Sapphire Radeon HD 5970 OC Review

ccokeman - 2009-11-13 20:01:10 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: November 20, 2009
Price: $629


Little Boy and Fat Man, the two bombs that changed the world as we know it. First Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima and then Fat Man was dropped on Nagasaki to end World War II. You have to ask, what does a World War II lesson have to do with video cards? ATI dropped the first bomb with the release of the HD 5870 with clearly superior results over the previous generation ATI products and a commanding performance lead over the current top of the line nVidia single GPU video card, the GTX 285. Now Fat Man has taken flight with the release of the HD 5970. Clear in its sights is the top of the performance ladder for nVidia, the GTX 295. Each of us remembers the introduction of ATI's dual GPU behemoths, the HD 3870x2, HD 3870x2 and the HD 4870x2 and the performance they brought to the table. The 3870x2 gave ATI some high end punch followed up later in the year by the HD 4870x2 to increase the level of performance before the launch of nVidia's GTX 295. From that point the green camp has been wearing the performance crown in the single video card battle. Things look to be a changing! ATI has chosen to go a different route with the naming of this card because it really is not a dual 5870 or 5850 but a combination of both. How is that? It has the hardware from the 5870 doubled up but runs with the clock speeds of the HD 5850 to keep the power consumption and thermals in check even though the heatsink can handle a total of 400 watts. Much like the rest of the HD 5XXX family, the HD 5970 supports DirectX 11, Open CL and ATI's Eyefinity multi-display technology for an added level of immersion.

Sapphire has chosen the route of opening this salvo with an overclocked model for that extra added punch. The Sapphire HD 5970 OC 2GB comes equipped with a total of two RV 870 Cypress cores that have a total of 3200 Stream processors, delivering almost 5TFLOPs of processing power, making the HD 5970 the most powerful video card on the planet. Clock speeds come in a bit higher than the reference versions at 735MHz on the two Cypress cores and 1010MHz (4040MHz effective) on the 2GB of GDDR5 memory. Each core has 1GB of memory dedicated to it, running through a 512-bit bus (256x2). The specifications on paper look impressive, but that's not all; gone are the overclocking limits we have seen in the past as this card comes unlocked so you can throw the screws to it to gain some more FPS or distributed computing power. This card is designed to do some hardcore overclocking based on the construction. It features multiple Volterra voltage regulators, Japanese made pure ceramic SuperCapacitors, real time power monitoring and a programmable fan controller. The cores used are "low leakage" parts so you can get the best parts to push. With many HD 5870s hitting 1000MHz on the cores, overclocking should prove interesting. Let's take a look.










Closer Look:

Of course the packaging comes with the usual Sapphire flair. The front panel features not one but a pair of beauties that you can guess relates to the dual Cypress GPUs used in the construction of the Sapphire HD 5970 OC. Looks like Ruby has a twin sister! Front and center on the front panel are the mention of two games that are DX 11 titles, BattleForge and Dirt 2, and the HD 5970 comes with coupons for both games. BattleForge is already out and will be patched for DX 11, while Dirt 2 is the first true DX 11 game to be released in early December. Mentions of note on the front panel include the Redline overclocking utility, 2GB of GDDR5 memory, that the card is DX 11 ready, is Crossfire X capable, supports EyeFinity and that there is 4TFLOPs of computing power available. The rear panel expands on the features listed on the front panel. Of note on the back panel under "Ruby" is a small graphic that states all of the packaging is made with recyclable paper. The only way to improve this packaging would be to use recycled paper products to reduce the environmental footprint.



Inside the outer sleeve you have a plain cardboard box that houses the HD 5970 and accessories. The card is shipped in an antistatic bubble wrap bag in a form fitting cardboard enclosure that uses a foam block to prevent any movement. Under the HD 5970 you have another box that holds the accessories and documentation.



The bundle of accessories is typical of the type of bundle Sapphire includes with its cards. You get the documentation, driver disc, coupons that include keys for the two DX 11 games so you can download them and play, a card that shows where to download the Redline overclocking utility, a Crossfire bridge connector, DVI to HDMI adapter, mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort adapter, DVI to VGA adapter and both 6 and 8-pin to 4-pin power adapters to make sure you can connect the card to your power supply.



Let's see what the Sapphire HD 5970 OC has under the hood!


Closer Look:

There is no doubt that the Sapphire HD 5970 OC is a massive card. All of the projected measurements floating around the web were pretty much spot on, depending on where you take your measurements. The Sapphire HD 5970 OC is ATI's latest video card and features dual Cypress cores clocked a tick above the stock 725MHz clock speed at 735Mhz. The HD 5970 comes equipped with 2GB of GDDR5 memory clocked at 1010Mhz (reference is 1000MHz) runnning through a 512-bit bus that is actually 2x256-bit with 1GB dedicated to each GPU core. The card is covered in a full length shroud much like the rest of the 58XX series. The backside of the card uses a back plate that is cut out for the two cores and is used to keep the memory modules on the backside of the PCB cool as well as adding structural rigidity to the card. The top of the HD 5970 OC has vents all along the top to help vent the card. During testing I did not feel that much air was being discharged through the exhaust slots. The two GPU cores look to be packed up on the front of the card to allow for the power control circuits on the rear end of the card. You can see just how large it is by comparison to some of today's top performers. I did not have any issues fitting this card into my test case, but for those of you with mid tower cases some modification may be in order to make it fit.















The Sapphire HD 5970 OC comes with a total of three display connections, two Dual Link DVI and a single mini DisplayPort connection. The reasoning behind this is to offer as much exhaust flow through the mounting bracket as possible. With at least 300 watts of heat to dissipate, with the potential of the heatsink assembly to handle a 400 watt thermal load, the bigger the exhaust the better. This card is EyeFinity ready with this connection set. The rear view of the HD 5970 OC has the same two openings that the 5870, 5850 and 5770 have. These openings allow airflow in and over the voltage regulation circuits packed onto the back end of the card.



The Sapphire HD 5970 OC is CrossfireX capable and only has a single Crossfire bridge connection. Connecting one other 5970 gives you the power of four GPUs. The additional power consuption of the HD 5970 OC necessitated an upgrade from two 6-pin to a 6-pin plus 8-pin PCI-E power connector.



One thing ATI and its partners have been knocked around for have been the low overclocking limits that are in the Catalyst Control Center. Well, after a while the beatings around the head and shoulders start to take an effect and with this card ATI has chosen to unlock the CCC, in a manner of speaking, by upping the limits to numbers that may not be achievable without extreme cooling. ATI did not spare the hardware to make this card one that is ready for overclocking with the use of ceramic capacitors, Volterra Programmable Voltage regulators and more. The cooling solution used on the Sapphire HD 5970 OC takes a page right out of Sapphire's book and uses a vapor chamber cooling solution that can handle up to 400 watts worth of thermal load, well over the 300 watts the card is set to use based on the 75 watts through the PCI-E slot, 75 watts through the 6-pin and 150 watts through the 8-pin power connector.



If you are not sure how a Vapor Chamber heatsink works, the vapor plate is used to wick away heat, much the same way a heatpipe does. According to Sapphire's white paper on the vapor plate technology, the liquid inside the vapor plate is something we use each and every day - water, plain and simple. But water boils at 212 degrees F, right? Not when the pressure is reduced by pulling a vacuum. You can see the port where the vacuum was pulled, and the opening has been soldered shut to prevent vacuum loss. Rather than describe how the process works, I will let the blown-up images show just how simple the process really is. The last picture is a magnified image of the wicking material that is used in the assembly. From past experience, the solution has been quite effective at limiting the temperature increases on the HD 3XXX and 4XXX and 5XXX series of video cards from Sapphire. Let's see how the technology works on the 5970. I'm betting it can handle the load.



It's time to see just how well this card handles and if it is the heir apparent to the single card performance crown.


Closer Look:

You know you just can't wait to get the Sapphire HD 5970 OC installed in your rig to enjoy some righteous gaming. But first, you have to install the drivers so that you don't sit there utterly disappointed by the graphics performance of this shiny new card, or lack thereof. Thankfully, Sapphire has included a disc to get you started, although the manufacturer's 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 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, checking the options best suited for your needs. You have two options to choose from, either the Express Install that manages the whole process for you or the Custom Install that allows you to choose which software you will install from a list.  To finish the installation, agree to the EULA and let the wizard finish and do the customary reboot.





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.  We will 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 that has quick hyperlinks to check for driver updates, get in contact with customer care, give feedback, visit the AMD website, or 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 5970.














The Graphics Hardware tab of the Information Center contains information about the video card, 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 is 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 ATI Overdrive. To first use this feature, users must click the lock to ‘unlock’ the program after 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, some of which are 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 new 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 grid 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 that the Catalyst Control Center has been configured we can get to some gaming or take a rest and let the Sapphire 5970 work to help find a cure!


4.3 Billion
Engine Clock
Stream Processors
Compute performance
Texture Units
Texture Fillrate
116.0 Gtexel/s
Pixel Fillrate
46.4 Gpixel/s
Memory Type
Memory Clock
Memory Data Rate
4.0 GB/s
Memory bandwidth
256.0 GB/s
Naximum Board Power
Idle Board Power




All information courtesy of Sapphire @


Testing the Sapphire HD 5970 OC will consist of running the card through the suite of games and synthetic benchmarks to test the performance of the HD 5970 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 one another. 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. Clock speeds on each card are left at stock speeds. I will test the Sapphire HD5970 at both stock speeds and then overclocked to see how much additional performance is available when you choose to overclock the card to see if it this card can unseat the current single GPU fastest card on the market. I have also changed up the benchmark suite to include some of the newest titles to market including Batman: Arkham Asylum, Resident Evil 5 and Darkest of Days.


Comparison Video Cards:



Overclocked settings:

Overclocking the Sapphire HD 5970 OC was a little more difficult than I imagined it would be. First, the Sapphire overvolting utility Redline did not recognize the card as a supported piece so I had to move on to another utility to work the voltages to get as much from the card as possible. I will be following up with Sapphire on this. By bumping the voltage up to the 1.16 volts supplied by the voltage utility I was able to get the 5870 OC up to 890MHz on the two Cypress cores and 1250MHz on the GDDR5 memory. Pretty decent increases across the board from a card that is power limited at this point. A couple of things I found out were that you need to go into the CCC and overclock both cores otherwise your performance will not be up to what it should be. This does however, open up the opportunity to tweak the most performance from each core. The second item I found was that after a failed overclock you need to reset the clock speeds to the factory defaults on both cores before trying any other benching because the voltage tools do not keep the voltage settings after the restart. 155MHz on the core and 250MHz on the memory are not too bad and beat the stock HD 5870 speeds. Peak load when overclocked came in at 486 watts with load temperatures peaking at 69 Celsius with the fan at 85%. Yes, it is loud just like almost every reference cooler since the 1900XTs. With only about eight hours of testing time I am not able to run the whole test suite but here is a taste of what the Sapphire HD 5970 OC has to offer.


  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.














The Sapphire HD 5970 OC performs a bit faster than the HD 5870 combo here and just blows away the rest of the single cards in this deck by a wide margin.


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 HD 5970 OC compares favorably with the HD 5870 Crossfire setup and really beats the combo in three out of four resolutions even though it is clocked lower. The lead over the GTX 295 is a stunning 8 FPS at 2560x1600. The 5970 just crushes the competition.


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


In this game there is no Crossfire scaling so the performance is identical to that delivered by what an HD 5850 would deliver. The 5870 Crossfire scores show the same results as the single 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. This game just may be my reason to move to a 30 inch monitor. 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.















There is not a single resolution where the GTX 285 wins in Call of Duty WaW.


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.














The HD 5870 Crossfire setup did not show any scaling with two cards but the HD 58970 OC did scale above the performance of a two card setup. The performance exceeded every card and multi GPU setup in this game.


Batman: Arkham Asylum is a new game that brings together two bitter foes, The Joker and Batman. The Joker Has taken over Arkham Asylum Gothams home for the Criminally insane. You 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 ply your trade.

Game Settings:













The lower clock speeds of the HD 5970 OC show in the slightly lower performance delivered against the Crossfire HD 5870s. Even so, the GTX 295 and HD 4870X2 fall to the wayside as the 5970 blows by. The FPS margin at 2560x1600 is 31 higher than the GTX 295 and 58 higher than the HD 4870X2.


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 gen6sis 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:













The 5970 is the fastest single card in RE5. It is 13 FPS ahead of the GTX 295, 17 FPS ahead of the HD 4870X2 and 20 FPS higher than the 5870 at 2560x1600. So far it looks like the performance crown has changed hands.


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 closest the GTX 295 comes to the HD 5970 is within 1 FPS at 1680 x 1050. Other than that the margin ranges from 13 to 19 FPS, depending on the resolution.


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.

















In 3DMark06 the HD 5970 OC is the new single card champ, taking over from the last gen HD 4870x2. The only competition for the HD 5970 is the HD 5870 Crossfire setup.


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.















Almost 12,000 points in 3DMark Vantage on the Xtreme preset from a single card is huge. The only single card to do this is the HD 5970 OC. This is over a 2000 point gain. Still behind the Crossfire HD 5870 setup but it still rocks.


There really is not a whole lot to say other than there is a new king in town. The Sapphire HD 5970 OC delivers performance far superior to what is currently available in every test run. This is the fastest video card out right here, right now. Overclocking the 5970 was a bit challenging but gains can be increased by using any of the voltage tweaking utilities out there. The Redline utility that can be downloaded from Sapphire's site did not recognize my card as a supported device so I was not able to use it for my overclocking endeavors. I will follow up with this utility when I get the issue resolved. Overall, I was able to run the card higher than the clock speeds on the HD 5870 for a nice increase in performance, but to do so brought out the fan noise that ATI reference cards always bring to the table when you bump up the fan for additional cooling. I was able to reach clock speeds of 890MHz on the core and 1260MHz on the memory, with power consumption peaking at 486 watts on the system under load with temperatures that reached 69 degrees Celsius. The vapor chamber cooling does its job keeping this behemoth cool! Not too bad on the clocks and temperatures, but as an enthusiast you always want more performance with less power. Even at the speeds the 5970 OC runs you will be hard pressed to find a game you cannot play with the eye candy turned way up!

If you can't get more clock speed you have additional capabilities that can be used with the HD 5970 OC. ATI's Eyefinity technology allows the use of up to three displays at one time with this card to increase the level of immersion in your games. Something I have yet to test but am looking forward to it. Sapphire has given the end user a pretty substantial bundle that includes two DX 11 titles so that you can take full advantage of the capabilities of the HD 5970 OC. As you can expect with the high price and limited availability of the 5XXX series, the cost of this card is going to hit the wallet a little hard at $624, or roughly the cost of two HD 5850s. Since these card use cherry picked ASICS, supply may be limited but according to rumours, TSMC has gotten the supply problems fixed so ATI and its partners should be poised for a good holiday season if supply can meet the demand. Not everyone will want or need a card of this caliber but you can rest assured that there will be enough for you to jump on the bandwagon to have the best of the best video card on the block, the Sapphire HD 5970 OC!