Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition

Sapphire has come out with the claim that this is the "World's Fastest Graphics Card". Fact or Fiction? Let's find out.
@ShawnBakerTW
Published Sat, Dec 20 2008 11:00 PM CST   |   Updated Fri, Sep 18 2020 10:50 PM CDT
Rating: 86%Manufacturer: Sapphire

Introduction


Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition



I really do love the launch of a new ATI based graphics card, because as soon as it's released I'm on the back of Sapphire asking when an ATOMIC and TOXIC version of the card is coming.

Unlike a lot of companies who bump the core and memory up 25MHz then turn around and say "overclocked", when Sapphire overclock they do it properly. The HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC is different, though; the card really steps out of the square, even for Sapphire. It's not like anything we've seen from them before and that's in the good way.

Attention to detail on this card is nothing short of fantastic and I have to honestly say that when the card was delivered I half expected it to be hand cuffed to the courier. With all that said and done, let's begin and see exactly what we have going on here.

The Package




The card is all flash from the word go with a briefcase style package that has the ATOMIC logo on the front along with the brand and model. We also see that down the bottom Sapphire make mention of the card being water-cooled.

Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Opening the case up, we can see the card along with a radiator and some tubing. We also have a cardboard cover that gives us a bit of a run down on the card along with some of the features.

Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Paperwork wise, we have a standard HD 4870 X2 manual and another piece of paper that gives us an installation guide on the card itself. As far as software goes, we've got the usual larger package that Sapphire offer on its higher end cards and this includes driver CD, Ruby ROM, DVD Suite and PowerDVD by Cyberlink as well as a copy of 3DMark Vantage.

Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


In the cable department we have the typical connectors we're used to seeing such as molex to 6-pin and 8-pin connectors, component dongle, S-Video to RCA, DVI to VGA, DVI to HDMI connectors and a Crossfire bridge. As far as extra cables go, we have a 3 meter HDMI cable included in the package.

Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


As far as extras in the bundle go, we have an ATOMIC sticker that can be placed on your case along with a couple of pen drives and a sticker that lets you know what number card you have, as the ATOMIC is only a limited run.

One thing we haven't yet mentioned about the card is that there is a water block for your CPU integrated into the cooling solution. For this reason there are also some brackets included in the package; one to suit AM2+ and the other LGA775.

Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


This is clearly something different and again it's nice to see that Sapphire has thought outside the box. The only downfall with the whole bundle is the fact that a 1366 bracket isn't included in the package for people who have made the move to i7. Hopefully one becomes available and people will be able to request one and get it for free. But that's just wishful thinking for now.

The Card




Pulling the card and it's connected components out of the briefcase, we have three sections to look at. The main bit is of course the HD 4870 X2 and connected to that we have a radiator along with the CPU block we mentioned before.

Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


There really isn't anything too unusual going on with the card; the back is covered with a sticker that has the ATOMIC logo along with Sapphire's and ATI's. We can see two pipes coming out of the top of the card which are actually only a 1/4" in diameter. While smaller than most water-cooling solutions, hopefully Sapphire know what they're doing and it still kicks butt.

Sapphire's Water-cooled Radon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Sapphire's Water-cooled Radon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Looking around the card itself, we have our two power connectors located towards the back of the card, a single 8-pin and single 6-pin connector. Moving to the front of the card, we have a Crossfire connector. While in a good position and not being blocked by the included CPU cooler, it could be a little difficult to get two of these cards running.

Sapphire's Water-cooled Radon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


As far as the I/O department goes, we have two Dual-Link DVI connectors and a single TV-Out port sitting between the two.

Moving away from the card for a second and having a look at the extras, we have a single 120mm radiator alongside a pretty sturdy looking CPU block with a copper base. The system is a closed loop circuit which doesn't require maintenance; this attested by the lack of a fill point being present. Out of the box the circuit is filled up and ready to go and this is great for people who like the idea of having water cooled components without the concern of having to maintain it themselves.

Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


What's also great about the cooling solution is that Sapphire has opted to use one of the best water-cooling manufacturers out there. With the help of Asetek they've managed to put together what looks to be a very sturdy solution. While the tubing is looking a bit thin, we're sure that Asetek know what they're doing. As for its GPU cooling performance, we'll find that out very soon.


Specifications

As we mentioned earlier, the card does come in overclocked. As you can see below, the core has been increased from 750MHz to 800MHz while the memory has moved from 900MHz (3600MHz effectively) to a more round sounding 1000MHz (4000MHz effectively).

Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Is that enough for it to really stamp out the competition? Well, time will only tell, so let's check out the test system setup we have today and get stuck into the performance the card offers.

Test System Setup and 3DMark Vantage


Test System Setup

Processor(s): Intel i7 920 @ 3.8GHz (190MHz x 20)
Cooling: Noctua NH-U12P (Supplied by Noctua)
Motherboard(s): GIGABYTE EX58-UD5 (Supplied by GIGABYTE)
Memory: 3 X 2GB OCZ Technology PC-12800 DDR-3 8-8-8-24 (OCZ3G1600LV6GK)
Hard Disk(s): Western Digital 300GB Velicorapter (Supplied by Western Digital)
Operating System: Windows XP Professional SP2, Windows Vista SP1 64-Bit
Drivers: Catalyst 8.12


With the move to the new i7 test system, it meant that we didn't get the opportunity to test the CPU block that comes as part of the water cooling solution. Unfortunately initial testing has shown that the CPU block doesn't do wonders for temperatures anyway, which is disappointing, but not really a surprise due to the thin pipes.

With that said, though, let's check out the actual graphics card performance before we take a quick look at what the cooling does for the HD 4870 X2.


3DMark Vantage

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmarkvantage/
Buy It Here




3DMark Vantage is the new industry standard PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, newly designed for Windows Vista and DirectX10. It includes two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, and support for the latest hardware.

3DMark Vantage is based on a completely new rendering engine, developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10, the new graphics API from Microsoft.


Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Straight away we can see the ATOMIC HD 4870 X2 from Sapphire offers good performance over a stock clocked offering.

Benchmarks - PT Boats: Knights of the Sea


PT Boats: Knights of the Sea

Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo
Developer Homepage: http://en.akella.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.pt-boats.net/





PT Boats: Knights of the Sea is a naval action simulator that places gamers in charge of a mosquito fleet of the Allied Forces, Russia or Germany during the height of World War II.

Using the latest Direct X 10 technology PT Boards - Knights of the Sea manages to apply a lot of stress to the components of today which in turn gives us quite an intensive benchmark.


Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


While we have a little bit of weirdness going on at 1680 x 1050, for the most part we can see performance on the ATOMIC is similar to a bit faster.

Benchmarks - CINEBENCH R10


CINEBENCH R10

Version and / or Patch Used: Release 10
Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/
Product Homepage: http://www.maxon.net




CINEBENCH is a real-world test suite that assesses your computer's performace capabilities. MAXON CINEBENCH is based on MAXON's award-winning animation software, CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more.

MAXON CINEBENCH runs several tests on your computer to measure the performance of the main processor and the graphics card under real world circumstances. The benchmark application makes use of up to 16 CPUs or CPU cores and is available for Windows (32-bit and 64-Bit) and Macintosh (PPC and Intel-based).


Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


CINEBENCH puts both cards quite close together with no real difference being seen.

Benchmarks - World in Conflict


World in Conflict

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0.5
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage: http://www.massive.se
Product Homepage: http://www.worldinconflict.com





World in Conflict is a real-time strategy video game by Massive Entertainment and to be published by Sierra Entertainment for Windows (DX9 and DX10) and the Xbox 360.

The game is set in 1989 where economic troubles cripple the Soviet Union and threaten to dissolve it. However, the title pursues a "what if" scenario where, in this case, the Soviet Union does not collapse and instead pursues a course of war to remain in power. It is an intensive new game is sure to put plenty of stress on even the latest graphics cards and we use the built-in benchmarking for our testing.


Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


At the lower resolution under PT Boats we see a bit of weirdness, but as we climb up to the more intensive resolutions we see the extra power on offer from the ATOMIC being seen.

Benchmarks - Crysis Warhead


Crysis Warhead

Version and / or Patch Used: unpatched
Timedemo or Level Used: Airfield
Developer Homepage: http://www.crytek.com
Product Homepage: http://crysiswarhead.ea.com/
Buy It Here




Crysis Warhead updates and refines the gameplay of the original game through a sidestory plot involving Psycho, one of previous protagonist Nomad's allies. The game is a parallel story that follows Sergeant Michael "Psycho" Sykes, a character from the original Crysis, as he faces his own trials and challenges on the other side of the island during the time period of the first game.

It also showcases a new, enhanced and optimized version of CryEngine 2 using full DX10 extensions and is the first game developed by Crytek's Budapest studio.

Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Under Crysis Warhead we see performance is a bit all over the place; sometimes faster, sometimes slower and other times performance being the same.

Benchmarks - Far Cry 2


Far Cry 2

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.01
Timedemo or Level Used: Ranch Long
Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.farcry2.com/
Buy It Here




The Dunia Engine was built specifically for Far Cry 2 by the award-winning Ubisoft Montreal development team. It delivers the most realistic destructible environments, amazing special effects such as dynamic fire propagation and storm effects, real-time night-and-day cycle, dynamic music system, non-scripted enemy A.I. and so much more.


Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Under Far Cry 2 we can see some good gains with the ATOMIC; the best gains are seen at the higher resolution.

Benchmarks - S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - Clear Sky


S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - Clear Sky

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.5.07
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
Developer Homepage: http://www.gsc-game.com/
Product Homepage: http://cs.stalker-game.com/en/
Buy It Here




S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, is the stand-alone prequel for S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, a first-person shooter computer game by Ukrainian developer GSC Game World.[3] The game consists of a roughly 50/50 mix of new areas and old, remodeled areas from the previous game. The X-ray graphics engine has been updated to version 1.5 and includes DirectX 10 support (later patch 1.5.06 included DirectX 10.1). Additionally, the AI received an overhaul to accommodate the new faction wars feature.

Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Here we manage to see more good gains across the board. The extra core and memory speed really helps with performance.

Benchmarks - Left 4 Dead


Left 4 Dead

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
Developer Homepage: http://www.valvesoftware.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.l4d.com/
Buy It Here




Left 4 Dead uses the latest version of Valve's Source engine, with improvements such as multi-core processor support and physics-based animation to more realistically portray hair and clothing, and to improve physics interaction with enemies when shot or shoved in different body parts. Animation was also improved to allow characters to lean realistically when moving in curved paths.

Rendering and artificial intelligence were scaled up to allow for greater number of enemies who can navigate the world in better ways, such as climbing, jumping or breaking obstacles. Lighting has been enhanced with new self-shadowing normal mapping and advanced shadow rendering that is important to convey information about the environment and player actions.

Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Left 4 Dead sees a performance increase at 2560 x 1600, but at the lower resolution there isn't much difference.

Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AF


High Quality AA and AF

Our high quality tests let us separate the men from the boys and the ladies from the girls. If the cards weren't struggling before they will start to now.


Far Cry 2

Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


In the minimum department we see a good increase while the average gives us a slight bump.


World In Conflict

Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Under WIC we again see a very good increase, with the best being seen in the minimum department.


Left 4 Dead

Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


With the settings right up we again see a difference in performance with the ATOMIC coming out ahead.

Benchmarks - World in Conflict - XP


World in Conflict

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0.5
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage: http://www.massive.se
Product Homepage: http://www.worldinconflict.com




World in Conflict is a real-time strategy video game by Massive Entertainment and to be published by Sierra Entertainment for Windows (DX9 and DX10) and the Xbox 360.

The game is set in 1989 where economic troubles cripple the Soviet Union and threaten to dissolve it. However, the title pursues a "what if" scenario where, in this case, the Soviet Union does not collapse and instead pursues a course of war to remain in power. It is an intensive new game is sure to put plenty of stress on even the latest graphics cards and we use the built-in benchmarking for our testing.

Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Under WIC we only see a noticeable gain at 2560 x 1600, but we also see that we're able to almost break that magic 30FPS minimum.

Benchmarks - Far Cry 2 - XP


Far Cry 2

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.01
Timedemo or Level Used: Ranch Long
Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.farcry2.com/
Buy It Here




The Dunia Engine was built specifically for Far Cry 2 by the award-winning Ubisoft Montreal development team. It delivers the most realistic destructible environments, amazing special effects such as dynamic fire propagation and storm effects, real-time night-and-day cycle, dynamic music system, non-scripted enemy A.I. and so much more.


Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


For the most part we see very good gains under Far Cry 2 at all resolutions, ranging from 5% to about 15%.

Benchmarks - S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - Clear Sky - XP


S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - Clear Sky

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.5.07
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
Developer Homepage: http://www.gsc-game.com/
Product Homepage: http://cs.stalker-game.com/en/
Buy It Here




S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, is the stand-alone prequel for S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, a first-person shooter computer game by Ukrainian developer GSC Game World.[3] The game consists of a roughly 50/50 mix of new areas and old, remodeled areas from the previous game. The X-ray graphics engine has been updated to version 1.5 and includes DirectX 10 support (later patch 1.5.06 included DirectX 10.1). Additionally, the AI received an overhaul to accommodate the new faction wars feature.

Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


Finally we leave with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and again for the most part we see some pretty good gains with the ATOMIC card from Sapphire.

Temperature Tests






With the TES 1326 Infrared Thermometer literally in hand we found ourselves getting real-world temperatures from the products we test at load (3D clock speeds).

There are two places we pull temperature from - the back of the card directly behind the core and if the card is dual slot and has an exhaust point we also pull a temperate from there, as seen in the picture.


Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


We can see that temps are way down when compared to the stock cooler and clearly the cooler's doing a pretty good job of keeping the core temperatures down.

Power Consumption Tests






Using our new PROVA Power Analyzer WM-01 or "Power Thingy" as it has become quickly known as to our readers, we are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into AC wall socket).

There are a few important notes to remember though; while our maximum power is taken in 3DMark06 at the same exact point, we have seen in particular tests the power being drawn as much as 10% more. We test at the exact same stage every time; therefore tests should be very consistent and accurate.

The other thing to remember is that our test system is bare minimum - only a 7,200RPM SATA-II single hard drive is used without CD ROM or many cooling fans.

So while the system might draw 400 watts in our test system, placing it into your own PC with a number of other items, the draw is going to be higher.


Sapphire's Watercooled Radeon HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC Edition


At idle the power usage is way down compared to the stock offering, but at load both cards put out the same maximum levels.

Final Thoughts




There are a lot of positives to the ATOMIC. Performance for starters is way up compared to the stock model and we can see some good gains; the best being seen at the higher resolutions where a large amount of strain is placed on the graphics card. We also have a pretty good bundle included, an absolutely kick ass package, an excellent cooling solution on the graphics card and also the fact the card is a limited edition model which is numbered, just to make you feel a bit more special as an owner of one of these beauties.

The Asetek cooler, on a whole, does a good job of cooling the card; unfortunately it doesn't look like the same could be said for the CPU portion. While the concept is cool, it does have some flaws; the integrated CPU cooler and the way the system is designed makes going to Crossfire pretty difficult. Of course the other con is the price of the card; at around the $600US mark it's not cheap by any standard.

If you get past these cons, though, you really do have the fastest single card graphics solution we've tested to date and that is ultimately what Sapphire wanted to achieve. The only thing we probably would have preferred to see is the CPU cooler not included, especially since a 1366 bracket for i7 CPUs isn't available.

All in all, the HD 4870 X2 ATOMIC is a fast card and like anything that pushes the boundaries, it does have some cons. But ultimately performance talks and Sapphire has managed to make a very quick card here.

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Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.

We openly invite the companies who provide us with review samples / who are mentioned or discussed to express their opinion. If any company representative wishes to respond, we will publish the response here. Please contact us if you wish to respond.

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