Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X Review

gotdamojo06 - 2011-02-03 16:08:12 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: gotdamojo06   
Reviewed on: February 10, 2011
Price: EST. $229

Introduction: 

Have you been looking to upgrade the video card in your current system? Maybe the one that you currently have is not able to give you your desired FPS in your favorite game or maybe it doesn't support DX 11 and is holding you back from getting some of the newer titles? Whatever the reason may be, if you are looking at upgrading your current GPU, Sapphire has recently launched the HD6870 with the Vapor-X Cooler installed on it for maximum cooling power. Not only are you going to get DX 11 support with the Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X, you are also going to be able to get a total of two DVI, one HDMI, and two DisplayPort 1.2 adapters on the card. This will provide you with the most potential for your display device to be connected with up to six monitors from this one card. I am very excited to see exactly what this card is going to look like as well as to see exactly how well it is going to perform when it is put up head-to-head with the competition in our extensive series of synthetic and real-world testing.

Closer Look: 

The front of the packaging for the Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X is very clean looking. You are going to get an Arctic scene in the background with a penguin standing on the snow. This is going to give you the impression that the card is going to be running very cool in comparison to the stock reference cooler as well as some of the other options out there for cooling your GPU. The top left hand corner of the packaging is where you are going to find the Sapphire Logo printed and the right top hand corner is where you will find the 1GB GDDR5 and TRIXX badges. TRIXX is the new Sapphire GPU tweaking utility that is going to give you the ability to tweak and overclock their video cards. In the center of the package you are going to see the Vapor-X logo with the tag line Vapor Chamber Technology under it to let you know exactly what Vapor-X is (if you had not known before). To the left of the Vapor-X logo, you will find a badge letting you know that Vapor-X Cooling is award winning and is a superior cooling solution. The bottom edge of the packaging is where you are going to find a few of the highlighted features that the Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X card carries, such as Full DirectX 11 Support, AMD Eyefinity, CPI Express 2.1, 1080p Full HD, AMD HD3D Technology, DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI High Speed, 7.1 HD Surround Sound, and Super Fast GDDR5 Memory. When you flip the packaging over to the back, you will find a list of the Product Highlights as well as a more detailed list of the features that the Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X card includes as well as a description of each feature. You are also going to get a list of exactly what is inside of the box such as the Sapphire HD6870 Graphics Card itself, Driver CD, Cables and a User Manual. Let's get this box opened up and see for ourselves exactly what is inside!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once you get the outer packaging off, you are going to find a brown box inside. This is where the Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X along with all of the accessories are housed. There is a cardboard container that holds the card which is contained in bubble wrap. This will hold the card firmly in place to ensure it does not move around during the shipping process (not despite the fact that every shipping company lovingly cradles your packages as if they contained rare Mammoth eggs destined for the Queen herself). Under the cardboard container you will find a second brown box that is guarding all of the accessories. Inside the accessories box you will find a Drivers CD, a User Manual, a Sapphire case badge, a CrossFire bridge, a D-Sub to DVI dongle, an HDMI to DisplayPort dongle, an HDMI cable and two 4 pin Molex to 6 pin PCI-E power adapters.

 

 

Now that we know what the packaging looks like and what kind of accessories are included with the Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X, it's time to take a close look at the card itself.

Closer Look: 

Taking the first look at the Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X video card, the first thing that caught my attention is the very clean look of the Vapor-X cooler, it looks very classy to me. The entire cooler is a black color with silver accents running along the back edge of the cooler towards the front where Sapphire identifies the card using a silver sticker with black and gray writing. In the center of the cooler, you are going to notice a large fan installed to help actively cool the card. The fan does have the Sapphire logo printed in the center of it. Looking at the back of the card, you are going to see that the PCB is a bright blue color. You will also find six screws on the back of the card that are used to mount the large Vapor-X cooler. Four are around the GPU core and two more can be found towards the back of the card to provide extra support for the cooler. When you lay the card down flat and look at it from the top and bottom sides, you are going to see that not only does the cooler cover the entire card to provide a full coverage cooler to help cool all of the components on the card, you can also see that the cooler is going to take up an extra expansion slot in your computer (not unusual with high performance cards).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking at the rear IO panel of the card, you are going to find all of the different connectivity options that Sapphire gave you with the HD6870 Vapor-X card. You have two DVI outputs, an HDMI output, and two DisplayPort 1.2 outputs. Sitting above the HDMI and DisplayPort outputs, you will find a small vent area in the I/O Shield that is going to allow for air to flow out of your case to help keep the ambient air inside your case be as unaffected by the HD6870 as possible. The top left hand corner of the card is where you are going to find the Crossfire connector. This is where you would attach one of the ends of the CrossFire bridge to connect a second card to this one and help increase your graphics performance. On the top right hand corner of the card in the rear is where you will find the two 6 pin PCI-E power adapters located. You need these since the Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X card is going to use more power than the PCI-E bus can support.

 

 

 

Once you get the cooler ripped off (well, not literally!) of the Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X, you are left with a naked card. You are able to see that the GPU is located directly in the center of the bright blue PCB with eight memory chips surrounding it. You are also going to see that the back end of the card is where Sapphire decided to place all of the voltage regulators. There are some RAM heatsinks located all around the board on key components to help keep them cool during a full load. Sapphire also has their Black Diamond Chokes and Full Solid Capacitor designs integrated in the HD5870 Vapor-X graphics card. What this means is you will have improved reliability and better overclocking by using only high-polymer, aluminum capacitors which posses far superior characteristics than regular aluminum capacitors for a longer product life as well. Sapphire's patent pending choke is 10% cooler and offers 25% more power efficiency than a normal choke. Meaning, the card is going to be more reliable and save more energy when fully loaded. The GPU that is located on the Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X is the Barts core. The core is created on a 40nm process and the die size is 255mm². At the stock GPU clock of 900MHz, the card is able to produce 29.8 GPixel/s and 52.1 GTexel/s. The memory that is installed on the card is manufactured by Hynix. They are all 128MB GDDR5 modules, giving you a total of 1024MB of memory which are all clocked in at 1050MHz on a 256 bit bus width giving you 134.4 GB/s for your bandwidth.

 

 

The Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X video card uses Sapphire's innovative Vapor-X Cooler which is going to help cool down your video card GPU in a more effective way than the stock reference cooler, this is done by cooling the GPU with a Vapor Chamber. Vapor Chamber Technology is based on the same principles as heat pipe technology; a liquid coolant is vaporized at a hot surface, the resulting vapor is condensed at a cold surface then the liquid is returned to the hot surface. The re-circulation process is controlled by a wick system. The coolant that Sapphire uses is actually water, however because the chamber is evacuated to a very low pressure, the vaporization process occurs at a much lower temperature than the normal boiling point. I did borrow a few images from Sapphire to illustrate to you exactly how the Vapor-X Chamber works as well as how it is designed.

 

 

 

The actual Vapor-X chamber is all condensed and located inside of the base of the cooler, which is coated in copper to ensure maximum heat transfer occurs. There are three heatpipes that go from the base of the cooler and travel into the heatsink's fin array which has a fan located in the center to blow cooler fresh air over the fins to get the heat off of them. There is a ramsink that is located on top of the voltage regulators towards the back of the card. This is a very simple ramsink that just mounts through two holes in the PCB and helps keep the regulators cool.

 

    

 

Now that we know exactly what the Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X looks like and how it works, we should take a look at the specifications and features of the card itself before we jump into the testing.

Specifications:

GPU

HD6870

Codename

Barts

Technology

40nm

Die Size

255mm²

Transistors

1700 Million

ROPs

32

Shaders

1120 Unified

DirectX Support

11.0

Shader Model

5.0

Pixel Fillrate

29.8 GPixel/s

Texture Fillrate

52.1 GTexel/s

Memory Type

GDDR5

Bus Width

256 Bit

Memory Size

1024 MB

Bandwidth

134.4 GB/s

GPU Clock

900 MHz

Memory Clock

1050 MHz

 

Features:

 

 

 

 

 

All information courtesy of Sapphire @ http://www.sapphiretech.com/presentation/product/?leg=&psn=000101&pid=1080

Testing:

Testing of the Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X will consist of running it and comparison cards through the OverclockersClub.com 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 it falls 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 all of the testing (which is listed below for your convenience). There will be no adjustments 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 begin all of the testing at stock clock speeds, then go through and overclock the video card and re-run the testing to see how much additional performance is available. We did recently change the way that our graphs are going to be displayed and setup, again for your convenience. I will show you the highest scoring cards all the way to the left hand side of the graph with the lower performing cards on the right hand side. Due to the fact that there is a large amount of cards being displayed in each graph, to make it easier for you to determine which card is which, I will keep the same color code for each graphics card throughout the article.

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

When it came down to overclocking the Saphire HD6870 Vapor-X video card, things were pretty straight forward, I used MSI Afterburner to overclock the card as high as I possibly could by increasing the Core Clock by 10MHz at a time until I reached 1000MHz which is the limitation of Afterburner. Once I hit the wall of the application, I began to wonder if the card would be able to go any higher and decided to try out the Sapphire TRIXX software which after I downloaded and installed it, found out that the maximum allowed Core Clock in the software was 1500MHz. However, I could not seem to get the card to stay stable enough for benchmarks past 1000MHz. I was disapointed in the fact that I could not adjust the GPU voltage with either the MSI or Sapphire software. However, if I would have been able to, I'm sure that I could have seen much higher core clock speeds. Once the core clock was nailed, it was time to overclock the memory. I used the same technique for the memory overclocking as I did with the core clock. Raise by 10MHz then test and if it passed stability testing I would raise until it wouldn't. The maximum that I could get out of the memory was 1200MHz. So I was able to get a maximum of 11% increase on the core clock and 14% on the memory clocks, not too shaby when you are able to hit 1 GHz on your GPU core!

 

Maximum Clock Speeds:

In the past, I had used MSI's Kombuster utility to check for stability coupled with the ability to run through the entire test suite. I have found that some game tests would still fail with this utility, so I have moved to testing with several games at maximum settings through several resolutions to verify the clock speeds that are listed below. Why the change? I have found some cards will play fine at a 4xAA setting, but fail when using 8xAA due to the increased graphics load. If it fails, then the clock speeds and tests are rerun until they pass.

   

 

  1. Aliens vs. Predator
  2. Metro 2033
  3. Crysis Warhead
  4. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
  5. Just Cause 2
  6. Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.1
  7. Batman: Arkham Asylum
  8. Battlefield: Bad Company 2
  9. 3DMark 06 Professional
  10. 3DMark Vantage
  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 or 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.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

The Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X  was able to stay within the top seven cards at the 2560 x 1600 testing when it was overclocked.

Testing:

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.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

During the Metro 2033 testing, the HD6870 Vapor-X card was able to hang with the ASUS GTX570 during the stock testing, and once it was overclocked, it was able to come close to the Sapphire HD5970.

Testing:

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.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

Crysis Warhead is a benchmark where you are able to see exactly how well the overclocking of the Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X was, you can see that it was in the bottom section of the scores at stock speeds and jumped up to the middle of the group during the overclocked testing.

Testing:

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is an iteration of the venerable first person shooter series, Call of Duty. Despite its long, successful pedigree, the game is not without substantial criticism and controversy, especially on the PC. Aside from the extremely short campaign and lack of innovation, the PC version's reception was also marred by its lack of support for user-run dedicated servers, which means no user-created maps, no mods, and no customized game modes. You're also limited to 18-player matches instead of the 64-player matches that were possible in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Despite all this, the game has been well received and the in-house IW 4.0 engine renders the maps in gorgeous detail, making it a perfect candidate for OCC benchmarking. You start off the single player missions playing as Private Allen and jump right into a serious firefight. This is the point where testing will begin. Testing will be done using actual game play with FPS measured by Fraps.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

During the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 testing, you are able to see that the Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X video card was able to score in the top five at the 2560 x 1600 overclocked testing.

Testing:

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.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

In the Just Cause 2 testing, the HD6870 Vapor-X card was able to stay in just about the middle of the range performance, no matter if it was overclocked or at stock. However, once it was overclocked, it was able to pick up an extra 5 FPS compared to the stock testing at 2560 x 1600.

Testing:

Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.0 is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on the Unigine engine. 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 and OpenGL. Visually, it features beautiful floating islands that contain a tiny village and extremely detailed architecture.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

During the Unigine 2.1 testing, once the HD6870 Vapor-X card was overclocked, it was able to give scores comparable to the XFX HD6950 and the ASUS GTX 570 at the 2560 x 1600 testing.

Testing:

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a new game that brings together two bitter rivals, the Joker and Batman. The Joker has taken over Arkham Asylum, Gotham's home for the criminally insane. Your task is to rein the Joker back in and restore order. This game makes use of PhysX technology to create a rich environment for you to become the Dark Knight.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

The Batman: Arkham Asylum testing shows that the Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X video card was able to stand its ground and beat out a few more cards once it was overclocked, but it was towards the middle of the heap throughout this benchmark’s testing.

Testing:

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.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

The newest of our benchmarks, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 has the Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X graphics card once again towards the average side of the things at both stock and overclocked settings.

Testing:

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.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

Another one of our new titles in our lineup, 3DMark11 you are going to see the DirectX 11 support of your graphics card put to the test, with that said, the HD6870 Vapor-X card was able to peform quite well. Beating out the HD6870 card from Sapphire and nipping on the heals of the ASUS GTX560 Ti CDII TOP.

Testing:

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 1024 x 768 progressing to "Extreme" at 1920 x 1200. 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.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

The 3dMark Vantage testing is always a good benchmark to look at when comparing graphic card performance. You can see that the Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X at both stock and overclocked speeds was towards the bottom of the heap, right next to its little brother, the Sapphire HD6870.

Testing:

Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using MSI Kombuster, which is paired with MSI's Afterburner overclocking utility for temperature monitoring. I will be using the stability test set to a resolution of 1920 x 1200 using 8xAA. I will use a 15 minute time frame 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 cool down 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. For load testing the GTX 580 and GTX 570, I will use Crysis Warhead run at 2560 x 1600 using the Gamer setting with 8xAA looping the Avalanche benchmark scenario, as I have found this to put a load close to that of Kombuster on a video card. This is needed as a way around the current limiting ability of the GTX 500 series when it detects programs that put an unrealistic load on the GPU, which Kombuster does.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

Lower = Better

 

When considering that the Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X had one of the highest GPU clocks seen here at OCC (being beaten out by the GTX560 TI CD11 TOP by 4MHz), you can see that the temperatures that it yielded were quite impressive, being towards the middle of the heap during the overclocked load testing, only being 2°C higher than when it was running at stock speeds.

Testing:

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. I will use MSI Kombuster to load the GPU for a 15 minute test and use the peak load of the system as my result for the maximum load. The idle results will be measured after 15 minutes of inactivity on the system. For load testing the GTX 500 series, I will once again use Crysis Warhead run at 2560 x 1600 using the Gamer setting with 8xAA looping the Avalanche benchmark scenario.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

Lower = Better

 

As you can imagine, when you overclock your video card, your power consumption is going to go up with your clock speeds. However, the Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X was able to keep its ground in the power consumption testing, it was able to stay towards the bottom of the barrel, right around its little brother again, the Sapphire HD6870.

Conclusion:

What can be said about the Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X video card? Well to start out, the first thing that I wanted to mention was the overclocking of the video card, I was very impressed to see that the card was able to go all the way up to 1GHz on the core and 1200MHz on the memory. This did give me quite a noticeable gain in scores and FPS as compared to the stock performance of the card. Now on the same page, I was able to clock the card higher but it was unable to perform all of the benchmarks in our suite. So, I had to back the clocks down to a reasonable level. What this brings up is the lack of the ability to over-volt the card using either MSI's Afterburner or Sapphire's TRIXX overclocking software. Sapphire did place the Vapor-X Cooler on the card, and when you compare the temperatures seen by the Vapor-X model compared to the regular model Sapphire has out, there was a 17°C difference in temperatures at the stock load testing between the two models. The overall performance of the HD6870 Vapor-X card was quite impressive when it was stacked up against the competition at stock speeds and once the card was clocked to 1GHz, it was able to tear though the tests that I threw at it and give some good numbers that were quite competitive. Once the card was overclocked, however, it was using quite a bit more power than I would have liked to see. However, when you are pushing higher clock speeds, you know that your overall power consumption is going to skyrocket. The support for 6 monitors via the two DisplayPort 1.2 outputs on the card is also going to give it some added value, as well as the support for AMD's HD3D technology.

All in all, if you are looking for a new video card for your system, be it due to your card not being able to keep up with the new games that you are looking at getting or maybe you just need to have the latest and greatest graphics power, you should take a close look at the Sapphire HD6870 Vapor-X.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: