With the price of 24” LCD screens dropping closer to the £200 mark, I was beginning to get the urge to buy. The thing is, while my trusty old 8800GTS 640MB coped with Oblivion at the default 1680x1050 resolution on my 22” Dell, it just wouldn’t cope with a 24” at 1920x1200. For over two years this card has served me well, was it time to move on. It is about three generations old now.
A couple of months ago I managed to get a taste of ATI’s new 4870 GPU, a Sapphire HD 4870 512MB GDDR5 PCI-E, which my son bought. This card impressed me so much, I went out and bought its 1gig Toxic sibling, currently selling for £175. Pairing this with a Samsung SM2433BW Widescreen 1920X1200 LCD for £202, how do I tell the wife, she can’t help but notice the monitor.
From the Sapphire website “The SAPPHIRE HD 4870 1GB TOXIC Edition features the award winning Vapor-X cooler, SAPPHIRE’s implementation of Vapor Chamber Technology (VCT) first introduced by SAPPHIRE over a year ago on its ATOMIC and TOXIC series of high performance graphics cards. On this new model, the Vapor-X cooling solution is used to efficiently remove heat from the core logic. So the heat from the GPU, memory and other components is carried away by the vapor chamber together with three heatpipes and heatsinks cooled by a thermally controlled fan venting outside the case. This hybrid solution provides more efficient and quieter cooling than competing solutions for this generation of high performance graphics.”
The features list.
256-bit memory interface
24x custom filter anti-aliasing (CFAA) and high performance anisotropic filtering.
ATI CrossFireX™ multi-GPU support for highly scalable performance (Use up to four discrete cards with an AMD 790FX based motherboard).
PCI Express® 2.0 support. Dynamic geometry acceleration.
Game physics processing capability.
ATI Avivo™HD video and display technology Unified Video Decoder 2 (UVD) for Blu-ray™ and HD Video Built-in HDMI with 7.1 surround sound support On-chip HDCP.
ATI PowerPlay™ technology
I was impressed by the 512mb version’s capabilities, but not by its cooler. This was so loud that within a week it was changed for an aftermarket cooler. I was hoping that this Vapor-X cooling option might be a little bit quieter.
Packaging & appearance
The outer packaging has a sleek, glossy black background with a Terminator 2 type silver guy in your face. The Sapphire badge in the top left and the Vapor-X badge in the top right, below which is the overclocked legend. ATI, HDMI, Toxic “Legends never die”, 1GB GDDR5 memory and PCI-E 2.0 badges adorn the bottom part of the front cover. The package didn’t rattle and I didn’t hear anything sliding around when I picked it up.
The accessories are all there, HDMI and VGA to DVI, Crossfire Bridge and drivers CD, no other software is included. I watched a YouTube video review of this product, from America there was a couple more CD’s in the package, one of which was 3DMark Vantage, maybe they didn’t make it across the pond. The card itself is packed in a nice, thick padded plastic bag. A long black plastic cooler mirrors the packaging, with the cooling fan directly over the GPU. The cover spans the length of the board, with three copper heatpipes sticking out of the top. This is another long card, like the 512mb standard version, but due to the casing of the cooler covering the length of the card, this card obscures four of my six SATA ports, not a problem with the 512MB version’s curved casing.
Removing the cooler was an easy affair, with only four radial screws and the four screws holding the spring loaded backplate.
This reveals a blue, non-reference design, PCB with an aluminium heatsink covering the power circuitry. The memory chips are from the Qimonda brand and, from the reviews I’ve read, overclocks very well.
According to Sapphire “the heat from the GPU, memory and other components is carried away by the vapor chamber together with three heatpipes and heatsinks cooled by a thermally controlled fan venting outside the case.”
Taking the cover off reveals two banks of fins either side of a 90mm fan seated directly over one end of the heatpipes and the GPU area. The heatpipes split in two directions, with one fitting to the rear of the case while the other two go to the bank covering the power area on the inside of the case. This will vent air out both ends of the card, and means hot air will be dispelled over the power circuits and out into your computer case, as well as out the rear of the case.
Cooling and noise concerns.
I have to admit, my biggest concern when buying this card was noise. After installing the Sapphire HD4870 512mb GDDR5 PCI-E in a Thermaltake Soprano case, the noise generated by the stock cooler drove my son to distraction, distraction from COD4 that is, and within a week we had changed it for an aftermarket solution.
Home Built System
CPU: QX6700 Extreme 2.66 GHz (@3.5 GHz)
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-EP45 Extreme V1.0 DDR2
Memory: 2x2GB G-Skill F2-8500CL5 DDR2 @1095MHz
HDD1: 1xSamsung HD502IJ 500GB 16MB CACHE (O/S)
HDD2: 1Xseagate ST3500320AS 500GB 16MB cache (DATA)
PSU: Enermax EGX850EWL Galaxy
Monitor: Samsung Syncmaster 2433bw 1920x1200
GPU: Sapphire HD 4870 1GB TOXIC
GPU: Sapphire HD 4870 512MB GDDR5 PCI-E (Aftermarket cooler)
Drivers: ATI Catalyst 9.4 + Rivatuner
Case: CoolerMaster Cosmos-S
Cooling: Watercooled CPU
Camera: Kodak DC290+2GB Compact Flash
Vista Ultimate 32Bit
Call of Jaurez DX10 Benchmark
X3 Terran Conflict Rolling Demo
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
I have the opportunity to test this card against my son’s Musashi plated Sapphire HD4870 512MB card. With a Scythe Musashi dual fan graphics card cooler stuck to its belly, he was gaining a higher overclock on his card. We’ll see if that gives him an advantage. After a fresh install of Vista Ultimate 32Bit with all the drivers and software, Disk Cleanup and Ccleaner are used to clean up the hard drive and a full defrag is done using Raxco’s PerfectDisk Build 61. For the overclock I will use the CCC, which maxes out at 820MHz for the GPU, and also manages to crash every time I use the Autotune option. Why they’ve decided to hide the workings behind an AMD splash screen curtain I don’t know, the systems hangs for ages and then reboots. You can’t see the settings it crashes on and when the system reboots it gives me a setting that the memory doesn’t work at without graphical glitches during the benchmarks. 1030 MHz seems to be my limit with the memory, which is disappointing considering the low temps. On the 512MB HD4870 CCC maxes out the GPU at 850 and the memory overclocks to 1100MHz. That’s it really, let’s get down to it.
On all tests a setting of 1680x1050 with x4 AA and x4 AF will be used for the first test run and then I will max out my monitor at 1920x1200 and set the AA to x8 and the AF level to x4. Then I will test them both at their individual max overclock and lastly, we’ll try a crossfire configuration and see what that can do.
Selecting all the tests will make each run 13 minutes long and the tests will be run five times at each setting and a common middle ground will be chiselled from the results.
Vantage will use the Presets for High (1680x1050) and Extreme (1920x1200).
The extra 512MB of memory of the Toxic doesn’t count for much when overclocking. The Vantage test didn’t run as smoothly as it should in crossfire mode.
Call of Juarez DirectX 10 Benchmark.
A DX10 benchmark using Shader Model 4.
My younger brother ranted about this game again and again. He even asked for more!
I have to admit, of the two, the 512MB was the fastest draw overall. Not by much, but it’s the fastest overclock.
X3 Terran Conflict.
The X3 Terran Conflict rolling demo serves as a benchmark which features four sectors from the games universe.
My son plays this game and he thinks he's so good. Picking on helpless priests who wont fight back. Massive game.
This game just doesn’t care how much memory you’ve got. On three of the four test runs, the 512MB comes out on top.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
A seven minute timedemo is used with a twenty plus kill streak, so there’s plenty of action. Call of duty 4 has a max of 4xAA. In crossfire dual video card is selected in the options and no other options are changed. Call of Duty 4 Player Ver. 0.57 (from www.cybopat.net
) is then used to play through the demo with fraps recording the Min, Max & Avg scores for the tests.
I am surprised at how much of a difference the extra memory makes to this game. 70fps on the overclock. Crossfire, well, it’s an improvement, but I’m left feeling there should be some more.
My Sith senses were raging. My own son has stepped up to challenge my supremacy. I have control of my other two Sith pupils, they cling to my fading wealth, taking my cast off graphics cards as I pass them down, so they’re no threat to me. This one escaped me though, to a place two streets away. And now he dares to say things like “my Musashi 512MB will overclock better than your Toxic”. And “you’ve been hampered by old age and your lack of sensors, baldy. You can’t see how hot you’re getting under the collar” as well as “you can’t get your fans past 40% without annoying the next planet”. He wants my title, I know it. He wants to say “I’ve got the fastest graphics card in the family”. And here he stands, holding his Musashi proudly in his hand.
The first battle was the ATI overdrive beast. For an hour the cards would be subjected to gruelling stresses and temps to test their mettle. Unfortunately the Sith council of Catalyst 9.4 have drawn a curtain across the field of battle and we can only report from the sidelines. The first to fall was the Toxic belonging to Darth Eddzo. 35 minutes into the test, the Toxic crashed and reset the system. Darth Eddzo’s nostrils flared.
Sapphire may have been cautious when they overclocked the GPU on the Toxic card, throughout all the tests with the GPU maxed out in catalyst to 820MHz, the reported temps didn’t exceed those reported in the earlier noise and cooling test by any excessive amount. Maxing 73c or there about under load, nothing troubled it. The memory, however, was another matter. It just would not overclock. The Memio temps were maxing out nearer the high 80c mark. With the VDDC sensors missing I couldn’t tell how the power circuits were coping or if they may have been the issue. There is an aluminium heatsink situated over the power circuits, but was the hot air being blown from the GPU out through that area helping the matter.
No such problems for the 512MB+Musashi combo belonging to the apprentice (he needs no name, he is merely an apprentice). “You egotistical old bugger. Call me Harp101. That’s my name in COD.” The 512MB card conquered the ATI overdrive beast. “Haaah ha ha, I beat you, I beat you baldy.” Without crashing, ATI overdrive maxed this card out at 850MHz GPU and 1150MHz Memory. Obviously, it didn’t last the course. This setting may not tax the card if used on the 22” monitor of my young apprentice, with its measly 1680x1050 resolution, but with the 1920x1200 resolution of my mighty new 24” planetary display, the most we could get stable was 830 GPU and 1120 Memory. Compared to the memory speed of the toxic, this was stellar. With the temps averaging GPU 56c, Memio 76c and Shadercore 70c, the Musashi was looking cool. Also of note, the max VDDC sensor readings topped 104c compared to the stock cooler’s 140c. Unfortunately the stock cooler is no longer with us. My young apprentice was a little over zealous with his interrogation of the fan with a screwdriver and he killed the creature before we got any information from it. The whelp has no restraint.
“You’re the one that needs restraining, pop. Quit stalling”. Hold on a minute, my young apprentice. I have a proposition for you. “Wot?” Join me. “Come again”. Unite with me my son, and we will create a graphics system that could rule our destiny. “Now you’ve really lost it, you old codger. Get off”. X-Fire. “Hmm. You’re still stalling, but I’ll let you off. Link them up then, come on”. As I took his Musashi from him, I could see the distrust in his eyes. “Don’t forget, turn them fans up all the way. You won’t hear them”.
Crossfire was a strange mix. The superb Futuremark scores don’t tell the whole story. 3DMark06 merely stuttered a few times here and there, but the Jane Nash test in 3D Vantage was all over the place. The water randomly throwing up a storm at times, guns disappearing, it just didn’t render properly. This was reminiscent of the glitches I got when overclocking the Toxic’s memory too far. All of the game tests ran beautifully, without a stutter or glitch anywhere. COD 4 was king of the hill. The Musashi’s fans were only a centimetre away from the 200mm cooling fan of my Galaxy 850watt PSU, but it coped well with temps only a couple of degrees higher than usual. “And you still can’t hear them, listen to yours blowing at 40%.” The limiting factor in overclocking the crossfire setup seemed to be the Toxic.
“Come on then, hand it over”. It was time to swap hostages. “Give me your card then, come on. COD is waiting” he cries. He might as well have asked for the keys to my race pod. “I promise I won’t take it past 800. I promise.” How many parents have heard those plaintiff pleas, those dulcet tones, and then handed over the keys to the Ford. “Right, I’m off. I’ll let you know how it goes, but I want my results tomorrow, or else.” Get out, whelp, and bring that back in one piece, or else
. “Yeah, right baldy.”
The benchmarks are over
The Sith council of Catalyst 9.4 have spoken. The winner is Darth Eddzo and the Toxic by 12 to 8. The results are as follows.
3DMark06: 3-1 to Darth Eddzo. “My 1680 res was better than yours.”
3D Vantage: 2-2 A draw. “I beat you on the overclock, hah.”
Call of Juarez: 2-2 A draw. “Overclock. Look at the overclock.”
X3 Terran Conflict: 3-1 to the apprentice. “hahaha. I rule space baldy.”
Call of Duty 4: 4-0 to Darth Eddzo. COD is king.
“You cheated. You must have,” Wailed the apprentice. COD must like the extra memory. “You lie, I’ll never believe it.” He screamed, running off clutching the bloody pulp that was once his beloved Musashi to his chest. Crying out in the words of the Immortal Terminator. “I’ll be back, you old git. I’ll do my own tests.” The latest reports suggest an XFX HD4870 512MB has landed at my brother’s planet in the outer rim system called Wheelton. A new hope? Bah!
I have no complaints about this card. Other than the overclocking issues, it does what it says on the box. Which is exactly what I bought it for. Handling a 24” monitor and playing games at 1920x1200 resolutions is a joy. Whilst I could have made do with a cheaper 512MB version, the Call of duty 4 results say it all. This is a non reference PCB design used by sapphire and it works well at the pre-overclocked speeds it retails at. The cooling system works, at least, on the GPU, memory and Shadercore it does. All the reported temps looked good. It’s the ones you can’t see that make you wonder. If you want good frame rates in your games with that 24" monitor you can just about afford now, this will do the job. At £163.27 from my local retailer, it’s not as cheap as the 512MB reference card from XFX at £125.90. If you have a 22” monitor, stick with the 512MB variety. If, like me however, you have a 24” model then the extra memory goes a long way in COD4.
Good performance straight from the box.
Cooling and noise.
Pre overclocked card.
Shape of the cooler, covering my Sata ports.
Fan noise above 40% speed.
Inability to overclock the memory.