|Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 X2 Video Card 100251SR|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Video Cards|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Monday, 18 August 2008|
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Closer Look: Sapphire 4870
The Sapphire HD 4870 X2 delivers a new level of performance to the mainstream user with its 2GB GDDR5 memory, and nominal clock speeds of 750MHz (core) and 900MHz (memory). The 4870 X2 uses the PCI-Express Gen2 interface, and features dual connectors for CrossFireX cables, allowing two or more cards to be used together on a CrossFireX compatible mainboard for even higher graphics performance.
All SAPPHIRE graphics cards in the HD 4800 series incorporate the latest ATI Avivo HD Technology for enhanced Video display and feature a new generation built in hardware UVD (Unified Video decoder) considerably reducing CPU load and delivering smooth decoding of Blu-ray and HD DVD content for both VC-1 and H.264 codecs, as well as Mpeg files. In addition to two, dual-link DVI outputs, and TV-Out, a dedicated HDMI adaptor delivers both audio and video output on a single cable for direct connection to an HDMI ready display.
The newest edition to the Radeon family takes a whole new approach to component layout and appearance. There's a lot of questions I have when it comes to building a twin-GPU graphics card: how much cooling does it need, and how much power will it consume? These are all things I plan to answer with this article.
The Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 X2 graphics card (SKU 100251SR) comes in classic ATI red and offers a double-slot sized product for the PCI-Express 2.0 bus. There are a few small details that seem to stand out as either interesting or unique, and I'll make sure to discuss each at length. Let's begin with looks.
Sapphire has been (and will likely continue to be) an icon for sex-sells marketing within the VGA industry. Palit has their cyborg-frog, XFX has an armor-clad wolf, and ZOTAC has a fire-breathing dragon; but none match the collection of attractive Ruby characters adorning Sapphire product. Although they have tried to simmer it down in the past few years, I still associate racy characters with their marketing graphics. I suppose that there's nothing wrong with an animated cute she-warrior looking out at you from the decals and retail packages Sapphire exposes them on, because after all this is a geeks industry. On the Radeon HD 4870 X2, Sapphire offers up a Laura Croft-like character with goofy goggles on.
There's no question that the AMD-ATI merger has trickled down into a serious economy-of-design state of mind. As I finish editing this article, the nearest competition to ATI has recently suffered a 31% drop in their traded stock value, something that may put the two chipmakers on a more even playing field. Nevertheless, Sapphire continues on with their mission, and produces some of the best video cards money can buy. Value translates into several different things, however, and he design of the Radeon HD 4870 X2 is not without its flaws.
Sapphire utilizes a full-length cooling unit to keep the dual-RV770 GPUs within operating specifications. While it obviously seems to be working, I am curious how ATI avoided a total meltdown considering how hot the Radeon HD 4870 could become. The blower fan is located at the rear-most position of the cooling unit, and draws air from the opening on the face of the cooler. While the majority of heat produced by the twin GPUs is exhausted out the mounting bracket grill, some residual heat is passively cooled by a very unique pin-style heatsink.
The cooling unit on the Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 X2 video card is held tight to the printed circuit board and two RV770 GPUs with the use of reinforcing brackets and over a dozen screws. The double-height cooler does an adequate job of cooling the 4870 X2, but there is still a tremendous amount of heat that builds up on the PCB. If you're an overclocker, there isn't very much that can be done to help cool the unit from the reverse side of the circuit board, especially since there are no surface-mounted GDDR5 modules exposed to this side of the Sapphire 100251SR Radeon HD 4870 X2.
In truth, the double-size active cooling solution is barely enough to contain the fire-breathing 4870 X2. The RV770 GPU is "merely" overclocked from the Radeon HD 4850 to the 4870, and the increase in heat output is directly obvious. I will go into deeper detail about heat output and power consumption later on, but for now we've got a good look at what you get when you buy the Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 X2.
In our next section we detail our methodology for testing video cards. Following this we offer a cadre of benchmarks to show where the Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 X2 stands against the Radeon 4870, GeForce 9800 GX2, a pair of Radeon HD 4850's in CrossFire, along with a GTX 260 and GTX 280 put in for good measure... so please read on!