While the move from the 200 series to the 300 series was mostly just a bump in clock speed and memory capacities, Sapphire made even bigger changes in their product line. Even though their 200 Series cards were very popular they still redesigned their cooling design and even introduced a new line that they call Nitro. Today I’m going to take a look at the Sapphire Nitro R9 390 and see what has changed in the product line as well as get a look at the performance of the R9 390 to see how it compares to the R9 290 that it replaced.
Product Name: Sapphire Nitro R9 390
Review Sample Provided by: Sapphire
Written by: Wes
Pictures by: Wes
Amazon Affiliate Link: HERE
2560 Stream Processors
Graphics Core Next (GCN)
1010 MHz Engine Clock
512 bit Memory Bus
GDDR5 Memory Type
8192 MB Size
|Displays||Maximum 4 Outputs|
1 x DVI-I
1 x HDMI
3 x DisplayPort
4096x2160 Pixel DisplayPort Resolution
2560x1600 Pixel Dual Link DVI Resolution
1920 x1200 Pixel Single Link DVI Resolution
2160P HDMI Resolution
Shader Model 5.0
AMD ZeroCore Power Technology
Quad HD Display (4K*2K Support)
Video Codec Engine (VCE)
AMD HD3D Technology
Component Heat Spreader
16K Hours Capacitor
Black diamond choke
Intelligent Fan Control
10mm Heat Pipe
AMD Liquid VR technology
AMD Virtual Super Resolution(VSR)
AMD TrueAudio technology
Universal Video Decoder (UVD)
Sapphire LED indicator
2.2 Part Slot Occupied
308 X 127 X 42.3 Dimension /mm
|OS||Windows 10Windows 8/8.1Windows 7|
750 Watt Power Supply (Suggestion)
2 x 8-pin AUX Power Connector
CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive for installing software
PCI Express® based PC is required with one X16 lane graphics slot available on the motherboard.
Right out of the hole, the packaging for the Nitro was completely different than what I have seen on past Sapphire cards. The packaging doesn’t have any of the bright colors that distinguished the previously lineups but I think that is because this card doesn’t have any of those colors as well. The box is thinner and they cut a window right in the front to get you get a peek at the card before taking it home. It does still have the artwork that Sapphire normally has though. Also up in the top left corner they include the exact model name along with Sapphire Nitro branding next to the window. Then down along the bottom there is a whole line of icons showing the cards features as well as a sticker showing that this is an overclocked card as well.
The back of the box has a complete photo of the card as well as a broken down image that shows the cooling setup. The rest of the back doesn’t have to much information, just a little discussion on how gamers demand the best and how Nitro is for the majority of PC gamers.
Inside the box the card itself sits in a foam tray to keep it well protected. Tucked in along with it was the driver disc, a small installation guide, and a paper with the warranty information along with a sticker that has the serial number on it should you ever need to RMA and to get your card registered. Sapphire also continues the tradition of them including an HDMI cable as well. Most manufactures don’t include an HDMI cable so if you need one Sapphire is saving you a little money (or a lot of money if you planned on getting one retail lol).
Card Layout and Photos
With the 200 Series Sapphire introduced a completely new cooling design with aggressive fan shrouds that had bright colors like orange and blue that showed exactly what model you were running. With the 300 Series they have once again made big changes in their coolers, they did keep some of the colors but they have limited the colored area to a small strip on the top and bottom of the card. This lets people like me who love orange have their orange without making it too much for people who want a muted build. For the Nitro cards they went with a mostly blacked out design with just a silver strip on the top and bottom edge. The Nitro R9 390 is a HUGE card, Sapphire really went crazy trying to pack as much cooling into this card as they could. The card has a 10mm heatpipe design that pulls the heat off of the GPU and out over the 12.1 inch long cooler.
To cool down that large heatsink they packed in three large fans. The fans are actually taller than a standard video cards height so if you look they had to go a little taller on the card up over the top edge of the PCI slot. This does mean that some cases might have issues with the card, so keep that in mind. The three fans are a dual ball bearing design to hopefully keep things quiet and to prevent wear issues later in its life.
Having an aftermarket cooling design does mean that the card will push almost all of its heat into your case unlike most reference designs. The end of the Nitro is semi closed but there are openings for things to vent. This also gives us a look at the heatpipes as well. The bottom of the Nitro is nearly completely open as well.
Up along the top edge of the Nitro we can get a peek at the cards heatsink due to what is almost like a window in the fan shroud. There are a few other things going on up here though. For starters, just like the R9 290, the R9 390 doesn’t require Crossfire bridges to run multiple card configurations anymore. That opens up more room for the heatsink and also for Sapphire to include their vBIOS button that turns on a UEFI helps unlock features on Windows 8.1 and the upcoming Windows 10. For power connections we have two full 8-pin connections were we would normally see an 8-pin+6-pin configuration on most other high end cards. Both plugs are flipped backwards, something that Asus originally introduced, this flips the lock clip on the cable to the back of the card and lets Sapphire have more room for the heatsink rather than having to plan around fingers being stuck down in there to unplug a cable.
For display connections Sapphire went with what is now the standard setup. You get three full sized DisplayPort connections for running multi monitor setups. For those who don’t have monitors that support DisplayPort yet you also get an HDMI as well as a DVI. I would prefer a second DVI personally but they take up so much space that it would eliminate the small vent that you get.
The back of the R9 390 Nitro shows off its black PCB. Back here we can also better see just how much larger the cooler is than the PCB on the top an especially on the end of the card. Sapphire decided to not go with a backplate this time around. I prefer the styling that a backplate adds but they do make things a little tight sometimes, especially in Crossfire configurations.
Our Test Rig and Procedures
|Our Test Rig|
|CPU||Intel i7-3960X||Live Pricing|
|Memory||Corsair Vengeance 1600 MHz DDR3 RAM Quad Channel (4x4GB)||Live Pricing|
|Motherboard||Asus Rampage IV X79 Motherboard||Live Pricing|
|Cooling||Intel Active Thermal Solution RTS2011LC||Live Pricing|
|Power Supply||Cooler Master Gold Series 1200 Watt PSU||Live Pricing|
|Case||High Speed PC Test Bench||Live Pricing|
|Our Testing Procedures|
|3DMark||The same goes for the most current version of 3DMark using the Fire Strike benchmark in normal, extreme, and ultra settings|
|Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0||Using the “Extreme” preset|
|Unigine Valley Benchmark 1.0||Using the Extreme HD preset to get an average FPS|
|Bioshock Infinite||Using the Adrenaline Action Benchmark Tool we run Bioshock Infinite on the “Xtreme” quality setting. This has a resolution of 1920x1080, FXAA turned on, Ultra Texture detail, 16x Aniso Texture Filtering, Ultra Dynamic Shadows, Normal Postprocessing, Light Shafts on, Ambient Occlusion set to ultra, and the Level of Detail set to Ultra as well. We also run this same test at 2560x1440 using the same settings as mentioned above.|
|Tomb Raider||Using the Adrenaline Action Benchmark Tool we run Tomb Raider on the “Xtreme” quality setting. This has a resolution of 1920x1080, Exclusive Fullscreen turned on, Anti-Aliasing set to 2xSSAA, Texture Quality set to Ultra, Texture Aniso set to 16x Aniso, Hair Quality set to TressFX, Shadow set to Normal, Shadow Resolution on High, Ultra SSAO, Ultra Depth of Field, High Reflection quality, Ultra LOD scale, Post Processing On, High Precision RT turned on, and Tessellation is also turned on. We also run this same test at 2560x1440 using the same settings as mentioned above.|
|Hitman: Absolution||Using the Adrenaline Action Benchmark Tool we run Hitman: Absolution on the “Xtreme” quality setting other than the MSAA setting is turned down from 8x to 2x. That setting puts the resolution at 1920x1080, MSAA is set to 2x, Texture Quality is set to High, Texture Aniso is set to 16x, Shadows are on Ultra, SSA is set to high, Global Illumination is turned on, Reflections are set to High, FXAA is on, Level of Detail is set to Ultra, Depth of Field is high, Tessellation is turned on, and Bloom is set to normal. We also run this same test at 2560x1440 using the same settings as mentioned above, except on the “high” setting.|
|Sleeping Dogs||Using the Adrenaline Action Benchmark Tool we run Sleeping Dogs on the “Xtreme” quality setting. That means our resolution is set to 1920x1080, Anti-Aliasing is set to Extreme, Texture Quality is set to High-Res, Shadow Quality is High, Shadow Filter is set to high, SSAO is set to High, Motion Blur Level is set to High, and World Density is set to Extreme. We also run this same test at 2560x1440 using the same settings as mentioned above.|
|F1 2014||We use the built in benchmark for F1 2014. We use the Ultra setting and then test at 2560x1440 and 1920x1080|
|Total War: ROME II||Ultra setting tested at 1920x1080 and 2560x1440, built in forest benchmark|
|Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor||Using the built in benchmark we test with ultra settings at 1440p|
|Sniper Elite 3||Ultra setting tested at 1920x1080 and 2560x1440, built in benchmark|
|GRID Autosport||Ultra setting tested at 1920x1080 and 2560x1440, built in benchmark|
|Theif||Tested using the “Very High” setting at 1920x1080 and 2560x1440|
|Folding @ Home||Using the Folding @ Home benchmark we test both single and double precision using the explicit result|
|Unreal Heaven Benchmark 4.0 heat testing||We run through Unreal Heaven using the “Extreme” preset for 30 minutes to test in game cooling performance.|
|Power Usage||Using Unreal Heaven Benchmark 4.0, we get our “load” power usage number from the peak power usage during our test. We get our numbers from a Kill-A-Watt connected to the test benches power cord.|
|Noise Testing||Our Noise testing is done using a decibel meter 3 inches away from the video card on the bottom/fan side of the card. We test an idle noise level and then to get an idea of how loud the card will get if it warms all the way up we also turn the fan speed up to 50% and 100% and test both speeds as well. The 100% test isn’t a representation of typical in game noise levels, but it will show you how loud a card can be if you run it at its highest setting or if it gets very hot.|
Before I jump right into the results I do want to point out a little more about the Nitro R9 390. As I mentioned earlier it Is based on the same GPU as the older R9 290. They didn’t just repackage that same video card with a new cooler and call it a day though. They did double the memory from 4GB to 8GB and along with that the card saw a bump in GPU and memory clock speed as well. At heart It still is a rebadged card, but at least they attempted to give the new cards a slight performance improvement beyond driver optimizations. That said, to start off our testing I ran the Nitro through our standard synthetic benchmark suite that includes three different 3DMark benchmarks in Fire Strike to test performance at different resolutions and tests in two different Unigine benchmarks. In 3DMark we actually saw performance just slightly faster than the Asus R9 290X that we tested not all that long ago. While it’s not mind blowing, the increased clock speed and memory capacity did push the overclocked R9 390 up over an overclocked R9 290X, the model above the R9 290 that this was based on. This is a little short of the GTX 980 at its reference speeds and there is still a big gap between the Nitro and an overclocked GTX 980.
In the Unigine benchmarks the results were similar to in 3DMark with the exception of the overclocked 290X edging a fraction of an FPS lead. The Nitro performed above the GTX 970’s and still below the GTX 980 like previously.
I’m not sure about you guys, but I have a dedicated video card in my computer specifically to play games, so to put that to the test I ran the Nitro R9 390 through our standard in game benchmarks. That includes a variety of games from different genres and engines. I ran the card through 9 different games at 1440p and 8 at 1080p to get a good idea of performance in both. So how did that work out? Well I like to break down the results into three categories. Under 30 FPS is what I consider completely unpayable, above 30 is playable but not perfect, and games with an average FPS over 60 is perfect. At 1080p the Nitro dominated with every single game having an average FPS of 60 or well above. At 1440p things get a little tougher though, especially considering all of the games are tested at their highest settings. At that resolution I saw 5/9 in the 30-60FPS range and 4/9 at or above 60 FPS. Just to be clear some of the results under 60FPS require a Titan X or multiple high end cards to push at those settings, Sleeping Dogs is a great example of this, two GTX 980 TI’s are still one click under 60 even! All in all the Nitro performed well and in every game it was at least more than playable. In most cases the results were almost spot on for the results of the overclocked R9 290X and reflected similar results to what I saw in 3DMark (below the GTX 980 and above the GTX 970).
I recently added some compute testing using Folding at Home to get a look at what you can expect for OpenGL performance. At single precision our results fell half way between the GTX 980 and the GTX 780 /R9 380’s. The double precision performance was really what caught my eye though. I’ve talked about it in some of our Nvidia reviews, Nvidia has been gimping performance at double precision to make sure their consumer cards don’t undercut their much more expensive commercial cards. With that the R9 390 just completely blows everything we have tested to date out of the water. Obviously this is a new test, but it does include cards like the new Titan X. This is why people loved the AMD cards for coin mining in the past and the additional clock speed and memory isn’t hurting that at all.
Cooling, Noise, and Power
Once I figured out where the Nitro R9 390 stood performance wise I was excited to test out the aspects that Sapphire has more control over like the cooling and noise performance. But first I ran it through our power consumption testing to see how it compared to Nvidia’s current cards and the R9 290 that it replaces as well. Given that the GPU architecture hadn’t changed I wasn’t surprised that the R9 390 pulled even more power than the last gen did. This wouldn’t be that big of a deal if the AMD R9 290 and R9 290X weren’t already at the top of our charts. So the R9 390 pulled 506 at peak, slightly higher than the overclocked R9 290X. This is a far cry from the 413 that the overclocked GTX 980 pulled though so keep that in mind when getting a power supply as well. It’s going to hit your pocketbook when you get your electric bill.
With three huge fans I was a little worried about the noise performance of the Nitro when I first got it in. I was surprised by the results though with it falling in the middle of our charts at max fan speed. The 50% fan speed results were even better and of course at idle the card turned the fans completely off so it is silent when not doing anything demanding.
So last but not least, how was the cooling performance? Well at 71 degrees it is right in the middle of our charts. If you look closely thought this is one degree higher than the Sapphire R9 290 but with a higher clock speed I will take the small difference and call it a wash. Given the high power draw numbers Sapphire had their hands full to keep this card running reasonably cool and they did accomplish that.
Before pulling the Nitro R9 390 off of our testbench I did want to see how well it would overclock. To do that I broke the overclock down into three different sections, the GPU clock, the memory overclock, and lastly the two put together. The whole time I documented everything and included it below along with the FPS results from our 3DMark 11 benchmark that I use to verify that the overclock works. With the results we can see what works for actual performance and what doesn’t.
I started on the GPU with the 1010 MHz stock clock speed and bumped it up until I ran into issues. In this case when testing at 1150MHz and later 1140MHz I had artifacts when testing but the tests still completed. I still consider that a fail though as you wouldn’t game with that. I turned the Nitro down to 1130MHz and it was rock solid. Next I did the same with the memory overclock. Here I started at 6000MHz and went up hue increments the first few times until it failed at 7200MHz and later 7100MHz with a hard black screen that required a full reboot to see anything. This put me at 7000MHz at the highest result. I took our 1130MHz GPU clock and 7000MHz memory clock and attempted them together with good results. In the end with both overclocks we went from 81.41 FPS to 90.95, a huge jump. Most of that was from the GPU clock speed, you could most likely hold off on the memory overclock all together and still see a good improvement in game.
|GPU Clock Speed Overclocking|
|GPU Clock Speed||Pass/Fail||FPS Result||Notes|
|Memory Clock Offset Overclocking|
|Memory Clock Speed||Pass/Fail||FPS Result||Notes|
|7200MHz||Fail||N/A||Black screen, hard crash|
|7100MHz||Fail||N/A||Black screen, hard crash|
|GPU and Memory Overclocks Together|
|GPU Clock Speed||Memory Clock Speed||FPS Result||Notes|
Overall and Final Verdict
Well the bump in clock speeds and additional vRAM clearly helped the Nitro R9 390 when it came to our performance testing. For the most part it falls just in between the GTX 980 and the GTX 970 and depending on the test slightly better or worse than the older R9 290X. So that is a nice bump in performance and most importantly it does out-perform the most direct competition from Nvidia. The new Sapphire design is a nice improvement as well on most accounts. The new blacked out design is sure to go over better for people trying to pick out a video card to match their build, with all neutral colors it will fit in just about any build without clashing. Of course I am going to miss the bright colors a little though.
The new cooler design is huge, the cooler goes well beyond the PCB both on length and height and it makes the Nitro nearly one of the longest cards you can find. The three large fans had me a little concerned for noise performance but the carded performed well in my testing, especially with it turning the fans completely off when you aren’t doing anything demanding. I was however a little disappointed that the large cooler didn’t run any cooler when in game. The higher clock speeds seemed to counteract the new cooling. The other big issue was with its power consumption under load, it topped our charts for singe card power draw. Obviously I haven’t tested one of the new R9 390X’s yet and I’m sure it will pull more, but it did pull a little more than the overclocked R9 290X that was at the top previously. This is exactly the opposite direction that Nvidia is going for power draw with the GTX 980 pulling almost 100 watts less.
Price wise the Sapphire Nitro R9 390 falls into an interesting spot. Officially its direct competitor is the GTX 970 and it out performs it by a good margin in every performance test I run. Were it gets interesting is when we consider the R9 290X as well though, currently it actually sells for less for a Sapphire card. So if you are shopping for a card in this performance/price point you might want to shop around and see what the 290X is going for as well, at least until they clear out that stock. Even after that it looks like AMD is a great option at this price point, of course you might have to get a new power supply to handle that additional load lol.
Live Pricing: HERE