ATI did a nice comeback last year and managed to dethrone the competition, but Nvidia doesn’t plan on sulking as they are planning a comeback of their own – their new GTX 295 card that will be showcased on the first day of CES 2009 show. Until then, HD 4870 X2 will keep its rightful title of the fastest card in 2008 and the beginning of 2009.
Among HD 4870 X2 cards, Sapphire’s Atomic model with water cooling definitely stands out. We must say that in the sea of reference high-end cards, seeing Atomic HD 4870 X2 is quite refreshing. Thanks to Asetek’s non-retail water cooling that does a great job of cooling both the GPU and CPU, Sapphire lets you enjoy the full package consisting of a high-end graphics card, radiator and a nice CPU cooler with a pump. It’s simple to mount, as it’s a closed system and there’s no need for filling it up or assembling parts. The water pump is built into the CPU block, so all you have to do is find the right spot for the radiator. So, the whole thing is made of only three components, which you can see for yourself on the photo below.
Atomic HD 4870 X2 is a single slot graphics card that, thanks to internal CrossFire, runs two Radeon HD 4870 cards, each packing 1GB of GDDR5. Unlike the reference, dual-slot design where temperatures soar over 90°C and noise levels are quite high when doing 3D, Sapphire’s exclusive “Atomic treatment” of HD 4870 X2 paints a totally different picture of AMD’s high-end champ. The core temperatures stick around 67°C, it runs quiet (we’ll talk about this some more), so Sapphire’s Atomic HD 4870 X2 has some great potential.
We’re no strangers to Asetek’s kit, as we already tested it on OCZ 8800 GTX. You can find this kit in various OEMs’ offers, and it comes under the name LCLC (Low Cost Liquid Cooling). The uniqueness of this cooling is simplicity and, of course, effectiveness. It’s compatible with AMD’s AM2 and Intel’s socket 775, which means that it’ll fit in any configuration you might choose. Sapphire will also offer Core i7 socket LGA 1366 support soon.
The back of the card is identical to the reference design, where you have the memory covered with a large black heatspreader. Each of the two graphics processors on the card has 1024MB of memory at its disposal, where 512MB is placed on the back and another 512MB at the opposite side of the PCB. CPU block with a water pump is the central component that handles water circulation and graphics card and CPU cooling.
Two 1/4'’ pipes are sticking out of the card, and they’re a bit thinner than on most water-cooling systems. They’re sturdy but flexible enough and are sealed on all ends since, as we already mentioned, the liquid is already in there. The water block covers almost the entire card and it’s about the width of one slot.
Atomic sticker looks nice, but we’d prefer if the card’s back panel was painted black since the PCB panel is already black and we think the card would look much better.
Sapphire Atomic HD 4870 X2 has two standard dual-link DVI outs and a TV-out. It supports HDMI via DVI and an adapter that’s bundled with this card. ATI Avivo HD Technology enables improved picture, whereas the second generation of the built-in UVD decoder (Unified Video Decoder) enables hardware BluRay and HD DVD acceleration for both VC-1 and H.264, thus decreasing the CPU load to minimum. The latest toy in ATI’s arsenal is Avivo decoder that comes with CCC (Catalyst Control Center), and it uses the GPU for various format conversions.
The CPU block has a large copper surface with thermal paste applied for mounting it on the CPU, and it contains a small pump that’s inaudible during operation. Incorporating the pump into the CPU block is an effective way of reducing the required space for mounting water-cooled systems.
We had no trouble mounting this to Socket 775, but we’re sincerely hoping that Sapphire will ship LGA1366 (Intel Core i7) mounting systems to their users free of charge, as soon as it’s available of course.
Atomic HD 4870 X2 runs at higher than reference speeds, but its owners might want even more. We played around a bit and managed to overclock the GPU from 800MHz to 850MHz and the memory from 4000MHz to 4200MHz. Note that reference HD 4870 runs at 750MHz for the GPU and 3600MHz for the memory.