: The Metro series matches, if not exceeds its requirement for graphical horsepower. That was proven by the fact that we used Metro 2033 in our testing for a staggering three years – only to be replaced by its sequel, Last Light. I’m not particularly a fan of this series, but I am in awe of its graphics even at modest settings.

Metro Last Light - 1920x1080 Single Monitor

Manual Run-through: Because this game is a real challenge to benchmark with for both the reasons of variability in the results and the raw challenge, I choose to use the built-in benchmark here but rely on Fraps to give me more accurate results.

Note: Metro Last Light‘s built-in benchmark is not representative of the entire game; some levels will punish a GPU much worse than this benchmark will (namely, “The Chase”, which has lots of smoke and explosions). What this means is that while these settings might suffice for much of the game, there might be instances where the performance degrades enough during a certain chapter or portion of a chapter to force a graphics setting tweak.

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 - Metro Last Light (1920x1080)

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 - Metro Last Light (2560x1440)

The R9 280 manages to outperform the GTX 760 by a small margin at 1080p, while both 1440p results are exact.

Sleeping Dogs

Many have called Sleeping Dogs (our review) the “Asian Grand Theft Auto“, but the game does a lot of things differently that helps it stand out of the crowd. For example, in lieu of supplying the player with a gazillion guns, Sleeping Dogs focuses heavily on hand-to-hand combat. There are also many collectibles that can be found to help upgrade your character and unlock special fighting abilities – and if you happen to enjoy an Asian atmosphere, this game should fit the bill.

Sleeping Dogs - 1920x1080 Single Monitor

Manual Run-through: The run here takes place during the chapter “Amanda”, on a dark, dank night. The saved game begins us at the first apartment in the game (in North Point), though that’s not where I begin capturing the framerate. Instead, I first request our motorcycle from the garage. Once set, I begin recording the framerate and drive along a specific path all the way to Aberdeen, taking about two minutes.

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 - Sleeping Dogs (1920x1080)

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 - Sleeping Dogs (2560x1440)

It might be an AMD-sponsored game, but Sleeping Dogs runs nearly the same on both cards here – with AMD’s perhaps not-too-surprisingly edging NVIDIA’s out slightly.

Game Tests: Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Total War: SHOGUN 2

Tom Clancy is responsible for a countless number of video games, but his Splinter Cell series has become something special, with each game released having been considered “great” overall. The latest in the series, Blacklist, is no exception, and thankfully for us, its graphics are fantastic, and not to mention intensive. For those who love a stealth element in their games, this is one that shouldn’t be skipped.

RIP, Tom Clancy.

Splinter Cell Blacklist - 1920x1080 Single Monitor

Manual Run-through: From the start of the ‘Safehouse’ level in Benghazi, Libya, we progress through until we reach an apartment building that must be entered – this is where we end the FPS recording.

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 - Splinter Cell: Blacklist (1920x1080)

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 - Splinter Cell: Blacklist (2560x1440)

On the last page, we saw AMD push a bit harder at Sleeping Dogs, but the tables have turned with Blacklist. As Sleeping Dogs is AMD-sponsored, and Blacklist is NVIDIA-sponsored, I guess neither finding is too much of a surprise.

Total War: SHOGUN 2

Strategy games are well-known for pushing the limits of any system, and few others do this as well as Total War: SHOGUN 2. It fully supports DX11, has huge battlefields to oversee with hundreds or thousands of units, and a ton of graphics options to adjust. It’s quite simply a beast of a game.

Total War: SHOGUN 2 - 1920x1080 Single Monitor

Manual Run-through: SHOGUN 2 is one of the few games in our suite where the built-in benchmark is opted for. Strategy games in particular are very difficult to benchmark, so this is where I become thankful to have the option of using a built-in benchmark.

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 - Total War: SHOGUN 2 (1920x1080)

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 - Total War: SHOGUN 2 (2560x1440)

SHOGUN 2 helps wrap-up our gaming results with the same sort of deltas we’ve seen across them all.

Next up, I’ll tackle our “Best Playable” results.

Best Playable: Single Display

For about as long as GPU-accelerated games have existed, an ideal performance target has been 60 frames-per-second. Owing thanks to this is the standard 60Hz monitor, which delivers its best result when the framerate matches its refresh rate. To make sure the monitor’s refresh rate and game’s framerate keep aligned, to avoid visible tearing, VSync should be enabled.

While I believe our Best Playable results will appeal to any gamer, they could especially prove useful to those intrigued by livingroom gaming or console replacements. The goal here is simple: With each game, the graphics settings are tweaked to deliver the best possible detail while keeping us as close to 60 FPS on average as possible.

Because our Metro Last Light and Total War: SHOGUN 2 tests are timedemos, and because this kind of testing is time-consuming, I am sticking to six out of the eight games I test with for inclusion here.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Minimum Average
EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC 46 57
Graphics Settings
& Ingame ScreenshotResolution: 1920×1080
Environment: Very High Shadow: Very High
Texture: High Reflection: High
Anti-aliasing: FXAA God Rays: High
Ambient Occlusion: On Volumetric Fog: On
Motion Blur On
Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag - Best Playable - EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC
Sapphire R9 280 Dual-X 47 58
Graphics Settings
& Ingame ScreenshotResolution: 1920×1080
Environment: Very High Shadow: Very High
Texture: High Reflection: High
Anti-aliasing: FXAA God Rays: High
Ambient Occlusion: On Volumetric Fog: On
Motion Blur On
Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag - Best Playable - Sapphire Radeon R9 280 Dual-X

On account of the fact that our regular 1080p testing brought performance close to 60 FPS, and also the fact that there’s no room to gain without making a severe performance impact, we’re sticking to those settings. Some of you may prefer to disable SSAO to loosen the workload up a little bit in case it doesn’t feel silky-smooth enough. 1440p could be possible if you were willing to sacrifice graphics detail, but you’d really have to dial many knobs down, and I really wouldn’t consider that to be worth it.

Battlefield 4
Minimum Average
EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC 45 61
Graphics Settings
& Ingame ScreenshotResolution: 2560×1440
Texture Quality: High Texture Filtering: High
Lighting: High Effects: High
Post Processing: High Mesh: High
Terrain: High Terrain Decoration: High
Anti-aliasing Deferred: Off Anti-aliasing Post: Off
Ambient Occlusion: SSAO
Battlefield 4 - Best Playable - EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC
Sapphire R9 280 Dual-X 51 66
Graphics Settings
& Ingame ScreenshotResolution: 2560×1440
Texture Quality: High Texture Filtering: High
Lighting: High Effects: High
Post Processing: High Mesh: High
Terrain: High Terrain Decoration: High
Anti-aliasing Deferred: Off Anti-aliasing Post: Off
Ambient Occlusion: SSAO
Battlefield 4 - Best Playable - Sapphire Radeon R9 280 Dual-X

Both of the tested cards share the same Best Playable settings in Battlefield 4, but AMD’s card manages to boost performance by 5 FPS. The best part of this all is: We’re dealing with 1440p here. “Ultra Detail” would be very playable at 1080p if anti-aliasing and AO were disabled.

Crysis 3
Minimum Average
EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC 43 63
Graphics Settings
& Ingame ScreenshotResolution: 1920×1080
Anti-aliasing: FXAA Texture: High
Effects: High Object: High
Particles: High Post Processing: High
Shading: High Shadows: High
Water: High Anisotropic Filtering: x16
Motion Blur: Medium Lens Flares: Yes
Crysis 3 - Best Playable - EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC
Sapphire R9 280 Dual-X 43 59
Graphics Settings
& Ingame ScreenshotResolution: 1920×1080
Anti-aliasing: FXAA Texture: High
Effects: High Object: High
Particles: High Post Processing: High
Shading: High Shadows: High
Water: High Anisotropic Filtering: x16
Motion Blur: Medium Lens Flares: Yes
Crysis 3 - Best Playable - Sapphire Radeon R9 280 Dual-X

Crysis 3 has made work easy for me here, as there’s not one worthwhile setting that can be increased without dramatically affecting the performance. So, once again, we’ve left the settings used for regular apples-to-apples benchmarking in tact. Like with AC IV: Black Flag, it could be possible to hit playable framerates at 1440p with Crysis 3, but my goal here is to avoid that “Medium” detail setting at all costs.

GRID 2
Minimum Average
EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC 55 62
Graphics Settings
& Ingame ScreenshotResolution: 2560×1440
Multisampling: 4x MSAA Night Lighting: High
Shadows: Ultra Advanced Fog: On
Particles: Ultra Crowd: Ultra
Cloth: High Ambient Occlusion: Low
Soft Ambient Occlusion: Off Ground Cover: High
Vehicle Details: Ultra Trees: Ultra
Objects: Ultra Vehicle Reflections: Ultra
Water: High Post Process: High
Skidmarks: On Advanced Lighting: On
Global Illumination: Off Anisotropic Filtering: Ultra
GRID 2 - Best Playable - EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC
Sapphire R9 280 Dual-X 54 64
Graphics Settings
& Ingame ScreenshotResolution: 2560×1440
Multisampling: 4x MSAA Night Lighting: High
Shadows: High Advanced Fog: On
Particles: Ultra Crowd: Ultra
Cloth: High Ambient Occlusion: High
Soft Ambient Occlusion: On Ground Cover: High
Vehicle Details: Ultra Trees: Ultra
Objects: Ultra Vehicle Reflections: Ultra
Water: High Post Process: High
Skidmarks: On Advanced Lighting: On
Global Illumination: On Anisotropic Filtering: Ultra
GRID 2 - Best Playable - Sapphire Radeon R9 280 Dual-X

Because of the performance boost the AMD card gave me in GRID 2, I was able to use slightly higher settings over the NVIDIA card and still not fall behind in performance. Global illumination was left enabled, for example, as was Soft Ambient Occlusion. While the NVIDIA card had to see its AO setting decreased to Low, I kept it at High for AMD’s. The caveat: I decreased the Shadow detail to High (vs. Ultra) on AMD’s card, because I felt the enabled AO had more of a meaninful impact.

Sleeping Dogs
Minimum Average
EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC 61 73
Graphics Settings
& Ingame ScreenshotResolution: 2560×1440
Anti-aliasing: Normal High-res Textures: On
Shadow Resolution: High Shadow Filtering: High
Ambient Occlusion: High Motion Blur: High
World Density: Extreme
Sleeping Dogs - Best Playable - EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC
Sapphire R9 280 Dual-X 65 75
Graphics Settings
& Ingame ScreenshotResolution: 2560×1440
Anti-aliasing: Normal High-res Textures: On
Shadow Resolution: High Shadow Filtering: High
Ambient Occlusion: High Motion Blur: High
World Density: Extreme
Sleeping Dogs - Best Playable - Sapphire Radeon R9 280 Dual-X

As with most GPUs I’ve run through the Best Playable gauntlet, Sleeping Dogs is best-played when the anti-aliasing is degraded to Normal. Admittedly, this is just fine, since the game’s AA implementation is junk, at best.

It’s going to be a sad day when I have to retire this game from our bench suite, as driving through the rainy streets of a faux Hong Kong just doesn’t seem to get boring.

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist
Minimum Average
EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC 52 65
Graphics Settings
& Ingame ScreenshotResolution: 2560×1440
Texture Detail: Ultra Shadow: High
Parallax: On Tessellation: On
Texture Filtering: 16x Ambient Occlusion: Off
Anti-aliasing: FXAA
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist - Best Playable - EVGA GeForce GTX 760 SC
Sapphire R9 280 Dual-X 51 63
Graphics Settings
& Ingame ScreenshotResolution: 2560×1440
Texture Detail: Ultra Shadow: High
Parallax: On Tessellation: On
Texture Filtering: 16x Ambient Occlusion: Off
Anti-aliasing: FXAA
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist - Best Playable - Sapphire Radeon R9 280 Dual-X

Rounding-out our look, both cards performed just about the same (or the same according to some, I’m sure) in Blacklist. Great performance and detail levels at 1440? Not too shabby.

Synthetic Tests: Futuremark 3DMark, 3DMark 11, Unigine Heaven 4.0

We don’t make it a point to seek out automated gaming benchmarks, but we do like to get a couple in that anyone reading this can run themselves. Of these, Futuremark’s name leads the pack, as its benchmarks have become synonymous with the activity. Plus, it does help that the company’s benchmarks stress PCs to their limit – and beyond.

3DMark

While Futuremark’s latest GPU test suite is 3DMark, I’m also including results from 3DMark 11 as it’s still a common choice among benchmarkers.

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 - Futuremark 3DMark

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 - Futuremark 3DMark 11 - Performance

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 - Futuremark 3DMark 11 - Extreme

Interestingly, while Sapphire’s Dual-X did outperform EVGA’s Superclocked overall, it didn’t stretch its arms in our real-world tests as it does in 3DMark – 6459 vs. 5889 in Fire Storm. We don’t see quite as large a delta with 3DMark 11 – and in fact I’d say those result gains come closer to what we saw through the course of the review.

Unigine Heaven 4.0

Unigine might not have as established a name as Futuremark, but its products are nothing short of “awesome”. The company’s main focus is its game engine, but a by-product of that is its benchmarks, which are used to both give benchmarkers another great tool to take advantage of, and also to show-off what its engine is capable of. It’s a win-win all-around.

Unigine Heaven 4.0

The biggest reason that the company’s “Heaven” benchmark is so relied-upon by benchmarkers is that both AMD and NVIDIA promote it for its heavy use of tessellation. Like 3DMark, the benchmark here is overkill by design, so results are not going to directly correlate with real gameplay. Rather, they showcase which card models can better handle both DX11 and its GPU-bogging features.

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 - Unigine Heaven 4.0 (1920x1080)

Finishing up our synthetic tests, we see more of what to expect: AMD’s card coming out a few millimeters ahead of NVIDIA’s.

Power & Temperatures, Final Thoughts

To test graphics cards for both their power consumption and temperature at load, we utilize a couple of different tools. On the hardware side, we use a trusty Kill-a-Watt power monitor which our GPU test machine plugs into directly. For software, we use Futuremark’s 3DMark to stress-test the card, and AIDA64 to monitor and record the temperatures.

To test, the general area around the chassis is checked with a temperature gun, with the average temperature recorded. Once that’s established, the PC is turned on and left to site idle for ten minutes. At this point, AIDA64 is opened along with 3DMark. We then kick-off a full suite run, and pay attention to the Kill-a-Watt when the test reaches its most intensive interval (GT 1) to get the load wattage.

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 - Temperatures

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 - Power Consumption

Lately, AMD’s cards tend to run hotter than NVIDIA’s on average, but with Sapphire’s robust Dual-X at-the-ready, the R9 280 matches up well against EVGA’s ACX. The AMD card ran 4°C warmer at idle, but as the lab was a bit warmer (beyond the 0.5°C, the air was just heavy), that could be the reason.

On the power front, both cards idle just about the same, but AMD’s draws 21W more at full load. That’s 9W less than the +30W we expected (170W vs. 200W), so I guess depending on how you look at things, that’s not so bad.

Final Thoughts

As seen throughout our results, Sapphire’s R9 280 Dual-X edges out EVGA’s GTX 760 Superclocked on the performance front, although the gains are modest – it’s not as though one card should move up or down a tier. The GTX 760’s biggest gain was seen on the power draw – it sucked 21W less out of the socket. That’s notable, but not something most enthusiasts are going to take into consideration – and I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t either.

So what are we left with? Pricing, of course. At the outset, I mentioned that the least-expensive GTX 760 available on Newegg comes in at $240. EVGA’s Superclocked, used as the comparison card for this article, can be had for $250. On the AMD side of things, Sapphire’s Dual-X can be had for $230 – and for what it’s worth, that’s before a $20 mail-in rebate. Over the past two weeks, I’ve monitored pricing around the Web a bit, and I’ve on occasion seen other R9 280 models dip even lower, whereas I didn’t find a GTX 760 card that dipped to the same level.

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 Dual-X - Dual-X Close-up

Outside of all that, one thing I found interesting in this battle is that EVGA’s Superclocked GTX 760 has quite an impressive overclock over reference (1072MHz, vs. 980MHz), while the boost Sapphire gave its Dual-X card is paltry (950MHz, vs. 933MHz). Due to an overwhelming workload, I was unable to overclock Sapphire’s card, so I’m not quite sure how far it’d actually go.

Beyond pricing and performance, there’s an argument to be made when comparing the featuresets of AMD’s and NVIDIA’s cards. I’ve spent a lot of time looking around at comment sections these past few months, and it’s been hard for me to see that either vendor’s featuresets are causing people to choose one over the other. That said, on the NVIDIA side, I greatly appreciate ShadowPlay game recording, though it must be said that AMD has a competing solution which I didn’t even find out about until last week (and have yet to test). NVIDIA has GeForce Experience, and AMD has Raptr. It’s tit for tat, for the most part, and a subject I’d like to delve deeper into in the future.

As it is, with the current pricing of these cards, AMD’s offering a very attractive deal with its R9 280, and likewise, Sapphire has got a winner with its Dual-X as far as I’m concerned. Its cooler kept the card just warm at full-load (keeping up to the performance of EVGA’s ACX), and it was quiet, to boot. Again, be sure to shop around if you are looking at either card, because price fluctuation can make or break a deal, but as it is, AMD’s R9 280 is a fantastic offering.

Sapphire Radeon R9 280 Dual-X 3GB - Techgage Editor's Choice
Sapphire Radeon R9 280 Dual-X 3GB

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