Sapphire HD 4870 2GB Vapor X Series Review

ccokeman - 2009-01-16 21:59:35 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: March 24, 2009
Price: $259.99


When it comes to the HD 4870, just about everything has been done. There have been versions that were overclocked, versions with the memory increased, custom cooled cards, non stock PCBs and they all have been pretty solid pieces. The biggest problems originally faced with the HD4800 series was not really a performance issue but rather the cooling performance of the ATI factory cooling solutions. When they ran at the stock fans speeds, we were left with cards that would literally get hot enough to burn your fingers if you left them in place long enough. I remember seeing the decals faling off one HD48xx card because it was so hot. The solution, of course, was to increase the fan speed, but you are left with the sound of a hair dryer. Neither of these two options are really favorable in light of the challenges for each problem. Sapphire took a decidedly different approach with the HD3870 Atomic card back in January 2008 with the introduction of Vapor Chamber technology to provide cooling to the latest GPUs. The company has continued to expand and improve this concept with its "Toxic" HD4870 1GB model that offered increased clock speeds on a custom PCB, as well as a tremendous decrease in the operating temperatures of the card thanks to hybrid Vapor X technology coupled with heatpipes and a large fin array.


Just when you thought there was no more to be done, Sapphire comes along with its latest HD 4870. The Sapphire HD 4870 2GB Vapor-X card is built on a self designed PCB that carries with it a host of improvements such as higher specification solid capacitors and special patent pending "Diamond Black" heatsink chokes that run cooler and are 25% more efficient. Add in the whopping 2GB of GDDR5 memory for increased performance and an Improved Vapor-X cooling solution and you have what amounts to a whole new from the ground up piece of hardware. The Vapor-X cooling solution works much the same as a heatpipe does using a liquid that is turned to vapor and transported via a series of wicks to carry away the heat where the vapor is once again liquified and the process starts all over again. However, instead of a series of pipes, this solution is flat and lays directly over the GPU core to provide the most effective cooling. With all the work done on the cooling and design of this card, it still carries the stock clock speeds of 750MHz on the RV770 core and 900MHz on the GDDR5 memory. I have no doubt that the cooling capabilities of the Vapor-X Edition will be superb, but I am curious as to the benefits that will be realized by the increase in memory as well as the overclocking potential with the newer cooling.

Closer Look:

There is nothing on the front panel of the packaging that lets you know this is anything other than something a little special. Not even the ever present "Ruby." The Vapor-X technology is the focus here, front and center. Additional features such as the 2GB of GDDR5 memory, native HDMI output with 7.1 channel audio are listed. The rear panel includes information on the "Black Diamond" chokes that run cooler and more efficiently, as well as the fact that solid capacitors used in the construction of the Vapor-X series.



The internal packaging is again a step in a different direction. This card is housed in a molded cardboard enclosure in a bubble wrapped bag instead of a closed cell foam block. The accessories that Sapphire has included are, as usual, everything you need to get the card installed and working.



The accessories from Sapphire are always the most complete that I have seen delivered and are based on the video card's capabilities. This card features three different means of connectivity natively so there is not the mass of adapters normally associated with the bundle. However, power adapters as well as the Crossfire bridge connector are included. The added value of the bundle comes from the software that is included. Sapphire has thrown in a complete suite from Cyberlink, the Ruby Rom and for the benchers out there, a full version of 3DMark Vantage.



Let's look and see if the additional memory and cooling really separate the Vapor-X series from the reference design.


Closer Look:

The Sapphire HD 4870 2GB Vapor-X Edition is built around the now familiar 55nm RV770 core from ATI featuring 800 stream processors, almost a billion transistors and two gigabytes of GDDR5 memory, all on a custom designed and built PCB. As you could have guessed, this is not your ordinary run-of-the-mill HD4870, though the clock speeds of 750MHz on the core and 900MHz on the memory would suggest otherwise. Features such as solid capacitors and "Black Diamond" chokes take the construction of this offering from Sapphire to a new level. The cooling solution employed by Sapphire is of their own design as well and is decidedly different in form but as the cooling used on its Toxic series of overclocked video cards has shown that the functionality is there. A large heatsink covers the memory modules on the rear face of the card.








Looking at the connectivity options, you can see the reason that there were no video adapters included with the HD 4870 Vapor-X edition, they simply are not needed. Sapphire has given this card a single Dual Link DVI, D-Sub and a native HDMI output so connectivity issues are a thing of the past. Sure, there is no regular HDTV out, but with native HDMI do you need it? The rear of the card is dominated by the large passive heatsink over the power regulation circuits. Air is pulled through the channels to cool these components down. Power is supplied via two 6-pin PCI-E power connections.



Once you get past the custom PCB, the reason for this card really comes down to the cooling. The ATI HD48XX series cards just run hot. The factory solution is really not that conducive to a pleasant experience either because of the noise when spooled up to cool a hot running card or the attempt to keep the card quiet and running the card at less than optimum temperatures (in our eyes). Sapphire has once again gone with Vapor Plate technology and made this solution as close to silent as possible. Vapor Plate technology, in a nutshell, is a heatpipe that is a flat plate instead of a round tube. They both work the same but look different. A liquid is vaporized over the core and the vapor is wicked away to a cooler point and then the vapor condenses back into a liquid and the process starts over again. Add the heatsink on top to whisk away the heat and you have an quiet and efficient cooling system. The fan used on the HD4870 Vapor-X is near dead silent when running. Bumping up the fan speed to 100% via the CCC didn't bring the noise even though the fan spins up to 4600+ RPM.




The 55nm RV770 core is used with the HD 4870 2GB Vapor-X Edition card. The core features 800 stream processors, 16 ROPs and runs at the stock HD 4870 clock speed of 750MHz. The two gigabytes of GDDR5 memory comes from Qimonda and carries part number IDGV1G-05A1F1C-40X and is rated for 1000MHz operation. The default clock speeds on the memory is 900MHz.



The Sapphire HD 4870 Vapor-X Edition is built upon a custom (Sapphire) designed PCB instead of using the reference design from ATI. What this does is allow Sapphire to make a prodct that will be more efficient, have the ability to add components that are better than the reference design, as well as design the power circuits to meet the demands of the enthusiast. In this instance, Sapphire has used solid capacitors and different chokes on the power circuits. These chokes are designed to run cooler and more efficiently and carry the moniker "Black Diamond."



Closer Look:

To install the drivers for the Sapphire HD 4870 Vapor-X Edition, 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 9.3. 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 the necessary drivers needed to make the Sapphire HD 4870 Ultimate Edition 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 you desire. 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 4870 2GB Vapor-X Edition is far from a low powered HTPC card, it does have all the necessary qualifications to be one. Using Power DVD to watch a couple movies, I took a quick look through both the movie 300 and one of my favorites, Beerfest! CPU utilization is in the low single digits when using the HD4870 in this capacity by offloading the decoding to the GPU.




Last, but not least, is the Ruby ROM Version 11 disc. 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 HD 4870 Ultimate Edition can live up to its name.


Closer Look:

The Catalyst Control Center is where all the settings for the Sapphire HD4870 2GB Vapor-X 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 & 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.




Fabrication Process
Graphics Clock
Memory Clock 900MHz
Memory Interface 256-bit
Memory Size
Memory Type
400 MHz
Stream Processors
HDCP Support
HDMI Support
Yes ,Native
Connectors 1 x dual-link DVI-I ,1 x HDMI, 1 vga
Bus Technology PCI Express 2.0
Form Factor Dual Slot Vapor-X Cooler
Power Connectors 2 x 6-pin



Redefine HD Gaming: The ATI Radeon HD 4870 Series GPUs deliver a cinematic gaming experience with unprecedented performance. The powerful new TeraScale graphics will propel you deep into your gameplay with seamless frame rates and high resolutions. Enhanced anti-aliasing (AA) and anisotropic filtering create striking graphics with unparalleled realism so you can max out the settings of the most demanding next-generation games or revitalize your favorite titles. Play today while preparing for tomorrow with tessellation, support for DirectX® 10.1 and scalable ATI CrossFireX™ technology.

Go Beyond HD Video: Add an ATI Radeon HD 4870 Series GPU to your PC and watch the latest Blu-ray and HD movies play with incredible fidelity –upscale to nearly twice the display resolution of HD content.* Take full advantage of Blu-ray functionality with dual-stream, picture in picture (PIP) capabilities. Sophisticated new features within ATI Avivo™ HD technology provide a truly responsive experience. Support for the latest audio visual interconnects ensures you can take advantage of the latest display technology.

Break-through Efficiency: Like its predecessors, the ATI Radeon HD 4870 Series GPUs offer optimal performance and break-through efficiency with platform-independent intelligent power management. ATI PowerPlay™ delivers the power needed to blaze through even the most intense games while intuitively conserving energy at idle or when demand is low.



All information courtesy of Sapphire tecnology@


To test out this latest video card from Sapphire I will run it through a series of game tests and synthetic benchmarks to see just how the performance compares to that delivered by similar video cards as well as its direct competition from the green camp. The OverclockersClub test system will be run as listed with the processor at 3.0GHz. The respective video card settings that will be used are the driver defaults with settings made in game as noted to provide as few variables as possible.


Comparison Video Cards:



Overclocked settings:




  • Sapphire HD 4870 2GB Vapor-X 822/1086



    To overclock the Sapphire HD4870 2GB Vapor-X edition I started out with ATI's Catalyst Control Center and used the Overdrive tab to increase the GPU and memory clock speeds as well as bumping the fan speed to 100% for the most potential benefit. The core clock speed maximum in the CCC was 800MHz so that seemed like the logical point to start at. The Vapor-X card did this with ease and did not fail in benchmarks or with Futuremark. Since the CCC was limited in the clock speeds that could be set, I next moved to Riva Tuner 2.24 to push the clock speeds higher than the CCC would allow. I pushed upward until I was no longer able to successfully complete gaming tests or pass benchmarks. The maximum where I could run some but not all of the benchmarks was 845MHz on the RV770 core. But with that said, I had to back down the clock speed to 826MHz on the core and 1086MHz on the GDDR5 memory to get full game and benchmark stability back. I was hoping the added cooling capability would offer a significant boost in clock speeds, which is something I did achieve with an increase of 77MHz on the core and 186MHz on the memory all while having a nice cool running card to boot. Maximum temperatures noted while running a 100% fan speed was 58 Celsius.

    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 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."








    Even at the top of the scale the frames per second delivered were comparable to those delivered by the 1GB HD 4870 video cards. The higher memory clock speed and core clock speed pushed the Toxic out in front of the 2GB model, while the Diamond 1GB card is a reference clock model and the Vapor X and this card were identical in performance.



    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 Sapphire Vapor-X performs right where it should. Performance is between that of the standard and overclocked HD 4870 cards while offering comparable performance to the GTX260.



    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:











    There was not much to separate the trio of 4870s in this test. The additional memory did not seem to help in the 2560x1600 resolution as was expected.



    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 large 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 performance of these video cards.














    The Sapphire Vapor-X finally pulled ahead of the other HD4870 cards. At 2560x1600, this was a margin of 1 and 4 FPS, respectively. Not much of an improvement but an improvement nonetheless. By overclocking the Vapor-X it easily outperformed the other HD4870 cards in this comparison.



    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 as 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.













    This game appears to favor the green camp performance-wise. The performance of the Sapphire Vapor-X HD4870 is superior to that of the two comparison HD4870s from 1920x1200 up to 2560x1600. The nVidia score will be included at a later date as a new driver that fixes the incompatibility with this game and my monitor were just released as this review was completed.



    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.













    Performance-wise, this game offers about the same frames per second across all the cards tested until you get to 2560x1600. Even here the results span a 7 FPS span for comparable cards.



    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! Below are several screenshots to show some in-game action.















    Clocked lower than the Sapphire Toxic edition, the Vapor-X kept pace with it through all four resolutions and kept within 6 FPS of the nVidia GTX260 at 2560x1600.



    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.




















    At the default 1280x1024 level, the Sapphire Vapor-X is comparable in performance but it drops off after this level. Performance between it and the stock Diamond card are separated by only 175 points at 2560x1600.



    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 additional 1GB of memory offer a small improvement in scoring when compared to a stock clocked HD4870 1GB card. Otherwise scoring is similar across the ATI spectrum.



    As a stock clocked card, the expectation was that there might be some performance benefit with the addition of another 1GB of memory to the tried and true HD 4870 platform. Even at 2560 x 1600 there was not much, if any, additional performance earned by the inclusion of the additional memory in my testing. That's not to say that in the future the benefit won't be realized, but for now it did not really offer much of an improvement. If you put that problem off to the side, the Sapphire HD 4870 2GB Vapor series has a bit more to offer. The cooling performance of this card is outstanding. The fan is practically inaudible with the card in my test system sitting three feet from me. The temperatures I measured fell in the 65 to 71 (idle to load) Celsius range with the driver controlling the fan speed. The driver would cycle the fan between 1,100 and 2,300 RPM while keeping the temperature below the driver mandated threshold that seemed to be right around 65 Celsius. By bumping the fan speed to 100% manually, the temperatures took a nose dive down into the 41 Celsius idle and 58 Celsius load range. The fan did spool up to 4,300 RPM but still maintained the silence I have been after in a video card. Cool and quiet is now no longer a dream, all without aftermarket help. The Vapor-X cooling has an added benefit for overclockers. Cooler temperatures usually equate to higher potential overclocks. Again, this rings true with the Sapphire HD 4870 2GB Vapor-X Edition. I was able to increase the clock speed from the stock 750MHz to 826MHz, an improvement of 76MHz, or just over 10%, while the memory pulled a cool 186MHz increase. Both of these numbers were far superior to the reference based HD4870 used in the performance comparison. This could be taken as a glimpse into how well the PCB and video card is laid out and constructed with top quality components to allow us, the enthusiasts, to get more from the products we buy. In this case, solid capacitors, better chokes and a custom PCB go a long way toward that goal. But like the old saying goes, you gotta pay to play. With most 1GB HD 4870 cards going in the $190 range, the price on this card is a premium at $259, or about $70 more than your reference cards. It is a premium product though, when all things are considered. The Vapor Chamber cooling is worth the price of admission alone if you are tired of the hair dryers ATI throws on the reference based cards. Your ears will thank you.

    Vapor chamber cooling, high end components, custom built PCB, 2GB of memory, native HDMI, excellent overclocking, silent cooling, what more could you want? Sapphire has built another winner when it comes to cool running performance video cards. The company is not afraid to step outside the box and make the cards its customers need.