The initial unveiling of AMD’s Fury X was eagerly anticipated due to the advent of high bandwidth memory, and potential to revolutionize the size to performance ratio of modern graphics cards. This new form of stackable video RAM provided a glimpse into the future and departure from the current GDDR5 standard. Although, this isn’t going to happen overnight as production costs and sourcing HBM on a mass scale has to be taken into consideration. On another note, JEDEC recently announced GDD5X with memory speeds up to 14 Gbps which helps to enhance non-HBM GPUs while catering to the lower-mid range market. The Fury X and Fury utilizes the first iteration of high bandwidth memory which features a maximum capacity of 4GB.
There’s some discussion regarding the effect of this limitation at high resolutions but I personally haven’t seen it cause a noticeable bottleneck. If anything, the Fury range is capable of outperforming the 980 Ti during 4K benchmarks while it tends to linger behind at lower resolutions. AMD’s flagship opts for a closed-loop liquid cooler to reduce temperatures and minimize operating noise. In theory, you can argue this level of cooling prowess was required to tame the GPU’s core. However, there are some air-cooled variants which allow us to directly compare between each form of heat dissipation.
Clearly, the Fury X’s water cooling apparatus adds a premium and isn’t suitable for certain chassis configurations. To be fair, most modern case layouts can accommodate a CLC graphics card without any problems, but there’s also concerns regarding reliability and the possibility of leaks. That’s why air-cooled alternatives which drop the X branding offer great performance at a more enticing price point. For example, the Sapphire Nitro OC R9 Fury is around £60 cheaper than the XFX R9 Fury X. This particular card has a factory overclocked core of 1050MHz, and astounding cooling solution. The question is, how does it compare to the Fury X and GTX 980 Ti? Let’s find out!
Packing and Accessories
The Sapphire Nitro OC R9 Fury comes in a visually appealing box which outlines the Tri-X cooling system, factory overclocked core, and extremely fast memory. I’m really fond of the striking robot front cover and small cut out which provides a sneak peek at the GPU’s colour scheme.
On the opposite side, there’s a detailed description of the R9 Fury range and award-winning Tri-X cooling. Furthermore, the packaging outlines information regarding LiquidVR, FreeSync, and other essential AMD features. This is displayed in an easy-to-read manner and helps inform the buyer about the graphics card’s functionality.
In terms of accessories, Sapphire includes a user’s guide, driver disk, Select Club registration code, and relatively thick HDMI cable.
A Closer Look
The Sapphire Nitro OC R9 Fury adopts a non-reference eight-layer custom PCB which is significantly longer than AMD’s stock design. As a result, the GPU requires a chassis with three available slots and measures 307mm long. This shouldn’t pose a problem in any modern case, but it’s important to consider the effect on airflow when using two in a Crossfire setup. Sapphire have also utilized a 6 phase power circuitry and five copper heatpipes capable of cooling the VRM by an additional 20 percent. During low GPU utilization scenarios, Sapphire’s Intelligent Fan Control II comes into operation and switches the three 90mm fans off. This ensures the noise levels remain low and creates an almost silent user-experience.
In terms of aesthetics, the neutral grey accents and black shroud combines rather nicely. This makes it a suitable choice for a wide range of system builds, but it’s not going to set the market alight. Obviously, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and some people prefer ostentatious GPUs with LED effects. On the other hand, certain users see these designs are overly tacky and prefer a more understated theme. I think Sapphire has done a good job in catering to the core gaming audience without making the GPU’s appearance look too flashy.
Here we can see the extremely strong backplate which aids cooling by a few degrees and distributes the weight in a more even manner. As a result, the graphics card doesn’t sag too much and feel quite sturdy. The extended frame surrounding the aluminium fins does look a little unusual at first, but it’s surprisingly durable and doesn’t really flex under pressure. The GPU’s construction exudes build quality and looks like a premium piece of PC hardware.
The graphics card requires two 8-pin PCI-E connectors and supports a total cooling power of 375 watts. There’s also a BIOS button to toggle between LEGACY and UEFI modes but you shouldn’t have to adjust this from the stock UEFI value. I’m glad Sapphire decided to use a large BIOS button instead of a switch because the thin plastic on switches can snap when someone has a fairly aggressive touch.
Connectivity-wise, the GPU contains a single DVI-D, three DisplayPort 1.2 and an HDMI 1.4a. Please note this version of HDMI has a limited bandwidth and only capable of running a 4K display at 30Hz. This will be problematic when pairing the GPU with a 4K television and it’s a major oversight on AMD’s part.
Testing & Methodology
Before we delve into any testing we would like to take this opportunity to overview our test system. All tests will be conducted with the latest stable drivers available, with results will be taken from an average of three tests. All tests will be conducted using the highest factory setting if multiple options are available.
- Motherboard – Gigabyte X99-Gaming G1 WiFi LGA 2011-3 Motherboard
- Processor – Intel Core i7 5820K at Stock 3.3GHz
- RAM – 16GB (4 X 4GB) Crucial Ballistix Sport DDR4 2400MHz
- CPU Cooler – Thermaltake Water 3.0 with Gelid GC-Extreme
- Power Supply – BeQuiet Dark Power Pro 11 1200W
- Main Storage Drive – Crucial M550 512GB
- Chassis – Lian Li T80 Test Bench
- Displays – AOC U2868PQU 4K
- Operating System – Windows 8.1 Pro 64 Bit
- “Killawatt” style electricity usage meter wall plug
- Precision Gold N05CC Decibel meter
- Battlefield 4
- Grand Theft Auto V
- Metro Last Light
- Tomb Raider
- Unigine Valley
- Unigine Heaven
- CPU-ID HWMonitor
- TechPowerUp GPU-Z
During our testing, we use a range of readily available synthetic benchmarking tools which are free to download from the respective websites. We do this so the readers can download and compared to our results. Download links are contained within the “Software” subheading.
Everyone has their own reasonable noise level when it comes to comes to components in a computer. Some can handle all fans at 100% load to keep temperatures down, some want a completely silent computer.
With electricity becoming increasingly expensive across most parts of the world the need for computer components to become power efficient has never been more relevant. Graphics cards are often the most power-hungry components inside a desktop system so having an efficient graphics card is very important to keeping power bills under control. Power is often correlated to heat and so lower power consumption means a graphics card is likely to run slightly cooler and put out less heat into your system meaning your other components will run cooler with improved longevity. AMD and Nvidia have both made power consumption an integral part of the way graphics cards dynamically overclock so the need for graphics card vendors to use efficient VRM and PCB designs is becoming important to maximise performance. We take power readings after 5 minutes of two different load scenarios: desktop idle and Unigine Heaven load.
The cooling solution which graphics card vendors choose to implement is one of the main differences that consumers have to contend with when choosing a graphics cards. Apart from their acoustic properties, the thermal properties of graphics card coolers are extremely important. Lower temperatures are always better and with AMD and Nvidia opting to use dynamic overclocking algorithms that take temperature into account it is important that graphics card vendors use high-performance cooling solutions in order to maximise performance. The era of graphics cards reaching dangerous temperatures are now in the past but the importance of lower temperatures still remains. Lower temperatures mean better stability, longer component longevity and lower fan speeds .We take temperature readings after 5 minutes of two different load scenarios: desktop idle and Unigine Heaven load. We always record actual temperatures and make a note of the ambient; in the case where more than 1 GPU is used an average is created.
At the commonly used 1920×1080 resolution, the Sapphire Nitro OC R9 Fury records excellent numbers and isn’t too far away from the Fury X.
Once the resolution is increased to 1440P, the gap widens to its larger sibling.
During 4K testing, the GPU performs better and isn’t too far away from the Fury X.
Rather surprisingly, the graphics card’s minimum frame-rate is the best we’ve encountered so far and even surpassed a factory overclocked GTX 980 Ti. When we look at the average figures, it’s clear that the Fury does exceptionally well at 1920×1080.
However, during 1440P benchmarking, the minimum frames-per-second drops substantially and there’s a larger deficit to the Fury X in average numbers. Despite this, it’s only an increase of 2 FPS, which remains within a margin of error.
On a more positive note, the Fury attains an impressive minimum frame-rate and catches up to the Fury X’s average performance.
The data in Luxmark is extremely close and makes the Fury’s performance look rather disappointing. I was surprised to see the 390X and Nano achieve better scores, but the difference isn’t enough to warrant any concern. To clarify these results, I re-ran the benchmark multiple times and didn’t encounter a sudden shift in performance. The second, third, and fourth runs managed a score within 1% of the initial benchmark.
Here we can see the Fury offers almost identical performance when compared to the Fury X, and manages well above 60 frames-per-second. On the other hand, there’s a great deal of competition from the cheaper, and more compact R9 Nano.
During 1440P testing, the gap increased slightly but the experience is still incredible with an average frame-rate of 81.
There’s a huge leap in the performance demands at 4K, and it’s extremely challenging to surpass 40 frames-per-second. Here we can see the Fury remains playable, and should manage 60 frames-per-second with a few tweaks in the options menu. Amazingly, the Nano outperforms the Fury which is absolutely astounding.
Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V’s huge open world is brimming with detail and stresses graphics hardware extremely well. The Fury’s minimum frame-rate wasn’t great, and the lowest on record. Hopefully, this is down to a slight abnormality in the benchmark or a driver issue. Thankfully, the average performance is much better and within 1 frame of the Fury X.
The data in 1440P benchmarking suggests that the minimum 1080p frame-rate was a bizarre bug and not reflective of the GPU’s capabilities. Despite rendering at a higher resolution, the Fury managed a better minimum frame-rate! Not only that, the minimum result surpassed the Fury X and upheld a fantastic 60 frames-per-second average.
GTA V is absurdly demanding on a 4K display, and requires a dual GPU configuration to reach a fluid, consistent frame-rate. Here we can see the Fury has significant drops near the 10 FPS mark, and achieves an average of 33. This is decent and matches the Fury X.
Metro Last Light
Metro Last Light is beginning to show its age, but it’s still a very demanding title with a reliable benchmark. At 1920×1080, the Fury managed a fantastic minimum frame-rate and almost matched higher priced alternatives.
Even when the resolution is increased to 1440P, the Fury doesn’t falter and maintains a wonderful minimum frame-rate. Furthermore, the GPU outperforms a top-tier GTX 980 Ti in both minimum and average numbers.
This victory is short-lived though as the GTX 980 Ti regains second position by a tiny margin. From these results, we can see how well the Fury performs across various resolutions and it’s worthy of praise.
Unlike the previous results, there’s a sizeable margin between the Fury and Fury X’s average frame-rate. It’s not a major problem though because the frame-rate is so high and provides a perfectly smooth experience.
During 1440P benchmarking, the Fury catches up and has enough graphical grunt to maintain 120 frames-per-second on the Ultra preset. This is fantastic for consumers opting for a high refresh monitor.
The graphics card almost achieves the magical 60 frames-per-second on a 4K monitor, and reports a very playable minimum figure. There’s not much variation in the overall frame-rate which is pretty rare for any graphically intense game at such a high-resolution.
Overclocking and Overclocked Performance
The Fiji architecture’s stock clocks are quite aggressive and doesn’t allow for major overclocking headroom. Despite this, there is still some growth for manual overclocking providing you adopt a patient approach. On this particular GPU, I managed to increase the core from 1050MHz to 1165MHz, and encountered a good memory boost to 560MHz. Please note, MSI Afterburner can cause some stability issues when overclocking on AMD hardware. To access memory overclocking and reach your chip’s potential, I would recommend downloading Sapphire’s TriXX instead.
3DMark Fire Strike
Rather surprisingly, the Nitro Fury’s overclock allows for better performance than the water cooled Fury X. This emphasizes the quality of cooling on offer and ability to set very good benchmark scores.
However, during 2560×1440 testing, the Fury X regains the status quo and achieves better results. Despite this, the performance is staggering given the air cooling hardware.
There’s hardly anything to choose between the Nitro Fury and Fury X’s overclocked data, which showcases their similar performance after manual overclocking.
Noise, Power Consumption and Temperatures
Under idle conditions, the graphics card runs in a passive mode, meaning it’s completely silent. In the chart, we can see the recorded acoustics of the entire system is 39 decibels. To reiterate, the GPU itself doesn’t add any noise during low utilization and the acoustic performance simply depends on other aspects of your system. This is wonderful for users with a chassis favouring noise isolation over pure cooling performance. Once stressed, the Tri-X cooling hardware is astonishing and manages to tame the GPU core while remaining extremely quiet.
AMD’s latest architecture is more energy-efficient than its predecessor and consumes a very respectable 309 watts under load. Notice how the lack of a water cooling unit has reduced the power demands by a noticeable amount.
As expected, the Tri-X cooling does a fantastic job of keeping the GPU’s thermals low. Clearly, it’s not going to compete with the water-cooled Fury X, but this isn’t a surprise and shouldn’t detract from the impeccable performance.
At the time of writing, the Sapphire Nitro OC R9 Fury is available from Overclockers UK for £439.99. This is a good value proposition when you take into account the Fury X typically costs £499.99. On the other hand, a recent promotion dramatically cut the R9 Nano’s price to £329.99. This complicates matters because in games, there’s a fairly minute difference between these two products. Now that the promotion has ended, the Nano’s price has increased to £359.99. Honestly, I believe it’s the best price to performance card on the market right now which makes the Fury seem slightly overpriced. However, the Sapphire Nitro model adds value through the stunning backplate, 3 year warranty and premium power delivery.
From a visual standpoint, the graphics card’s neutral theme is bound to be a polarizing topic and greatly depends on an individual’s taste. Personally, I’m quite fond of the black shroud and silver accents, which evokes a professional tone. However, I do feel that the design is overly plain and would benefit from a hint of colour. For example, the Sapphire logo should incorporate customizable RGB illumination and give the user freedom to choose between an understated or flamboyant finish. Overall, the GPU has an industrial appearance, and its mammoth size accentuates the product’s credentials as a top-tier graphics solution.
The GPU’s eight layer custom PCB, 6 phase power circuitry, and five copper heatpipes showcase the kind of build quality we’ve come to expect from Sapphire across their entire range. There’s also a stunning backplate which reinforces the graphics card and prevents any drooping to one side. This is so important because of the triple slot design, and hefty weight. Please remember that the large form factor might impede your options in Crossfire and it’s imperative to check compatibility. Admittedly, I don’t expect many consumers to go down the dual Fury route, but it’s sill something to take into consideration.
On another note, the Tri-X cooling solution is mesmerizing and manages to cope with the Fury’s temperatures while upholding a stunningly quiet user-experience. Furthermore, Sapphire’s Intelligent Fan Control II Software dynamically alters each fan’s RPM values based on the GPU workload. This means the graphics card in low utilization scenarios is silent, and doesn’t add any noise to your build. As a huge proponent of silent computing, this is a major selling point and enhances your enjoyment during idle desktop tasks.
As expected, the Sapphire Nitro OC R9 Fury is already running fairly close to its absolute limit which restricts the overclocking headroom. However, there’s still some scope of manual overclocking providing you use the correct software. Sapphire’s TriXX overclocking utility is perfectly stable, and provides the right tools to attain both core and memory overclocks. Please remember that memory overclocking is disabled via MSI Afterburner, and I’ve experienced problems on a few AMD cards with this software installed. Once MSI Afterburner was removed, I managed to achieve good boosts on the core and memory which helped the GPU to almost match an overclocked Fury X in synthetic testing. This is remarkable and the quashes the idea that you need a water cooling unit to score impressive boosts. Furthermore, these results showcase the effectiveness of Sapphire’s Tri-X cooling solution, even when stressed beyond its factory default clocks.
During synthetic testing, there’s a clear difference between the Sapphire Nitro OC R9 Fury and Fury X, although it does become less pronounced at higher resolutions. In contrast to this, gaming performance is very similar and the Fury only falls behind by a few frames-per-second. Honestly, the majority of users simply want the best performance in games, which makes the synthetic results fairly redundant. Currently, no single graphics card is capable of achieving 60 frames-per-second at maximum details on a 4K display. The Fury is a little overkill for 1080p gaming unless you’re using a very high refresh monitor. The perfect combination for this GPU is a 2560×1440 display or 3440×1440 ultra-wide. At these resolutions, you shouldn’t have to turn down many settings, and can easily obtain 60 frames-per-second. It’s important to remember though that the Nano pushes well above its weight and isn’t that far away from the Fury.
After investigating, it seems the Nano’s price drop for £329.99 was a one-off promotion and isn’t going to be repeated any time soon. However, the GPU has received an official price drop, and it might be the better choice if you can accept slightly reduced performance. This doesn’t mean the Fury is suddenly superseded though and it’s certainly worth the extra if the price difference remains minimal.
- 3-year warranty
- Durable backplate
- Excellent power delivery
- Exceptionally quiet
- Great performance especially at higher resolutions
- Impressive temperatures
- Neutral colour scheme
- Premium build quality
- Significantly cheaper than the Fury X and 980 Ti
- R9 Nano offers compelling value compared to the Fury
“The Sapphire Nitro OC R9 Fury is a great alternative to the Fury X and offers similar performance at a lower price point. Furthermore, the impressive Tri-X cooling is capable of taming the GPU’s core while remaining very quiet.”
Sapphire Nitro OC R9 Fury Graphics Card Review
Thank you Sapphire for providing us with this review sample