Sapphire HD 3870 Review

Makaveli - 2007-11-12 20:36:23 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: Makaveli   
Reviewed on: November 14, 2007
Price: $219.99 USD


With the holidays rapidly approaching, more and more games with breathtaking graphics are being released to the gaming market. For most gamers, this could be heaven or hell depending on what video card they’re currently running. That’s because games such as Crysis, Hellgate: London, Need For Speed: Pro Street, and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare demand so much from the video card that they can crumble a card that isn’t up to par. I’m going to be taking a look at the newest ATi based graphics card – the Sapphire HD 3870 video card. This card boasts 512MB of GDDR4 onboard memory, HDMI support, DirectX 10 support, Crossfire X support, and HD support. All of these technologies are very recent and will be around for years to come. But will having these technologies be enough to handle the most recent games? Is the Sapphire HD 3870 a must-have? How will its results stack up to high performance cards? Join me as I thoroughly examine every aspect of the Sapphire HD 3870 video card.


Closer Look:

The Sapphire HD 3870 comes packaged in a box that has an extremely attractive female displayed on the front. You’ll also find many of the features and technologies of the card listed on the front of the box. The back of the box has a captivating paragraph explaining the card and its benefits. There is also a list in multiple languages that tells you what is inside the box.



Let’s remove the Sapphire HD 3870 from the box and get a closer look at it!

Closer Look:

The Graphics Board:

Like all of the Sapphire video cards that I have received, this HD 3870 comes well protected inside the box. The video card in an anti-static bag, always a good thing to see.








The red translucent cover over the heatsink is quite large. The attractive lady from the front of the box is printed on a sticker which takes up most of the red cover. You can see the mounting bracket for the heatsink on the back of the card. This card supports PCI-E x16 as well as PCI-E 2.0.



The Sapphire HD 3870 houses one S-Video output and two DVI ouputs. Notice how this card takes up two PCI slots – one for the video outputs and one for the exhaust. This video card has a 6-pin power connector, so you’ll need to have a power supply that has one of these 6-pin power cables. If not, you can use the included 4-pin to 6-pin converter.



Now let’s move on to see what accessories and software are included with this card.

Closer Look:


Included with the Sapphire HD 3870 is an HDTV breakout cable, Crossfire bridge, DVI to HDMI converter, DVI to D-Sub converter, TV-Out converter, and a 4-pin to 6-pin power cable converter. All of these converters allow you to take full advantage of this video card.








Software Bundle and Manual:

One thing that I’ve always liked about Sapphire is that included with the video card are many useful programs. With this HD 3870, Sapphire included CyberLink’s PowerDVD 7 and DVD Suite 5, Futuremark’s 3DMark06, and the installation CD for the video card. However, according to Sapphire's website the HD 3870 that is sold in the USA region is the Lite Retail version which does not include the Half-Life: 2 Black Box coupon or the extra software. 


The user manual that is included is very simple to follow and has many different languages, which is good for foreign customers. Also included is a free copy of Steam’s “Black Box” which has games in it such as Portal, Team Fortress 2, and Half-Life 2: Episode Two.


It’s now time for us to take apart the video card to get a closer look at the GPU.

Closer Look:

The ATi RV670:

Now I’m going to disassemble the Sapphire HD 3870 so that we can take a closer look at the components that enable this card to function. Once you remove the back plate, the cover comes off of the video card, revealing the heatsink. This particular heatsink is a small cube, which surprised me because I was expecting something much larger.








The red translucent cover features vents near the heatsink to keep the air flowing within the cover. The fan then inhales the hot air from the heatsink and disperses it.



Now let’s take a look at the bare video card. I now unveil to you, the new ATi RV670 55nm GPU!



The video card has now been broken down and you’ve got a good idea about what this card is made of. Let’s install the card and configure the display drivers!


To install the Sapphire HD 3870 correctly, you’ll need to first remove all of your current video card display drivers. Once that is done, power off your machine, unplug the power cable from the power supply, remove the side panel of your case, remove your current video card, plug in the Sapphire HD 3870 into your PCI-E x16 expansion slot, and plug in a 6-pin power cable to the video card. Now, plug in your monitor cable to the card, close your computer up and power on your machine.









Insert the included installation CD and follow all onscreen instructions.




Now that the installation has started, let’s continue to see what gets installed. One of the first things the installation process will prompt you with is to install the High Definition audio driver package. By just following the instructions, everything installed fine with those drivers.



The installation CD then installs Valve’s Steam. The video card comes with the Black Box which is for Steam, so if you want to take advantage of the Black Box it isn’t a bad idea to install Steam now.  Now that everything is installed, you’ll be prompted to restart your computer so that the changes can take effect.


After the computer reboots, we’re going to take a closer look at the Catalyst Control Center.


Catalyst Control Center:

ATi’s Catalyst Control Center is a great program to use to tweak your video card so that the output is perfect for you. I was very happy to see the ATi Overdrive in the control center because that is a great tool to use when you’re overclocking your video card.











This version of Catalyst Control Center is the same as the previous versions that I’ve tried.




PCI-E x16 (PCI-E 2.0 Support)



Memory Bus


Engine Clock


Memory Clock


Stream Processing Units







UVD at full 1080p with Low CPU Utilization
UVD provides full HD decoding for h.264 and VC1
Integrated  HDMI and HD Audio with no cable necessary
First 55nm GPU
Crossfire X Support
PCI-e 2.0 Support
Best Performance Per Dollar


This Sapphire HD3870 will be put through a rigorous set of benchmarks that will be very demanding on this video card. I'll be comparing this card against another card from its family - the Sapphire HD2600 XT. In addition to that card, I'll be comparing the Foxconn 8600GTS and the eVGA 8800GTS 640MB against this HD3870. The 8800GTS 640MB is considered a top-of-the-line card while the 8600GTS and HD2600 XT are considered mainstream video cards. Let's see where this Sapphire HD3870 falls when compared against three great cards. In all of the gaming benchmarks and tests, higher is better.

Test System:

Comparison Cards:

NOTE: Our Sapphire HD 2900 XT was going to be included in this review but we don't have updated benchmark results at this time. The scores will be implemented into the review shortly.

UPDATE: We re-ran all of the benchmarks over with the new drivers that were posted on the Sapphire website after the review was launched. The results are in each of the graphs as "New Drivers".

Gaming Benchmarks:


Overclocking: The most that I could get out of this card was the core clock at 850MHz from the stock 777MHz and the memory at almost 1300 from the stock 1126. I re-ran all of the benchmarks with the overclocked settings. The overclocking took place with the newest drivers installed. The overclocked results are denoted by "Overclocked" in the graphs.


Benchmark: Far Cry

First, I'll start with an older first person shooter.




Looks like the Sapphire HD3870 and the eVGA 8800GTS will be a good battle.



Benchmark: F.E.A.R.

F.E.A.R. is a popular first person shooter which can be tough on video cards. I'll be running the in-game performance benchmark.











The Sapphire HD3870 does better than the 8800GTS at 1680x1050, which is the resolution that I usually play my games.


Benchmark: Call of Duty 2

Call of Duty 2 is the prequel to the all new Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Look for the new Call of Duty in our benchmarking lineup soon!












The Foxconn surprisingly had higher results than the Sapphire HD3870 in the lower resolutions, but the HD3870 took control again in the highest resolution, but still lost to the 8800GTS.



Benchmark: Quake 4

Quake 4 is an older first person shooter that takes the player to fight in outer space against the Strogg. 












The Sapphire HD3870 has regained control over all of the cards except for the 8800GTS, which slightly outperforms it.



Benchmark: Need For Speed Most Wanted

Need for Speed: Most Wanted is one of the latest installments of the ever-so-popular Need For Speed racing series.












In the lower resolutions, the HD3870 is neck-and-neck with the 8800GTS but falls short at the highest resolution.


Benchmark: BioShock

BioShock is an interesting new first person shooter that has recently hit the market. This title poses quite a challenge for video cards.









 The Sapphire HD3870 did better than the 8800GTS in all of the three resolutions. It especially did better at the highest resolution - which surprised me.



Benchmark: 3DMark06

3DMark06 is one of the most popular benchmarks used for bragging rights in the world of gamers.











Wow! The Sapphire HD3870 did much better than all of the other cards in this particular benchmark! I'm especially surprised to see how well it did at 1680x1050.


Benchmark: RyderMark

We were unable to run RyderMark at our standard 64-bit HDR Lighting setting so we do not have any results for this benchmark. The new drivers that were released did not fix this issue. We will post results as soon as we're able to run the benchmark at our predefined settings.


The Sapphire HD 3870 is by far the best video card that I have ever tested by ATi. It proved that it is a card that is almost as good as an 8800GTS 640MB which, to me, falls a little short of being the best of the best. This card did extremely well in 3DMark06, knocking the 8800GTS out in every resolution by more and more points as the resolution got higher. I’ve never seen a video card do so well at high resolutions. In the 1680x1050 widescreen resolution, the Sapphire HD 3870 never scored below 46 frames per second in the gaming tests. To further impress me, this video card was sitting at 48 Celsius at idle and only reached up to 60 Celsius at 100% load. Even at 100% load, I couldn’t hear the HD 3870 over my CPU cooler. I did notice that when I powered up my machine, the fan on the card spun really fast, making a loud noise for about a second. This didn’t alter my opinion on this card the slightest bit. A Moderator from the Sapphire forums has informed us that this is perfectly normal and it's just a short POST (Power On Self Test) that the cards do. The card was extremely easy to disassemble and adding my own thermal paste to the card couldn’t have been easier. This is especially good for anyone who plans on installing an aftermarket cooler. Installing the display drivers for ATi video cards hasn’t always been the best of experiences for me in the past, but with this card I didn’t have a single issue. The Catalyst Control Center is still a great program to use to optimize the video card's performance for your machine. With HDMI, DirectX 10, and HD support, this card does it all and it is very cheap considering the performance it puts out - retailing for $219.99. So put this Sapphire HD 3870 on your holiday wish list because this video card does exceptionally well at high resolutions and supports some of the most recent and sought after technologies, all at a very affordable price.

After looking over the graphs in the gaming benchmarks, it's clear that this card's results fluctuated quite a bit. The scores weren't too impressive in some of the games, but it did great in others and definitely started redeeming itself in BioShock - which is a very recent game. It'll be interesting to see how this card performs once we start implementing new games into our benchmark lineup.

When I overclocked this video card, it definitely went higher than I thought it would. I had this preconceived notion that since I haven’t had too much luck with overclocking my ATi cards in the past, that I wouldn’t be able to overclock this Sapphire HD 3870 too much. This card proved me wrong when I got the core clock up from 777MHz to 850MHz and the memory up to almost 1300 from 1126 with the fan on “Auto”. The video card obviously performed better overall but what surprised me is that the overclocked card didn’t do too good during the Need For Speed: Most Wanted benchmark. Other than that, the overclocked results were better than the results using the new drivers by a good margin. Although the fan spun faster while it was overclocked, I could barely notice the fan over my CPU cooler’s fan.

UPDATE: With the new drivers, the results were not what I expected. The card performed the same or slightly worse in most of the benchmarks. It did do better in BioShock and a few points better in 3DMark06 - other than that, I can't say the drivers did much but bring the card's performance slightly down. The Catalyst Control Center is working very well with the new drivers. I'll be working on overclocking this card over the next couple of days so check back soon for another update!