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Water cooled Sapphire HD 3870 X2 card

by on25 May 2008



Review: Atomic cooler in action


We have mentioned Sapphire's Atomic series of graphics card many times, and we’ve even tested a couple. Atomic has become very popular since Sapphire decided to put a single slot cooler on one of the 3870 cards. They called it HD 3870 Atomic, and we’ve been charmed by its looks and quality. At the time, there was some talk that soon after HD 3870 X2 cards hit the market Sapphire would follow up with the Atomic version of HD 3870 X2. So, we expected a single slot card that would dump the reference dual slot cooler found on HD 3870 X2; but imagine our surprise when we heard that Atomic HD 3870 X2 will feature water cooling.

We received the first Atomic HD 3870 X2 sample in the last days of February, and we made a quick preview then. The opinions on this cooling solution varied, because the card ran at reference 825MHz and advantages of water blocks were a bit overshadowed by the noisy radiator fan. We couldn’t complain much since it’s an early specimen, but today we have a card that is more silent and runs at 864MHz.


Two R680 cores aren’t easy to cool, but Atomic's cooler can handle it with no trouble at all. To make sure of that, there‘s a huge block that stretches nearly the entire length of the card. The block covers the memory and power components on the front. The reference PCB wasn’t meddled with, but due to its 266mm x 112mm dimensions (W – H), you should make sure that it’ll fit your computer.

The water block appears tough safe, and features two heatpipes outlets on top. Maximum space between the card and the cooler box is about 30cm, but although it doesn’t leave many setting up options, it will be enough in most cases.


Although the card looks like single slot, it’s more of a slot-and-a-half, since it might get in the way of the card in the next slot. In most cases, the next slot is PCI or PCIe1x that’s probably free or has a smaller card that won’t cause trouble during Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2 mounting. A view from above shows that this is no dual slot card; a careful observer might notice that the water block’s width is greater than standard bracket width.


Two pipes start at the water block and lead to the radiator and the pump. You can individually rotate each pipe by more than 180 degrees, but with a little effort, you can put the cooling box virtually anywhere within 360 degrees.

Still, that won’t be necessary, since you can place the pump and the radiator above the card, whereas the most logical, and often the only possible, place will be next to the back panel of your motherboard – where the case fan is approximately the height of the CPU cooler. The pictures usually speak louder than words, so it’s best that you view the following three pictures.


Image  Image

During setting up your Sapphire HD 3870 X2 Atomic card, it’s more important to mind the fan size than to choose a big enough case. Any standard case that’ll house a 12cm fan will be wide enough for Atomic’s radiator/pump. The cooler shouldn’t be too high and it shouldn’t be too wide at the same time. Our CoolerMaster CM Sphere cooler with heatsink dimensions of 132 x 133 mm is probably the most you’ll be able to fit on the processor if you decide on this card.

The water block is cool during work, as opposed to reference card’s temperatures. While running in idle mode, the card’s temperature was around 53 degrees Celsius, only 4 degrees cooler than scored with reference card’s cooling. However, the good thing about water cooling is that there is very little difference between idle and workload temperatures, and in workload scenario, Sapphire cooling hit only 7 degrees Celsius more compared to idle temperatures. In such a scenario, we measured 82 degrees Celsius with reference cooling.


Good and effective cooling was a bit overshadowed by the lousy fan that ran pretty loudly, even noisier than reference HD 3870 X2 card’s fan. The picture above shows that RPM regulation is regulated through sensors placed on the card. A standard 4-pin pinhead used by reference cooling is still here, but the cable was extended and now leads directly to the radiator fan.


The cooling box has an L profile, and as we mentioned above, getting the right place to set it up within the case was quite difficult. The radiator and the fan are on one side, whereas the pump is hidden on the other.

We took the lid off and saw a well-packed system. The pump also needs power, supplied by a standard 4-pin molex. One pipe routes the hot water from the card to the pump that regulates circulation. After cooling in the radiator, the water goes back to cooling the card.


The reference card’s PCB connectors aren’t placed that well, and the same goes for Sapphire’s card. Although it’s not a dual slot card, once you connect the power cables, they’ll get in the way of the next card in line. Crossfire is possible, but using two Atomic HD 3870 X2 cards in one system will prove to be tricky to set up.

The card comes in a “case” that we’ve already seen in previous Atomic versions. We liked it the first time we saw it, and everything is nicely packed and Atomic-licious.   


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Last modified on 26 May 2008
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