Meet The Sapphire R9 285 Dual-X OC 2GB

Our sample provided by AMD for today’s launch is Sapphire’s R9 285 Dual-X OC 2GB. As we mentioned before this is a non-reference launch, so rather than ship out engineering cards that won’t see retail AMD has sent us proper retail cards.

Sapphire’s R9 285 Dual-X OC is in turn a good example of what kinds of cards are appearing on store shelves. As R9 285 is a sub-200W product all of the launch cards have followed the same basic design, utilizing their manufacturer’s respective dual fan open air designs. So if you like full size open air cards then you’ll have your pick of the litter. However it also means that there aren’t any blowers on the market – nor do we expect any in the development pipeline – so for the moment the market for R9 285s is rather homogenous. In Sapphire’s case, though not available at launch, we will eventually see them break the mold with a smaller single-fan card specifically designed for use in ITX systems.

But getting to the R9 285 Dual-X OC, the Dual-X is a solid entry from Sapphire that is very typical of their current designs. As given away by the name, this card utilizes a 10” version of Sapphire’s Dual-X open-air cooler, and among Sapphire’s product lineup it can be considered the company’s baseline cooler for products up to 250W. Meanwhile as an OC model Sapphire is shipping this card with a mild factory overclock of 965MHz for the core and 5.6GHz for the memory, which represents a 47MHz (5%) core overclock and 100MHz (2%) memory overclock. Though note that Sapphire is also producing an identical version of this hardware without the factory overclock.

Continuing with our overall theme of R9 285 being a lateral product for AMD, the same is unsurprisingly true for Sapphire. For the R9 285 Dual-X Sapphire has opted to port over the design of their existing R9 280 Dual-X (which happens to be our R9 280 test card), building a suitable new PCB for Tonga but otherwise retaining the R9 280’s cooler and functionality. With R9 280 being a more power hungry part (on paper at least), this means the R9 285 Dual-X cooler is slightly overpowered in comparison, which should bode well for temperature/acoustic performance and for overclocking.

The Dual-X cooler itself is something of a tried and true design for Sapphire at this point, as years of iteration on dual fan coolers has resulted in these designs coalescing into similar and highly effective coolers. Starting from the top, the 10” version of the Dual-X cooler utilizes a pair of 85mm fans, allowing it to provide more than sufficient airflow for the primary and VRM heatsinks. Buyers with cramped cases will want to note that the use of such a large fan does result in a shroud larger than the PCB itself, with the shroud extending an additional 1cm over the PCB.

Below the fans we find Sapphire’s primary heatsink, which is composed of aluminum and runs just short of the entire length of the cooler. Sapphire attaches the primary heatsink to the GPU through the use of 4 copper heatpipes which run between the GPU and various points on the heatsink. The heatpipes in turn do not make direct contact with the GPU, but instead attach to a copper baseplate which in turn is what makes contact with the GPU and channels heat into the heatpipes.

Surrounding the copper baseplate is a secondary aluminum baseplate which provides both structure for the overall heatsink and additional cooling. Through the use of thermal pads, the aluminum baseplate covers the card’s RAM chips, providing direct cooling for the RAM. Meanwhile the card’s VRMs are not part of the primary heatsink assembly, and are instead cooled via a smaller secondary “strip” heatsink that sits over the MOSFETs towards the rear of the card. Airflow making it through the primary heatsink is in turn responsible for cooling this secondary heatsink.

Removing the heatsink and accessing the PCB, Sapphire’s PCB is typical for a 200W card. Sapphire places the bulk of the VRM circuitry towards the rear of the card, between the GPU/RAM and the PCIe power sockets. Meanwhile Sapphire’s RAM of choice is 6GHz Elpedia, which means this card ships at a lower memory frequency than what the RAM is capable of. For overclockers this means there’s some guaranteed headroom on the RAM, while the lower shipping frequency may indicate that AMD has tuned Tonga’s memory controllers for sub-6GHz operation, similar to what happened with Hawaii.

Throughout all of this the R9 285 Dual-X OC is generally a solid card, but the heatsink/PCB interaction does expose the card’s one real weakness/design flaw, which is a lack of rigidity. As is almost always the case with these large heatsink cards, the heatsink is massive enough that for all practical purposes the PCB is attached to the heatsink rather than vice versa. However Sapphire only attaches the heatsink to the PCB at the 4 screws around the GPU, which for a 10.25” card means the far end of the card is far removed from these attachment points and is left free to flex. Sapphire does include a plastic leg at one corner of the shroud to keep the PCB from flexing too much, but this leg isn’t secured to the PCB and indeed isn’t even long enough to touch the PCB without flexing. Ideally we would like to see all 9”+ cards reinforced against flexing for this reason, either by securing the shroud to the PCB at the rear of the card or by employing a stiffener along the top edge of the PCB.

Moving on, Sapphire doesn’t list an official TDP for the R9 285 Dual-X OC, however given the factory overclock it’s fair to say that in practice it’s going to be a bit higher than AMD’s official 190W TDP of a stock R9 285. Providing power for the card is a pair of 6pin PCIe power connectors at the top-rear of the card, which along with the PCIe slot connector means the card has the means to deliver up to 225W of power (VRMs willing). Interestingly Sapphire’s PCB has an additional pair of solder points for replacing one of the 6pin connectors with an 8pin connector, which may indicate a future Sapphire card or Sapphire hedging their bets for the inevitable higher tier Tonga card with all 32 CUs enabled.

Meanwhile though you won’t find a Crossfire connector at the top of the card – having been made obsolete by GCN 1.1+’s XDMA engines – what you will find on the Sapphire card is a BIOS switch. Sapphire ships the R9 285 Dual-X as a dual BIOS UEFI card, with one BIOS for legacy systems and a second BIOS for UEFI systems. The card’s default shipping state will be for the legacy BIOS, while depressing the BIOS button will switch to UEFI. Outside of reference cards we don’t see too many dual BIOS cards, and given the limited selection of such cards we are rather fond of the fact that Sapphire uses a button here as opposed to a more difficult to access switch.

Finally, towards the front of the card we see the standard AMD 200 series I/O configuration of 1x DL-DVI-I, 1x DL-DVI-D, 1x HDMI, and 1x DisplayPort. Tonga has up to 6 display controllers, and while not easy it should be possible to use all 6 of them through a careful use of MST off of the DisplayPort and identical monitors hanging off of the HDMI and DVI ports.

Wrapping things up, the retail price on the R9 285 Dual-X OC is currently running at $259. This puts Sapphire’s card at $10 over the R9 285 MSRP of $249, though given the fact that this is a factory overclocked card this is par for the course. We haven’t seen the non-OC version for sale yet, but one way or another you’re essentially looking at paying a 4% price premium for roughly as much of a performance advantage over a stock R9 285.

GCN 1.2 – Image & Video Processing The 4GB Question, Mantle’s Teething Issues, & the Test


View All Comments

  • Alexvrb - Tuesday, September 16, 2014 - link

    "if other GCN 1.1 parts like Hawaii are any indication, it's much more likely the 280 maintains its boost clocks compared to the 285 (due to low TDP limits)"

    This is what you said. This is where I disagreed with you. The 285 maintains boost just as well as the 280. Further, GCN 1.1 Bonaire and even Hawaii reach and hold boost at stock TDP. The 290 series were not cooled sufficiently using reference coolers, but without any changes to TDP settings (I repeat, stock TDP) they boost fine as long as you cool them. GCN 1.1 boosts fine, end of story.

    As far as Tonga goes, there's almost no progress in performance terms. In terms of power it depends on the OEM and I've seen good and bad. The only additions that really are interesting are the increased tessellation performance (though not terribly important at the moment) and finally getting TrueAudio into a mid-range part (it should be across the board by next gen I would hope - PS4 and XB1 have the same Tensilica DSPs).

    I would hope they do substantially better with their future releases, or at least release a competent reference design that shows off power efficiency better than some of these third party designs.
  • chizow - Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - link

    Yes, and my comment was correct, it will ALWAYS be "more likely" the 280 maintains its boost over other GCN 1.x parts because we know the track record of GCN 1.0 cards and their conservative Boost compared to post-PowerTune GCN1.x and later parts as a result of the black eye caused by Hawaii. There will always be a doubt due to AMD's less-than-honest approach to Boost with Hawaii, plain and simple.

    I also (correctly) qualified my statement by saying the low stated TDP of the 285 would be a hindrance to exceeding those rated specs and/or the performance of the 280, and we also see that is the case that in order to exceed those speed limits, AMD traded performance for efficiency to the point the 285's power consumption is actually closer to the 250W rated 280.

    In any case, in another day or two, this unremarkable part is going to become irrelevant with GM104 Maxwell, no need to further waste any thoughts on it.
  • etherlore - Thursday, September 11, 2014 - link

    Speculating here. The data parallel instructions could be a way to share data between SIMD lanes. I could see this functionality being similar in functionality to what threadgroup local store allows, but without explicit usage of the local store.

    It's possible this is an extension to, or makes new use of, the 32 LDS integer units in GCN. (section 2.3.2 in the souther islands instruction set docs)
  • vred - Thursday, September 11, 2014 - link

    And... DP rate at last. Sucks to have it at 1/16 but at least now it's confirmed. First review where I see this data published. Reply
  • chizow - Thursday, September 11, 2014 - link

    It has to be artificially imposed, as AMD has already announced FirePro cards based on the Tonga ASIC that do not suffer from this castrated DP rate. AMD as usual taking a page from Nvidia's playbook, so now all the AMD fans poo-poo'ing Nvidia's sound business decisions can give AMD equal treatment. Somehow I doubt that will happen though! Reply
  • Samus - Thursday, September 11, 2014 - link

    If this is AMD's Radeon refresh, if the 750Ti tells us anything, they are screwed when Maxwell hits the streets next month. Reply
  • Atari2600 - Thursday, September 11, 2014 - link

    The one thing missed in all this - APUs.

    As we all know, APUs are bandwidth starved. A 30-40% increase in memory subsystem efficiency will do very nicely for removing a major bottleneck.

    That is before the move to stacked chips or eDRAM.
  • limitedaccess - Thursday, September 11, 2014 - link


    Regarding the compression (delta color compression) changes for Tonga does this have any effect on the actual size of data stored in VRAM.

    For instance if you take a 2gb Pitcarin card and a 2gb Tonga card showing the identical scene in a game will they both have identical (monitored) VRAM usage? Assuming of course the scenario here is neither is actually hitting the 2gb VRAM limit.

    I'm wondering if it possible to test whether or not this is the case if unconfirmed.
  • Ryan Smith - Sunday, September 14, 2014 - link

    VRAM usage will differ. Anything color compressed will take up less space (at whatever ratio the color compression algorithm allows). Of course this doesn't account for caching and programs generally taking up as much VRAM as they can, so it doesn't necessarily follow that overall VRAM usage will be lower on Tonga than Pitcairn. But it is something that can at least be tested. Reply
  • abundantcores - Thursday, September 11, 2014 - link

    I see Anand still don't understand the purpose of Mantle, if they did they wouldn't be using the most powerful CPU they could find, i would explain it to them but i think its already been explained to them a thousand times and they still don't grasp it.

    Anand are a joke, they have no understanding of anything.

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