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Wednesday, 11 March 2009 12:09

Sapphire Toxic Radeon HD 4870 tested

Written by Sanjin Rados

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Review: Non-reference Vapor-X cooling and higher clocks

 

Radeon Toxic HD 4870 is a name for Sapphire's special version of the HD 4870, this time with special cooling and an overclocked core. The card uses Vapor-X cooling that does a great job at 780MHz core speeds and 1000MHz memory (4000MHz effectively). Note that the reference cards run at 750MHz core and 900MHz memory (3600MHz effectively).

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Today’s card comes with 512MB of GDDR5 memory, but as of January this year, the same card is available with 1GB of GDDR5. Additional memory pays off at high resolutions and in texture-intensive games, which are growing in numbers buy the way. To make things even more interesting, we’re soon expecting Sapphire to announce its HD 4870 with 2GB of GDDR5.

The Toxic HD 4870 looks quite nice with black cooling and a large fan. The fan blows the air out of the case, and as you can see from the pictures, it uses 3 heatpipes to maximize cooling efficiency.

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We’re no strangers to Vapor-X cooling, and cooling the 55nm RV770 GPU as well as the rest of the card won’t be a problem whatsoever. Vapor-X uses vapor chamber technology, and it has proven its worth on Sapphire’s cards using it up to date. However, unlike the old cooler, the new one uses three heatpipes to improve cooling even further.

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Vapor-X’s operation is similar to classic heatpipe technology, but many claim it’s more advanced as it uses only clean water and the vaporizing process. In the process of cooling, the water turns to steam, which fills up the vacuum chamber. The air pressure within the chamber is extremely low which enables for quick water vaporization. The GPU touches  the vacuum chamber directly, and it acts as the heat source which heats up the vaporization wick. The resulting steam moves freely in all directions, towards the cooler part of the chamber and through the heatpipes, where upon touching the cold walls turns to water again. Condensation module gathers water and the transportation module brings it back to start the process over again.

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The picture below shows the HD 3870 Atomic’s cooler, which hasn’t got three heatpipes. In its case, the memory was touching the chamber as well, whereas HD 4870 Toxic’s memory is cooled by touching the cooler’s aluminum body.

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Before we move onto the results we’ll share some facts regarding the card’s technical points. Radeon HD 4870 is on the market for more than six months, but it’s still the best single GPU Radeon and most certainly not lacking in performance. This card came as the successor to ATI's HD 3870 card, and thanks to the RV770 it is much, much faster. This chip packs almost a billion transistors, comes with 800 scalar processors (320 on HD 3800 series) and GDDR5 memory.

Coupling the 256-bit memory interface with GDDR5 memory was the best way to provide enough bandwidth for this card to give its competition a hard time. HD 4870’s muscle is evident when compared to the Geforce GTX 260, where Nvidia had to enable additional SPs (stream processors) to keep up with the HD 4870. Note that the first GTX 260 had 192 SPs, whereas Nvidia upped the ante and now there are 216 of them.

Compared to GDDR3/4 memory, GDDR5 memory offers twice the bandwidth per pin at same clocks. This means that 512-bit GDDR3 cards offer the same bandwidth as 256-bit GDDR5 cards, provided they run at same clocks of course.

As far as HD 4870’s bandwidth goes, Qimonda’s GDDR5 memory at 900MHz does a good job to keep the card competitive against the GTX 260, which has a wider 448-bit memory bus and 999MHz memory. GTX 260’s bandwidth is 111.9GB/s whereas HD 4870 offers a slightly better bandwidth of 115.2GB/s. Radeon HD 4850 with its GDDR3 memory at 993MHz offers a bandwidth of 63.6GB/s, due to its 256-bit memory interface. By overclocking the memory, Sapphire increased the Toxic card’s bandwidth as well, and it’s now up from reference 115.2GB/s to 128.0GB/s.

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Radeon HD 4870 is based on RV770 55nm GPU. Apart from 800 shader processors, which is 2.5x more compared to the previous generation, the RV770 also offers 2.5x more texture units, as there’s 40 of them now compared to the 16 on HD 3800 series. The rest of the important specs can be seen on the GPU-Z picture above.

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Sapphire’s dual-slot cooling does a better job than the reference cooler. The fan is inaudible when the card is idling, but the noise levels match those of the reference card when it’s under a workload. RPM is dynamically controlled depending on the core temperatures, but you can control the directly from the Catalyst Control Center – Overdrive panel if you choose to.

Radeon Toxic HD 4870 is up to 30 °C cooler than reference. Idle mode results in core temperatures of 46 °C, but when we put the card through its paces the temperatures rose only to 59°C, unlike the reference card which hits up to 89°C.

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The card depends on two 6-pin cables for power, and you’ll find the connectors to be located towards the end of the card, just like on the reference cards.

All the HD 4xxx series cards provide 7.1 sound thanks to Realtek’s HD Audio processor integrated into the GPU silicone. There’s no need for additional cables in order to bring audio via the HDMI cable as well, which is the case with Geforce cards. You can get HDMI via the provided DVI-to-HDMI dongle. The I/O panel features two dual-link DVI outs and S-Video out.

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The box contains the usual, but with some additional goodies: DVI-to-HDMI dongle, DVI-to-VGA converter, 2 x Molex-to-PCI-E cable, Crossfire Bridge, a short installation manual, the driver CD, Ruby ROM, Cyberlink software, 3D Mark Vantage and the graphics card.

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Testbed

Motherboard: MSI P45D3 Platinum ( Provided by: MSI );
Processor: Intel Core 2 QX9770 Extreme edition na 3.6GHz ( Provided by: Intel );
Memory: Corsair Dominator 12800 7-7-7-24 ( Provided by: Corsair);
HDD: WD VelociRaptor 300G 10,000RPM ( Provided by: SmoothCreation );


Vantage tests

Sapphire Toxic HD 4870’s GPU is clocked 4% higher than reference, and although Vantage tests confirm this by giving 4-5% better results compared to reference, it still isn’t enough to beat the GTX 260. It is however, enough to beat the HD 4870 1GB.

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Gaming

Far Cry2

This game needs no introduction and you know it’s got a serious taste for frame buffer size. Toxic HD 4870 does very good at all resolutions when filters are off, but when high resolutions are coupled with filters we see that HD 4870 1GB or GTX 260 have a much better time coping. All the resolutions are playable, except for the highest one 2560x1600 with filters on.

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World in Conflict

World in Conflict again reports good performance scaling, as Toxic HD 4870 beats the reference HD 4870 by 4%.

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Left 4 Dead

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Overclocking

Sapphire overclocked its Toxic card from reference 750MHz to 780MHz and the memory by 100MHz from reference 900MHz. The performance scaled well with overclocking, as gaming also reported 4% performance increase.

Only some RV770 graphics chips will run over 850MHz, and we were quite happy with our Sapphire Toxic HD 4870 as we pushed it to 860MHz with no trouble. Memory allowed for additional 150MHz and we ended up at 1150MHz (4600MHz effectively). Hefty memory clock increase resulted in bandwidth jumping to 147.2GB/s, which is 27GB/s higher than reference 115GB/s. During our quite long gaming tests we’ve noticed artifacts only once, but we’d still not recommend such high clocks.

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In 3DMark 06 test, the card scored 17048 after overclocking, whereas the non-overclocked card scored 16600 points.

After we did our overclocking, Left 4 Dead reported up to 10% better results. At 2560x1560 and filters on, Sapphire Toxic HD 4870 scored 55,06fps, whereas our overclocking resulted in 60,66fps.

Temperatures

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Toxic Vapor-X cooling does a great job and during operation runs up to 28 °C cooler than reference. Idle temperatures sit around 46°C but workload scenarios result in up to 59°C, which is still better than reference 87°C.

Toxic cooling runs quiet in idle operation, but noise levels get close to reference ones during operation.


Power Consumption

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Sapphire’s Toxic HD 4870 consumes only a few Watts more than reference, so the consumption increase is so slight that it’s negligible. 


Conclusion

Sapphire Toxic Radeon HD 4870 card features non-reference dual-slot cooling and higher core and memory clocks. The cooling based on Vapor Chamber technology ensures that the 780MHz core stays up to 28°C cooler than reference 750MHz core. We’re looking at a 30MHz factory overclock as well as a 100MHz memory overclock up to 1000MHz (4000MHz effectively). Radeon HD 4870 is a great gaming card, and Sapphire surely brings it to the next level.

Compared to the reference 512MB card, Sapphire’s card brings 3-5% better results and you can increase the up to 10% if you do some manual overclocking. Toxic HD 4870 features 512MB of GDDR5 and it will be enough unless you like them high resolutions and filters on. In that case, you’d be better off buying a 1GB memory card, or even wait for Sapphire’s HD 4870 2GB version.

Higher clocks and Toxic Vapor-X cooling do however come at a price and you’ll have to pay around €20 more compared to the reference card’s price. If you want a fast HD 4870 with some powerful cooling, then this card just might strike your chord.



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Last modified on Monday, 30 March 2009 12:18
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