Sapphire Atomic HD3870 Review

Admin - 2007-12-30 10:38:00 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: Admin   
Reviewed on: January 1, 2008


An atom is the smallest particle known to man and if that atom is split, it can cause devastation in such great proportion its effects will last for years. Since the creation of the atom bomb in the 1940s, man has been trying to harness the energy of the atom and use it for sources of energy other than devastation. We have been living in the atomic age for over sixty years and man still has much more to learn in order utilize it to its fullest potential. Since most of the population is aware of what an atom can do on a nuclear level, many manufacturers name or use the word Atomic in their products to either express that said product has incredible power or is small in stature, or sometimes a combination of both.

The Sapphire HD 3870 Atomic Edition is a product that uses the word atomic, but is it to profess that the Sapphire card is fast and should blow the other video cards in its class out of the water? The HD 3870 Atomic Edition is an overclocked version of the ATI Radeon 670 chipset, which is the basis of the 3800 series of graphics solutions. The Sapphire HD 3870 Atomic Edition also has something small which would be its heatsink. The heatsink is a single slot cooling solution which utilizes a vapor-x chamber to enhance its cooling properties. So what will we be able to relate the Atomic Edition to,  performance, size, or both?


Closer Look:

The Sapphire HD 3870 Atomic Edition comes packaged for awe. It is encased in a silver briefcase with the Atomic logo on its face.



When the case is opened, you get the feeling that something interesting will be contained within its confines. The case is very well insulated and also has a plastic cell covering the Sapphire HD 3870 which is surrounded by a mountain of pink Styrofoam.




Closer Look:

This is definitely a single slot cooling solution as the heatsink is approximately 3/8 of an inch thick. This card utilizes the PCI-E interface, is constructed of red PCB and has two DVI outputs and one S-Video.










After removing the top layer, what’s revealed is somewhat shocking. The Sapphire HD 3870 Atomic Edition comes with a nine foot HDMI cable, cold cathodes, the Half Life Black Box Edition game, a full version of 3DMark and two Cyberlink programs.




Of course there are the other essentials, DVI to D-Sub Dongle, DVI to HDMI Dongle, and Composite cables.


Even the manual looks well thought out.



At this time we are composing how-to guides for installation purposes. Please click here if you would like to see how a PCI-E video card looks installed inside a computer.


Configuration is as easy as placing the installation CD into your CD/DVD ROM drive and following the on screen instructions.









Installation starts with the Sapphire Splash Screen.



The Vista interface is different than the XP interface that I'm used to seeing.



I like this, it's more user friendly and warmer than the usual XP setup that had the big red screen with the ATI logo on it.



After clicking the next button a few times and choosing if you would like to use a custom or express install, the Catalyst Control Center Installer will check your system for installed hardware and software. 










After finding the installed hardware and software, you are now ready to accept the driver installation.



Once done installing, you will be prompted to reboot your computer. When the computer reboots, click on the Catalyst Control Center Icon and you will be ready to configure your monitor and video card.




PCI-E x16 (PCI-E 2.0 Support)



Memory Bus


Engine Clock


Memory Clock


Stream Processing Units







UVD at full 1080p with Low CPU Utilization
UVD provides full HD decoding for h.264 and VC1
Integrated  HDMI and HD Audio with no cable necessary
First 55nm GPU
Crossfire X Support
PCI-e 2.0 Support
Best Performance Per Dollar





OverclockersClub will be running the Sapphire HD 3870 Atomic Edition through our benchmarking suite to see how the video card performs. The OverclockersClub series of gaming benchmarks is used to verify the performance of this product. If you would like to see how other video cards performed in an XP platform, please check our Video Card Section under reviews. We will show comparisons to other video cards using the Vista Platform, which can be found below. All video card settings were left at setup defaults to eliminate any variables.


Testing Setup:



The best overclock achieved was only eight megahertz. Not very good, but considering that this is a pre-overclocked card, I wasn't expecting much.




  • Video:

    1. Crysis
    2. Knights of the Sea
    3. Bioshock
    4. Call of Duty 4
    5. World in Conflict
    6. Call of Jaurez
    7. 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 a CPU and GPU benchmark to test the performance of the processor and video card installed in the system.















    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.


    The settings we will use are below:







    I like WW2 games. One thing I have noticed is that although the game is playable in all the resolutions tested with no AA, this game can be a card killer. So far it looks like the Atomic Edition is doing much better in most benchmarks due to it being an OCed version.

    Benchmark: BioShock

    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.












    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 U.S. Marine or British S.A.S. 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.


    The settings used are listed below:









    World In Conflict is a newly released DX10 real time strategy game that simulated the all out war that the world hopes never comes. The difference in this RTS game is that it is not your typical generate-wealth-and-build type of game. You advance by conquering your foe.


    The settings we will use are listed below:









    Call of Juarez is a DirectX10 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 as both single player and multiplayer. The game focuses on realistic graphics and gameplay designed to take advantage of the latest video cards on the market.


    The settings we will use are listed below.









    3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest is 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.












    I'm looking forward to the new 3DMark Vantage. While 3Dmark 06 is a good platform to bench it is becoming somewhat outdated.


    Since the Sapphire Atomic Edition has its own cooler for a single slot solution below please find a slide preview on how the technology works. The Spider Platform (AMD) will be able to run CrossFire X, or as I like to call it, Quad-Fire. There is one problem with that, two slot solutions will not fit in most expansion slots in 99% of the cases on the market, so how can you use four cards with dual slot solutions without removing a heatsink or two? Much less, how will you be able to utilize your other PCI and PCI-E slots on the motherboard with them all covered?

    This is Sapphire's solution to that problem. The Vapor-X is much quieter in my opinion but without a decimeter I cannot show the difference between the regular heatsink and the Vapor-X. So please take my word on this one. As per temperatures, Idle for the Vapor-X is 41 C opposed to 46 C with the standard Sapphire heatsink that comes on the 3870. For load, the temperatures were 77 C (Atomic) and 86 C (standard). Room temperature was 23 C during testing.










    So what does atomic really stand for? I’ll let you decide on that but here are my thoughts. The extra clock speeds do make a difference in most of our benchmarks, there was a solid four to five frame difference, while in 3DMark06 - at the default resolution - there was roughly a difference of 700 points. As per the cooler, it takes up less space than the normal two slot cooling solutions that come with most manufacturer's 3870s, but what most impressed me was that where we might think bigger is better, in this case smaller was better by a decent amount.

    Sapphire has relayed that the price of the card will only be ten to fifteen dollars above what you can buy a standard HD3870 for, this I consider a deal. Why? Even though there is not much of a performance increase, the bundle itself is probably worth twice as much, which makes for a pretty nifty price point. I was at Best Buy yesterday and looked at some HDMI Cables and an eight foot cable was ninety dollars U.S.

    So what would I consider Atomic about the Sapphire HD 3870 Atomic Edition? Well, as for it packing an Atomic punch in performance, no. With the heatsink being a single slot cooling solution, it does it have the efficiency to cool better than the larger two slot solution? Yes. What would I consider the best value out of the whole package would have to be the bundle of software, HDMI cable and Cold Cathodes.

    Many may be wondering why this card was tested on an AMD system rather than an Intel. Well, there are still many loyal AMD users out there and many would like to see how a card performs on the new Spider platform. If you would like to see how an HD 3870 and 3850 perform on an Intel system, please check these two reviews: Sapphire 3870 and Sapphire 3850.