Review: Watercooled GPU and CPU
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.
The packaging will surely soothe even the greatest nonbelievers in postal services’ “handle with care” rules. A large cardboard box contains another cardboard box and a lot of foam hiding a large case. Sapphire made sure that nothing happens to this card on its way to the customer and the case contains everything you need, except for maybe one or two games that, taking price into account, should’ve been included.
The case is nice and you can put it to many good uses, but we’re more interested in its contents. Inside you’ll find a nicely secured graphics card and Asetek’s water-cooling kit.
This is a limited edition graphics card and each card comes with certificate of authenticity. It all looks nice and neat, which is somewhat expected if you’re to splash out €600 for a graphics card.
Underneath the graphics card you’ll find a mini-chamber with a a cardboard box containing:
Documentation and the Driver CD;
PowerDVD, Cyberlink DVD Suite, Ruby ROM, 3DMark Vantage;
Sapphire limited edition certificate;
2x Sapphire USB stick;
2x VGA Power cable;
DVI to Analog VGA adapter;
HDMI to DVI adapter;
3 meters of HDMI cable;
S-Video adapter, TV out adapter;
CPU block mounting plates with screws;
A large Atomic sticker.
We tested Atomic HD 4870 X2 comparing it to reference HD 4870 and GTX 280. Nvidia will showcase their new champion tomorrow, on 8th of January, and although it will be the fastest card around when it launches, it won’t be able to compete with Sapphire Atomic when it comes to temperatures. Water cooling makes Atomic HD 4870 X2 stand out of the high-end graphics card pack.
Asetek water cooling is easy to install and you don’t need a large case. All you need to do is mount the CPU block, stick the card into the PCIe slot and sandwich the radiator between the rear fan and the case.
The radiator comes with a 12cm fan that’s not inaudible during operation, but it’s much quieter than the reference card. It runs at constant rpm and is powered via the PSU, motherboard connector or fan speed controller. Connecting it to the fan speed controller makes it easy to control its speed, thus rendering your computer inaudible. Here we only have one fan running, unlike usual configurations which require one fan for the CPU and one for the graphics card.
The blue atomic light comes from LED lamps in the fan.
In our test system, Sapphire Atomic HD 4870 X2 ran up to 21°C cooler than reference, air-cooled card. You should expect even lower temperatures if you’re not using the hot QX 9770, which in our case runs overclocked from 3.2GHz to 3.6GHz. The water pump is small and inaudible, and the 12cm fan has what it takes to handle this task.
Graphics core temperatures hit a maximum of 69°C during operation, but bear in mind that it cools the QX9770 processor that went up to 52°C. CPU temperatures could’ve been lower since this is a water-cooling setup, but two RV770 graphics processors are just too hot for such a scenario. Of course, you can increase the rpm, but that will result in higher noise levels. After overclocking the card to 850MHz, temperatures increased by 2°C.
Vantage and Mark06 results
Sapphire overclocked its Atomic card by 6% compared to the reference HD 4870 X2, and it resulted in a performance increase from 2% to 7.6% in Vantage tests. Test Mark06 didn’t seem to care much about overclocking, and we see only a 1% better result.
World in Conflict
Depending on the resolution and a workload, Atomic scored up to 10% better results than the reference card. Nvidia GTX 280 lost by up to 40%, but don’t forget that a new 55nm GTX 280 is coming out soon and it should improve on both the performance and the cooling.
Far Cry 2
Sapphire Atomic HD 4870 X2 costs saucy €600, but we must admit that this is a unique graphics card in many respects. Apart from the GPU’s water block, Asetek’s cooling provides CPU cooling at the same time. The entire water cooling system, graphics card included, is a pre-assembled and closed circuit. Atomic HD 4870 X2 is a limited edition that comes in packaging you don’t see every day – a nice large case with a lot of goodies.
Temperatures are much lower than on dual-slot reference card and it runs quiet in 3d mode. The core is overclocked to 800MHz and the card packs 2GB of GDDR5 memory running at 4000MHz. Atomic HD 4870 X2 card takes up only one slot, which is not the case with the reference card.
Overclocking the GPU by 6% results in up to 10% better gaming results. Geforce GTX 280 loses by as much as 40%, but note that GTX 295 will be priced lower than the Atomic card although it will be faster. However, if you’re looking for the fastest single slot card around, then look no further than Sapphire Atomic HD 4870 X2, as it will probably keep that title for some time.
Once again, Sapphire showed that it’s an innovative company that always manages to surprise us with their unique solutions, and Atomic HD 4870 X2 is no exception.