Pros: - Very, very solidly built. Overclocks well. Good board design (VRM). Backplate. Nice LED. Sapphire is a nice AIB.
Cons: - Loud. Heavy. 2.5 slot card. Not incredibly efficient. Did I mention loud?
This was, and still is a bit of an odd card. It's clearly superior to the lower-end R9 280X Dual-X, being a rebranded HD 7970 Vapor-X; yet, it is easily eclipsed by the beefier 3-fan 280X cards such as the Vapor-X (2nd gen) and Tri-X, which incorporate many lessons learned from this very card.
In terms of performance, there are no surprises. Tahiti XT has been around for a very long time. It breezes through everything at 1080P; there's not much else to say except that if you play at 1080p, the 280X is much more than enough. This card is no different, except that it's quite a bit above the baseline 280X clocks, at 1070 core / 1550 mem default. The reference clocks for the R9 280X are much lower than those of the HD 7970 GHz Edition.
Sapphire doesn't skimp on the cooler. The assembly, at least, since it's very hard to determine whether these cards are equipped with sleeve bearing fans or ball bearing ones. It's an extremely heavy vapor chamber contraption, and sucks away heat from the GPU and VRM quite well. At stock fan profile, which is pretty quiet, core temps don't peak above 72°C in all but the most demanding applications, Furmark being an example of one. The backplate also helps it keep cool, stay sturdy, and look nice.
But it is loud. A 1300MHz core OC is probably a walk in the park for most of these cards, but the fan noise. The noise is satanic. The reviews were right; you really don't want to hear this thing at above 50% fan speed. That's why my 685MHz profile is paired with a very low speed, custom profile; my 1020MHz core and 1150MHz core profiles are 35% and 45% fan respectively. Temps stay nice and low, but this thing probably causes permanent hearing loss. An overclocker's card, maybe; only those equipped with ear protection need apply. Sapphire did a good thing in moving away from these old Vapor-X coolers and into Tri-X designs.
All in all, a nice entry into the enthusiast/gaming graphics market for me, having moved up from a GK107-equipped card; I am pretty happy with it overall, aside from the fan noise.