Sapphire R9 380x Nitro Video Card Review

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Just in time for the Holiday season, AMD is releasing another card in their 3xx series to help fill in their lineup. Fill in their lineup you say? Don’t they have 8 cards out (between the 3XX and Fury Series) already you ask? Even though they have several cards in their current lineup, from top to bottom, budget to rare unicorn, there was a fairly large performance and price gap between the R9 380 and R9 390. In comes the AMD R9 380X. The card is marketed towards being a great gaming GPU for 1080p (1920×1080) and entry level for 1440p (2560×1440). It will also come in at the $230 MSRP point. It positions itself well within its own product stack price wise, and we would imagine performance to land somewhere in between as well. When looking for a comparable NVIDIA card, it was said the 380x is to fall between the GTX 960 and 970 (another large gap of $/performance from the green camp). For this review, AMD sent us a a partner’s card, the Sapphire R9 380X Nitro. The Nitro version comes with a slight overclock on the core versus the reference clockspeed, and wears a better-than-factory cooler in their Dual-X solution sporting two large 100mm fans and a beefy heatsink hiding below them and the shroud. Let’s take a deeper dive into the card and see how it shakes out in the end.

Specifications and Features

Take a look at the specifications below (from the Sapphire website). What you may be able to detect from these specifications are the similarities between the R9 380 and the R9 390. The 390 is based off of the Tahiti core (think R9 290 Antigua Pro), while the R9 380 is based off of the newer, GCN 1.2 supporting, Tonga core (think R9 285 here or Antigua XT). The R9 380X enables all ROP’s to 32, up from 28, as well as TMU’s to 128, up from 112. They also jump from 1728 shaders to 2048. Those are, essentially, the only changes that have been made outside of clockspeeds between these cards. Speaking of clock speeds, the core on this version comes in at 1040 MHz compared with the 970 MHz reference speed.

The memory capacity is boosted to 4GB versus the previous R9 285 which came in the 2GB flavor (though I recall there were supposed to be 4GB variants – my googlefoo cannot seem to find any), but both share the same 256 bit bus. The extra memory is a good thing for a card that is setup to be entry level to 1440p and even in many titles with the settings on ultra at 1080p. These days 2GB is really the bare minimum for high/ultra image quality on 1080p. The memory clock on this particular card comes in at 1500 MHz (GDDR5 6000 MHz) yielding a bandwidth of 192 GB/s.

The Sapphire R9 380X Nitro can display up to four outputs simultaneously through the DVI-I, DVI-D, HDMI, and DisplayPort connections. It supports DX12, Vulkan, and Mantle APIs.

The cooling is handled by Sapphire’s latest generation Dual-X cooler (dual slot) sporting two 10cm fans and has Enhanced Intelligent Fan Control-II, which turns the fans off under idle and light loads. The fans are have dual ball bearings for a smoother noise profile and longer lifespan. Power consumption on this card is pegged by Sapphire at 225W, but reference speeds are rated at 190W. The higher clocks play a role in that. Power is fed to this GPU via two 6-pin PCIe connectors.

More details can be found at the Sapphire website for the 380x Nitro.

Sapphire R9 380x Nitro Specifications
GPU 2048 Stream Processors
28 nm
Graphics Core Next (GCN 1.2)
1040 MHz Engine Clock
Interface PCI-Express 3.0
Memory 256 bit Memory Bus
GDDR5 Memory Type
6000 MHz Effective Memory Clock
4096 MB Size
Displays / Output / Resolution

Maximum 4 Outputs

1 x DVI-I
1 x DVI-D
1 x HDMI
1 x DisplayPort

4096 x 2160 Pixel DisplayPort Resolution
2560 x 1600 Pixel Dual Link DVI Resolution
2160P HDMI Resolution

API OpenGL® 4.5
OpenCL 2.0
DirectX® 12
Shader Model 5.0
Features AMD CrossFire
AMD PowerTune
AMD ZeroCore Power Technology
FreeSync Technology
AMD Eyefinity
Quad HD Display (4K*2K Support)
Video Codec Engine (VCE)
AMD HD3D Technology
16K Hours Capacitor
Black diamond choke
Intelligent Fan Control
10mm Heat Pipe
Dual BIOS
AMD Liquid VR technology
AMD Virtual Super Resolution(VSR)
Universal Video Decoder (UVD)
Cooling Dual-X fans
Two ball bearing
Form Factor 2 Part Slot Occupied
9.35(L)X4.5(W)X1.6(H) Dimension /Inch
237.5 (L)X 126.5(W)X 41(H) Dimension /mm
Power Consumption 225W (190W reference)
System Requirements / OS 500 Watt Power Supply (Suggestion)
2 x 6-pin AUX Power Connector
4 x 6-pin AUX Power Connector is required for CrossFireX™ system.
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.
Windows 10 Windows 8/8.1 Windows 7 

Below we listed some features from the Sapphire website. Some of these are unique to the card, while others are unique to the architecture. Speaking about the latter first, AMD has made a big push for supporting VR and has worked with the Occulus Rift and Vive teams to bring us the best experience. In that light, AMD has an initiative dubbed LiquidVR. The goal of this initiative is to “tackle the common issues and pitfalls of achieving presence, such as reducing motion to photon latency” (in other words, latency of your movements to what is on screen) to less than 10ms. This will help mitigate common “discomforts” with using a VR headset such as motion sickness. I was at AMD’s release of the Fury card in L.A back in June, and if you have not tried VR you really, REALLY need to. It was nothing short of mind-blowing for me. I cannot wait to see what comes out over the next several months.

Next is AMD Freesync. This is AMD’s response to eliminate screen tearing, a competitor of NVIDIA’s G-Sync. Like G-Sync, one still requires a monitor that supports the technology. Freesync also eliminates the typical increase in lag and latency when enabling VSync or similar technologies.

The Sapphire card uses upgraded components to help the card lead a cooler, quieter, and longer life by using 16K hour lifetime, high-polymer capacitors. They are said to run 20 °C cooler and have 10x the life expectancy of standard capacitors. Along those same lines, the fans on the Dual-X cooler use dual ball bearings to again lead a cooler, quieter, and longer life with a high efficiency blade design. I can tell you these 10cm fans move some air quietly and move a good amount air when necessary.

What good is moving the air through the heatsink if it doesn’t do a good job of getting heat away from the core to its fins? The Dual-X cooler uses a total of four copper heatpipes (contrary to what it says above which is on their webpage for the card). Their combined abilities should allow the cooler to dissipate a 300W heatload. Considering the card is 225W with a 20% power limit, that cooling capacity should be more than adequate when pushing high oveclocks.

Last, but not least, is the use of intelligent fan control. This Sapphire R9 380X Nitro balances noise levels with temperatures for the optimal experience. As was mentioned above, the fans do not kick on under idle or light loads, keeping typical usage scenarios (read: non gaming/intensive) at a 0 dBa noise level.

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Introducing AMD LiquidVR

LiquidVR™ is an AMD initiative dedicated to making VR as comfortable and realistic as possible by creating and maintaining what’s known as “presence” — a state of immersive awareness where situations, objects, or characters within the virtual world seem “real.” Guided by close collaboration with key technology partners in the ecosystem, LiquidVR™ uses AMD’s GPU software and hardware sub-systems to tackle the common issues and pitfalls of achieving presence, such as reducing motion-to-photon latency to less than 10 milliseconds. This is a crucial step in addressing the common discomforts, such as motion sickness, that may occur when you turn your head in a virtual world and it takes even a few milliseconds too long for a new perspective to be shown.

 

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AMD Freesync technology

No stuttering. No tearing. Just gaming.

AMD FreeSync™ technology allows a compatible graphics card and monitor to dynamically change frame rates for the optimum display quality without tearing or stuay.

Industry-Standard Displayport

Freesync uses industry-standard displayport Adaptive-Sync Eliminates screen tearing without all the usual lag and latency

  • Synchronizes the refresh rate of a compatible monitor to the frame rate of your content, however much it varies
  • Monitor partners are validating with drivers from AMD now

 

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16K Hours Capacitor
High quality aluminum-made long life capacitor lengthens the life time of the product. Improved reliability and better overclocking are possible by using only high-polymer, aluminum capacitors which possess far superior characteristics than regular aluminum capacitor for a longer product life. When operational temperatures drop by 20°C, the product life span is extended by a factor of ten, when the operational temperature increases by 20°C, the product life span only decreases by 10%.

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Two-ball bearing

Dual ball bearings on the fan spindles ensure smooth running and long life and are designed to keep out dust. A quiet cooling solution, Two ball-bearing fan features a high-efficiency blade design.

ico-10mmheatpipe

10mm heat pipe

10mm diameter copper heat pipe has 53% better efficiency at dissipating heat than 8mm heat-pipe. Single 10Ø heat pipe is capable to handle 90W thermal dissipating. (8Ø is designed for TDP 65W). With 1x 10mm, 2 x 8mm and 2x 6mm heat pipe, the module is designed to handle over 300W GPU Power.

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Intelligent Fan Control

For high-end graphic card users, we always like to get the best performance, running GPU cooler ,quieter and longer life.

Traditional graphic cards cooling solutions mainly focus on keeping GPU at lower operation temperature while balance acoustic for end users to enjoy a quieter gaming experience. At Sapphire our experienced thermal experts always fine tuning the fan control table for each graphic card we designs.

GPU-Z

GPU-z shows what we already talked about in the specifications section, but now its just proven, right?! Curiously enough, after installing the Crimson driver, GPU-z shows it is using Catalyst 15.8. After some searching around the web, it appears this issue with within GPU-z (AMD appears to have moved some registry key). This will be fixed with the latest release of GPU-z (no ETA). Outside of that, you are looking at a fully utilized Tonga-based GPU.

GPUz v8.6

GPUz v0.8.6

Photo Op – Meet the Sapphire R9 380X Nitro

Retail Packaging and Accessories

We have not seen a Sapphire brand card grace our front page with its presence in a quite while, so this packaging is all new to me. On it, we see a detailed CGI robot in mostly grey and gunmetal along with some lens flare radiating out of what appears to be its eye. It is, generally, a black box with grey on it, outside of the AMD Radeon bit at the bottom. The front displays some high-level features such as the card being overclocked, having 4GB of vRAM, AMD Freesync, and intelligent fan capabilities. The back of the box shows more high-level details; one of which is a pull apart of the Dual-X cooler in layers. They also tell you about their in-house performance rating (3 of 5). Opening up the packaging, we are greeted with another box! Inside of it lay the accessories (driver disk, quick install guide), and below is the card itself.

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Our first pictures of the card show its two large 10cm fan blades covering the majority of the shroud and heatsink below. It is mostly black with the Sapphire branding between the fans, just offset to the left, and the “Nitro” nomenclature on the fan hubs (perhaps hidden in the glare of the low, nearly winter sunshine available on my back deck). The back of the card has a backplate on it to help with PCB rigidity and, in this case, cooling the back side of the VRMs. There is actually a thermal pad between it and the PCB. Overall it is a good looking card…if not a little boring. There is not a lot of bling and no other colors outside of black and grey, so it should fit most build themes just fine.

Sapphire R9 380X Nitro

Sapphire R9 380X Nitro

Back

Back

Alternate 1

Alternate 1

Alternate 2

Alternate 2

A Closer Look

Starting from the top-right the outputs on the card are as follows:

1 x DVI-D
1 x DVI-I
1 x HDMI
1 x DisplayPort

Enough connectivity there and the ability to run all outputs at once (four displays). In order to power the 225W card, Sapphire chose to use two 6-pin PCIe connectors. That along with the slot totals 225W (at least to be in spec anyway). There isn’t anything to worry about of course, but I would like to have seen at least a single 8-pin to help get more power to the card.

Outputs - xxxxx

Outputs – DVI-D, DVI-I, HDMI, and DisplayPort

Two 6 pin PCIe connectors required

Two 6-pin PCIe connectors required

Next I took the shroud off to expose the heatsink. The four shiny copper heatpipes are seen towards the bottom of the card making their way through the fin array. The base of the cooler, the contact patch, is copper and polished, but not quite to a mirror finish. There is also an area to cool the VRMs which have direct contact with the fins via thermal pads and another heatsink. The memory on this card is also cooled in the same manner.

After removing the back plate and exposing the PCB you may be able to see a bit of residue from the thermal pad where the back of the VRMs would be (the right 2/3 of the card). As mentioned earlier, the back plate serves an even higher purpose than rigidity and aesthetics. The front side of the PCB exposes the five phase power setup as well as the memory configuration which totals 4GB.

Last is a shot of the memory IC used on this card. Elpida chips in 512MB x 8 arrangement. They are rated to run at 1500MHz, the stock speed. I would bet they still have something left in the tank though!

Heatsink removed

Heatsink removed

Heatsink base

Heatsink base

Back of the card (Backplate removed)

Back of the card (Backplate removed)

No heatsinks

No heatsinks

 

Memory IC - Elpida W4032BABG-60-F

Memory IC – Elpida W4032BABG-60-F

Monitoring/Overclocking Software –Sapphire Trixx

Below is a screenshot of Sapphire’s monitoring and overclocking software, Trixx. Like others of its kind you are able to monitor temperatures, fan speeds, and clock speeds of the memory and core (among many other things). It also has the ability to change these same items, the core and memory clocks, as well as voltage. You can also save your overclocking endeavors to a profile for one button overclocking.

Overall, I had no problems using the software in that there were no hangs or other issues. If I were to register something negative, I would say that the application is too big as far as how much real estate it takes up on my screen. Maybe it is just me, but I prefer a smaller interface with an option to make it larger like this. Not a huge gripe as typically you work with it and then minimize, but still.

Sapphire Trixx

Sapphire Trixx

Test Setup

Test Setup
CPU Intel 6700K @ Stock (for the motherboard – 4.0 boost to 4.2 GHz)
Motherboard ASUS Maximus VIII Extreme
RAM 2×4 GB DDR4 GSkill Ripjaws 4 @ 3000 MHz 15-15-15-35 2T 1.35 V
Graphics Card Sapphire R9 380X Nitro
Stock: Core 1040 MHz / 1600 MHz Memory
Overclocked: Core 1266 MHz / 1418 MHz Memory
Solid State Drive OCZ Vertex 3
Power Supply SeaSonic SS-1000XP (80+ Platinum)
Operating System Windows 7 x64 SP3+
Graphics Drivers 15.11.1. beta
Equipment
Digital Multimeter

Other cards used for comparison are as follows (links are to their reviews here):

Benchmarking Method/Settings

Note all testing below uses 1920×1080 screen resolution (settings also carry over to 2560 x 1440 and Surround/Eyefinity testing if applicable).

All Synthetic benchmarks were at their default settings, with game benchmarks at noted settings:

  • 3DMark 11 = Performance Level, 3DMark Fire Strike = Extreme, default setting.
  • Unigine Valley Benchmark v1.0 – 1080p, DX11, Ultra Quality, 8x AA, Full Screen
  • Unigine Heaven (HWbot) – Extreme setting
  • Crysis 3 – Very High settings with 8xMSAA/16xAF (2nd level when you procure and use the Crossbow to get across the level and kill the Helicopter)
  • Metro:LL – DX11, Very High, 16xAF, Motion Blur – Normal, SSAA Enabled, DX11 Tessellation – Very High, Advanced PhysX – Disabled, Scene D6
  • Battlefield 4 – Default Ultra setting (Tashgar level – ‘on rails’ car scene)
  • Final Fantasy XIV:ARR – Default Maximum setting
  • Dirt: Rally – 1080p, 8x MSAA, everything on Ultra that can be, enable Advanced Blending
  • Grand Theft Auto V – 1080p, high settings (see article below for details).
  • Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor – 1080p, everything Ultra that can be (Lighting quality High), FXAA and Camera + Object Blur, DOF/OIT/Tessellation enabled.
  • More detail is in our article: Overclockers.com GPU Testing Procedures

Synthetic Benchmarks

Our first synthetic benchmark is the latest from Futuremark, 3DMark. We use the Fire Strike benchmark on the extreme setting for our results. Here the R9 380X scored 4,094. This was good enough to beat its little brother, the HIS 380 IceQ X2 OC (an overclocked card as well) by almost 8%. As expected, and will remain a theme throughout, the much more expensive cards in the R9 390 and GTX 970 run away with things by over 30% each.

In our oldest synthetic benchmark, 3DMark 11, the Sapphire card scored 12,910 to beat out the 380 and ASUS GTX 960 Strix by almost 13% here. The gap is closed a bit against the R9 390 and GTX 970 falling behind by 25% and 22% respectively.

graph-3dfs3d11-3

3DMark – Fire Strike (Extreme) and 3DMark 11 (Performance)

Our next set of benchmarks come from the Unigine family in Valley and Heaven. For Valley, our 380x scored 1,715 points again beating out the R9 380 by 7%. The 970 and R9 390 pull away by big numbers here as well, almost 50% and 58% respectively.

Moving on to our last synthetic benchmark, Unigine Heaven (Hwbot version) Extreme the Sapphire R9 380x scores 1,928.1 putting a hurting on the 960 Strix here by over 21%. It pulls almost 10% against the HIS R9 380, but falling behind by 31% and 37%+ against the GTX 970 Extreme and R9 390.

Unigine Valley and Unigine Heaven (Hwbot)

Unigine Valley and Unigine Heaven (Hwbot)

Overall its synthetic performance falls where it was expected to. I was hoping the 380X would split the gap between the 380 and R9 390. While it does fall between them, at least in these benchmarks, it tends to lean more towards the 380 side than 390. Let’s see if that trend holds true in our games.

Gaming Benchmarks

In our first set of games we look at, still my favorite, Battlefield 4. In this title, the Sapphire R9 380X we have ran the game at 52.6 FPS. This is slightly better than the GTX 960 at 51.3 FPS (~2%), and is also a little faster than the overclocked R9 380 by over 2 FPS (~4%). The GTX 970 and R9 390 pull away here as well both hitting 80 FPS. I don’t believe anyone would complain about these FPS out of BF4 for this level of card.

In a newer title, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, the R9 380X runs this game at 59.1 FPS absolutely running over the R9 380 by 19 FPS. Similarly, the GTX 970 Extreme and MSI R9 390 Gaming 8G are about 20 FPS or so faster than the 380X.

Last up on this graph is Grand Theft Auto: V. In this title, the R9 380X manages to achieve 48.5 FPS beating out the R9 380 by almost 3 FPS (~5%), but again falling short of the GTX 970 and R9 390 as expected.

Battlefield 4, ME: Shadow of Mordor, GTA V

Battlefield 4, ME: Shadow of Mordor, GTA V

Crysis 3 is the next game up to bat. Here in this GPU killer of a game, the Sapphire R9 380x offering has 25.9 FPS while the 380 runs around 1 FPS less and the 960 Strix, 3 FPS less (about 10% in this case). The other two cards, the R9 390 and GTX 970 show 44.3 and 36.8 FPS. Its clear that some image quality sacrifices must be made to run Crysis on this card.

In the latest Codemasters Rally game, Dirt: Rally, we see 25.1 FPS at stock speeds for our R9 380x, while the 380 comes in less than 1 FPS behind at 24.4 FPS.

Last but not least, Metro: Last Light. Here the Sapphire R9 380 Nitro manages a playable 34.3 FPS beating out both the R9 380 and GTX 960, but again falling well behind its more costly big brother and the R9 390.

Here, we only saw playable FPS in Metro: Last Light at the settings we test at which isn’t surprising for these games and this tier of card. Some image quality sacrifices will need to be made on most of these titles for the best game play.

Crysis 3, Dirt: Rally, Metro: Last Light

Crysis 3, Dirt: Rally, Metro: Last Light

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn shows similar results to what we are seeing above.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

AMD mentions that the card is geared towards 1920x1080p gaming and entry level 2560x1440p, so we tested it at 1440p as well and have the results below. BF4, GTA V, and ME: Shadow of Mordor show that they are plenty playable here with averages over 30 FPS at our ultra settings. However, Crysis 3 and Metro: LL have some work to do to reach that magical 30 FPS number most gamers strive to reach for an enjoyable gaming experience. Lowering the Anti-Aliasing and settings to High should help that out tremendously and I do not believe AMD meant to run everything out at Ultra with this card. That would be reserved for the R9 390 on up. Dirt: Rally is really a weird one here in that, its an “AMD” Game, yet the NVIDIA cards really perform a lot better at this title than its comparable AMD cards. I’d imagine that to change as the game is matured and patched, however it was sitting at 17 FPS.

graph-1440

Temperatures and Power Consumption

All the gaming aside the Dual-X cooler keeps the card cool and quiet. At idle, without its fans on sitting in an open air test bench, the card idled at 38 °C. With stock clocks, the highest temperature registered was 66 °C in Unigine Valley. When overclocked, the highest temperature reached was also in Unigine Valley, reaching 68 °C. The fan was pretty quiet on the auto preset, with very safe temperatures, so I wouldn’t change a thing on factory fan curve. The fans do start to get noticeable at around 65% or so, but in this testing I do not believe it breached 50% at the temperatures listed here. If you are overclocking heavily, or just prefer it to run cooler for whatever reason, there is plenty of headroom left in the cooler, that is for sure.

Temperatures

Temperatures

Finally, the graphs will end with a look at system power consumption. We use our ‘trusty’ (I use that term loosely) Kill-A-Watt meter and run through our tests. We can see, while running stock speeds, that the system peaked at 257W from the wall. While overclocked, it reached 271W. Not too shabby from AMD, but still lacking compared to the latest from NVIDIA and their mid-range cards. For example; the GTX 960 is 120W board power and the GTX 970 is 145W, compared to 190W for the R9 380x at stock and 225W for this model. Still, this difference is not much over the course of a month, or year, for a typical gamer. Not something I would worry about, but it is worth mentioning.

Power Consumption

Power Consumption

Pushing the Limits

Typically I would fall back to my trusty old MSI Afterburner and do some overclocking. However, for this adventure, I was unable to unlock the voltage there and only the Trixx software was able to do it. Onward we go! For the overclocked settings I used a 75mV increase bringing me up to around 1.25V. Much past that and it would appear I hit the power limit as the card would black screen on some tests. I reached 1148 MHz on this sample which isn’t too bad though, admittedly, I had 1200 MHz in my head as a goal for the R9 380x results. I just wish there was more headroom on the protection goodies (assuming that is what I am running into of course). On the memory side of things, I was only able to reach 1929 MHz before things were getting wonky on me.

ptl

Conclusion

AMD aimed to put a card out on the market aimed directly at 1080p gaming and entry level 1440p gaming. In short, it looks like it worked. Performance at 1080p with the games and settings we test showed over 30 FPS in all titles not named Crysis 3 and, oddly enough, Dirt: Rally. Even Metro: Last Light was over the magic 30 FPS mark. It looks like Dirt: Rally/Codemasters has some work to do there. In order to play games at 1440p some image quality settings will have to be changed to stay above that 30 FPS mark. Lowering settings, specifically anti-aliasing, will certainly help raise up the FPS at 1440p. To me, this was expected considering what AMD wants out of the card.

Cooling on this card was handled quite well with the Dual-X cooler. Its large 10cm fans are off during idle and light loads, only ramping up when needed. When they do ramp up, even with an overclock, the fans are pretty silent overall. Its only when you reach around 65%+ that they start to make their presence known. It did not reach that in my testing and ambient condition.

Pricing on the Sapphire R9 380X Nitro comes in at $229.99 at Newegg. That is the cheapest price out there, with a couple of other brands matching it, and there are also a couple more costing $10 more. It is said to beat out the GTX 960 and it did pretty much across the board. The GTX 960 is a bit cheaper though so there is competition on the price to performance side of things.

Overall, the R9 380x does fill in the large gap between the R9 380 and R9 390. Our testing showed that it is much closer to the 380 than the 390, but the pricing between the cards seems to fit with its performance and other competing cards. So we have a card that the price is competitive, its aftermarket cooler is quiet with headroom on top of it, and a solid mid-range performer as expected. If your budget is floating around the $230 range, be sure to check out AMD’s R9 380X and its partners cards!

What Does This Mean? Click to Find Out!

What Does This Mean? Click to Find Out!

– Joe Shields (Earthdog)

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