Sapphire HD 4890 Vapor-X 2GB Review

ccokeman - 2009-06-24 20:11:13 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: July 24, 2009
Price: $249.99


Since 2007, when Sapphire released the HD3870 Atomic that was reviewed here on OCC, the company has used the Vapor change cooling concept to cool just about all of its upper end enthusiast grade video cards. The one exception that comes to mind is the HD4870x2 Atomic that was water cooled. By using this cooling solution and using better parts, Sapphire's top end cards have that extra little bit in the tank when it comes to cooling and overclocking potential when compared to the reference cards.

The Sapphire HD4890 Vapor-X 2GB model is basically the 1GB model with an additional 1GB of GDDR5 memory to try and help out on the top end resolutions. The clock speeds remain identical at 870MHz on the 55nm RV790 core and 1050MHz on the not one but two gigabytes of GDDR5 memory. If the 2GB uses the same Quimonda memory that is rated for 1000MHz, I would expect the overall performance and overclocking to be very similar. Will the extra memory memory on the HD4890 Vapor-X 2GB make a difference in performance or will it just be an added bonus to help with a bit of future proofing? Will it be harder to overclock with the extra memory? Questions that definitley need answering as I have seen more than one post in forums asking just that question. Let's find out!






Closer Look:

The front and rear panels of the Sapphire HD 4890 Vapor-X 2GB mirror that of the 1GB model with, of course, the memory size listed in the top right corner showing 2GB. The front panel highlights the Vapor-X cooling system on the card and lists the features you can expect to use on the card. Native HDMI with seven channel sound, Crossfire-X capable with up to four cards on a supporting motherboard, Display Port output and the software titles included. The rear panel expands on this information shown on the front panel including the fact that the card uses Black Diamond chokes and solid capacitors.



When you open up the package, what you have is a box inside the liner that carries the card and all of the accessories. The Vapor-X HD 4890 2GB is stored in a plastic shell and is blocked off with foam to prevent the card from moving during shipment. It looks as though Sapphire is doing its part for the environment by using recycled cardboard for the boxes.



The accessory bundle is similar to that of the 1GB Vapor-X model and includes two software titles from Cyberlink, including Power DVD and your very own copy of the DX 10 benchmark 3DMark Vantage from Futuremark. The rest of the bundle includes a Crossfire bridge connection, HDMI to DVI dongle and two power connectors. The reason for the lack of adapters is clearly evident when you look a little closer at the Vapor-X 2GB. You really do not need a bunch of adapters when you have native connectivity with four different outlet types. Our card was delivered with two 4-pin by 6-pin power adapters. A slight faux pas when the card uses both six and 8-pin power connections. Sapphire has assured us that the correct cables will come with the retail cards.



Besides the basics, the one thing the cards have in common is the method of cooling the onboard components. While the implementation may be slightly different, the effect is the same. Both start out with a flat vapor chamber that the memory and GPU core directly contact. From there the solutions differ drastically, but that I will touch on later after seeing how the process works. The vapor plate is used to wick away heat, much the same way a heatpipe does. According to Sapphire's white paper on the vapor plate technology, the liquid inside the vapor plate is something we use each and every day - water, plain and simple. But water boils at 212 degrees F, right? Not when the pressure is reduced by pulling a vacuum. You can see the port where the vacuum was pulled, and the opening has been soldered shut to prevent vacuum loss. Rather than describe how the process works, I will let the blown-up images show just how simple the process really is. The next to last picture is a magnified image of the wicking material that is used in the assembly. From past experience the solution is quite effective at limiting the temperature increases on the HD 4XXX series of video cards from Sapphire. For more information about the technology you can visit Sapphire.




Let's see what makes these two video cards from Sapphire a bit better than the reference design cards.


Closer Look:

Vapor plate cooling technology for video cards was first brought to the market with the Sapphire HD 3870 Atomic Edition card released in January of 2007. From that point forward Sapphire has used the technology on just about all of its higher-end self designed cards as a way of adding an additional value and excellent cooling capabilities. The technology has been proven over and over again from cards that are just barely above stock clocks all the way to the master of the universe Atomic cards. When stock cards push well into the 90C range something needed to be done. Visually, there is not much to differentiate the 1GB Vapor-X HD 4890 from the 2GB model until you flip the card over and see the large finned heatsink on the rear of the card. The voltage regulation circuits are covered with a large passively cooled heatsink. In between the GPU sink and VRM heatsink you can see the Black Diamond chokes that are used to increase efficiency and reduce temperatures.











The Vapor-X comes with not only non standard cooling but non standard display connectivity. The card has four separate outputs, any two of which can be used at one time. The outputs include D-Sub, DVI, HDMI and Display Port. The vent for air to pass out of the chassis has been cut in half to make room for the connectivity options. The rear of the card is dominated by the passive heatsink. While the 1GB model of this card uses two 6-pin PCI-E power connections, the 2GB model uses both an 8-pin and 6-pin configuration. The Vapor-X 2GB model is CrossfireX capable with the addition of another HD 4890, be it Vapor-X or reference.



To cool this card down Sapphire has gone with the tried and true Vapor-X system that uses Vapor Plate technology to remove the heat from the GPU. The VRMs are covered with a large aluminum passive heatsink that does the job. The memory on the back side of the card is covered with a large L shape finned aluminum heasink that keeps the additional 1GB of GDDR5 memory cool. The passive sinks are held on with spring loaded clips while the GPU sink is a bolt down.




The Sapphire HD 4890 Vapor-X 2GB uses the same improved version of the R770 core (now R790) as the HD 4890 that allows for higher clock speeds and features an improved memory architecture. 800 Stream processors, 956 million transistors, 16 ROPs, 256-bit memory interface built upon a 55nm process. The memory used on the HD 4890 Vapor-X is manufactured by Qimonda and is rated for operation at 1000MHz. A major point of difference between the Vapor-X models from Sapphire is the fact that the card uses all solid capacitors and "Black Diamond" chokes that help reduce operating temperature and increase efficiency by 25%. That equates to some serious energy savings.





Closer Look:

To install the drivers for the Sapphire HD 4890, first pop the driver disc into your drive and the Sapphire installation GUI 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 Catalyst 9.4. The options available with the installation GUI include a link to the online manual in several different languages as well as 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 4890 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 the DVD, Blu-Ray, and HD content your heart desires. DVD Suite includes PowerProducer 4, PowerDirector 5, Power2Go 5.5, and [email protected] 3, as well as trial versions of Power Backup 2.5, PowerDVD Copy, and LabelPrint 2. Even though the HD 4890 is far from a typical low powered HTPC card, it does have all the necessary qualifications to be used as one. Using Power DVD to watch a couple movies, I took a quick look through the movies 300 and one of my favorites, Beerfest! CPU utilization is in the low single digits when using the HD 4890 in this capacity by offloading the decoding to the GPU. The HD 4890 is not just a one trick pony.




One program that has been coming in the Catalyst driver suite lately is a distributed computing program from Stanford university called Folding @ Home. This project simulates protein folding to see where problems occur so that hopefully one day we can have a cure for diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer's, BSE (Mad Cow) disease and more. By donating your spare CPU and now GPU cycles, you can help the community as well as humanity by running this program on your system. You can find out more about [email protected] here. Just remember, if you choose to participate, Team 12772 is your team.


The one last application that Sapphire provided with the bundle is for the bench junkie in all of us. Futuremark's 3DMark Vantage is for use with Vista and is a DX 10 benchmark that is unlike its predecessors in that as the resolution (presets) increase, the reliance on the system is minimized and the performance rests solely on the GPU. So instead of paying for it through Futuremark, Sapphire has included it in the bundle, saving you a few more dollars.




Once all of the programs, the drivers, and benchmarks are installed, it's time to see if the 2GB HD 4890 gives a bit more performance with the additional memory.


Closer Look:

The Catalyst Control Center is where all the settings for the Sapphire HD 4890 Vapor-X 2GB are available. There's a lot that that you can dig into but I will touch on only the main screens and their functions.

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.










Display Properties: The Display Properties tab is where you can set the resolution, refresh rate override and the preferred monitor if more than one is available. In the Display options you can manually detect your display or you can choose to let the CCC do this for you.



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 & Color: In the 3D tab you can adjust general image quality settings as well as Anti-Aliasing, Anisotropic Filtering and color schemes. There are also a few settings for DirectX and OpenGL.



AVIVO Video & ATI Overdrive: AVIVO settings allow you to alter the color settings for better viewing. ATI Overdrive gives the user control of the GPU and memory frequencies. For novice users there is an automated clock configuration utility that will find the best overclock for your system settings.





HD 4890 Vapor-X

HD 4890 Vapor-X 2GB

I/O Output:
Display Port+HDMI+DL-DVI+VGA
Display Port+HDMI+DL-DVI+VGA
Core Clock:
Memory Clock:
1050 MHz, 4.2 Gbps
1050 MHz, 4.2 Gbps

Bus Interface

PCI Express 2.0 x16
PCI Express 2.0 x16

Memory Type/ Quantity

1024MB /256bit GDDR5 memory interface
2048MB /256bit GDDR5 memory interface
Dual Slot Vapor-X Cooler
Dual Slot Vapor-X Cooler with Heatpipes

HDMI Compliance



7.1 Audio Channel Support
7.1 Audio Channel Support

Direct X

Microsoft® DirectX® 10.1 support
Microsoft® DirectX® 10.1 support

Shader Model

Shader Model 4.1 support
Shader Model 4.1 support




Sapphire HD 4890 Vapor-X





All information courtesy of Sapphire @


Testing the HD 4890 Vapor-X 2GB will consist of running the card through the suite of games and synthetic benchmarks to test the performance of the Matrix against many popular competitors to gauge its performance. The games used are some of today's popular titles to give you an idea on 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. Clock speeds on each card are left at the as delivered speeds. I will test the HD 4890 Vapor-X 2GB at both stock speeds and then overclocked to see how much additional performance is available when you choose to overclock the cards.


Comparison Video Cards:



Overclocked settings:

When it came down to overclocking the Vapor-X 2gb 4890 I just went for the clock speeds the 1GB model delivered and the 2GB model fell just a bit shorter than the 1GB model at 950MHz on the core but did a little better on the memory with a bump to 1200MHz. This really cut the time I needed to spend finding the limits of this card. Usually though I take a more measured approach by running up 10 to 20MHz at a time then testing to make sure I have stability and keep pushing until the card is not stable and then backing it down by 10MHz.


The HD 4890 Vapor-X

  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Crysis Warhead
  3. BioShock
  4. Call of Duty World at War
  5. Dead Space
  6. Fallout 3
  7. Left 4 Dead
  8. 3DMark 06 Professional
  9. 3DMark Vantage



Far Cry 2:

Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built especially for Far Cry 2, this engine allows for real time effects and damage. This next generation First Person Shooter comes to us from Ubisoft surprisingly - not from Crytek. The game is set in a war-torn region of Africa where there is a non-existent central government and the chaos that surrounds this type of social environment. If you have seen the movie Blood Diamond, you know the setting. Ubisoft puts the main storyline of the game into focus with these statements: "Caught between two rival factions in war-torn Africa, you are sent to take out "The Jackal," a mysterious character who has rekindled the conflict between the warlords, jeopardizing thousands of lives. In order to fulfill your mission you will have to play the factions against each other, identify and exploit their weaknesses, and neutralize their superior numbers and firepower with surprise, subversion, cunning and, of course, brute force." In this version of the game, you don't have the beautiful water, but instead the beauty and harshness of the African continent to contend with. Most games give you a set area that can be played through, while Ubisoft has given the gamer the equivalent of 50km2 of the vast African continent to explore while in pursuit of your goals. The settings used are just a few steps below the maximum in-game settings and offer a good blend of performance vs. visual quality.









When comparing the 1GB and 2GB HD 4890 Vapor-X cards the performance delivered is identical in all four resolutions. The Vapor-X cards hold the edge until 2560x1600 where the FPS is almost equal between the two. Once overclocked, the Vapor-X 2GB performs above the GTX 275s though not quite reaching the level of the GTX 285.




Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack situated in time with the story line of the original Crysis. As Sergeant "Psycho" Sykes, you have a secret mission to accomplish on the far side of the island. Along the way there are EMP blasts and aliens to contend with, as you hunt down the KPA chief. This game uses an enhanced version of the CryEngine 2.










The two Vapor-X cards again deliver almost identical FPS with the 2GB model slightly lower than the 1GB model. Overclocking helps close the gap between the 2GB Vapor-X and the GTX 285.



BioShock is one of the creepier games you can play. 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:








The 2GB Vapor-X card delivers a higher level of performance in three out of four resolutions with the additional 1GB of memory worth 1 FPS at 2560x1600. At the highest resolution the HD 4890 Vapor-X 2GB pulls ahead of the GTX 285 by the slimmest of margins when overclocked.



Activision's Call of Duty: World at War goes right back to the bread and butter of the franchise - WWII FPS action. In this rendition, you start off in the South Pacific and move through a series of missions that flip back and forth between the Russian front and the island hopping advance toward the Imperial Japanese homeland. Included is a mission on Peliliu Island, arguably one of the more difficult and costly battles in the Pacific theater. The gameplay in the single player mode is rather short, but the game makes up for this shortcoming in online gameplay. If you thought CoD4 looked nice, this game is amazing with the graphics maxed out playing at a high resolution. This game just may be my reason to move to a 30 inch monitor. I will use Fraps to measure a section of gameplay in the Semper Fi map on Makin Island to compare the performance of these video cards.










The 2GB Vapor-X HD4890 steps up in this game to challenge the performance of the GTX 275 1280x1024 to 1920x1200. Even with the added memory, the 2GB card fails to the Green camp at 2560x1600. Overclocking helps close the gap but it is not quite enough from 1920x1200 on upwards.



In Dead Space, as part of the crew of the USG Kellion you are headed on a repair mission to repair a ship in distress. Things go from bad to worse, starting with the crash landing and seemingly silent and "dead" ship, the USG Ishimuru. Offering a non-traditional over the shoulder viewing angle, the game gets right into the action as soon as the ventilation systems are activated. From there things get worse with the appearance of the Necromorphs. Survival now becomes a primary concern for the primary character Isaac Clarke. Survive and you may find the loved one that was aboard the Ishimuru.












If there ever was a game that favored nVidia cards, Dead Space is it. The 2GB card delivers better performance than the 1GB model across all four resolutions. The gameplay was fluid and did not hiccup at all through the testing. The additional 1GB of memory paid dividends in Dead Space. Even though the FPS delivered is easily playable, even nVidia's GTX 260 trumps the 2GB Vapor-X.



Fallout 3 takes place after the nuclear holocaust that nearly wipes out civilization and leaves the world an irradiated mess. The vault, or fallout shelter, you are born in is Vault 101, situated in the Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia area. The premise of the game is that the Vault has been sealed for 200 years, and now your father has opened the vault and escaped without a trace. The Overseer believes you are involved, so you must escape as well into the wasteland that was once our nation's capital. I find myself looking for landmarks since I am familiar with the streets of Washington DC.










The 2GB Vapor-X does slightly better than the 1GB card in this game. Overclocking nets a small benefit but not much at all.



Left 4 Dead is a new release from Valve that leaves you as part of a group of survivors in a world where an infection has rapidly turned the populace into a zombie horde. You goal is to make it to a rescue point, all the while fighting what seems like overwhelming odds. Along the way there are safe houses where you can replenish your weapons and health. The movie 'I Am Legend' comes to mind to set the stage for this game. But unlike the movie, there are four characters and not just a lone gun and his faithful companion. The horde is not at all like the typical slow walking, foot shuffling zombie. These zombies are quick and work with the pack mentality. Your job: survival!










The performance difference between the 1GB and 2GB HD 4890 Vapor-X is pretty minimal. At 2560x1600 the performance between the two is equal. Against the GTX 275 and 285, their performance is just not up to the level of the green cards in the bigger resolutions.



3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest has begun. 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 2GB HD 4890 does better than the 1GB in one of the three resolutions. Overclocking gives a substantial increase in all four resolutions.



Featuring all-new game tests, this benchmark is for use with Vista based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. 'Entry' is 1024x768 progressing to 'Extreme' at 1920x1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.









THe 1GB and 2GB Vapor-X cards perform almost identically through all four presets. The Vapor-X 2GB model delivers higher performance than the GTX 260s and last gen ATI cards but just cannot reach the level of the GTX275/285.



When I looked at the HD 4870 Vapor-X 2GB card back in March, I was looking for big things from the addition of the additional 1GB of memory. What I found was that the additional memory did not really add anything really tangible, performance wise, in the benchmarks. Fast forward to the HD 4890 Vapor-X 2GB and I was greeted with much of the same thing. At the 2560x1600 resolutions the difference between the 1GB and 2GB model was marginal throughout most of the benchmarks. That does not mean there were not increases because there were. BioShock and Call of Duty World at War were the two exceptions where the 2GB model did better than the 1GB model but in both games once you reach 2560x1600 a 1 FPS difference was all there was. What the additional memory did do was make the gameplay a bit smoother during the benchmarking. For me this was especially noticeable in CoD WaW where the little bit of choppiness was not there at 2560x1600. Small concession but at least the pricing is only at a 30 dollar premium over the similarly clocked 1GB model, making the switch to 2GB not that much of a problem.

So what does the Sapphire HD 4890 Vapor-X 2GB do well? Well, for one it offers up excellent cooling without the noise penalty that the reference cards present when you push the fan speed toward the max level. This card was barely audible three feet away from the case and was not heard over the white noise in my test room. The temperatures delivered by this card are almost identical to those of the Vapor-X 1GB card I tested. With the clock speeds at the factory default 870/1050 settings and the fan controlled by the driver, I measured 48 degrees Celsius at idle and 75 degrees Celsius while under load. Much lower than the reference cooling, and again it is dead silent in this configuration. Once overclocked and bumping the fan speed to 100%, I measure 43 Celsius at idle and 70 Celsius under load. Both better than the driver controlled numbers at the default clocks and leaps and bounds ahead of the reference cards. Having run through a few HD 4890 cards, the limits are relatively easy to reach without resorting to BIOS or hardware tweaks. The 1GB model reached 970MHz on the core and 1195MHz on the memory. The 2GB model reached very similar clock speeds of 950MHz on the core and 1200MHz on the memory, no slouch in the overclocking department even with the additional memory. That looks like some pretty close binning.

The HD 4890 Vapor-X 2GB is far from your average card. This card is designed and built by Sapphire with better components that allow the card to run cooler and more efficiently than the reference designs. Sapphire uses what it calls Black Diamond chokes and solid capacitors to increase power efficiency by 25%. This makes it cheaper to run long term by the fact that it saves you energy, and at today's costs that is almost worth the price of admission. The Vapor-X 2GB is not saddled with what seems to be standard fare when it comes to the display output types the card uses. You get four different outputs, D-Sub, DVI, HDMI and Display Port. Only two can be used simultaneously though. If you want to hook this card up to the large plasma or LCD screen, you no longer need an adapter if you choose to connect via an HDMI cable.

The Sapphire HD 4890 Vapor-X 2GB offers a route away from the cookie cutter reference video cards from ATI. With this card you get factory overclocked performance with great overclocking potential on top of what is already there, exceptional cooling capabilities, and better construction all for a price point that really is not a huge penalty over the 1GB model. Sapphire keeps bringing innovative designs to market to fill niches that the standard cards can't possibly fill. The HD 4890 Vapor-X 2GB is one of these cards.