Sapphire HD4870 X2 Review

ccokeman - 2008-08-06 07:09:42 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: August 11, 2008
Price: $500 - $550

Introduction:

In the world of fast moving computer components, new technology is arriving each and every day for our computing pleasure. The latest in the graphics cards is the HD4800 series, which has taken the video market by storm. Now, ATI has stepped it up a bit with the introduction of the HD 4870X2 graphics card. The HD 4870X2 essentially takes two HD 4870 cards and mates them into one card, in a sort of CrossFire combination to increase performance and expand multi-GPU possibilities beyond the current level of performance. Will the addition of a newer PCI-E 2.0 bridge chip allow a performance increase over the standard CrossFire configuration of two single GPU cards? How about the 2GB of GDDR5 memory running at 900MHz, not to mention the dual RV770 GPU cores running at 750MHz? On paper, the HD 4870X2 looks very stout. Can it tame the GTX 280 as well as the 9800GX2 from Nvidia?

To determine its performance, we are going to be taking a look at the Sapphire HD 4870X2 video card to see how well this multi-GPU setup performs. A few weeks ago, we saw the awesome performance of the Sapphire HD 4870 single GPU card that put Nvidia on notice with the performance value that the HD 4870 brings to the table. So much so, that the top of the line GTX 280 sells for around $430 instead of the initial $650 price. With expectations high, let's see how this beauty performs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Closer Look:

The front panel of the retail package for the Sapphire HD 4870X2 shows "Ruby", locked and loaded. Highlights include the list of software that comes with the HD 4870X2; included are Futuremark's 3DMark Vantage, two pieces of software from CyberLink, and the Ruby ROM that includes "Games and More". Additional information is listed, and shows that the Sapphire HD 4870X2 has 2GB of GDDR5 memory, that the card is an X2 model, and is CrossFireX capable. The rear panel goes into detail about some of the capabilities of the card, highlights over 700 awards won since 2002, and features the phrase "Liberation from Limitation." The sides contain the list of requirements to use the HD 4870X2, and the list is pretty substantial.

 

 

 

Inside the well done exterior packaging is the container that holds this beast of a card. Rather than the two pieces of open cell foam usually used is a foam shell that securely holds the video card in place. Under this foam structure is the box that contains the rather large bundle of accessories for the Sapphire HD 4870X2. It seems as of late that Sapphire is bringing a little more value to the table with the bundles they have been including. This bundle looks quite similar to the one included with the Sapphire HD 4850 Toxic

 

 

The bundle includes software from CyberLink, Futuremark, the Ruby ROM, and driver disk. Connectivity comes in the form of HDMI to DVI and DVI to D-sub adapters, an HD to RCA video out, and an HD to component dongle. A CrossFire bridge connection is included, in case you want to run two of these monsters in a CrossFireX configuration. Four GPU cores would be sick! If your power supply does not have the required 8-pin and 6-pin PCI-E power connections, have no fear - Sapphire has included adapters just in case. Although it is not the optimal solution, it will get the card up and running.

 

 

 

Now that everything has carefully been removed from the packaging, let's take a better look at the card in all of its glory.

Closer Look:

The one thing that comes to mind as soon as you look at this card is how similar it looks to the HD 3870X2, but looks are where the similarities end. The Sapphire HD 4870X2 is PCI-E 2.0 compliant, supports DirectX 10.1, Shader Model 4.1, Unified Video Decoder, and 7.1 surround sound. This HD 4870X2 features a clock speed of 750MHz on the 55nm RV770 GPU cores, and 900MHz on the 2GB of GDDR5 memory running on a 256-bit bus. So just what else does the HD 4870X2 bring to the table? How about 2.4 teraflops of computing power, almost two billion transistors, 1600 streaming processors, and almost twice the memory bandwidth of the HD 3870X2. How bout that for some muscle? This card is big, and measures 10.75 inches long from the expansion slot bracket to the end of the black PCB. Making sure you have a case and power supply that can handle the size and power requirements is a must. ATI/AMD even has a list of certified power supplies and chassis that you can choose to use for your build. This card uses a dual-slot cooling solution that physically takes up two expansion slots. To use the HD 4870X2 in a CrossFireX configuration, you will need a motherboard that has two PCI-E x16 slots.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sapphire HD 4870X2 has three display ports for every option you might need. There are two Dual-Link DVI ports which can support multiple monitors from one card, and a Video out port which provides component and S-Video options using the supplied adapters. Unlike the HD 4870, which uses two 6-pin power ports, the HD 4870X2 uses both a 6-pin and an 8-pin PCI-E power plug to provide the necessary juice to run this beast. The power plugs are on the top edge of the card near the rear, one on each side of the blower fan. The HD 4870X2 also eliminates one of the CrossFire bridge connections since you only need one other card to achieve a multi-card CrossFireX setup, instead of three or more.

 

 

 

The HD 4870X2 uses a dual-slot cooler design to maximize the airflow and lower the temperatures of the components. This leads to better performance and a longer life span of the card. The cooler designed for the HD 4870X2 is a multi-part design; there are two copper heatsinks used to cool the GPU cores. The airflow through the shroud blows through both heatsinks. This will lead to the second GPU core always running warmer than the first. The rear of the card is covered by a thin aluminum heatsink that has the sole responsibility of cooling the Hynix memory modules on the back side of the card. The last part houses the two GPU heatsinks and is attached to the shroud. This aluminum plate contacts the memory, as well as many parts of the power circuitry, to reduce the temperatures of these components. In addition to the plate, there are additional cooling "pins" that are used to create more surface area to help with the cooling of the card. All of the air blown through the heatsink assembly is pushed out the back of the chassis, unlike the HD 4850 series of cards.

 

 

 

With the heatsink assembly removed, we can get a better look at what makes this beast a winner. Unlike single GPU setups, the HD 4870X2 uses a three chip design. There are two 55nm RV770 GPU cores and a PCI Express bridge chip. The Bridge chip is made by PLX, and is a second revision chip which supports PCI Express 2.0 unlike the one in the HD 3870X2 cards which used PCI Express 1.0. The HD 4870X2 has the same clock speeds as the HD 4870 for the CPU and memory - at 750MHz and 900MHz (3600MHz effective) respectively. The difference with the HD 4870X2 is that there's a total of 2GB GDDR5 (1GB for each GPU) instead of the 512MB that the HD 4870 has. Also, the HD 4870X2 uses two 256-bit memory interfaces instead of just one, since each core has its own memory. The memory for the Sapphire HD 4870X2 is made by Hynix, uses modules listed as H5GQ1H24MJR TOC, and are rated for 4.0GB/sec.

 

 

 

Now that you have seen the card from top to bottom and down to the bare bones, let's see what it can do.

 

Closer Look:

To install the drivers for the Sapphire HD 4870X2, 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. The drivers used in this review are the 8.52.2. The options available with the installation GUI include a link to the online manual in several different languages, and a link to download the latest Adobe Acrobat Reader.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you click the ATI Easy Install option, the Catalyst Control Center installation will begin. This process installs all of the necessary drivers needed to make the Sapphire HD 4870X2 fully functional. After finishing the installation, the customary reboot is required.

 

 

 

As an added bonus, Sapphire has included several pieces of software from CyberLink. Everyone has heard of PowerDVD, a program to play all of the DVD, Blu-ray, and HD content you desire. DVD Suite includes PowerProducer 4, PowerDirector 5, Power2Go 5.5, and Medi@Show 3, as well as trial versions of Power Backup 2.5, PowerDVD Copy, and LabelPrint 2. As nice as these tools are, Sapphire has also included a licensed version of the latest benchmark from Futuremark, 3DMark Vantage.

 

 

Last, but not least, is the Ruby ROM Version 11 disk. This disk contains game demos, wallpapers, screen savers, and several applications for you to use.

 

 

 

Now that the utilities, drivers, and extras are installed, let's see if the X2 can deliver on the expectations.

 

Closer Look:

The Catalyst Control Center is where all of the settings for the Sapphire HD 4870X2 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.

 

 

Sadly, the CrossFire option was not available on this driver release. This means that I will need to resort to other applications to verify if CrossFire is operational.

 

Specifications:

GPU
RV770
Fabrication Process
55nm
Graphics Clock
750 MHz
Memory Clock 900 MHz / 3600MHz effective
Memory Interface 2 x 256-bit
Memory Size
1024MB x 2
Memory Type
GDDR5
RAMDACs
400 MHz
Stream Processors
1600
HDCP Support
Yes
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 1 x 6-pin  1 x 8-pin

 

Features:

Testing:

At OverclockersClub.com, we use a series of benchmarks to stress the graphics card. We will use a series of newer gaming benchmarks, as well as some that are more seasoned, to show how well the Sapphire HD 4870X2 compares to some of the other enthusiast video cards on the market. We'll be using both single and dual GPU models to demonstrate the performance that can be gained from a dual card solution, if any at all. All driver settings and clock speeds will be left at factory defaults for both the CPU and GPU, in an effort to minimize or eliminate any variables that could impact the results. The test system used in this review is listed below. After testing the card at stock speeds, I'll overclock it to see what kind of performance can be gained. All testing is done with the default settings in the respective Control Panels, as well as default settings in the BIOS of the motherboard used in this test.

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

Most of the video cards I have looked at lately have a good bit of headroom for the enthusiast crowd. I was expecting the HD 4870X2 to offer that same level of overhead for overclocking. The HD 4870X2 gave up a little bit of love, but not as much as I had hoped for - 55MHz on the GPU cores and 50MHz on the GDDR5 memory. Both pretty low numbers when you consider that this video card is an enthusiast-level card. I suspect that heat is the main culprit in limiting the overclocking here. With temperatures in the range of 90+ degrees Celsius, heat is a major concern, and may ultimately be the problem to solve to get more overhead. At 955MHz on the memory, I ended up with large colored blotches on the screen. At 950MHz, the problem disappeared. On the GPU cores, once I got over 805MHz, I was greeted with lockups and reboots. Setting up a profile in the Catalyst Control Center and modifying the XML file for the profile did not help, as it has with the 4850 and 4870 video cards. The fan speed never changed, so I was left with a hot card and no way to cool it down any more than the drivers would allow; as with any piece of hardware, your mileage may vary. Knowing what my limits were on the clock speeds, I decided to see how much the CPU clock speed was impacting performance. So I pulled the Q9450 and put in my trusty QX9770 to get some real clock speed to find out what kind of performance difference the CPU makes. At 400x10, the performance did not let me down. In 3DMark06 at the default 1280x1024 resolution, the combo did not disappoint - 22520 was the score I achieved. This is higher than I have been able to manage with the 9800 GX2. In 3DMark Vantage, the performance score went up 2500 points to 15234. Both levels of performance are pretty amazing for the Sapphire HD 4870X2.

 

 

 

Benchmarks:

  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

Testing:

Crysis has been out for quite some time now. In that time, there has yet to be a single or multi-GPU setup that can fully showcase the graphics performance of the game.  The Crysis single player demo includes both CPU and GPU benchmarks to test the performance of your processor and video card.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Putting both GPUs on one PCB did not have the desired effect on performance in Crysis. At 1920x1200, performance was a bit closer to the dual discrete HD 4870 cards' performance.

Testing:

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:

 


 

 

 

 

 

The scores in this benchmark are closer to those of the single HD 4870. It's kind of surprising that the scores for the discrete cards are higher.

Testing:

BioShock is one of the creepier games out in the wild, chronicling the building of a perfect Utopian society undersea gone horribly wrong - its inhabitants driven mad with the introduction of tonics and genetic modifications. Now, Rapture is just a shadow of its former glory, with little girls looting the dead of what little they have left, while being shadowed by guardians known as "Big Daddies" 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. The environment as well as the story line will wrap you up for hours on end.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Performance just does not drop off as the resolution increases. Steadily holding to the 148 frames per second range, the HD 4870X2 is the video card to have at the higher resolutions.

Testing:

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, once the resolution is increased to 1680x1050 and higher, the performance of the 4870X2 scales nicely. The FPS differential between the lowest and highest resolution tested was a mere 9 frames per second. It just does not tail off like the other comparison video cards. The 9800 GX2 does well at the lower resolutions, but it just gets hammered at the higher resolutions.

Testing:

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Based on the scores, it seems the HD 4870X2 does not perform as well as the rest of the comparison cards. At 1920x1200, the HD 4870XX2 is outperformed by all of the cards but the single HD 4870.

Testing:

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

ATI-based cards have usually done well in this benchmark; the HD 4870X2 does, as well. The performance is just far and away better than the comparison cards. The differential between the dual card setup versus the dual GPU setup is more than I was expecting.

Testing:

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was no change in performance as the resolution increased, mirroring the performance of the two card HD 4870 CrossFire setup.

Testing:

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.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At any resolution, the Sapphire HD 4870X2 is the card to have, if benchmarking 3DMark06 is your "game" of choice. Far and away, the performance leader in this comparison of high-end graphics cards is the HD 4870X2.

Conclusion:

The performance of the HD 4870X2 from Sapphire, at times, was a little disappointing. In some of the benchmarks, the dual card setup was simply faster; after running the Crysis and Knights of the Sea benchmarks it was not looking good. One positive was that as the resolution increased, the performance did not drop off as dramatically as the dual HD 4870 CrossFire setup. After these two benches, things started looking better. While testing the Sapphire HD 4870X2, I found that it performed best at the higher resolutions, when the other cards would slow down - usually at 1680x1050 and higher. In 3DMark06, it was the runaway performance leader, scoring almost 16000 points with a 2.6GHz processor. Putting in a QX9770 CPU and clocking it up to 4.0GHz, as well as pushing the clock speeds on the HD 4870X2, brought a 3DMark06 score of 22520 points - higher than I have ever benched a single card at! This is higher than the 9800 GX2 that I recently reviewed. 3DMark Vantage is not part of our suite of benchmarks yet, but since the benchmark was part of the bundle, I ran it to see where the performance fell. With the CPU and GPU at their stock settings, the performance test was run, and scored 12786 marks. With the same QX9770 clocks, and the Sapphire card at its maximum overclock of 805/950MHz, I scored 15234 in Vantage at the "Performance" preset. The "Extreme" preset yielded 6977 at stock settings. Again, far and away ahead of any card I have run.

Overclocking the HD 4870X2 was a bit challenging due to a couple things. The initial drivers were a bit buggy, and would crash the benchmarks used in this review. After getting a second set of drivers, the issue was resolved. The other issue was the temperatures of the cores, and ultimately the whole heatsink assembly. This assembly is what is used to cool the memory as well as the two GPU cores. The heat generated caused the memory overclock to fail above 950MHz - only a 50MHz increase over the stock speeds. The GPU cores did not fare much better at 805MHz, just a 55MHz increase. With load temperatures well into the 90 degree Celsius range, with no way to manually increase the fan speed, this was all that was possible with the stock cooling.

If the performance at higher resolutions is appealing, then putting two of these cards together in a CrossFireX configuration should be mind blowing. Playing your favorite games in full HD at 2560x1600 ought to be an amazing experience. Along that vein, watching the latest HD and Blu-ray videos with 7.1 surround sound via an HDMI cable would make this an exceptional card to use in a high-end HTPC, albeit a bit extreme on the high-end side. Price-wise, the Sapphire HD 4870X2 should come in around the $550 dollar mark, putting it right above the level of the Nvidia GTX 280 and 9800 GX2. So with performance at the higher resolutions comparable to, or better than, both of those comparison cards on our test system, the HD 4870X2 could be a wise choice.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: