Sapphire HD 5870 Vapor-X Review

Author: Kevin Spiess
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Monday, November 9th, 2009
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/5870vaporx/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Enough time has passed now that we are beginning to see some non-reference designs of the current top-dog, the HD 5870. In fact, today we will be looking at the very first non-reference design HD 5870. It is from Sapphire, and it is called the HD 5870 Vapor-X. 

The 'vapor' in the name comes from the custom cooler Sapphire designed. It is one of the same type that we have seen employed on many other models from prior generations from Sapphire. It utilizes the wonders of vapors to keep things cool. Certainly the HD 5870's seen so far do get hot sometimes, so we look forward to see what this cooler can do.

Right now, if there is one word that can sum up the state of the video card market right now, it would be: shortage. Many models are getting harder and harder to find. From a manufacturing and profit stand-point, the introduction of the HD 5000 series took the bottom out of many Nvidia models. Models such as the GTX 275 and GTX 260 (OC'ed) are able to keep up with the new new-gen new-comers, but are more expensive to put together than AMD's 40nm HD 5000 parts. Thus, there have been shortages of Nvidia parts, and many folks don't expect the supplies to be replenished soon, besides perhaps some key models, such as the still-strong GTX 285 and lower end old, old veteran, the now-labeled GTS 250 video card.

This also puts AMD in the enviable position of being able to keep prices somewhat static -- actually, the price of the HD 5850 and HD 5870 has reportedly raised in some markets, to reflect the fundamental state of the simple supply-and-demand balance. This entire situation has left gamers with an unusually difficult time to come by cards they sought after.

However Sapphire -- producing more cards than almost anyone -- will be trying their best to keep store shelves stocked with new models, such as the HD 5870 Vapor-X. Let's take a gander at what this card is all about on the next page.

 

Impressions

The star of today's show is the Vapor-X cooler design. As we seen in Vapor-X models of the HD 4870 and HD 4890 tested earlier in the year, the Vapor-X is called such because of what Sapphire calls "Vapor Chamber Technology." Vapor Chamber Technology -- or V.C.T for short -- is made exclusively by Sapphire to help keep things more than a few degrees cooler than the stock cooler. 

Basically how it works is that moisture/vapor is contained in a sealed, thin rectangular chamber directly on top of the GPU's copper heat sink. The vapor helps improve the efficiency of the heat dispersal. Moisture can quickly transport heat from the hottest parts of the baseplate on top of the HD 5870's GPU. And when the vapor evaporates, removing heat, the chamber gradually cools than re-condense the vapors, starting the process over again.

On the outside though, the Vapor-X cooler appears to be of a fairly standard design. Unlike the stock HD 5870 the fan has been moved towards the center, now resting right above the GPU. The Vapor-X HD 5870 makes use of less metal than does the standard heavy HD 5870, but still has ample heat fins stretching across almost the entire length of the card. Three long copper heat pipes move heat out from the baseplate to the fin array. The black plastic shroud covering the cooling apparatus also has a bunch of perforations in it to allow for air to circulate.

Sapphire's engineers have definitely spend some working on this card, tweaking and changing around the PCB as they saw fit.

Specifications

The HD 5870 Vapor-X enjoys a mild overclock of 20 MHz on the core, and 25 MHz for the memory clock, making it the first OC'ed (technically speaking) card on the market, as far as we know. We imagine that Sapphire will be releasing Atomic and Toxic OC'ed models of the HD 4870 so we can understand that they would want to push the overclock sky-high with the Vapor-X right out of the gates. Nonetheless a small OC is better than no OC -- especially when you there aren't any other OC'ed cards around.

Like the rest of the HD 5000 series, the Vapor-X HD 5870 is ready for DirectX 11. DX11 has a lot of promise to bring great benefits to gamers -- certainly much more than DirectX 10 delivered. With computer shaders and a new toolset of visual tricks and improvements, and more optimizations that allow for better parallel processing performance, DirectX 11 will probably be embraced to a much greater extent than DX10.

Eyefinity is also new this generation around for ATI cards. It enables users to use up three monitors -- either as independent displays, or a big meta-display -- with each video card. CrossFireX allows you to technically increase this number up to 12 displays with four HD 5870 cards.

The 40nm GPU has over 2 billion transistors in it. That is quite the wallop. With 1600 stream processors you are not likely going to run into any gaming stumbling blocks anytime soon with the Sapphire HD 5870.  

 

GTX 260

 GTX 285

GTX 295

HD 4850

HD 4850 X2  HD 4870 HD 4870 X2  HD 4890  HD 5870 Vapor-X

Processing Cores

216

240

480*

800

1600* 800 1600* 800 1600

Core Clock

576

648

576

625

625 750 750 850
870

Shader Clock

1350

1476

1242

625

625 750 750 850
850

Memory Clock (effective) 

1998 2484

1998

1986

1986 3600 3600 3900
5000

Memory Interface

448 bit

512 bit

896 bit*

256 bit

512 bit* 256 bit 512 bit*  256 bit 256 bit

Memory Type

896MB GDDR3

1024MB GDDR3

1792MB GDDR3*

512MB GDDR3

2048MB GDDR3* 512MB GDDR5 2048MB GDDR5* 1024MB GDDR5 1024MB GDDR5

Fabrication Process

55nm

55nm 55nm

55nm

55nm 55nm 55nm 55nm 40nm

  * denotes cumulative effective efforts coming from 2 GPU's (i.e GTX 295: two GPUs with 240 cores equal 480)

Now that we are acquainted, let's put the Sapphire HD 5870 Vapor-X in action. 

Box and bundle

The Sapphire HD 5870 Vapor-X comes in a suitably arctic-themed box. Penguins and ice abound.

The bundle features this time around not one, but a coupon and DVD for two games: Dirt 2 and Battlestations Pacific. While we can't say we played both (Dirt 2 does't come out until December by the way), we can say that getting a new racing game and a new WW2 RTS game is great. Besides the games, you also get a driver CD, a Crossfire bridge, a DVI-VGA adapter, two molex-to-PCIE adapters, and a manual.

Overclocking

From prior experience seeing the Vapor-X in action, we suspected it would be well up to the task of handling a little bit of overclocking. We had no problems max'ing out the core clock speed in the Catalyst Control Center. Unfortunately that max-out is only 30 MHz above the slight factory overclock that the Vapor-X comes with. We'll have to wait until some overclocking tools come out so we can really push the Vapor-X all that much further to see what it can do. As for the memory, we stopped the clocks at 1290 MHz -- so in the end we ended up with 900 / 1290 MHz for our overclocked clocks.

 

Hardware

Video cards used in the benchmarks include a Sapphire HD 5870 Vapour-X, a VisionTek HD 4870, a Sapphire HD 5770, a BFG GTX 295, and a LeadTek GTX 260 Extreme+ .

Software

For the drivers, all the ATI cards used the Catalyst 9.10 drivers,  and all the Nvidia cards used Forceware 190.17 drivers.

We have updated our benchmarks. Here are the new ones:

ARMA II: This battlefield simulator is a very demanding game, on both video cards and soldiers. We uesd the in-game bench, running at 1680x1050, with quality preference set to 'very high', everything else set to 'high', and AA on 'normal'. 

Batman: Arkham Asylum: Gotham's Greatest Detective makes for a good benchmark. We used the in-game bench, running at 2560x1600, with the highest quality settings possible. We chose to only test without AA as there has been some controversy that AA is unnecessarily handicapped in this game for some video cards.

FTL_Blunderbuss: This is a demoscene demo by the group Fairlight, which came in second in competition in October 2009. It makes very heavy use of particles, and is a good GPU workout.  We used FRAPS to measure the average framerates of a run through the program, running at 1680x1050, with 4xAA, and 'high' detail.

Resident Evil V: Capcom's latest zombie smasher has a great 'Fixed' in-game benchmark. We ran it at top quality at 2560x1600 in DX10 mode, with and without AA . 

And here is our older benchmarks still used:

Bioshock: For this benchmark, all of the Detail settings were set to 'High'. All of the graphic option switches were set to 'On', with the exception of the following three settings: Vsync, Windowed mode, and Force Global Lighting. We used FRAPS to measure frame rate performance. The FRAPS run was 138 seconds, triggered from pulling the switch in the sub at game's beginning. The sub's dive involves many big models moving around, which should strain the GPUs and be a good measure of the game's engine.

Crysis: Warhead: Games don't get much more demanding than Crysis. We used the 'Gamer' pre-set level of details, which is the middle level setting out of 5 options. We ran the benchmark on the 'avalanche' map, using the FrameBuffer Crysis benchmarking tool, version 0.29, in DX10 mode.

Devil May Cry 4: This Capcom action game runs well on most systems; but at 'Super High' detail settings, even the fastest systems get taxed. This is built-in benchmark.

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars: We use this id FPS benchmark to test out higher resolutions. We used the highest possible detail settings. We tested the resolutions at 4x AA as well as at 8x AA. 16x AF was also used.  

Far Cry 2: This open-world FPS is great looking game that really puts the strain on a gaming rig. We used the built-in benchmarking tool, and the overall 'Very High' quality setting was used.

Furmark: This intensive, synthetic benchmark models a ring of fur. We benched at 1680x1050.

Street Fighter IV: You have probably heard of this famous fighting game. It has 3D graphics, but generally does not require much GPU horsepower to run well. We used Capcom's stand-alone PC benchmarking tool for our tests, and ran everything at its highest possible settings, using 4xAA, and the 'Watercolor' setting.

Unreal Tournament 3: We tested the game using a fly-through of the vehicle capture-the-flag map 'Suspense.'ShangriLa (map) running for 90 seconds. Details were set to 'High', and a AF setting of 16x was used.

World In Conflict: We used the built-in benchmark of the demo version of this game. We ran the benchmark in DX9 rendering mode, with a 'High' level of quality. For the AA testing, we used a setting of 4x, and a setting of 16x for AF.

If you would like any further information about our benchmark settings, feel free to ask us in the forums.

The Vapor-X starts off our benchmarks with some domination. The best Nvidia has right now, the dual-GPU GTX 295, which sold for $600 USD not that long ago, is just staying ahead by a small margin.

For this game, Nvidia cards really fly, especially without the AA on. The GTX 285 gets a big head start on the HD 5870 here.

The Sapphire HD 5870 Vapor-X becomes the first card to break the 100 fps barrier in low-rez, high detail Far Cry 2.

Here the Vapor-X almost breaks through the end of our charts; it spin fur-rings like nobody's business!

If you are going to get in some dogfights, you'll not want to see that the HD 5870 is on your six -- because it's an ace. 

The BFG GTX 285 can keep things reasonable here by keeping up with the HD 5870 when no AA is engaged.

While the BFG GTX 295 maintains the lead here, you can be confident that the flaming yoga fireballs will really be flying fast, if you are playing with a HD 5870 Vapor-X .

Again the GTX 285 shows that it has some legs. It pretty much can keep up with the HD 5870 in this popular engine.

Not much can touch the BFG GTX 295 in this demanding game, but both the GTX 285 and HD 5870 can keep things moving along at even the most demanding game settings.

Holy fast video card performance Batman! The Vapor-X busts the 100 fps mark here as well. Joker has no chance in Arkham anymore.

Arguably the GTX 285 takes second place here. But either the HD 5870 or GTX 285 certainly will not have any troubles with Bioshock.

In this particle-heavy benchmark, the HD 5870 Vapor-X has no contest.

Operating temperatures

We used the program OCCT to measure 'load' temperatures.

Great numbers here -- not much of a surprise for us, we have to admit, as we've seen the Vapor-X in action before. The cooler is effective at keeping the GPU relatively cool even under heavy strains. It's a nice little piece of engineering.

Sapphire's Vapor-X cooler is tough to beat (a review of the HD 5870 Vapor-X is coming shortly), but the HD 5770 still keeps things running reasonably with only the stock cooler.

Power Usage

We used the program OCCT to measure 'load' power demands.

Very, very nice -- the Sapphire HD 5870 required less power than the factory reference HD 4870 in our tests, and it has about twice the transistors. Great stuff! 

Conclusion

As far as video cards on the market right now (November 2009), the Sapphire HD 5870 doesn't have much trouble securing a reservation for one of the best seats in the entire theater. If you've been keeping up with your Neoseeker review readings recently, you've probably noticed our prior recommendation of the HD 5870. It is tough to deny the HD 5870, as there just isn't much competition. 

While you can get more frames in games for less, if you are looking for maximizing your gaming upgrade dollars, if you are looking at something high-end that will last, than the HD 5870 is best thinking going at the moment. With Nvidia's next-gen still anyone's guess off -- we suspect it won't materialize until February or later -- ATI is sitting pretty with the HD 5870 offering next-gen performance levels and a great feature set, including DirectX11 and Eyefinity.

And if you are considering HD 5870's, then Sapphire's HD 5870 is perhaps the best looking option available right now. While the factory overclock is pretty insignificant, the Vapor-X cooler is certainly worth the small price premium (+$10 USD seems the norm). The HD 5870 Vapor-X also comes with a good bundle, featuring two full games. So if you are anxious to dive into the HD 5000 series and are looking for the place to do it, check out this cool card from Sapphire.

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