Sapphire HD4870 Review

ajmatson - 2008-07-10 16:17:23 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: July 23, 2008
Price: $279.95


ATI and their partners have been strategically marketing the HD 4800 series graphics cards, which have been dominating the review scene lately. In fact, because of the power that the HD 4800 series produces, while maintaining a perfect price point, NVIDIA's partners were forced to cut the prices of their GTX 200 series cards to compete. The flagship of the HD 4800 series as of today, is the HD 4870 video card. We have reviewed two other HD 4870 cards, the PowerColor HD 4870 and the Visiontek HD 4870, in the past few weeks since they have been released. The HD 4870 video cards bring to the table an impressive 1.20 teraflops processing power, packed into an affordable graphics solution.

Today we are going to be taking a look at the Sapphire HD 4870 video card, which is based on the ATI reference design, using the stock Dual Slot cooling design, to keep the temperatures down. As we have seen in the last two HD 4870 reviews, the HD 4800 series cards are plagued with heat issues, which is mostly due to the fans not running at higher speeds as the temperatures rise. This issue is in no way the fault of the card manufacturers, but some have taken steps to allow users to manually control the fan speeds using software developed by the manufacturer. I am curious if Sapphire has looked into the issue to keep their card from heating up enough to cook eggs on it.


Closer Look:

The packaging from Sapphire has always been both pleasing to look at and informative. On the cover they have the slogan "Prepare to Dominate" which gets me all excited and ready to game on this baby. They also include some of the features, as well as stickers showing some of the goodies that they bundled with the HD 4870, which we will take a look at later in the review. The back of the box shows some more of the specifications, as well as highlights from the video card. One thing more and more manufacturers are putting on the box as well are the system requirements. This is very helpful, because as technology gets more advanced, users can keep up with the information needed to see if they will be able to run the card using their current setup.











Opening the packaging leads to a tough cardboard box inside. Sapphire has done a very good job of protecting their card with the hard cardboard box and then surrounding the card with foam and anti-static wrapping. This will prevent any damage that might be caused when the card is in shipping to you or the store you purchase it from. Inside the box is the Sapphire HD 4870 card, a component video out dongle and S-Video dongle, a DVI to VGA adapter, a DVI to HDMI adapter, two 4-pin Molex to 6-pin PCI Express power adapters, a CrossFire interconnect, a manual, the driver CD, a Ruby Rom Volume II goodie disk, a full version of 3DMark06, a CyberLink Power DVD 7 Disk, a CyberLink DVD Suite disk and a 2GB USB sampler Thumb Drive. Sapphire has done a great job with the bundle, giving the consumer a feeling that they get good value for money.




Now that we have everything out of the box, let's move over and take a look at the video card more closely.

Closer Look:

The Sapphire HD 4870 uses the ATI reference Dual Slot cooler, which is what gives the card its massive size. The card uses the symbolic red PC Board that the majority of ATI based cards use. On the top of the cooler there is a logo sticker showing one of Sapphire's mascots, with the model of the card imprinted on it. On the back of the card you will notice the bracket that is under the GPU, so that the stress of the heatsink is balanced evenly across the board. This means that no damage will occur to the GPU or the PC Board. This card is a PCI Express 2.0 based architecture, which provides double the bandwidth of the legacy PCI Express design. Please note that the Sapphire HD 4870 is backwards compatible with the older PCI Express architecture, but it will run at the lower speeds of that BUS.



















There are three ports available on the Sapphire HD 4870 card, which support a multitude of display options. There are two DVI ports, which support Dual-Link DVI as well as VGA and HDMI using the supplied adapters. There is also a video-out port, which can be used with the supplied S-Video or Component Video adapters. To power this hungry beast, make sure that your power supply is a minimum 500 watts, with at least two 75w 6-pin PCI Express power plugs available for a single card setup and 600 watts with four 6-pin PCI Express plugs for a CrossFireX dual card setup. On the outer spine, is where the CrossFire Interconnects get plugged in for a multi-GPU setup.



One thing to make sure when buying a card with the Dual Slot cooler, is whether or not it might block the slot beneath it if you are using it for another PCI card. Take this into consideration when purchasing the Sapphire HD 4870. Because of the heat that the RV 770 core and other components put out, for this card, Sapphire chose to use a copper heatsink with copper heatpipes attached to aluminum fins enclosed in a plastic shroud, to funnel air through to cool the GPU core. A large blower style fan forces the air through the shroud and out the back of the case through the ventilation slots in the expansion bracket.



With the cooler removed, we can get a better look at what makes the Sapphire HD 4870 tick. The heart of the card is the RV770 based GPU, which is clocked at 750MHz and is manufactured using a 55nm process. Surrounding the core is the 512MB of GDDR5 memory with an effective bandwidth of 3600MHz (900MHz x 4), operating on a 256-bit memory BUS. There are 800 stream processing units and 40 texture units on the HD 4870, helping to provide impressive performance. Towards the power inputs, you can clearly see the voltage regulation section and all of its complexity.




Now let's put the card back together and take a look at the software needed to properly run the Sapphire HD 4870 card.


Closer Look:

To install the drivers for the Sapphire HD 4870 first pop the driver CD into your drive and the Sapphire menu will auto start. The menu has three options that you can choose from. The first option is to install the Catalyst Control Center and drivers by clicking the ATI Easy Install. This installs Catalyst 8.6, but remember that there is a hotfix available from ATI which is unsupported, that is said to increase performance for the HD 4800 series cards.





















When you click the ATI Easy Install option, you are presented with the Catalyst Control Center installation menu. This will install all of the necessary drivers and software needed to properly run the Sapphire HD 4870. We will take a better look at the Catalyst Control Center software in the following section.




Now that the Catalyst Control Center is installed, let's take a better look at it.

Closer Look:

The Catalyst Control Center is where all of the settings for the Sapphire HD 4870 are available. There's a lot that you can change and set, but I am only going to go over the main parts of it.

Information Center: The Information Center is where you can view everything about the hardware and software associated with the video card, such as driver versions and hardware specifications.



















Digital Panel: The Digital Panel is where you can set and view monitor information, HDTV settings, ATI's AVIVO color settings, and LCD Overdrive to apply LCD settings that override the monitor's settings.





3D: The 3D tab is where you can modify your visual settings for performance or quality, including Anti-Aliasing, Anisotropic Filtering, color schemes and more.



VIVO Video & ATI Overdrive: AVIVO settings allow you to alter the color settings for better viewing. ATI Overdrive is where you can push the HD 4870 to the limits with overclocking settings. There are controls for the advanced user, or you can use Auto-Tune for automatic overclocking.



Fabrication Process
Graphics Clock
750 MHz
Memory Clock 900 MHz / 3600MHz effective
Memory Interface 256-bit
Memory Size
Memory Type
400 MHz
Stream Processors
HDCP Support
HDMI Support
Yes (Using DVI-to-HDMI adaptor)
Connectors 2 x dual-link DVI-I 1 x S-Video Out
Bus Technology PCI Express 2.0
Form Factor Dual Slot Design
Power Connectors 2 x 6-pin





So is everyone excited yet? I know I am itching to see how well the Sapphire HD 4870 stands out among the rest of the pack in performance. For comparison, I am including two other HD 4870 cards, as well as an HD 4850 card to gauge the comparison difference between the two 4800 series models. I will also be including cards that are NVIDIA based, so you get a broad spectrum view on where the Sapphire HD 4870 stands among other popular cards on the market today. To keep the tests as fair as possible and to prevent any errors in testing, all hardware will be run at their stock speeds, timings, and voltages. This will give us an accurate representation of how each card performs to one another with no interferences.


Comparison Video Cards:



Overclocked settings:

This card was the best overclockable card I have tested out of the three HD 4870 cards I have reviewed. The limits allowable in the Catalyst Control Center are 790MHz on the core and 1100MHz on the memory. I was almost able to max them out with the Sapphire HD 4870 reaching 785MHz on the GPU and 1095MHz on the memory, for an effective speed of 4380MHz. That is a very fast memory speed. Anything higher and the screen would artifact or I would get a BSOD, so the overclocked tests will be run at 785/1095MHz.




  1. Crysis
  2. Knights of the Sea
  3. BioShock
  4. Call of Duty 4
  5. World in Conflict
  6. Call of Juarez
  7. Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts
  8. 3DMark 06 Professional


Crysis is a new addition to the gaming benchmark suite used at This game is one of the most anticipated and system intensive games to be released to the gaming community. The Crysis single player demo includes both CPU and GPU benchmarks to test the performance of your processor and video card.






















The Sapphire HD 4870 got stronger as the resolutions increased.


PT Boats: Knights of the Sea is a new DX10 title that features its own proprietary graphics engine currently in development. The game is a combination of Real Time Strategy and Simulation. You have the ability to control the entire crew or just a single member. Play as the German, Russian or Allied navies, and prove your mettle on the open seas.


Video Settings:


















Compared to the other HD 4870's, the Sapphire was the best at the highest resolution.


BioShock is one of the newest games on the market. It is a demanding game that will make your hardware scream for mercy. This First Person Shooter allows for an infinite number of weapons and modifications to provide a unique experience each time it is played.


Video Settings:




















The Sapphire HD 4870 was about a frame ahead of the others.


Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is the successor to the Call of Duty crown. This iteration of the game is fought in many of the world's hot spots with modern armaments and firepower. You can play as either a US Marine or British SAS trooper. Since this game does not feature an in-game test, I will run through a section of the game and measure average FPS using Fraps 2.9.3.


Video Settings:



















The Sapphire HD 4870 was slightly behind in the COD:4 Tests.


World in Conflict is a newly released DX10, Real Time Strategy game that simulates the all-out war the world hopes never comes. The difference in this RTS game is that it is not the typical "generate wealth and build" type of game. Instead, you advance by conquering your foe.


Video Settings:




















It was just about even across the board for the HD 4870 cards.


Call of Juarez is a DX10, first-person shooter set in the Wild West of the late 1800's. The game is inspired, in part, by the movies of the Wild West genre of the seventies and eighties. The game can be played in both single player and multiplayer modes. The game focuses on realistic graphics and gameplay designed to take advantage of the latest video cards on the market.


Video Settings:



















The Sapphire HD 4870 was about average for what the other HD 4870 cards were.


Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts is the latest chapter in the Company of Heroes series. The scene is WWII. The mission is Operation Market Garden, the first allied attempt to break into the Third Reich. Play as the British or Germans. This Real Time Strategy game is brought to us by Relic Entertainment.


Video Settings:




















The sweetspot seemes to be at higher resolutions for the Sapphire HD 4870.


3DMark06 is one of those benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest breaks out. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.






















The HD 4870's were almost even across the board, which is to be expected, but it is nice to see them give the GTX 260 a run for its money.


Like I mentioned earlier in the review the Sapphire HD 4870 comes packed with a lot of extra goodies for us to play with. Let's take a look at what Sapphire puts in the package for us to get the most out of our purchase.



Sapphire has included a slew of extra software for us to use with our video card and for general system use. Included are two well known products from CyberLink, which are the PowerDVD 7 disk and the DVD Suite disk. PowerDVD 7 is a very strong DVD player for your computer. PowerDVD 7 has the ability to play all DVD disks including HD DVD and BluRay Hi-Def disks, which can play on your new Sapphire HD 4870 flawlessly. The DVD Suite allows you to create and edit your own High Definition movies and burn them to disk, as well as general backup and CD burning capabilities.

















The next disk to be included is a full version of Futuremark's 3DMark06 Advanced benchmarking suite. This software allows you to test your systems components and give it a numerical score. With that score you can see how well your system stands up to your peers', based on the hardware you use.


Ruby ROM Volume II is a CD that has extras for you including game demo's, applications, screensaver's and wallpaper for you to get started with your new video card.





Sapphire has also generously included a 2GB thumb drive which also contains a wealth of stuff on it. There are several videos that show the different technologies that are included in the HD 4870 video card like ATI AVIVO Technology and gaming enhancements with DirectX 10. There is also a link to the Sapphire Gaming site and several wallpapers for you to show off your new hardare choice.






The Sapphire HD 4870 performed exactly where the other HD 4870 cards have been and that is right on top of NVIDIA's GTX 260 series cards. I cannot stress enough the great performance that is being achieved by the HD 4870 cards for the price that it is to purchase them. Here you can have a top performing card without breaking the piggy bank. Sapphire sweetens the deal with all of the goodies and extras that they include, such as the 2GB thumb drive and full versions of popular software which to me always makes me feel like I am getting a better deal.

With the hotfix, it looks as if the temperature problem is within the Catalyst Control Center, because the Sapphire HD 4870 card idles around 62C and loads around 75C, instead of the higher temperatures shown in the earlier HD 4870 reviews. I still, even after several reviews of the HD 4870 video cards, am impressed with the performance that these cards offer, for the price that they are sold at. Before, buying two high end video cards for a multi-GPU system was only for the true enthusiast or gamer with deep pockets, but CrossFireX is now an affordable way to have a great multi-GPU solution for not a lot of money. I am surprised about the low overclocking headroom for the HD 4870 cards. Although I was able to achieve the highest overclocks on the Sapphire HD 4870, I was right at the limits allowable in the Overdrive section of the Catalyst Control Center. Because of this, the overclocking scores were not impressive, but the stock scores were outstanding enough for me to recommend this video card to any one looking to upgrade or build their system from scratch. For the price, you could not get a better deal.