Sapphire Radeon HD 5850 Toxic OC Edition Review

ccokeman - 2010-02-11 20:39:43 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: February 17, 2010
Price: $319


At this point, ATI and its partners like Sapphire have filled out their 5-series product stack so that it pretty much covers all the way from the $50 Sapphire HD 5450 all the way up to the King Daddy $650 plus Sapphire HD 5970 OC. There is not a price point left open, or is there? Sapphire has already released the Vapor-X equipped HD 5870 and has now dropped the Toxic HD 5850 to compete for the enthusiasts dollar. Sapphire has a proven track record of delivering unique cards that are a step above the reference cards they are competing against. You have the Atomic Edition cards that are the top of the performance heap with the Toxic and Vapor-X editions in just underneath. So, not only does Sapphire have the reference side of the fence covered, they have the enthusiast sector covered as well.

The Sapphire Toxic HD 5850 is an overclocked video card built with the ATI Cypress core. This card comes from Sapphire with clock speeds of 765Mhz on the core and 1050Mhz on the 1Gb of GDDR5 memory. These clock speeds are 40Mhz and 50Mhz higher than the reference version to increase the performance level for the gamer. But performance is not the only thing you get. You get the benefits of Stream technology, Eyefinity, HDMI 1.3 support, On chip HDCP and the power savings delivered by way of ATI's powerplay technology. Let's see if the Toxic HD 5850 can offer game changing results.

Closer Look:

The packaging of the Sapphire Toxic HD5850 features a cloaked figure instead of having "Ruby" grace the front cover. The front panel covers a lot of ground on the features of the Toxic edition 5850. These features listed include Eyefinity, onboard HDMI and DisplayPort, CrossFireX capability, 2+Teraflops of compute power, the 1GB of GDDR5 memory and that his card employs Vapor-X cooling and is a factory overclocked model. The back panel goes into more detail of the features of the HD 58XX series that include ATI Stream technology and DirectX 11 support. The bottom of the box shows that this product is RoHS compliant with the packaging being made from 100% recyclable materials - a big step toward helping the earth.





Inside the outer sleeve, you have the box that contains the Toxic and its accessories. Opening this up you can see that the Toxic is in a formed cardboard tray with a small foam block to keep the Toxic in place during transit. Under the card you have the box that contains the accessory bundle.




The bundle of accessories included with the Toxic HD 5850 includes what you need to get the card hooked up and a little bit more. You get the manual, driver disk, Software from Arcsoft, two 4-pin to 6-pin PCIe power adapters, CrossFire bridge connection, and last, but not least, the DVI to VGA adapter.


Let's dive into a closer look into the Sapphire Toxic HD5850!

Closer Look:

Based on the Cypress core, the HD 5850 Toxic OC Edition is a product of Sapphire's quest to put out a card that offers real enhancements and that brings real value to the equation. The Cypress core on the Sapphire Toxic HD 5850 OC Edition is equipped with 2.15 Billion transistors, 1440 shader or 160 less than the top dog HD 5870, 72 texture units and 32 ROPs. When it comes to the final clock speeds, the stock HD 5850 comes in at 725Mhz on the core and 1000Mhz on the GDDR5 memory. However this is no stock card from Sapphire. Clock speeds get a nice bump up to 765Mhz and the memory gets a boost up to 1050Mhz. Both are increases that should allow this card to outperform the reference versions. Now where this card really differs from the reference cards is not only on the outside with the blue and black striped design, but it's what's under the hood that is a bit different as well. Under the skin, you have a heatsink based on Sapphire's award winning Vapor-X technology that looks much like what was used under the cover on the Sapphire HD 5870 Vapor-X card I looked at back in November, as well as some quality components that we will look at a little further down the page.
















The connectivity options are pretty much standard fare for the 58XX series cards from ATI and its partners. You have a single DisplayPort, HDMI that supports HDMI 1.3 with Deep Color and 7.1 High Bitrate Audio, and two Dual Link DVI ports that combined with the DisplayPort connection you can enable an Eyefinity setup with resolutions up to 7680 x 1600 @ 60Hz - with one monitor supporting DisplayPort. The back end of the card is open, much like the Vapor-X 5870, to allow airflow over the VRM circuits. Power in addition to the 75 watts through the PCIe bus is supplied via the two 6-pin power connections coming out the back end of the card rather than on the top spine. Just like its predecessors, this card can be run in a CrossFireX setup with up to four separate video cards. Of course, a supporting motherboard is required to make it happen. Cooling for the voltage regulation circuits is by way of a separate heatsink under the fins of the fin array of the GPU cooling solution.




The cover on the Toxic Edition HD 5850 comes off by removing the four screws that surround the GPU core. A little heat to break the bond and it pulls right apart. This gives you the first full look of the components on board the PCB, which is, of course, Sapphire's blue self-designed unit. Above that, you have the proprietary Vapor-X cooling solution that is used to keep the GPU temperatures in check on the HD 5850 Toxic. The cooling solution uses a vapor chamber that then has three heatpipes taking the thermal load up to the two fin arrays. Cooling for the memory is accomplished by the large aluminum plate. The fan used has a total of eleven fan blades instead of the seven seen on the HD 58570 Vapor-X. This fan is a uses two ball bearings instead of a sleeve bearing for decreased noise and increased life span. Cooling for the Voltage regulation circuits is handled by a single bolt-on aluminum heatsink.




The Cypress core is built upon TSMC's 40nm process and contains 2.15 Billion transistors that deliver over 2 Teraflops of computing power. The clock speeds employed by Sapphire to deliver the performance goods are 765Mhz on the core and 1050Mhz on the 1GB of GDDR5 Hynix memory. These modules carry the same markings as those used on the Sapphire HD 5770 and provided some stellar overclocking results. Component selection on a video card helps in many ways from increased longevity to lower operating temperatures. One shining example of this is the use of Sapphire's Black Diamond chokes that have built in heatsinks to lower the operating temperatures by 10% and increase the operating efficiency of these components by 25%.



Let's see whether the Toxic Edition does indeed deliver a knockout blow to the reference cards.

Closer Look:

Before you can start fragging, you have to install the drivers so that you don't sit there utterly disappointed by the graphics performance of this shiny new card. Thankfully, Sapphire has included a disc to get you started although the manufacturer website is a great alternative. I will browse through the disc to see what is included.

After you insert the disc and allow the autorun to start the process you end up with the Sapphire GUI on the desktop. There are three options to choose from, ATI Easy install, Online Manual, and Adobe Reader. Of course, the ATI Easy install is for installing the drivers and proprietary software to gain the most functionality from your new purchase. You have a choice of operating systems to choose from so just choose the appropriate OS and you get to start the ATI driver install wizard. The Online Manual is a link to download the manual while Adobe Reader links to Adobe's website to so you can download the latest version of Adobe Reader.
















When you choose to install the drivers from the disc, just move forward through the process and check the options best suited for your needs. You have two options; you can choose either the Express install that manages the whole process for you or the Custom Install that allows you to choose what software you will install from a list. Agree to the EULA, let the wizard finish, and do the customary reboot to finish the installation.





One of the big knocks on the 5-series cards is the fact that there were really no games available at launch to showcase the DX 11 technology. Fast forward 3+ months and you have a few games to play. Dirt 2 was just released at the beginning of December and Battle Forge has been out and patched for DX 11. Dirt 2 has been a significant part of the bundle in many 5-series cards to get the end user a game that uses the DX 11 features such as tessellation. With Battle Forge you can play online for free or if you like the game you can sign up and buy the game.


Closer Look:

The ATI Catalyst Control Center got a new look with the introduction of the 9.7 drivers so it's about time to take an in-depth look at the options and the interface to see how well the GUI is set up and how easy it is to navigate through. Since the basic view is well, basic, I will look through the Advanced panel. The first page to open with ATI Catalyst Control Center is the Welcome page, which has quick hyperlinks to check for driver updates, get in contact with customer care, to give feedback, visit the AMD website, or to join the [email protected] cause. The next page is the Information Center, which is split into two tabs, one for Graphics Software information and the other for Graphics Hardware information. These two tabs can be very handy for troubleshooting any problems that crop up while using the Sapphire HD 5-series video cards.














The Graphics Hardware tab of the Information Center contains information about the Sapphire HD 5850 Toxic, including BIOS version and date, chipset, memory, vendor code, and so on. Most people shouldn’t need the Graphics Hardware and Software information, but it's definitely handy when a problem may occur. The next page is the Desktops & Displays page – this page is for the basic settings of the monitor(s) and desktop. Users can figure out which monitor is which and rotate the outputted image. Clicking the properties or moving along brings us to the Desktop Properties page.



The Desktop Properties page has much more control over the desktop with settings such as desktop area, color quality, refresh rate, and again, rotation. The next tab in the Desktop Properties page adjusts the color, contrast, brightness, and gamma output. This can be handy on monitors that need some help putting out the appropriate colors – back when I used a CRT a long time ago it helped keep the colors closer to true when the monitor would get aged and get a gray or yellowish tint.



The Display Options page is very short and is used just for one option – Display Detection Option. The options are automatic or manual detection of displays. The 3D page has several tabs that allow users the ability to define a custom scheme for their games. There are previews for the effects or users can power through all of the settings on the 'All' tab at the end.



The Avivo Video page has five tabs dedicated to performance and quality adjustments for video output. A preview is included of a woman with flowers and fruit. Again, just as with the 3D page, there is an 'All' tab that can adjust all of the settings for the Avivo Video at once.



The last page on the graphics menu is the ATI Overdrive. To use this feature users must first click the "lock" to unlock the program after then agreeing to some terms. The software is capable of automatically overclocking the video card through Auto-Tune, but I prefer using the manual settings. Users can test their settings using the Test Custom Clocks button. Fan speed control is relatively new to ATI Overdrive and allows users to define what speed the fan or blower runs at. Underneath and to the right of this are gauges and readouts of some of the more important data for this card – temperature, usage activity, fan speed, GPU clock speed, and memory clock speed. The test feature brings up a full screen image that is pretty basic – greenish reddish with an AMD logo in the bottom left.



The latest additional menu is the HydraVision menu. The first page is the HydraGrid page, which allows users to define a grid-like component to lock applications to a certain chunk of desktop real estate. Options such as showing the grids when moving a window and showing an icon in the tray are settable at the bottom while adjusting the grid is near the top. The grid can be previewed as the default layout is seen with white bars representing the grids. Users can customize the grid layout to whatever they desire and the keyboard shortcuts are listed out in the image while the red bar means it is the selected grid component to be adjusted.



The next page is the Desktop Manager, which does exactly what the name implies – it manages the desktop. The desktop manager can keep track of application position and size, and allow spanning across multiple displays. The last page is the Multi Desktop. This name is also suggestive to its use – this program allows users to have multiple desktops ranging from two up to nine. Users can rotate between desktops with the scroll wheel, preserve display settings, and enable another tray icon. This can be useful for those who have a ton of desktop icons as a means to separate them out – one could for instance even make a desktop for each category of their own choosing even – gaming, work, school, and whatever else.



Now it's time to see just what Sapphire has up its sleeves with the HD 5850 Toxic OC Edition!


Radeon HD 5850
Bus Interface
PCI-E x16 (PCI-E 2.0)
1024MB / 256-bit GDDR5
Clock Speed
765MHz Eclk / Effective 4500 MHz Mclk
Cooling System
Dual slot vapor-chamber cooler with auto fan control, 2 ball bearings.
Bracket Full Height
Display Support                Dual DL-DVI-I
Display Port
VGA(Via adaptor)
Crossfire Support
Native Hardware Crossfire
External Power
PCIe Graphic External 2 x 6 pin
Crossfire Interconnect Cable x 1
DVI to VGA Adaptor x 1
6 PIN to 4 PIN Power Cable x 2



All information courtesy of Sapphire Technology @


Testing of the Sapphire HD 5850 Toxic OC Edition will consist of running the card through the suite of games and synthetic benchmarks, to test the performance against many popular competitors to gauge its performance. The games used are some of today's popular titles to give you an idea on how the cards perform relative to each other. The system specifications will remain the same throughout the testing. No adjustment will be made to the respective control panels during the testing with the exception of the 3DMark Vantage testing where PhysX will be disabled in the NVIDIA control panel. I will test the card at stock speeds and then overclocked to see how much additional performance is available and determine if it can run with or faster than the current fastest single GPU cards on the market. Of course, all settings are left at defaults in the control panels of each respective manufacturer except where noted. I will be using the latest drivers from each manufacturer at the time of this review.


Comparison Video Cards:



Overclocked settings:

The first thing you want to do if you plan on trying for clock speeds in excess of the limits in the Catalyst control Center is download AMD GPU Clock tool and MSI AfterBurner to make sure you get all the functionality you can. The reason for the two utility approach is that when you set the clock speeds in AMD GPU Clock Tool and apply the setting, you default the fan speed to auto. If you go back into the CCC to change the fan speed you lose the clock speeds you set in the GPU Clock Tool. Goofy, but it's what happens. Enter MSI Afterburner - this application was written by the same person responsible for Riva Tuner over at Guru3d and is an easy to use interface that is already able to work with the latest cards from ATI and their partners like Sapphire. Once you have the applications installed, it was a simple matter to push for higher clock speeds on this specialty version of the HD 5850 from Sapphire. Sapphire's specialty models usually do a bit better than the reference versions when it comes to cooling and overclocking. The Toxic is no different with factory speeds of 765MHz on the Cypress core and 1125Mhz on the GDDR5 memory (4500Mhz effective) - you get a pretty healthy bump over the reference clocks of 725/1000Mhz. The clock speeds I could reach with this card varied by benchmark and may be more driver related than I would like to admit. Grey screens at clock speeds that should be easy to handle for this card made finding the right balance between GPU clock speed and memory challenging. In the Futuremark testing I could push for 905Mhz on the core and 1250Mhz on the memory, but in order to call it stable it has to pass all of the benchmarks and play through some rigorous gaming to be truly stable. I started by increasing the fan to 100% so that heat would not be an issue during the overclocking sessions. The Vapor-X cooling really does the job on this card with temperatures hitting a Maximum of 50 degrees Celsius under load during my testing. The reference card I looked at back in October maxed out at 870Mhz on the core so that's where I started my testing. I moved up in 10Mhz increments until the benchmarks would fail then moved down 5Mhz at a time until the clock speed was stable. While 905Mhz would pass in 3DMark06 it would not make it through all the benches. I used the same method on the memory to reach the final clock speeds of 881/1190Mhz. Not bad but I was hoping for more. Even so, this bump in clock speeds offers a significant jump in performance. Bump the CPU up as well and you have a whole new level of performance.


  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Crysis Warhead
  3. Darkest of Days
  4. Call of Duty World at War
  5. Warhammer 40,000 DOW II
  6. Batman: Arkham Asylum
  7. Resident Evil 5
  8. Left 4 Dead
  9. 3DMark 06 Professional
  10. 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 especially 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.













Right out of the gate, the Toxic HD 5850 shows a distinct performance advantage over the reference HD 5850. Overclocking brings the level of performance up another notch to that of the HD 5870. If this keeps up, you can have 5870 performance on a HD 5850 budget.


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 NVIDIA cards take a sound beating in this bench from the Toxic HD 5850. Overclocked, its performance equals that of the HD 5870.


What would testing be if you did not show both sides of the fence? In this test, PhysX was set to low, while leaving the remaining settings intact. You have seen time and again where the ATI cards suffer when PhysX is enabled. Mirror's Edge and Cryostasis are two prime examples. Darkest of Days is no different. What happens in this test shows that, although the game can be played by cards from the red team, the video effects and quality are diminished.

Game Settings:












Higher is Better


As a pre-overclocked card, the Toxic delivers performance better than the reference cards. When overclocked further, the Toxic HD 5850 from Sapphire delivered performance equal to or higher than that of the HD 5870.


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 high resolution. I will use Fraps to measure a section of gameplay in the Semper Fi map on Makin Island to compare the performance of these video cards.














Here, the Toxic performs right in step with the GTX 285 and slightly above the reference HD 5850, as it should.


Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II is a Real Time Strategy game that is significantly different than its predecessor, with improved AI and an improved physics engine. You can play either as a single player in campaign mode, or in a multiplayer game where Microsoft's Live ranking system can be used.
















At the higher resolutions, performance between the reference and Toxic version is similar.


Batman: Arkham Asylum is a new game that brings together two bitter foes, the Joker and Batman. The Joker has taken over Arkham Asylum, Gotham's home for the criminally insane. Your task is to reign the Joker back in and restore order. This game makes use of Physx technology to create a rich environment for you to play your trade.

Game Settings:














There is no doubt that the overclocked speeds on the Toxic Edition HD 5850 allow it to perform above the abilities of the reference card. The Toxic is even faster than the GTX 275 at 2560x1600.


Resident Evil 5 is the sequel to one of the best selling video games of all time. You play the game as Chris Redfield, a survivor of the events at Raccoon City who now works for the BSAA. Sent to Africa to find the genesis of the latest Bio Organic agents, you meet up with another BSAA operative and work together to solve the problem. The game offers incredible 3D effects and a Co-Op gaming style.

Game Settings:













By 2560x1600, the Toxic HD 5850 is only outperformed by the Sapphire HD 5870. Overclocking enables it to exceed the performance of the current king-of-the-hill single GPU card.


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!















The Toxic HD 5850 delivers performance above that of the whole comparison listing, save the GTX 285 and the HD 5870. Overclocking pays higher dividends in the larger resolutions with performance within a couple FPS of the HD 5870.


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
















Performance from the Toxic HD 5850 is right in the envelope it should be - right above the reference card and below the HD 5870. The NVIDIA cards seem to have an edge in this benchmark


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 HD 5850 Toxic edition delivers performance well above that of the reference card, as is to be expected due to the native higher clock speeds. Leaning on the Toxic, the clock speeds respond with performance that is decidedly faster than the HD 5870.


As ATI's largest partner, Sapphire usually can put together something special once the reference cards are released. Time and again we have seen the Atomic, Vapor-X, and Toxic cards come spilling out the doors with special cooling setups, as well as better components used throughout to offer a video card that is built to run cooler, clock higher, and provide a higher level of gaming satisfaction. Sapphire has hit this mark with the Toxic HD 5850 OC Edition. With the use of Black Diamond Chokes, Solid capacitors, and Sapphire's exclusive Vapor-X technology, they have built a card that outperforms the reference version across the board - as it should. Out of 40 benchmark tests, the results show 37 of them favoring the Toxic over the reference card. The other three tests had the performance tied at the same FPS.

As a specialty card, something has to differentiate it from the rest of the pack. The cooling solution and looks are two of these things that have been added to the Toxic HD 5850. You get a cover for the Vapor-X cooling solution that looks great with the deep blue Sapphire blue stripes instead of well.... the Batmobile. The only thing that could have made the Toxic HD 5850 OC Edition look better (of course looks are subjective) is to have a series of LEDs lighting the stripes much like the Vapor-X lineup has the Sapphire logo lit up. Sure, this would add to the power meter and pricing but it would add to the aesthetics as well. Suggested retail pricing comes in at at cool $319, but it looks like e-tailers are bumping that up a bit from this attractive price point. The cooling solution used is Sapphire's proprietary Vapor chamber cooling solution that goes by the name Vapor-X. The cooling solution uses three heatpipes, in addition to the Vapor Chamber, to efficiently pull the thermal load out of the GPU and memory. With the driver controlling the fan speeds, I saw temperatures in the 57 to 59 degree Celsius range, where the reference card I tested came in at 66 degrees Celsius under load. When overclocked, the Toxic peaked at 49 degrees Celsius. Still not bad! The technology works! Power consumption for the entire system came in at 306 watts under load. ATI's Powerplay technology significant reduces this at idle by reducing the clock speeds on both the core and memory to give you a little green back in your life in the form of a cooler running product that take much less juice to operate. This saves you money on the electric bill by cutting down how much you pay for your utilities, as well as the cost to run the system.

When you get down to it the Sapphire Toxic Hd 5850 is a winner with excellent cooling and increased performance without a severe cost penalty over the reference cards. If you are looking for a new video card and the looks and performance appeal to your senses, the Sapphire Toxic HD 5850 is not a bad way to go!