Sapphire HD 6850 1GB Vapor-X Edition

airman - 2011-09-01 10:20:26 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: airman   
Reviewed on: October 2, 2011
Price: $169.99


Between the introductions of new series of video cards between AMD and nVidia, the graphics market is relatively quiet. What we do see, however, is AMD's partners coming out with different variations of cards based off of an original platform. Sapphire has been dominating the market and keeping it busy due to its introductions of upper-end video cards that offer different things. Most recently, Sapphire surprised many of us with its Toxic HD 6950, which overclocked like a dream and showed chances of success while flashing to an HD 6970 bios. A couple of weeks ago Sapphire brought its HD 6850 Vapor-X edition to the table. The Vapor-X suffix means use of a specially designed vapor chamber cooler that brings up expectations for cooling capability. The reference-style blower is generally sufficient, but can be very loud at full speed. Higher efficiency coolers, such as those found on the Vapor-X edition video cards, can achieve similar results but are able to do so at a much lower level of volume.

Sapphire has been the pioneer in keeping the market somewhat interesting, as least for the Red Team folks. We've seen one or two other AMD manufacturers' cards here on OCC, but until recently with a couple of GTX 580 reviews, nVidia hasn't really had anything 'different' hit the shelves in quite some time. Still though, we can all agree that we're ready to see more. Hopefully with the upcoming release of Bulldozer and we'll get some news about perhaps a new top of the line GTX5X0 from nVidia, and maybe some hints about AMD's next generation of video cards.

Today I will be looking at Sapphire's HD 6850 1GB Vapor-X Edition. The Vapor-X line is already well established and widely known, and I'm excited to see it continue to grow. The Vapor-X technology employs the same principle used by heatpipes, only in a different shape. A vessel with very low interior pressure (vacuum) contains a fluid that easily evaporates and condenses depending on the temperature. The condensed form absorbs lots of energy (heat) from the GPU die and evaporates, moves outwards where it is cooled, then condenses to complete the cycle. Just about every new video card and processor heatsink integrates this idea themselves, only that the Vapor-X line puts it together on a larger scale.

The Sapphire HD 6850 1GB Vapor-X Edition is just like that of the original HD 6850: 960 stream processors on a 40nm process die, 1GB of 256-bit GDDR5 memory, Eyefinity support, etc., but is clocked slightly higher at 800/4400mhz instead of the 780/4000mhz. I recently had good luck on overclocking Sapphire's HD 6950 2GB DiRT 3 Toxic Edition, and I am excited to give this card a shot. I will start off by showcasing the card, it's package, what's under the hood, and its specifications. Following that, I will give a shot at overclocking it and then the true tests will begin!


Closer Look:

The plain blue box of the HD 6950 Vapor-X Edition is a far cry from that of what I've seen in the past with Sapphire's extremely detailed and very artful boxes that are fun to look at. Instead, the box for this video card is rather plain. Its main color is blue with a black textured pattern "wrapping" over the edges, leaving the blue color in the shape of a 'V'. I'm not saying that the box looks bad, but it's almost like it was whipped up at the end of a Friday afternoon. Again, it still looks good, but is strangely different from Sapphire's historical boxes. The box contains all of the same information that you would expect on other Sapphire boxes, including "icons" for many of the features at the bottom of the front of the box. These icons include things like DirectX 11 and Eyefinity support, PCI Express 2.1, HDMI output, and others. There is also a DiRT3 sticker here, which means that there is a key for DiRT3 in the box — a $20 value.

The sides of the box show general specifications for the video card, such as related system requirements (for running things like HD video, OS for Direct X 11, and silly things like an open PCI Express slot. Other information includes the specifics: clock speeds, memory type and quantity, etc. The rear of the box is a little less technical than the sides; the information that's found here is more on the feature/explanation side. Things like the Eyefinity, DX11, 3D support, and other features that can be found with this card and things that are included are explained.


The box opens like that of just about any other video card box — the outer part is merely a sheath that slides off and exposes the interior, brown cardboard box. The flap on the cardboard box opens up and shows the card itself protected in an anti-static bag. Underneath this tray on top of which the card is placed are the accessories that we can generally expect. Here, I found the Crossfire bridge, HDMI cable, mini DisplayPort adapter, molex to 6-pin power adapters, DVI to VGA adapter, driver CD, DiRT3 key, user's manual, and some information from Sapphire.


With everything out of the box, I'll now start tuning into the card itself, its features, the cooler, and what's under the hood.

Closer Look:

Being a Vapor-X model, the card offers a slightly different look than the typical reference design. Generally, a blower is towards the rear of the card (opposite from the I/O ports) that blows over the cooler in a linear fashion. In the case of the Vapor-X, however, there is a typical, finned fan that blows directly on the cooler in a radial fashion. Rather than using only heatpipes, the Vapor-X, hence its name, uses a vapor chamber which effectively works as a two-dimensional heatpipe. This should allow for rapid heat transfer from the GPU die itself to the rest of the cooler. In my opinion, the reference blower design works great. In a lot of cases, they will out-perform these "aftermarket" versions! We'll see how that does in the Temperature portion of testing. The middle of the fan sports the Sapphire logo with the Vapor-X markings to its left. The rear of the card shows off the standard, blue Sapphire PCB. There is no "backplate" on this model, which I am used to seeing but the cooler isn't held on with a lot of pressure similar to other cards.












Available ports include your typical two DVI connections, two mini DisplayPort connections, and a full-size HDMI port. This configuration will allow up to four monitors, which those using Eyefinity will find very useful! The overall length of the card is a little bit under 9.5" (240mm) so unless you're using a horrendously small case, this card will have plenty of room. It uses a standard set of two 2x3-pin connectors, so unless you're using an old, legacy power supply, it will be completely "bolt-on". There is a molex to 6-pin adapter included, but most will agree it's best to use direct PSU connections if they are available. The very front of the PCB on the same side is the home of a single Crossfire connector, so don't hesitate to take advantage of any other Crossfire-enabled video card if your system has two PCI slots! The large, silver screw on the PCB next to the Crossfire connector plays a part in holding the I/O bracket in place; it has no connection to the cooler.


Checking out what's underneath the cooler will show that the Sapphire HD6850 Vapor-X card DOES appear to be the reference PCB — if that matters to anyone. I'm not 100% certain, but the layout appears to be identical to what I've researched. The only difference is the location of the power ports, which face towards the side of the case rather than towards where the hard drives would go. The memory chips used are Elpida chips, the lesser-known name of NEC, Hitachi, etc. I was unfamiliar with the name myself, until I discovered this information fueled by my curiosity. The chips total 1GB and operate on a 256-bit bus at 880mhz, 4400mhz effective.

Looking at the bottom of the cooler you see the big copper block, the fins attached to it, and the heatpipes that go from the vapor chamber to the fins. The fins themselves extend quite a bit past the effective area that the fan will "touch", but if the dynamics are good, then they'll still receive some airflow at its extremities. Once dissected, the cooler itself is very simple. It employs three, 6mm heatpipes that run from the vapor chamber base to the extremities of the cooler. The folded-over shape along the top of the fins on the ends will help contain the incoming airflow, helping corral the air to achieve maximum flow. The plastic shroud is held on by four screws (two holes can be seen towards the front on the flat plate), and the cooler is held on by the four screws surrounding the contact patch of the vapor chamber.


As far as installing the card goes, there's nothing to it. The card popped right inside of the Corsair Graphite Series 600T and still had loads of end clearance. Being this size, it's a perfect fit for a smaller case. With it installed, it's getting close to that time for me to start stretching its legs and seeing how it performs under many different testing scenarios. Up first after Specifications & Features is my favorite: Overclocking. So stay tuned!


GPU Core
Die Size
Transistor Count
1700 Million
960 Unified
Pixel Fillrate
25.6 GPixel/s
Texture Fillrate
38.4 Gtexel/s
Memory Type
Bus Width
Memory Size
140.8 GB/s
GPU Core Clock
800 MHz
Memory Clock
1100 MHz
DirectX Support
Shader Model Support





All information courtesy of Sapphiretech @


Testing of the Sapphire HD6850 1GB Vapor-X Edition will consist of running it and comparison cards through the suite of games and synthetic benchmarks. This will test the performance against many popular competitors. Comparisons will be made to cards of equal and greater capabilities to show where they fall on the performance ladder. The games used are some of today's newest and most popular titles to give you an idea of 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 if applicable. I will test the cards at stock speeds, then overclocked in order to see the effects of any increases in clock speed. The cards are placed in order from highest to lowest performing in the graphs to show where the cards fall by comparison. The drivers used are the 11.7 Catalyst drivers for AMD-based cards and the 275.27 for NVIDIA-based cards.


Comparison Video Cards:



Well, I was already aware of what most HD6850s were capable of through overclocking, and I found that I hit a similar wall with this one. The core speed, while using a voltage of 1.225V, got stuck at 1030MHz. Everything after that began to artifact and show poor, unstable image quality. At 1030MHz, this card produced the highest core clock speed of all of the comparison cards! This is a slight improvement over the XFX HD6850 comparison card, which maxed out at 1020MHz. The memory, on the other hand, pulled ahead at 1249MHz where the comparison HD6850 stopped at about 1200MHz. With a cooler that is slightly improved over the reference, XFX version, this isn't to be unexpected. The results here are good, especially with the near 30% overclock on the core. The memory didn't do AS well, but still fared an approximate 15% overclock and rightfully obtained a 3rd place trophy. Hopefully, we'll see some similar scaling in our testing!




Maximum Clock Speeds:

Testing for the maximum clock speed consists of looping Crysis Warhead and Unigine 2.5 for 30 minutes each to see where the clock speeds will fail when pushed. If the clock speed adjustment fails, then the clock speeds and tests are rerun until they pass the full hour of testing.



  1. Aliens vs. Predator
  2. Metro 2033
  3. Civilization V
  4. HAWX 2
  5. Just Cause 2
  6. Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.5
  7. Mafia II
  8. Battlefield: Bad Company 2
  9. Lost Planet 2
  10. 3DMark 11
  1. Temperature
  2. Power Consumption

Aliens vs. Predator, developed by Rebellion Developments, is a science fiction first-person shooter and is a remake of its 1999 game. The game is based off the two popular sci fi franchises. In this game, you have the option of playing through the single player campaigns as one of three species, the Alien, the Predator, and the Human Colonial Marine. The Game uses Rebellion's Asura game engine that supports Dynamic Lighting, Shader Model 3.0, Soft Particle systems, and Physics. To test this game I will be using the Aliens vs. Predator benchmark tool with the settings listed below. All DirectX 11 features are enabled.












The results that can be seen here are exactly what I expect for the rest of the testing. The Sapphire HD6850 Vapor-X should perform very closely to the XFX HD6850, but generally a little bit higher due to the higher clocks in both stock and overclocked scenarios.


Part first-person shooter, part survival horror, Metro 2033 is based on the novel of the same name, written by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. You play as Artyom in a post-apocalyptic Moscow, where you'll spend most of your time traversing the metro system, with occasional trips to the surface. Despite the dark atmosphere and bleak future for mankind, the visuals are anything but bleak. Powered by the 4A Engine, with support for DirectX 11, NVIDIA PhysX and NVIDIA 3D Vision, the tunnels are extremely varied — in your travels, you'll come across human outposts, bandit settlements, and even half-eaten corpses. Ensuring you feel all the tension, there is no map and no health meter. Get lost without enough gas mask filters and adrenaline shots and you may soon wind up as one of those half-eaten corpses — chewed up by some horrifying manner of irradiated beast that hides in the shadows just waiting for some hapless soul to wander by.













Here again we see the Sapphire HD6850 Vapor-X being right on target, sometimes pulling slightly ahead of the comparison HD6850. During the overclocked testing, we see results slightly below but very similar to the HD6870.


Civilization V is a turn-based strategy game. The premise is to play as one of 18 civilizations and lead the civilization from the "dawn of man" up to the space age. This latest iteration of the Civilization series uses a new game engine and massive changes to the way the AI is used throughout the game. Civilization V is developed by Firaxis Games and is published by 2K games and was released for Windows in September of 2010. Testing will be done using actual game play with FPS measured by Fraps through a series of five turns,150 turns into the game.
















In this benchmark, we see that the Sapphire HD6850 Vapor-X actually surpasses an HD6870 in the 1680x1050 overclocked scenario. It is only one occasion, but that still says a lot about the card.


H.A.W.X. 2 is an arcade-style flight game and is the sequel to H.A.W.X.. The Game is published by Ubisoft and was released in late 2010.














Nothing unexpected here. However, the Sapphire HD6850 Vapor-X nips at the heels of the HD6870 throughout the race!


Published by Capcom, Lost Planet 2 is the sequel to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition and uses the MT Framework 2.0 engine. The storyline takes place on the fictional planet E.D.N. III some 10 years after the events of the first game. This time, the snow cover is gone and has been replaced by a tropical landscape. With this new rendition of the game comes the ability to run it using either DirectX 9 or 11. Along with this ability comes the chance to use that new DX 11 hardware to effect. DX11 features in this game include tessellation, displacement mapping on water, bosses and player characters, soft body compute shaders on “Boss” characters, and wave simulation by way of DirectCompute. This gives you smoke that is lifelike and reacts to inputs, water that looks and reacts how you would expect it to in a "real life" situation, and "Boss" characters rendered with more depth and detail. If the latest graphics quality settings are not enough, NVIDIA has included support behind this game for both 3D Vision and 3D Vision Surround, which gives you 3D effects over multiple screens. There is no better way to see how a game will perform than to test it out. Capcom has made this easy with a downloadable benchmark that we will be using to test out a cross section of today's currently available performance video cards.












Something interesting happened here. In all but one test, this card fell slightly behind the other HD6850 comparison card. In the other test, the two cards tied.


Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.5 is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on the Unigine engine. This was the first DX 11 benchmark out to allow testing of DX 11 features. What sets the Heaven Benchmark apart is the addition of hardware tessellation, available in three modes — Moderate, Normal and Extreme. Although tessellation requires a video card with DirectX 11 support and Windows Vista/7, the Heaven Benchmark also supports DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11 and OpenGL 4.0. Visually, it features beautiful floating islands that contain a tiny village and extremely detailed architecture.













This is always one of my favorite benchmarks to watch because it's just so dang pretty! Anyways, the Sapphire HD6850 Vapor-X did something cool again here, where it outperformed an HD6870 twice. It's still only by 1 FPS, but it's still a statistic.


Just Cause 2 is a third-person shooter that takes place on the fictional island of Panau in Southeast Asia. In this sequel to 2006's Just Cause, you return as Agent Rico Rodriguez to overthrow an evil dictator and confront your former boss. When you don't feel like following the main story line, you're free to roam the island, pulling off crazy stunts and causing massive destruction in your wake, all beautifully rendered by the Avalanche Engine 2.0. In the end, that's what the game basically boils down to — crazy stunts and blowing things up. In fact, blowing things up and wreaking havoc is actually necessary to unlock new missions and items.













In this test, we see results from the Sapphire HD6850 Vapor-X are similar to those from a GTX460, but passing it at high resolutions. This is no surprise, as the pricepoint is about the same.


Mafia II is a third-person shooter that puts you into the shoes of a poor, Sicilian immigrant, Vito Scarletta. Vito has just returned home from serving overseas in the liberation of fascist Italy — to avoid serving his jail sentence — to find his family in debt. The debt must be repaid by the end of the week, and his childhood friend, Joe Barbaro, conveniently happens to have questionable connections that he assures will help Vito clear the debt by that time. As such, Vito is sucked into a world of quick cash. Released in North America for PC in August of 2010, the game was developed by 2K Czech published by 2K and uses the Illusion 1.3 game engine.














Again, we see here that the Sapphire HD6850 Vapor-X began to fall behind in the later tests, but only by 2 FPS which is small enough of a margin to offer no concern.


Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is a first-person shooter developed by EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE) and published by Electronic Arts for Windows, PS3, and XBox. This game is part of the Battlefield franchise and uses the Frostbite 1.5 Engine, allowing for destructible environments. You can play the single player campaign or multiplayer with five different game modes. Released in March 2010, it has so far sold in excess of six million copies.












In this test, we can see the clear advantage that the AMD cards have over nVidia cards at high resolutions. In the 1680 tests, the GTX460 performs 13 FPS higher than the Sapphire HD6850 Vapor-X, but ends up being matched in performance during the 2560 tests. This can be easily observed in nearly every test.


3DMark 11 is the next installment for Futuremark in the 3DMark series with Vantage as its predecessor. The name implies that this benchmark is for Microsoft DirectX 11 and with an unintended coincidence, the name matches the upcoming date in number (which was the naming scheme to some prior versions of 3DMark nonetheless). 3DMark 11 is designed solely for DirectX 11 so Windows Vista or 7 are required along with a DirectX 11 graphics card in order to run this test. The Basic Edition has unlimited free tests on performance mode whereas Vantage only allowed for a single test run. The advanced edition costs $19.95 and unlocks nearly all of the features of the benchmark and the professional edition runs $995.00 and is mainly suited for corporate use. The new benchmark contains six tests, four of which are aimed only at graphical testing, one to test for physics handling and one to combine graphics and physics testing together. The open source Bullet Physics library is used for physics simulations and although not as mainstream as Havok or PhysX, it still seems to be a popular choice.

With the new benchmark comes two new demos that can be watched, both based on the tests but unlike the tests, these contain basic audio. The first demo is titled "Deep Sea" and have a few vessels exploring what looks to be a sunken U-Boat. The second demo is titled "High Temple" and is similar to South American tribal ruins with statues and the occasional vehicle around. The demos are simple in that they have no story, they are really just a demonstration of what the testing will be like. The vehicles have the logos of the sponsors MSI and Antec on their sides with the sponsorships helping to make the basic edition free. The four graphics tests are slight variants of the demos. I will use the three benchmark test preset levels to test the performance of each card. The presets are used as they are comparable to what can be run with the free version so that results can be compared across more than just a custom set of test parameters.







Throughout these tests we see the two HD6850s sticking together, though at the bottom of the graphs.


Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using Crysis Warhead with MSI's Afterburner overclocking utility for temperature monitoring. I will be using a resolution of 1920x1200 using 8xAA. I will use a 10-run sequence to run the test, ensuring that the maximum thermal threshold is reached. The fan speed will be left in the control of the driver package and video card's BIOS for the stock load test, with the fan moved to 100% to see the best possible cooling scenario for the overclocked load test. The idle test will be a 20-minute cooldown with the fan speeds left on automatic in the stock speed testing and bumped up to 100% when running the overclocked idle and load testing.













Here is a test where the Sapphire HD6850 Vapor-X really shines. Thanks to the Vapor-X cooling system, the card manages to really show off under a loaded GPU. Even with an overvolted core (1.225V vs a stock 1.1V), the overclocked and loaded temperature is the LOWEST of all of the comparison cards. In the same test, the other HD6850 recorded a temperature that was 10°C higher.


Power Consumption of the system will be measured in both idle states and loaded states and will take into account the peak voltage of the system with each video card installed. The idle results will be measured after 15 minutes of inactivity on the system. For load testing I will once again use Crysis Warhead run at 2560x1600 using the Gamer setting with 8xAA looping the Avalanche benchmark scenario.













What I discovered here was nothing out of the ordinary. Power draw was closely matched to that of the other HD6850 in all tests, though slightly higher in the overclocked load scenario — most likely due to the slightly higher clock speeds.


The Sapphire HD6850 Vapor-X is certainly a potent card given its statistics. Most cards now have moved to the 2GB range, and even though this card only sports a total of 1GB, it still performs quite well — even at high resolutions. The Vapor-X technology it possesses as its cooler does a great job at keeping the temperatures down at a full, overclocked load. Even though at full speed, it is quite LOUD, its still quieter than the blower style coolers that we've seen for years. It overclocked well. In fact, it actually achieved the highest clock speed out of all of the comparison cards. The memory on the other hand wasn't really anything special. I didn't really check the scaling between the core and the memory alone, so I can't really say which one had a greater affect on the performance of the card. I can say, however, that under the temperatures that I saw while I was pushing it as far as I did, it leaves me with the impression of a very good and efficient cooler.

I did find that the Sapphire HD6850 Vapor-X edition outperformed the GTX460 in some cases. That can be more or less a blanket statement for all other HD6850s. The average price of a GTX460 is right there about $170 or so, depending on the vendor and the make of the card. Unless you plan on gaming at resolutions greater than 1920x1200, you may want to look elsewhere. Other than that, my general thoughts about the card itself is that underneath the cooler, it's really nothing special. For the $170 price tag, it's a little steep for the performance return that you'll receive. What you do get over other cards is the free DiRT3 coupon and a top-notch cooler but unfortunately, that's about it. Some HD6850 models can be found for under $130 at certain vendors, which asks the question if the extra cooling performance and the "free" DiRT3 coupon is worth the extra $40. Of course, over the next month or two the price should come down since it appears the availability of this card is sparse and only a couple of people are carrying it — leading to less competition on the product.

Anyways, this isn't a card that I would tell people to go rush out and buy. It's not really for everyone, plus it's not like it's new and groundbreaking. For someone who wants to add another card to their setup and enable Crossfire and stay at stock clocks, money could probably be saved by not getting this card. However, for someone who wants to keep it under $200 and is looking for some money to save, wants a free game and still wants to overclock a good bit while keeping things cool and relatively quiet (and maybe is more partial to AMD cards), the Sapphire HD6850 Vapor-X isn't a bad choice for sure.