Sapphire HD 4890 Toxic/Vapor-X Reviewccokeman - June 4, 2009
Category: Video Cards
Price: Toxic $259, Vapor-X $239
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Usually there is a lag time between the introduction of factory overclocked cards as well as those with specialized cooling solutions. Then Sapphire stepped right into the fire and introduced their HD 4890 Atomic Edition just a month after the introduction of the HD 4890 roll out. Now just a month later Sapphire has let loose with 2 more HD 4890 models, the Toxic and Vapor-X models. As seen with the Atomic Edition the Sapphire derivatives are a bit above the curve when it comes to component selection, cooling capabilities and performance. The Atomic is the first 4890 clocked at a 1000MHz core clock speed while the Toxic is not far behind with a core clock speed of 960MHz. The Toxic comes to us using the same Vapor-X based cooling solution shown to be effective at harnessing the thermal load of the Atomic Edition. The first question I asked Sapphire when the HD 4890 was introduced, was will there be a Vapor X version? Obviously the answer was 'yes' as this card is designed much the same as the 4870 Vapor X Edition we looked at earlier this year.
Both the HD 4890 Toxic Edition and Vapor-X cards are based upon the R790 core with 800 shader cores built on the same 55nm process and architecture as the R770 core used on the HD 4870. Both carry 1 GB of GDDR 5 memory on a 256 bit bus using an improved memory management architecture. Higher clock speeds are the result of the improvements to the R790 core. Lets take a look at both of these new offerings from Sapphire to see just how well they compare to the existing offerings to see if there is indeed a performance advantage with the special features of these cards from Sapphire.
The packaging of the Toxic is quite different from the rest of the Sapphire line up. The mascot on the front has changed with the move to the HD 4890 series to what looks much like the Sith lord in the last few Star Wars movies. Features of note on the front panel include the fact that the Toxic is an overclocked model using Vapor-X technology. Along the bottom is the list of software included with the Toxic that includes two titles from Cyberlink as well as your own copy of the popular benchmark 3DMark Vantage from Futuremark. The rear panel goes into detail about some of the features such as Crossfire X technology, Direct X 10.1 support and UVD 2.0 for use when watching HD content. The theme on the front of the Vapor-X HD 4890 represents the cooling ability of the Vapor-X cooling solution with the arctic theme and white, blue and silver coloring. Prominently mentioned is the Vapor-X cooling solution employed on this card. Features mentioned include the 1GB of GDDR5 memory, the fact that this card has both display port and HDMI ports native. The bottom of the front panel shows the software package is the same as what is included with the Toxic with 2 title from Cyberlink and the 3DMark Vantage benchmark from Futuremark. The rear panel is much like that of the Toxic in how it describes the features of the Vapor-X.
Both the Toxic and Vapor-X HD 4890s are packaged identically. The inner packaging opens to reveal a plastic shroud that holds the cards with foam blocks taking up the rest of the space not occupied by the cards. Pulling the plastic shroud up and away reveals the box containing the accessories for each card. It looks as though Sapphire is doing their part for the environment by using recycled cardboard for the boxes.
The accessory bundles are similar but not the same. Both cards come with the manual, two software titles from Cyberlink including Power DVD and your very own copy of the DX 10 benchmark 3DMark Vantage from Futuremark. Where the bundles differ is in the hard parts that are included. Both include power adapters, 2 molex 4 pin to 6 pin PCIE on the Vapor-X and a 1 4 pin Molex to 6pin PCIE and a dual 4 pin to 8 pin PCIe for the Toxic. Both cards come with a crossfire bridge connector. The biggest difference comes with the display adapters. The Toxic comes with DVI to HDMI, DVI to D-sub and an HDTV out dongle. The Vapor-X on the other hand only comes with an HDMI to DVI dongle - no its not the same as your DVI to HDMI adapter. The reason for the lack of adapters is clearly evident when you look at the Vapor-X. It does not need them with 4 different outlet types.
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 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.
Let's see what makes these two video cards from Sapphire a bit better than the reference design cards.