Sapphire HD4870x2 Atomic Review

ccokeman - 2008-12-14 09:43:53 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: December 17, 2008
Price: TBA

Introduction:

Every once in a while you see one of those products that makes you wonder. Well, two in a week is a pretty rare occurrence. The Sapphire HD4870x2 Atomic is the second of the two. Sapphire usually pulls something special together for its Atomic versions. Last year with the 3870, it was a special vapor chamber cooling system that worked extremely well when cooling was needed for those all night frag fests. Well, Sapphire has done it again with this iteration on the HD4870x2. This version does not use vapor chamber cooling, but rather a fully sealed water cooling system complete with pump/CPU block radiator and full coverage cooling block on the dual GPUs. To go along with this Limited Edition special cooling solution, Sapphire has upped the ante by pushing the clock speeds on the two RV770 cores to 800MHz and to 1000MHz (4000MHzeEffective) on the two gigabytes of GDDR5 memory that runs through a 2x256 bus.

Special cooling, special package, special delivery, I knew something had to be up when I saw the weight of the package. The Sapphire HD4870x2 Atomic looks to be a serious improvement to the standard reference design card. Let's see if the whole package has what it takes and whether it will stand up to some serious abuse as well as some serious performers to see if it indeed deserves its Limited Edition status.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Closer Look:

You have to admit that the way the Atomic is shipped to the end user is something special. Then again, the contents are a bit on the special side as well and deserve a package of this caliber. The front of the aluminum case features the Atomic logo as well as a small mention on the bottom right corner that gives a hint as to what lies inside.

 

 

 

Anxious to see what was inside, I popped open the lid and was greeted with a foam lined box that contained a bit more than I was anticipating. The Atomic Card comes as a preassembled water cooled system that is ready to install. Under all of the foam that protects the contents is the box that contains the accessory box. If this package is like any of the others from Sapphire, it will be stacked.

 

 

 

The bundle of accessories that Sapphire has included will allow you to both get the card powered up and connected to just about any display device you may have. Not only do you get the basics such as power cables and the DVI to VGA adapter, there are the DVI to HDMI adapter, an HDMI cable, Crossfire bridge connector, plenty of software titles and even a plush Sapphire badge for your case. To get the CPU block installed you will need to use the supplied adapters. Currently socket 775 and AM2 are covered. I inquired about an adapter for the new Core I7 socket 1366 and found that they are currently not available. As an added bonus, Sapphire includes not one but two 2GB thumb drives and a full version of 3DMark Vantage.

 

 

 

Now let's get better acquainted with the Atomic!

 

Closer Look:

The Sapphire Atomic HD4870x2 is not what you usually see in a high performance video card. This is a different animal. It still boasts all of the HD4870x2 features such a 1600 stream processors, two gigabytes of GDDR5 memory on a 2 x 256 bit bus, HDMI over DVI, second gen UVD and more. It is also equipped with a single slot cooling solution that incorporates a water pump/CPU block, single 120mm radiator and fan to exhaust the heat generated by the CPU and GPUs. A pretty neat package in and of itself. No more hair drier in the case to keep you awake at night. The front view gives you a glimpse of the thin single slot cooling with the back side being the familiar memory heatsink. The factory sealed cooling solution has factory sealed tube ends that are meant to last the life of the card with a 50,000 hour MTBF that should be quite a while. The Atomic HD4870x2 sports an 800MHz clock speed on each of the GPU cores with a 1000MHz clock on the memory, both of these clock speeds are at or above the limits reached on the reference cooled card from Sapphire I looked at in August.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The connections available for use include two Dual Link DVI and an HDTV output. An HDMI signal can be sent out through the DVI port with the appropriate adapter which is included as well as the three meter long HDMI cable. The back end of the Atomic is a little sparse but the power circuits are under the water block. 2560x1600 is the maximum resoluion that can be outputted from the DVI and 1024x768 on the HDTV out.

 

 

The Atomic is a CrossfireX capable video card. It only has one bridge connection that will allow one more HD4870x2 to be connected to give you the power of four GPUs. Speaking of power, you will want to make sure yours has enough juice to run the Atomic system. The Atomic, much like the standard X2, requires a 6-pin and an 8-pin power connection to make sure you are able to pull the most from this video card.

 

 

The cooling solution comes off the Atomic version in much the same way as the reference cooler. Instead of two copper blocks and loud fan, you have a single block that makes contact with all of the heat generating components on the PCB, including the GPUs, the PLXtechnology bridge chip, memory, and power regulation components. Once stripped down, you are left with the just the block and memory cooling plate that fits on the back of the PCB.

 

 

The rest of the cooling system includes the CPU block/pump, the radiator and fan and the tubing that is already permanently attached to the blocks and radiator. The system is prefilled and checked at the factory and should not require any fillups along the way. The fan lights up with a blue LEDs and is rated to push up to 60 CFM. Thermal paste is preapplied to the block so you won't have to worry about not having any when it comes time to do the install.

 

 

The Sapphire HD4870x2 Atomic features two 55nm RV770 GPU cores and a PCI Express bridge chip. The PLX Technologies bridge chip is model PEX8647. This chip is a second generation PCI-E Gen2, 5.0GT/s 48-lane, 3-port PCI-E switch that supports Dual Cast and Read Pacing. This model is specifically designed with high end graphics solutions in mind. The HD 4870X2 Atomic uses GDDR5 memory from Hynix, the modules used are listed as H5GQ1H24MJR TOC, and are rated for 4.0GB/sec.

 

 

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 8.56.1. 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 disc 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 HD4870X2 Atomic 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.

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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: 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.

 

 

Specifications:

GPU
RV770
Fabrication Process
55nm
Graphics Clock
800 x2 MHz
Memory Clock 1000MHz /4000MHz effective  1000x4
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 MAX Resolution 2560X1600
Bus Technology PCI Express 2.0
Form Factor Single slot Liquid cooled Slot Design
Power Connectors 1 x 6-pin  1 x 8-pin

 

Features:

 

All information courtesy of Sapphire tecnology

Testing:

At OverclockersClub.com, we use a set of benchmarks to stress the graphics card. We will use a series of gaming benchmarks, some that are more seasoned, to show how well the Sapphire Atomic HD4870x2 compares to some of the other enthusiast video cards on the market. I will be using both single and multiple GPU models to compare the performance of the R700 Revolution. 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. For this round of testing, our drivers have been updated to 177.79 for the Nvidia cards and Catalyst 8.12 for the ATI video cards used in this review. The exception being the Far Cry 2 testing, for that test the Nvidia driver used is 180.43 and the ATI driver is the FarCry Hotfix driver.

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

Since Sapphire has already clocked the GPU core speeds up around the point where the other 4870X2s I have looked at have started to crash, I was pretty sure there was not going to be a whole lot left on the table. 800MHz on each core is a decent clock speed that proved to be stable. By increasing the clock speed 10MHz at a time I was able to push to the limits in the Catalyst Control Center at 850MHz on the Rv770 cores. At this speed I was able to run 3DMark06 at 1920x1200 successfully. After that I moved to the memory using the same methodology and only reached 1040 before I started seeing missing textures and multi colored blocks. Unfortunately, even with the water cooled system the Atomic would only pass the whole test suite at 832/1040. This does happen to be the highest GPU clock speed I have been able to negotiate through our test suite with. On the other hand, the Hynix memory gave up the ghost at 1040MHz, a full 100MHz short of the Qimonda GDDR5 used on the Palit R700 Revolution I just recently tested. With the small overclocks there really wasn't a noticeable increase in performance but the extra horsepower will come in handy when you bump up the CPU clock speeds.

Benchmarks:

  1. Crysis
  2. Knights of the Sea
  3. BioShock
  4. Call of Duty 4
  5. World in Conflict
  6. Far Cry 2
  7. Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts
  8. 3DMark 06 Professional
  9. 3DMark Vantage

 

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. Will the R700 HD4870x2 be that card? The Crysis single player demo includes both CPU and GPU benchmarks to test the performance of your processor and video card.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the lower resolutions the cards from the Green camp show a marked performance advantage that is slowly eroded to a scant two frames per second by 1920x1200. Crossfire is still not as effective as SLI in this game. Two ATI GPUs do not seem to scale at all in this benchmark as shown by the HD4870 1GB scores.

 

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Knigts of the Sea is another test where Crossfire is at a performance disadvantage. There does not seem to be any scaling when going from a single to multi GPU graphics solution. Performance wise the Sapphire Atomic is suffering the same fate as the rest of the multi GPU solutions so far.

 

Testing:

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 Daddys" 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:

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bioshock is a game that favors the ATI Crossfire multi GPU solution. The performance just does not drop off from 1024x768 all the way up to 1920x1200. Both of the X2 cards perform incredibly well in this benchmark test. The performance difference betweeen the GTX280 and the Atomic is 32 frames per second.

 

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:

   

 

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

The Atomic is not the fastest at 1024x768 but sure steps up at the 1920x1200 resolution. The Atomic HD4870x2 is a massive 66 frames per second faster through our test run than the GTX280. Again, performance in COD 4 just does not drop off from the lowest to the highest resolution. If you can't get the first shot off at 170FPS you should not be playing.

 

Testing:

World in Conflict Released last year World in Conflict is a 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 with limited opportunities to replenish your troops..

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 
 

  

 

 

 

 

 

Where the majority of cards see a performance drop, the Atomic does just as well at 1024x768 as it does at 1920x1200 and falls just one frame short of the green cards.

Testing:

Far Cry 2:

"Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built specially 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.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

Performance with the 8.12 Catalyst drivers seems to be improved over the 8.11 drivers. The performance difference is not as great as it was between the two camps' top cards.

 

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:

 

 

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

The X2 cards love to play in the deep end of the pool. The higher resolutions are where the Atomic HD4870x2 shines.

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:

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

The Atomic HD4870x2 reigns supreme in all four resolutions. It easily out-distances the competition here by roughly 12% at 1920x1200. When overclocked it broke 16,000 3DMarks on the stock Q9450.

Testing:

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.

 Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Atomic HD4870X2 from Sapphire is clearly the top card when only the GPU is being tested. There is a 2300 point differential between the GTX260-216 core Black Edition at the top. That's huge.

Conclusion:

Not having any prior knowledge about what to expect, I was intrigued when I saw that Sapphire had chosen to water cool the Atomic HD4870x2. What I wasn't expecting was that it was not just the card but the processor being cooled as well. The single 120mm radiator and 60CFM fan and 1/4 inch tubing made me instantly skeptical about just how well this Atomic system was going to work. My skepticism turned into joy when I actually put it into the system and fired it up. Having forgotten that I was pushing a 1 gig overclock on my Q9450 with close to 1.375 volts on the CPU, I was pleasantly surprised to see idle temps in the low 30 Celsius range in my 27 degree Celsius room. Even better was that when loaded with two instances of Folding@Home load temperatures did not exceed 53 degrees Celsius. To test the cooling on the Atomic HD4870x2 I looped 3Dmark06 at 1920x1200 with the settings maxed out and only reached 57 Celsius on the GPU cores while running Prime 95 on all four CPU cores. The CPU temperature maxed at 62 Celsius in this test. Pretty impressive for an all-in-one system cooling solution.

Installation of the Atomic HD4870x2 system is pretty straightforward, the HD4870x2 goes in the top PCI-E x16 slot and the radiator assembly mounts in the rear of the chassis where your 120mm exhaust fan resides. If the case of your choosing does not have a 120mm fan in the rear or top of the chassis, you may need to obtain a new case before you complete your build. When it comes to exhausting the heat generated by the two GPU cores and CPU, the fan chosen by Sapphire does an adequate job. Pulling 60 CFM of air at full speed, it moves enough air to keep things cooler than the much louder stock cooling solution. The load temperatures are 40 degrees cooler than the stock solution with the driver controlling the fan. That kind of cooling performance is not what I was expecting while cooling a hot quad core and two GPUs. Looks can be deceiving. That heat has to go somewhere, and it does, straight out the back of the chassis. When running the full load testing I saw air temperatures out the back of the case of 46 Celsius using my trusty Kestral 4100 showing the system does indeed work. Running two of the Atomic cards is possible in a CrossfireX configuration but you would not be utilizing the additional CPU block. That's OK because you can always save a few bucks and get a standard HD4870x2 from Sapphire as well. The single slot design actually opens up some possibilities, if you need to use the PCI slots on your motherboard, you can slap that sound card or RAID card in without a fuss. The only issue I had with the whole system was the rigidity of the tubing that made for some interesting routing to keep the tubes away from the two 220mm fans on the side of my case. Easily solved, but a more flexible tube would be nice.

Performance-wise the Sapphire HD4870x2 Atomic is the king of the high resolutions in the games that have Crossfire profiles. In some of the games it falls down and gets beat by the single GPU solutions from the green camp. In games where the profiles are on the money like Bioshock, Call of Duty 4, 3DMark06 and 3Dmark Vantage, it can't be touched up top by any single slot GPU solution. Featuring all the goodies like HDCP compliance, HDMI over DVI with the supplied adapter, second generation Unified Video Decoder, a single slot cooling solution, two GPUs, 2GB of GDDR5 memory, 1600 stream processing cores, water cooling for the masses, all tied up into one Limited Edition package, you have a video card that looks good, performs great and it comes in its own briefcase. So the real question is what's the price of admission for all that the Atomic has to offer? I'm not quite sure yet, but the phrase "if you have to ask" was mentioned! For what it does and does well, it just might be worth the price of admission.

Keep an eye out for this card to be tested on newer games titles as well as the I7 as we begin to upgrade our testing platforms.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: