Sapphire Nitro R9 380X 4G D5 Review

Sapphire Nitro R9 380X 4G D5

It’s a tough time to be an Aussie component importer at the moment. With our dollar now buying just over 70 US cents, it’s far costlier to import new products than it is to sell of the large inventories of products released six months ago that were bought on a much stronger dollar. And this is an absolutely huge issue for AMD’s new Radeon R9 380X. Overseas it’s priced to fill the niche between Nvidia’s GTX 960 and 970, but as you’ll see the value proposition simply isn’t true here in Australia. But before we look at just how much our Aussie dollar has spoiled AMD’s party, let’s check out the card itself.

This is AMD’s first desktop graphics card to use a fully enabled Tonga GPU, which originally landed in September of last year in the form of the R9 285. Built around AMD’s Graphics Core Next (GCN) 1.2, the original R9 285 disabled four of the 32 Compute Cores found in the GPU, which went on to become the basically identical R9 380. AMD did use a version of the GPU in laptops that finally unlocked all 32 Compute Cores in the form of the R9 M295X, but it’s taken 14 months for Tonga to finally arrive on the desktop in a pristine, fully working format.
The new R9 380X has 2048 Stream Processors spread amongst the 32 Compute Cores, along with 128 texture units and 32 ROPs. The latter is just half that of the R9 390, as is the memory bus of the new card, at 256-bits versus the huge 512-bit bus of the 390. Yet the R9 380X isn’t meant to compete with the 390, instead aiming to deliver a decent performance increase over the R9 380, which has 1792 Stream Processors and 112 texture units. Yet the Boost speed of the R9 380X is identical to the 380, at 970MHz. There’s obviously a little room for overclocking though, as Sapphire’s take on the product ships with a factory overclocked 1040MHz Boost speed. As usual, the GPU is built on the standard 28nm process of all recent AMD products, and there are 5 billion transistors used to build the GPU. This gives the R9 380X a TDP of 190W, though Sapphire lists its version as having a power consumption of 225W, likely a result of the overclock. It’s fed by twin six-pin power plugs, and Sapphire suggests a 500W PSU as the bare minimum to supply enough juice for this card to thrive.
While most of the stats are identical to the R9 380 bar the slight increase in Compute Cores, the 380X does benefit from a doubling of memory. Sapphire has also overclocked this to 6GHz, and there’s a healthy 4GB of the GDDR5 variety at play here versus the 2GB found on the 380 (there are 4GB variants of the 380 around, but the 2GB version was most popular). Sapphire cools all of this with its Dual-X cooler, a twin fan heatpipe that gives the card final dimensions of 238mm x 127mm x 41mm, making it easily fit inside a dual slot position.
It’s a 0dB solution, meaning that both fans are disabled under light load, making it utterly silent. Even under full load it’s a beautifully quiet creation, at just 42dB, making it hard to hear over the other fans in a PC. Sapphire has shipped this card with four outputs – DVI-I, DVI-D, DisplayPort 1.2a and HDMI 1.4.
Thanks to the use of a fully enabled GCN 1.2 core, the 380X supports all of AMD’s latest features. LiquidVR should come in handy when next year’s Head Mounted Displays finally arrive, as it aims to minimise motion-to-photon latency to under 10 milliseconds, though of course this gets worse as frame rates drop. It’s obviously also compatible with AMD’s FreeSync adaptive synchronisation technology, which means it’ll work with any and all monitors that also display the Adaptive-Sync logo, which is an optional part of the DisplayPort 1.2a spec. Note we said optional – while most monitors with DisplayPort 1.2a should support FreeSync, it’s not mandatory.
Now that Windows 10 is here, full support for DirectX 12 will come in handy, but we don’t expect most games to make use of this until late 2016 at the earliest. When they do, expect a healthy performance increase just from the switch in API, with some predicting a doubling in framerates.
Given the similarities to the R9 380, we didn’t expect a huge increase in performance with the new card, and our benchmarks bear this out with one exception. While the 380X is around 10% faster in both 3DMark and Grid Autosport than the 380, it has a huge lead over its cheaper sibling in Shadow of Mordor, with the doubling of memory helping it to handle this game’s huge textures. In all cases it outperformed Nvidia’s GTX 960, which also has just 2GB of onboard memory.
Based on our benchmarks, it seems that AMD’s claims that the R9 380X is perfect for rock-solid 1080p gaming at 60 frames per second seems true, whereas the 380 doesn’t quite make this. And that’d be reason enough to consider the 380X if the prices were aligned. Sadly, they most certainly are not.
In the US, the R9 380X is just $30 more expensive than the R9 380, at $229 vs $199, a small 15% increase. Yet over here, we’re looking at $419 for a 380X, versus just $285 for the 380. That’s a massive 47% increase, which totally decimates the whole point of this product. It’s absolutely no fault of Sapphire or AMD, it’s just that stock of the older 380 were imported on a much stronger Aussie dollar. In comparison, it’s possible to pick up a GTX 960 for just $280. Even worse, the cheapest GTX 970 in Australia is the Gainward GTX 970, and it can be bought for just $449. This card will run rings around the R9 380X.
As a result, there’s simply no way to salvage the R9 380X in the Australian market. If our dollar rebounds and stock can be imported at a price comparable to overseas, then the R9 380X will be the sweet spot for 1080p performance. Unfortunately, at over $400 for this model, it’s terrible value. Bennett Ring

SPECS28nm Tonga GPU; GCN 1.2; 4GB GDDR5 memory; DX12 compatible; 1 x DVI-I, 1 x DVI-D, 1 x HDMI, 1 x DisplayPort

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