Sapphire HD 4890 Atomic Edition Reviewccokeman - May 3, 2009
Category: Video Cards
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Sapphire is one ATI partner that really takes the time to build a better product for the consumer. Usually the lag time between the original reference video cards release and the "Improved" versions is a few months, at least. Not this time around. Just a scant one month ago, the HD 4890 was released with a clock speed of 850 MHz on the R790 core, and a clock speed of 975MHz on the 1GB GDDR5 memory. Pretty hefty increases from the HD 4870 it is replacing as the top dog single GPU in ATI's performance lineup. As ATI's largest partner, Sapphire seems to have a leg up when it comes to building enthusiast level video cards that usually start with their own PCB design. From there, the power circuits get the work over - and finally, to top it off, the "Improved" cards usually sport a readily available aftermarket cooling solution as seen on the HD 4850 Toxic model, or a full-on custom creation as seen on the HD 4870x2 Atomic video card.
Lately, the push on the cooling has been the extremely effective Vapor-X heatsink design that has adorned all of Sapphire's top end creations. This cooling concept was first released on the HD 3870 Atomic edition, back in early 2008. The last card we looked at from Sapphire, before the release of the HD 4890, was the HD 4870 2GB Vapor-X edition that took this concept to another level. Talking about going to the next level! What I have in my grubby hands here from Sapphire is a pre-production sample of the HD 4890 Atomic that really is a step above the standard HD 4890. The Vapor-X cooling is just the tip of the iceberg with this card. Let's see just what makes this card so special, and see what it can do.
The HD 4890 is a stout performer that puts a serious dent in the performance lead that Nvidia enjoys with the GTX 285. Rather than wait out the sales rush on the initial HD 4890, Sapphire has stepped up the HD 4890 to Atomic status with the usual items: in-house PCB design, better voltage regulation and improved looks, and most importantly the cooling improvements. The PCB is the light teal blue that lets you know this is not the reference PCB, but Sapphire's own design that usually incorporates better voltage regulation to drive performance higher. The Atomic uses the RV790 core with clock speeds bumped up to a massive 1GHz from the stock cards' 850MHz. The 1GB of GDDR5 memory sees a bump up from 975MHz to 1020 MHZ, nowhere near as significant as the increase in the core clock, but still a bump up nonetheless. The cooling solution looks very similar to what is on the HD 4870 1GB Toxic Edition, but the heatpipes do not extend as far from the fin array. The Atomic version is a dual-slot card, so it will indeed cover two slots on the motherboard, while only physically being in one slot. The front of the card is decorated with the "Atomic" and "Vapor-X" logos.
The front side of the card features two Dual Link capable DVI ports, and a standard S-Video port for use with a dongle. On the rear of the card, you can suspect something is up with the inclusion of a 6-pin as well as an 8-pin power connection. If these implications are correct, this additional power should bring some stability at higher clock speeds. The HD 4890 Atomic is CrossFire capable by using the CrossFire bridge connections along the spine of the card. Of course, you will need a second card to make that option work.
The Vapor-X heatsink fan used on the HD 4890 Atomic has fewer fan blades than the fan on the HD 4870 2GB Vapor-X edition, released just a few weeks back. There are two heatsinks used on the HD 4890 Atomic: one for the GPU and memory, and a small aluminum finned block that covers the voltage regulation components on the tail end of the PCB. The main heatsink uses Sapphire's own Vapor-X technology, with a copper plate tied to three large heatpipes that carry the heat away to the fin array.
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 last picture is a magnified image of the wicking material that is used in the assembly.
The Atomic HD 4890 is based off of the R790 core, with 800 shader cores and 16 ROPs built on a 55nm process. The core has almost one billion transistors packed onto that small piece of silicon! The clock speeds of the HD 4890 Atomic Edition are substantially higher than the standard HD 4890, with a core clock speed of 1000MHz. Yes, you heard that right - 1GHz! The GDDR5 memory speeds come in 45MHz higher than the reference clocks, at 1020MHz. The 1GB of GDDR5 memory used on this card is made by Qimonda, the same supplier used for the standard HD 4890, and is rated for operation at 1000MHz.
Without a bundle to show, I can only speculate as to what will come with the card. With the performance nature of this card, pricing may well have something to do with what you will get. Even so, Sapphire has consistently included a nice bundle of both software and hardware, so you can get the card installed and hooked up to your display, as well as software to take advantage of the card's capabilities. If the past is any indication, a full bundle should arrive with the card. Now I have to see just what this card is capable of, and see whether it can unseat the GTX 285 from the single GPU performance throne!