Sapphire Radeon HD 6870 DiRT 3 Special Edition Review

Geekspeak411 - 2011-10-14 14:03:48 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: Geekspeak411   
Reviewed on: October 17, 2011
Price: $210

Introduction:

AMD's HD 6000 series cards are nothing new to the market, passing through the pages of OCC since early this year. As the year has gone by, there have been small variations made by each vendor in an attempt to stand out in the heavily crowded market with small variations in price tagged on with each revision. This late after the series release, it is expected that all the supply/quality quirks have been worked out, allowing vendors to produce top-shelf revisions that introduce new features on top of highly binned chips, leading to the new best-in-class card until the next series release. Such tweaks can mean slightly less power consumption, better heatsinks offering lower temperatures, voltage modding, and factory warrantied overclocks.

With the Sapphire Radeon HD 6870 DiRT 3 Special Edition Graphics Card, the ante is upped through a dual-fan cooler, a decent factory overclock over reference speeds, and an included copy of DiRT 3 to top it all off. Prices in the market are cutthroat with so much direct competition, but Sapphire brings this card with all its additional features at around $210, which is around $60 more than the cheapest cards available. Of course, for that money, 20MHz is added, the dual-fan cooler is fastened on, and you're getting a video game out of the deal, so I would say the price is decently competitive. Talk is talk though, let's take a look at what that $210 will actually get you.

 

Closer Look:

The retail box for the Sapphire Radeon HD 6870 DiRT 3 Special Edition is very sleek. The box takes on an all-black color scheme accented only by blue fractals radiating from the DiRT rally car exploding from the center left of the packaging. To the right, Radeon HD 6870 is proudly emblazoned, surrounded by logos accounting for the card's Overclock Edition status, the DiRT 3 Game Code included, the 1GB of on-board GDDR5, and the bundled HDMI cable. Populating the edges are the Sapphire logo in the top left, the "Get Radeon in your system" in the top right, and AMD logos in the bottom, to the left of basic product features. On the rear of the packaging, Sapphire went with the single language design cue and offers very energetic introductions to both the graphics card and the bundled video game, as well as listing key features of the card with descriptive snippets and logos for each. Along the bottom, Sapphire proudly touts the company's achievement of over 2500 awards received since 2002 with a handful of award logos presented, including OCC's own logo in the top row, second from the left. Overall, I am very happy with the packaging displayed here — it is very clean and polished, not gaudy like some.

 

 

 

Inside, a standard brown packing box opens up to a moulded paper carton for the card and an accessory tray below that keeps all the bundled content together. Accessories include a driver disc, a case sticker, a card containing the DiRT 3 game code, a Sapphire Gold Club registration card, a Quick Installation Guide, and a bevy of adapters. The card includes two Molex to PCI-E 6-pin power adapters, a DVI to VGA adapter for those poor souls still upgrading their graphics card and outputting to a VGA device, a CrossFire link cable, and two beautiful additions I have not seen before: an HDMI cable and a mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort adapter. Overall I am very satisfied with the accessory bundle provided here. It is right on par with the expectations of this price range.

 

 

 

 

On the next page, I will take a look at the graphics card itself!

Closer Look:

With the packaging out of the way and the bubble wrap, antistatic bag removed, I am able to take my first close look at this card. Fittingly, the heatsink dominates the outward appearance of the card with its dual fans setting an imposing figure. Judging from the visible heatpipes, the dual fans, and Sapphire's reputation for aftermarket cooling solutions such as its Vapor-X technology, I have no doubts that this heatsink will perform admirably. On the back of the card, the PCB lies uncovered, allowing heat to diffuse from the card unobstructed. With the core clock shipping at 920MHz, there will be a lot of heat radiating from the GPU, which will need to be tamed to remain stable. Heatpipes have become much more prevalent in cooling solutions in recent releases, which is a trend I am quite fond of. On the Sapphire HD 6870 DiRT 3 Special Edition cooling solution, the heatpipes look to be of pretty high quality, especially next to the pretty cheap plastic shroud. But I'll take a closer look at that down the page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The card has the standard assortment of ports for current 6870 editions, sporting two DVI ports, an HDMI port, and dual mini DisplayPorts, leaving options open when considering Eyefinity setups and 3D. There should be no issues hooking in your desired graphics setup combined with the bundled adapters and cable. On the power front, the card requires dual 6-pin PCI-E power connections from a power supply, which can also be obtained from two Molex connections using the bundled adapters.

 

 

 

As with the rest of the 6870 cards, this DiRT 3 Special Edition card is CrossFireX-capable with the CrossFire bridge conveniently located in the standard position, allowing the card to be linked to any other compatible 6000 series card, as opposed to SLI, which requires identical models to see scalar performance boosts.

 

Removing the heatsink allows me to get a closer look at just what is being provided to cool this powerful card. There are only a few cards that can boast having TWO cooling fans on board. It really looks impressive and should keep temperatures low without creating a lot of ambient noise. This looks to be a huge improvement over the reference design. The thermal paste appears to be adequate and while the two heatpipes are not directly contacting the GPU, they are nicely sandwiched between the surrounding plates.

 

 

 

The GPU has a nice core overclock at 920MHz, but this is an OC Edition card; that's by no means the echelon of this card's performance. To reach the upper crest of pixel pushing ability, ideal cooling and quality components are required. Everything looks to be primed for performance, so I can't wait to push this card to its limits.

 

 

 

That's the card in pictures, but they're only a minor part of the story. I want to see the card on paper to see what it should be capable of and then I want to burn it in with the OCC benchmark suite!

Specifications:

Output
1 x Dual-Link DVI
1 x HDMI 1.4a
2 x Mini-DisplayPort
1 x Single-Link DVI-D
DisplayPort 1.2
GPU
920 MHz Core Clock
40 nm Chip
1120 x Stream Processors
Memory
1024 MB Size
256-bit GDDR5
4200 MHz Effective
Dimension
245(L)x110(W)x36(H) mm
Software
Driver CD
SAPPHIRE TriXX Utility
1 x DiRT®3 Coupon
Accessory
DVI to VGA Adapter
Mini-DP to DP Cable
6-PIN to 4-PIN Power Cable x 2

 

Features:

 

 

All information courtesy of Sapphiretech @ http://www.sapphiretech.com/presentation/product/?cid=1&gid=3&sgid=1037&pid=1312&psn=&lid=1&leg=0

Testing:

Testing of the Sapphire HD6870 DiRT 3 Special Edition will consist of running it and comparison cards through the OverclockersClub.com suite of games and synthetic benchmarks. This will test the performance against many popular competitors. Comparisons will be made to cards of equal and greater capabilities to show where they fall on the performance ladder. The games used are some of today's newest and most popular titles to give you an idea of how the cards perform relative to each other.

The system specifications will remain the same throughout the testing. No adjustment will be made to the respective control panels during the testing, with the exception of the 3DMark Vantage testing, where PhysX will be disabled in the NVIDIA control panel, if applicable. I will test the cards at stock speeds, then overclocked in order to see the effects of any increases in clock speed. The cards are placed in order from highest to lowest performing in the graphs to show where the cards fall by comparison. The drivers used are the 11.7 Catalyst drivers for AMD-based cards and the 275.27 for NVIDIA-based cards.

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

With so much time from release to perfect the product, I expected great numbers from the card right from the get go. I set right in to it, using Furmark to warm up the card. I then used AMD's de facto Catalyst performance section to begin pushing the clocks up. After I maxed out the Catalyst utility with the card still purring along, I opened up Sapphire's own TriXX overclocking utility. With the TriXX utility, I was able to achieve a new OCC high clock on the 6870 series of 1040MHz on the core. The memory was also able to achieve an impressive clock, coming in at 1250MHz. This should be pretty fun to watch in the testing.

 

 

 

Maximum Clock Speeds:

Testing for the maximum clock speed consists of looping Crysis Warhead and Unigine 2.5 for 30 minutes each to see where the clock speeds will fail when pushed. If the clock speed adjustment fails, then the clock speeds and tests are rerun until they pass the full hour of testing.

 

 

  1. Aliens vs. Predator
  2. Metro 2033
  3. Civilization V
  4. HAWX 2
  5. Just Cause 2
  6. Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.5
  7. Mafia II
  8. Battlefield: Bad Company 2
  9. Lost Planet 2
  10. 3DMark 11
  1. Temperature
  2. Power Consumption

Aliens vs. Predator, developed by Rebellion Developments, is a science fiction first-person shooter and is a remake of its 1999 game. The game is based off the two popular sci fi franchises. In this game, you have the option of playing through the single player campaigns as one of three species, the Alien, the Predator, and the Human Colonial Marine. The Game uses Rebellion's Asura game engine that supports Dynamic Lighting, Shader Model 3.0, Soft Particle systems, and Physics. To test this game I will be using the Aliens vs. Predator benchmark tool with the settings listed below. All DirectX 11 features are enabled.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is similarity between the two 6870s, while the overclock leads to nice gains in the overclock testing.

Testing:

Part first-person shooter, part survival horror, Metro 2033 is based on the novel of the same name, written by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. You play as Artyom in a post-apocalyptic Moscow, where you'll spend most of your time traversing the metro system, with occasional trips to the surface. Despite the dark atmosphere and bleak future for mankind, the visuals are anything but bleak. Powered by the 4A Engine, with support for DirectX 11, NVIDIA PhysX and NVIDIA 3D Vision, the tunnels are extremely varied — in your travels, you'll come across human outposts, bandit settlements, and even half-eaten corpses. Ensuring you feel all the tension, there is no map and no health meter. Get lost without enough gas mask filters and adrenaline shots and you may soon wind up as one of those half-eaten corpses — chewed up by some horrifying manner of irradiated beast that hides in the shadows just waiting for some hapless soul to wander by.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once again, the DiRT 3 Special Edition card achieves similar results to its stock counterpart and jumps ahead with its high overclock.

Testing:

Civilization V is a turn-based strategy game. The premise is to play as one of 18 civilizations and lead the civilization from the "dawn of man" up to the space age. This latest iteration of the Civilization series uses a new game engine and massive changes to the way the AI is used throughout the game. Civilization V is developed by Firaxis Games and is published by 2K games and was released for Windows in September of 2010. Testing will be done using actual game play with FPS measured by Fraps through a series of five turns,150 turns into the game.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That overclock really gives the Sapphire DiRT 3 Special Edition card a strong advantage in the testing results.

Testing:

H.A.W.X. 2 is an arcade-style flight game and is the sequel to H.A.W.X.. The Game is published by Ubisoft and was released in late 2010.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything looks to be in order here — good show so far!

Testing:

Published by Capcom, Lost Planet 2 is the sequel to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition and uses the MT Framework 2.0 engine. The storyline takes place on the fictional planet E.D.N. III some 10 years after the events of the first game. This time, the snow cover is gone and has been replaced by a tropical landscape. With this new rendition of the game comes the ability to run it using either DirectX 9 or 11. Along with this ability comes the chance to use that new DX 11 hardware to effect. DX11 features in this game include tessellation, displacement mapping on water, bosses and player characters, soft body compute shaders on “Boss” characters, and wave simulation by way of DirectCompute. This gives you smoke that is lifelike and reacts to inputs, water that looks and reacts how you would expect it to in a "real life" situation, and "Boss" characters rendered with more depth and detail. If the latest graphics quality settings are not enough, NVIDIA has included support behind this game for both 3D Vision and 3D Vision Surround, which gives you 3D effects over multiple screens. There is no better way to see how a game will perform than to test it out. Capcom has made this easy with a downloadable benchmark that we will be using to test out a cross section of today's currently available performance video cards.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All is well on the benchmark front — this is a mean overclock for 6870 cards.

Testing:

Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.5 is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on the Unigine engine. This was the first DX 11 benchmark out to allow testing of DX 11 features. What sets the Heaven Benchmark apart is the addition of hardware tessellation, available in three modes — Moderate, Normal and Extreme. Although tessellation requires a video card with DirectX 11 support and Windows Vista/7, the Heaven Benchmark also supports DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11 and OpenGL 4.0. Visually, it features beautiful floating islands that contain a tiny village and extremely detailed architecture.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The virtual world was rendered faster with the DiRT 3 Special Edition card than with any other 6870 we've previously tested.

Testing:

Just Cause 2 is a third-person shooter that takes place on the fictional island of Panau in Southeast Asia. In this sequel to 2006's Just Cause, you return as Agent Rico Rodriguez to overthrow an evil dictator and confront your former boss. When you don't feel like following the main story line, you're free to roam the island, pulling off crazy stunts and causing massive destruction in your wake, all beautifully rendered by the Avalanche Engine 2.0. In the end, that's what the game basically boils down to — crazy stunts and blowing things up. In fact, blowing things up and wreaking havoc is actually necessary to unlock new missions and items.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wonder of wonders, explosions continued exploding sans sane reasoning in Just Cause 2. When overclocked, the DiRT 3 Special Edition did it more smoothly.

Testing:

Mafia II is a third-person shooter that puts you into the shoes of a poor, Sicilian immigrant, Vito Scarletta. Vito has just returned home from serving overseas in the liberation of fascist Italy — to avoid serving his jail sentence — to find his family in debt. The debt must be repaid by the end of the week, and his childhood friend, Joe Barbaro, conveniently happens to have questionable connections that he assures will help Vito clear the debt by that time. As such, Vito is sucked into a world of quick cash. Released in North America for PC in August of 2010, the game was developed by 2K Czech published by 2K and uses the Illusion 1.3 game engine.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing special here, so moving right along.

Testing:

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is a first-person shooter developed by EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE) and published by Electronic Arts for Windows, PS3, and XBox. This game is part of the Battlefield franchise and uses the Frostbite 1.5 Engine, allowing for destructible environments. You can play the single player campaign or multiplayer with five different game modes. Released in March 2010, it has so far sold in excess of six million copies.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you're a multiplayer FPS fan, the 6870 DiRT 3 Special Edition is a solid choice.

Testing:

3DMark 11 is the next installment for Futuremark in the 3DMark series with Vantage as its predecessor. The name implies that this benchmark is for Microsoft DirectX 11 and with an unintended coincidence, the name matches the upcoming date in number (which was the naming scheme to some prior versions of 3DMark nonetheless). 3DMark 11 is designed solely for DirectX 11 so Windows Vista or 7 are required along with a DirectX 11 graphics card in order to run this test. The Basic Edition has unlimited free tests on performance mode whereas Vantage only allowed for a single test run. The advanced edition costs $19.95 and unlocks nearly all of the features of the benchmark and the professional edition runs $995.00 and is mainly suited for corporate use. The new benchmark contains six tests, four of which are aimed only at graphical testing, one to test for physics handling and one to combine graphics and physics testing together. The open source Bullet Physics library is used for physics simulations and although not as mainstream as Havok or PhysX, it still seems to be a popular choice.

With the new benchmark comes two new demos that can be watched, both based on the tests but unlike the tests, these contain basic audio. The first demo is titled "Deep Sea" and have a few vessels exploring what looks to be a sunken U-Boat. The second demo is titled "High Temple" and is similar to South American tribal ruins with statues and the occasional vehicle around. The demos are simple in that they have no story, they are really just a demonstration of what the testing will be like. The vehicles have the logos of the sponsors MSI and Antec on their sides with the sponsorships helping to make the basic edition free. The four graphics tests are slight variants of the demos. I will use the three benchmark test preset levels to test the performance of each card. The presets are used as they are comparable to what can be run with the free version so that results can be compared across more than just a custom set of test parameters.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sapphire Radeon HD6870 DiRT 3 Special Edition card is "synthetic benchmark approved" with the overclock leading to good gains.

Testing:

Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using Crysis Warhead with MSI's Afterburner overclocking utility for temperature monitoring. I will be using a resolution of 1920x1200 using 8xAA. I will use a 10-run sequence to run the test, ensuring that the maximum thermal threshold is reached. The fan speed will be left in the control of the driver package and video card's BIOS for the stock load test, with the fan moved to 100% to see the best possible cooling scenario for the overclocked load test. The idle test will be a 20-minute cooldown with the fan speeds left on automatic in the stock speed testing and bumped up to 100% when running the overclocked idle and load testing.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

True to Sapphire form, the large heatsink performed admirably in the thermal testing. The two large fans were able to keep the card running cool at barely audible noise levels. When cranked to full, the noise level went up a little bit, but not significantly, and the temperatures still dropped like rocks even at the high overclock. Great performance here.

Testing:

Power Consumption of the system will be measured in both idle states and loaded states and will take into account the peak voltage of the system with each video card installed. The idle results will be measured after 15 minutes of inactivity on the system. For load testing, I will once again use Crysis Warhead run at 2560x1600 using the Gamer setting with 8xAA looping the Avalanche benchmark scenario.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While not generally the primary concern for performance seekers when choosing new hardware, it is helpful on the energy bill to have more efficient parts. The 6870 did just fine in testing, with overclocking providing exactly the jump in wattage I'd expect.

Conclusion:

The 6870 reference design is nothing new, the performance numbers have been out for a while, and vendors need to spice up their lines mid release cycles to keep consumers interested in their cards for the next big release. The key word here is refinement. Sapphire has taken this series through its paces before and now puts all its previous and acquired knowledge together to create what it hopes is the most stable card available, offering benefits of higher speeds and cooler temperatures, while keeping the price lower than a flagship release.

The big discovery here is a card that was able to clock higher than any 6870 we've had here at OverclockersClub. This led to great performance comparatively to the reference design and the realization that maybe there's a little bit more to be had from the 6870 line. The huge dual-fan cooler no doubt contributed to the rock star performance and successfully kept temperatures more than reasonable with moderate interruption to ambient noise. Sapphire's TriXX utility is one of my favorites throughout the industry competitors. It is very simple to understand and is capable of achieving much higher overclocks than the utility embedded in the Catalyst Control Center.

The primary area where the Sapphire Radeon HD6870 DiRT 3 Special Edition graphics card disappointed me was the price. While $210 is not unreasonable by any means, I do not feel like it is extremely competitive with the current market that goes as low as the $150 range. Yes, the value is there when justified by extreme overclocks and low noise, but I still believe there is a bit too much inflation to really remain neutral. DiRT 3 is a great game — it's one of the flagship Eyefinity supporters — but I don't really think it's an acceptable reason to hike up the price. Overall though, this is a rocking card with a rocking bundle. I have no issues recommending it to anyone interested in getting a 6870 specifically, or looking for a second to throw into CrossFire. It is not a blow-your-socks-off, revolutionary release, but that doesn't by any means make it any less of a contribution to the market that adds flavor and vitality. This is a good card for those who are looking for what is offered here and can make use of all the bundled inclusions. If the extras aren't necessary, or the overclock won't be taken advantage of, then I would advise looking elsewhere.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: