Sapphire Radeon HD 6870 Dirt 3 Edition OC Video Card Review

Sapphire releases a new HD 6870 with a pretty good looking cooler. How's it go, though? Only one way to find out!

@ShawnBakerTW
Published Tue, Sep 20 2011 2:18 AM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:01 PM CST
Rating: 93%Manufacturer: Sapphire

Introduction and The Package

Introduction

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We're at that calm before the storm where video card releases become few and far between. We're at the point where companies release slightly rehashed versions of cards we already know and love. We're at the point where companies are sending out press releases about technology they've already had on the market for ages.

That's where the video card market is at and it's clear with the last few video cards we've looked at, including the one we're looking at today in the Sapphire HD 6870 Dirt 3 Edition OC. The good news is, though, that the calm before the storm means two things.

First, it means these really good mid-range models like the HD 6870 we're looking at today get a bit of a refresh when it comes to cooling, overclock and pricing. For people looking at a well-priced card that offers some good features, this is a good thing.

The second, though, and the more exciting, is the fact it means we've got not only new high end cards coming, but a whole new line-up with the release of the HD 7000 series later in the year. With so many awesome games as well coming out between now and the end of the year, this is exactly what we like to see.

Today, though, it's about a card that has done a great job providing steady FPS to gamers on a budget, the HD 6870. This version comes from Sapphire, though, and sports some Dirt 3 labeling along with an overclock. We'll check how performance is in just a quick few moments, but first we must check out the package, the card and take a closer look at the specifications of the card we have here today.

The Package

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Looking at the box, the design is very typically Sapphire with the model number present on it. We've also got some Dirt 3 graphics and mention that the card is of course an overclocked edition. The back just gives us a rundown of some of the main features.

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Inside the box we've got a quick install guide, driver CD, Sapphire Select Club leaflet and a Dirt 3 coupon that lets you download the full version. In the cable department we've got two Molex to 6-Pin PCIe connectors, DVI to VGA, Mini DP to DP, HDMI cable and a CrossFire bridge.

The Card & Specifications

The Card

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Looking at the card, the first thing that really stands out is the dual fan setup which is something we've seen on recent Sapphire cards. It's proven to do a good job of keeping the card cool while also being fairly quiet. You can also see just behind the fans a look at the copper heat pipes which should hopefully serve us well.

The shroud design is really nice. While overall quite simple, it's quite aggressive when it comes to the lines. I would've loved to have seen Sapphire put some color on the cooler to make it really stand out.

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Taking a quick spin around the card, you can see power comes in the form of two 6-Pin PCIe power connectors while closer to the front you can see we've got a single CrossFire connector giving us the ability to run two cards in CrossFire.

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Checking out the I/O side of things, we've got the stronger options on offer. That means we've got a Dual-Link and Single-Link DVI connector along with a full size HDMI port and two Mini DisplayPort connectors.

Specifications

As we mentioned in the introduction, the card we're looking at today does come with the "Overclocked" tag and below we can see the clock speeds the card comes in at. Looking at the core, we can see that comes in at 920MHz which is 20MHz up on the default 900MHz HD 6870 clock.

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Unfortunately the 1GB of GDDR5 hasn't been changed and that remains at 1050MHz or 4200MHz QDR. It would've been nice to see Sapphire overclock the memory as it would help boost overall performance a little more, but we do always have the ability to do it ourselves.

Test System Setup

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We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: Intel, ASUS, MSI, Western Digital and Corsair.

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Let's get started!

The FPS Numbers Explained

When we benchmark our video cards and look at the graphs, we aim to get to a certain level of FPS which we consider playable. While many may argue that the human eye can't see over 24 FPS or 30 FPS, any true gamer will tell you that as we climb higher in Frames Per Seconds (FPS), the overall gameplay feels smoother. There are three numbers we're looking out for when it comes to our benchmarks.

30 FPS - It's the minimum number we aim for when it comes to games. If you're not dropping below 30 FPS during games, you're going to have a nice and smooth gaming experience. The ideal situation is that even in a heavy fire fight, the minimum stays above 30 FPS making sure that you can continue to aim easily or turn the corner with no dramas.

60 FPS - It's the average we look for when we don't have a minimum coming at us. If we're getting an average of 60 FPS, we should have a minimum of 30 FPS or better and as mentioned above, it means we've got some smooth game play happening.

120 FPS - The new number that we've been hunting down over recent months. If you're the owner of a 120 Hz monitor, to get the most out of it you want to get around the 120 FPS mark. Moving from 60 FPS / 60 Hz to 120 FPS / 120 Hz brings with it a certain fluidity that can't really be explained, but instead has to be experienced. Of course, if you're buying a 120 Hz monitor to take advantage of 3D, an average of 120 FPS in our benchmark means that in 3D you will have an average of 60 FPS, which again means you should expect some smooth gameplay.

3DMark 11

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1

Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com

Product Homepage: http://www.3dmark.com/3dmark11/

Buy It Here

3DMark 11 is the latest version of the world's most popular benchmark. Designed to measure your PC's gaming performance 3DMark 11 makes extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to consistently and reliably test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.

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Even with the overclock we can see that performance between the two HD 6870s is very similar.

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.5

Developer Homepage: http://www.unigine.com

Product Homepage: http://unigine.com/press-releases/091022-heaven_benchmark//

New benchmark grants the power to unleash the DirectX 11 potential in the gift wrapping of impressively towering graphics capabilities. It reveals the enchanting magic of floating islands with a tiny village hidden in the cloudy skies. With the interactive mode emerging experience of exploring the intricate world is ensured within reach. Through its advanced renderer, Unigine is one of the first to set precedence in showcasing the art assets with tessellation, bringing compelling visual finesse, utilizing the technology to the full extend and exhibiting the possibilities of enriching 3D gaming.

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Looking at Heaven we can see a slight boost in performance when comparing our two HD 6870s.

Benchmarks - Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.2

Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo

Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test

Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com/UK/default.aspx

Product Homepage: http://www.hawxgame.com/

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2 is an arcade-style flight action game developed by Ubisoft Romania and published by Ubisoft. The game is the sequel to Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X., released in 2009.

The game begins with Colonel David Crenshaw participating in a routine patrol mission in the Middle East. After halting an insurgent attack, a volley of missiles is fired at the Air Force base that Crenshaw was stationed at, with one of the missiles disabling Crenshaw's aircraft, resulting Crenshaw being in enemy captivity. A joint strike force composed of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and a Ghost Recon squad executes an operation to rescue Crenshaw. In Scotland, Royal Navy Pilot Colin Munro encounters an unidentified passenger aircraft that explodes from an on-board bomb when undergoing training exercise. In Russia, an air force squadron led by Colonel Denisov and Captain Dmitri Sokov engages separatist aircraft but is ordered to retreat from the region after numerous Russian military installations have been attacked.

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Under H.A.W.X. 2 we can see a small boost in performance, but nothing major; most importantly we've got an average over 60 FPS at every resolution.

Benchmarks - Mafia II

Mafia II

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage: http://www.2kczech.com/

Product Homepage: http://www.mafia2game.com/

Buy It Here

Mafia II is a third-person action-adventure video game, the sequel to Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven. It is developed by 2K Czech, previously known as Illusion Softworks, and is published by 2K Games. The game is set from 1943 to 1951 in Empire Bay (the name is a reference to New York's state nickname "The Empire State"), a fictional city based on San Francisco and New York City, with influences from Chicago and Detroit. The game features a completely open-ended game map of 10 square miles. No restrictions are included from the start of the game. There are around 50 vehicles in the game, as well as licensed music from the era.

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Mafia II sees some strong performance again, just a small boost in FPS which equates to just an FPS here and there. As for being over 60 FPS, you can see we've got no issue at 1920 x 1200 and down with only 2560 x 1600 running into a problem.

Benchmarks - Lost Planet 2

Lost Planet 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark - Test A Scene 1

Developer Homepage: http://www.capcom.com/

Product Homepage: http://www.lostplanet2game.com/

Lost Planet 2 is a third-person shooter video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the sequel to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition which is also made by Capcom, taking place ten years after the events of the first game, on the same fictional planet. The story takes place back on E.D.N. III 10 years after the events of the first game. The snow has melted to reveal jungles and more tropical areas that have taken the place of more frozen regions. The plot begins with Mercenaries fighting against Jungle Pirates. After destroying a mine, the Mercenaries continue on to evacuate the area, in which a Category-G Akrid appears and attacks them. After being rescued, they find out their evacuation point (Where the Category-G appeared) was a set-up and no pick up team awaited them. The last words imply possible DLC additions to the game, "There's nothing to be gained by wiping out snow pirates... unless you had some kind of grudge."

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Lost Planet 2 sees a couple of extra FPS at the higher resolution, but unfortunately the game is so intensive that we see all our cards struggle with it. No doubt you're going to want to drop the detail down.

Benchmarks - Aliens vs. Predator

Aliens vs. Predator

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage: http://www.rebellion.co.uk/

Product Homepage: http://www.sega.com/games/aliens-vs-predator/

Aliens vs. Predator is a science fiction first-person shooter video game, developed by Rebellion Developments, the team behind the 1999 original PC game, and published by Sega for Microsoft Windows, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. The game is based on the Alien vs. Predator franchise, a combination of the characters and creatures of the Alien franchise and the Predator franchise. There are three campaigns in the game, one for each race/faction (the Predators, the Aliens and the Colonial Marines), that, while separate in terms of individual plot and gameplay, form one overarching storyline.

Following the storyline of the campaign modes comes the multiplayer aspect of the game. In this Multiplayer section of the game, players face off in various different gametypes in various different ways.

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Aliens vs. Predator is again another intensive game, but you can see we've got that 60 FPS number we aim for at 1680 x 1050. Below that we start to drop below what we aim for. Fortunately, a bit of a detail adjustment will get those numbers back up.

Benchmarks - Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0.2

Timedemo or Level Used: Dark Tower

Developer Homepage: http://www.eidos.com/

Product Homepage: http://www.justcause.com/

Just Cause 2 employs the Avalanche Engine 2.0, an updated version of the engine used in Just Cause. The game is set on the other side of the world from the original Just Cause, on the fictional island of Panau in Southeast Asia. Panau has varied terrain, from desert to alpine to rainforest. Rico Rodriguez returns as the protagonist, aiming to overthrow the evil dictator Pandak "Baby" Panay and confront his former mentor, Tom Sheldon.

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While we continue to see the overclock on offer from Sapphire only really giving us an extra FPS or two here and there, that extra FPS is enough for us to move from that 59 FPS average to that 60 FPS average. Sure, overall it probably won't be noticed, but it's that number we aim for and you can see the overclock is able to do it.

Benchmarks - Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage: http://www.4a-games.com/

Product Homepage: http://www.thqnordic.com/

Metro 2033 is an action-oriented video game with a combination of survival horror and first-person shooter elements. The game is based on the novel Metro 2033 by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. It was developed by 4A Games in Ukraine and released in March 2010 for Microsoft Windows and Xbox 360.[3] In March 2006, 4A Games announced a partnership with Glukhovsky to collaborate on the game.[4] The game was announced at the 2009 Games Convention in Leipzig;[5] a first trailer came along with the announcement.[6] A sequel was announced, currently titled Metro: Last Light.

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Again we get that little bump in FPS and at 1680 x 1050 we're so close to that 60 FPS average we aim for. We do just fall shy, but considering how intensive Metro 2033 is, the performance here is a real testament to the power that the HD 6870 is able to offer us.

Benchmarks - Dirt 3

Dirt 3

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage: http://www.codemasters.com/

Product Homepage: http://www.dirt3game.com/

DiRT 3 boasts more cars, more locations, more routes and more events than any other game in the series, including over 50 rally cars representing the very best from five decades of the sport. With more than double the track content of 2009's hit, DiRT 3 will see players start at the top as a professional driver, with a top-flight career in competitive off-road racing complimented by the opportunity to express themselves in Gymkhana-style showpiece driving events.

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Strong performance again at 1680 x 1050 with the 60 FPS mark being reached. You can see as we fall back we tend to slip back a little. Fortunately, we're not that far behind at 1920 x 1200 so it would only take a bit of a detail change if you wanted to lift the FPS at that resolution.

Benchmarks - Total War: Shogun 2

Total War: Shogun 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage: http://www.creative-assembly.co.uk/

Product Homepage: http://www.totalwar.com/shogun2

Shogun 2 is set in 16th-century feudal Japan, in the aftermath of the Onin War. The country is fractured into rival clans led by local warlords, each fighting for control. The player takes on the role of one of these warlords, with the goal of dominating other factions and claiming his rule over Japan. The standard edition of the game will feature a total of eight factions (plus a ninth faction for the tutorial), each with a unique starting position and different political and military strengths.

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While performance is strong at 1280 x 720 with the balance preset, we can see that at 1920 x 1080 with the high preset the cards do struggle.

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.

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Looking at Far Cry 2, we can see across the board we've got strong performance with our minimums and average being met with no issue.

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.

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While we've got enough grunt to give us some playable numbers under Far Cry 2 with AA and AF on, you can see under more intensive games like Mafia II and AvP, the HD 6870 does indeed struggle.

Temperature Test

Temperature Tests

The temperature of the core is pulled from MSI Afterburner with the max reading used after a completed run off 3DMark Vantage and the Performance preset.

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The dual fan coolers from Sapphire lately have done a good job and here's really no different coming in at 63c.

Sound Test

Sound Tests

Pulling out the TES 1350A Sound Level Meter we find ourselves quickly yelling into the top of it to see how loud we can be.

After five minutes of that we get a bit more serious and place the device two CM away from the fan on the card to find the maximum noise level of the card when idle (2D mode) and in load (3D mode).

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This is a really quiet running card. Considering the temperature it's outputting, it's quite a surprise. These new dual fan coolers from Sapphire have performed extremely well lately, though.

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 SSD hard drive is used with a single CD ROM and minimal 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.

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Power draw doesn't hold any surprises coming in at just over 300 Watt. Most power supplies shouldn't run into any problems.

Final Thoughts

First things first - what I'm not a huge fan of here, that being the overclock label. While of course the card is overclocked with a 20MHz boost in core, the lack of memory overclock to go alongside with it means that overall there's a very minimal boost in performance when compared to a card that runs at its stock counterpart.

The second is just an aesthetic thing; the card itself lacks any color and while we know for the most part once a card goes in the system people won't even be worried about how it looks, it's always nice to pull a card out of the box for the first time and just go "Whoa, this is a good looking card."

The thing is, for dislikes this is where it stops and really, neither are a real issue which would likely skew your decision in if you should buy it or not. If you go through the graphs here today, you already get a great idea of what's going on.

On the performance side of things, the HD 6870 Dirt 3 Edition OC offers a small bump in FPS here and there; nothing too major at all and that's to be expected with the fact we're only dealing with a 20MHz core clock increase.

The card really shines, though, when you start to focus on what the cooler does. While a little plain looking as we mentioned, the cooler Sapphire have used here today does an absolutely fantastic job.

To turn around and see the noise levels we got and realize that hasn't come at the cost of extra heat on the core is amazing and a real testament to the quality of the cooler here. With some good sized fans the card is able to spin at relatively low speeds while still pushing a good amount of air and with the heatsink design and copper heat pipes, we can see we're able to get an extremely cool running card.

These days you've got so many options when it comes to the HD 6800 series because they've been around for so long now, but it's great to see companies like Sapphire are still able to bring something that is able to stand out in a pack that has had so many variants already seen.

While not available yet, if previous trends are anything to go by, we should be looking at a good price. If you're looking for something that's going to perform like a HD 6870, yet be really quiet and run nice and cool, the Sapphire HD 6870 Dirt 3 Edition OC we've got here is a really nice pick up.

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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.

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