Sapphire Radeon HD 6850 Vapor-X Review

Author: Chris Ledenican
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Thursday, September 8th, 2011
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/s/Sapphire_HD_6850_VaporX/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Sapphire's Vapor-X thermal design was introduced back in 2008 and has since been incorporated in multiple graphics cards from the manufacturer, including the one we are examining today: the Sapphire HD 6850 Vapor-X.

The Vapor-X design is essentially a large liquid filled chamber positioned directly between the GPU and the array, instead of extending out of a base and into an array such as a heatpipe. This allows the heat to more efficiently travel upward into the array via the internal liquid. The Vapor design is more efficient overall than standard heatpipes, which is the reason both AMD and Nvidia have adopted it for use with their high-end products such as the Radeon HD 6990 and GeForce GTX 590, respectively.

Sapphire's exclusive Vapor-X cooler ensures that the card runs quietly and efficiently, but the HD 6850 Vapor-X Edition also includes an on-board 10-phase power control. Sapphire's efficient Black Diamond chokes can be overclocked via an tweaking utility known as TriXX. These features will ensure the graphics card maintains maximum stability while increaing the maximum overclocking threshold. This translates into better overall performance.

The Sapphire HD 6850 Vapor-X Edition is currently available at retail and has an MSRP of $169, which is a highly competitive price for a custom Barts Pro based graphics card. Sapphire has slightly bumped up the clock frequencies, as the graphics processor comes clocked at 800MHz and the memory is set at 1100MHz. The increased clock speeds will yield better performance out-of-the-box, while the Vapor-X thermal solution ensures this card will be both quiet and cool.

Specifications
Output 1 x Dual-Link DVI
1 x HDMI 1.4a
2 x Mini-DisplayPort
1 x Single-Link DVI-D
DisplayPort 1.2
GPU 800 MHz Core Clock
40 nm Chip
960 x Stream Processors
Memory 1024 MB Size
256 -bit GDDR5
4400 MHz Effective
Dimension 238(L)x98(W)x37(H) mm Size.
Software Driver CD
SAPPHIRE TriXX Utility
1 x Dirt®3 Coupon
Accessory CrossFire™ Bridge Interconnect Cable
DVI to VGA Adapter
Mini-DP to DP Cable
6 PIN to 4 PIN Power Cable x 2
HDMI 1.4a high speed 1.8 meter cable(Full Retail SKU only)

The Sapphire HD 6850 Vapor-X comes packaged in a blue and black box festooned with a plethora of stickers and printed icons on the front to highlight the main features. This color scheme is different from the ones used with previous Vapor-X products, though the HD 6850 still sports a silhouette of the product line's symbolic penguin on the front.

The back panel of the packaging gives the skinny on the graphics card, listing details regarding the thermal solution, feature set, and functions. It also gives a rather lengthy description of the product, listing the included accessories and showcasing the various product awards Sapphire has gathered throughout the years.

Accessories bundled with the Vapor-X graphics card include a CrossFire Bridge interconnect cable, D-Sub adapter, Mini-DP to DP cable, dual 6-pin to 4-pin power cables and a 1.8 meter HDMI 1.4a high-speed cable. The model we were sent also included a free DiRT 3 code which unlocks a retail version of the game via Steam.

Though the Sapphire HD 6870 Vapor-X uses an after-market thermal solution and custom design, it still features the AMD reference clock speeds for the GPU and memory. This gives the Vapor-X an 800MHz GPU clock speed with 1GB of GDDR5 1100MHz (4400MHz effective) memory running on a 256-bit memory interface. In addition, it uses the Barts XT graphics processing unit built on a 40nm fabrication process which includes 960 Stream processors, 1.7 billion transistors, 32 ROPs and 56 texture processing units, all on a 255mm² die. These specializations places the Sapphire HD 6850 Vapor-X performance roughly between the HD 5830 and HD 5850 cards, which is solid for a card priced below $200.

Flipping the card around we can see the HD 6870 and HD 6850 Vapor-X models share more in common than just the heatsink design. Both models are also built on the same 9.4" blue PCB that utilizes a CHL8228G voltage controller from CHiL Semiconductor Corporation. The CHL8228G is a dual-loop digital multi-phase controller that can drive up to 8 phase units, and features Input Voltage Management to allow up to 3 input voltages to be monitored. This will ensure the card is adequately powered, and improves the overall power efficiency. Additionally, the HD 6850 includes a single CrossFire connector that adds 2-Way GPU linking and runs on a PCI-Express 2.1 interface.

The reference HD 6850 has a maximum thermal design power rating of around 130 watts, which is close to reaching the threshold of the standard 6-pin PEG power connector. To improve the overall stability Sapphire included a second PEG power connector, giving the card a maximum thermal threshold of 225W. The added power could really come in handy when overclocking.

The video outputs on the Sapphire HD 6850 Vapor-X are the same as those found on most reference cards. This gives the Vapor-X an HDMI 1.4a port, dual version 1.2 Mini-DisplayPorts, one SingleLink-DVI port, and a DL-DVI port. The DP ports used on the 6000 series cards feature a higher bandwidth and refresh rate, which allows each port to support Stereoscopic 3D, A/V and even multiple displays through a single port. The HDMI port is also updated to support stereophonic 3D via AMD's HD3D Technology. Like the other cards in the series, the Vapor-X graphics card supports AMD Eyefinity technology. These options make this card extremely versatile and capable of supporting multiple display options short of a massive six monitor setup.

The Vapor-X design is a four-part solution comprised of the fan, aluminum array, three heatpipes and the vapor chamber.

The vapor chamber technology is based on the same principles as heatpipe technology, where a liquid coolant is vaporized within a chamber, resulting in the heat being transferred though the chamber via an internal liquid which is then cooled and recycled throughout the chamber. This works in conjunction with three copper heatpipes that extend out of the base in the array, and a centralized 80mm fan.

The coolant inside the chamber is actually solid H20, which has a higher heat capacity and vaporizing temperature than most liquids. This makes it ideal for use within the chamber, and aids the thermal efficiency of the unit. As the chamber is evacuated with very low pressure, the vaporization process occurs at a much lower temperature than normal boiling point. The complex wick arrangement inside the module controls the flow of water and water vapour so that the system can be used in any orientation.

The PCB is the same high-quality board used with the HD 6870 Vapor-X, meaning Sapphire has pulled all the stops and included an on-board 10-phase power controller, patented Black Diamond chokes and high quality all Japanese capacitors. Additionally, the PCB uses eight tier-1 HYNIX based memory chips clocked at 1100MHz, and an on-board heat spreader to improve the thermal efficiency of the VRM. Overall the board design is excellent for a mid-range card, which will improve the efficiency, overclocking headroom and longevity of the HD 6850 Vapor-X edition graphics card.

 

Overclocking:

To overclock the HD 6850 Vapor-X Edition graphics card, Sapphire's TriXX utility was used. The core clock frequency was increased by 20MHz intervals until the card started to display artifacts during operation. At that point the GPU voltage was ramped up to the maximum level since heat wasn't an issue, then the core frequency was pushed even higher. In the end the GPU clock speed reached just under 1GHz, which is impressive for a HD 6850 and a 15% increase over the stock frequencies. The memory also scaled well for this model, but it couldn't quite hit a rating of 1200MHz (4800MHz effective). Still, 1170MHz (4680MHz effective) is nothing to sneeze at.

Hardware Configuration:

Driver used:

Comparison Drivers:

Benchmarks DX11:

Benchmarks DX10:

Test Settings:

All in-game benchmarks were performed at resolutions of 1680x1050, 1920x1200 and 2560x1600. Vsync is disabled in the control panel, AA is set to x4 with AF set to x16 and all the in-game settings are turned up to high.

Usage:

Specifications:

(Note: All models might not be included in this review. The table below is to be used for comparison purposes)
AMD Specifications
Model
AMD Radeon HD 6870 Sapphire  Radeon HD 6850 Vapor-X
AMD Radeon HD 6750 AMD Radeon HD 6770 AMD Radeon HD 5830 AMD Radeon HD 5870 AMD Radeon HD 6950 AMD Radeon 6970
Processing Cores
1120 960 720 800 1120 1600 1408 1536
Core Clock
900MHz 800MHz 700MHz 850MHz 800MHz 850MHz 800MHz 880MHz
Memory Clock
1050MHz 1100MHz 1150MHz 1200MHz 1150MHz 1200MHz 1250MHz 1375MHz
Memory Interface
256-bit 256-bit 128-bit 128-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Memory Type
1GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 2GB GDDR5 2GB GDDR5
Fabrication Process
40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm
NVIDIA Specifications
Model
Nvidia GTS 450 Nvidia GTX 460 Nvidia GTX 470 Nvidia GTX 480 Nvidia GTX 560 Nvidia GTX 560 Ti Nvidia GTX 570 Nvidia GTX 580
Processing Cores
192 336 448 480 336 384 480 512
Core Clock
783MHz 675MHz 607MHz 700MHz 810MHz 822MHz 742MHz 782MHz
Memory Clock
900MHz 1100MHz 837MHz 924MHz 1002MHz 10002MHz 1250MHz 1002MHz
Memory Interface
128-bit 256-bit 128-bit 320-bit 256-bit 256-bit 320-bit 384-bit
Memory Type
1GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 1.25GB GDDR5 1.5GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 1.25GB GDDR5 1.5GB GDDR5
Fabrication Process
40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm

3DMark Vantage is the stunning sequel to 3DMark 06. Futuremark's benchmarking programs have always been at the center of every bragging match. The best way to show that you've got the greatest gaming rig is to show that you've got the highest 3DMark score. Vantage helps provide just that. It puts your system through a series of strenuous tests, and provides you with a score to brag about!

Right off the bat we can see that the overclocked settings of the Vapor-X improves the overall performance, as this model performed considerably better than the reference board.

Futuremark's latest 3DMark 11 is designed for testing DirectX 11 hardware running on Windows 7 and Windows Vista. The benchmark includes six all new tests that make extensive use of all the new DirectX 11 features including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading.

The results in 3DMark 11 are similar to those we observed in 3DMark Vantage. The HD 6850 Vapor-X's total scores for each tested resolution came out higher than those for the reference card across the board.

Unigine Heaven became very popular very fast, because it was one of the first major DirectX 11 benchmarks. It makes great use of tessellation to create a visually stunning heaven.

The stock performance of the HD 6850 Vapor-X continues to be quite impressive, and once again it easily surpassed the reference board. What is even more impressive is how it continues to perform head-to-head with the GTX 460.

Aliens vs Predator is a DX11 benchmark that runs though a scene straight out of the classic 80’s movie, Aliens. Since it uses DX11, the benchmark can often be more than a graphics card can handle.

The stock results of the Vapor-X Edition graphics card are not quite as dramatic in our fist real-world benchmark, but it still manages to perform slightly better than the reference card in all three of our tested resolutions.

DiRT 3 is the third installment in the DiRT series and like it's predecessor incorporates DX11 features such as tessellation, accelerated high definition ambient occlusion and Full Floating point high dynamic range lighting. This makes it a perfect game to test the latest DX11 hardware.

Like Aliens vs Predator, the Vapor-X's total performance in DiRT 3 came out just slightly ahead of the reference model. However, the Vapor-X graphics card scaled incredibly well once overclocked, which led to some impressive frame rate increases in the two lower resolutions.

Lost Planet 2 is a sci-fi action-adventure game from Capcom that puts players on a fictional planet called E.D.N. III 10 years after the events of the first game. Like the other new games added to our review benchmarks, Lost Planet 2 includes support for DX11 features to enhance the lighting, characters and environments.

The HD 6850 Vapor-X did quite well in Lost Planet when tested at or below 1920x1200. The card's performance beyond that setting dropped to just 21FPS, which is hardly smooth.

Metro 2033 puts you right in the middle of post apocalyptic Moscow, battling mutants, rivals and radioactive fallout. The game is very graphics intensive and utilizes DX11 technology, making it a good measure of how the latest generation of graphics cards perform under the latest standards.

The Vapor-X Edition graphics card was able to run Metro 2033 at smooth rates up to 1920x1200, where again we see that the 1GB frame buffer limits performance when playing at the highest resolutions.

Total War: Shogun 2 is a game that offers a unique experience by combining both real-time and turn-based strategy. The game is set in 16th-century feudal Japan and gives the player control of a warlord battling various rival factions. Total War: Shogun 2 is the first in the series to feature DX11 technologies to enhance the look of the game, but with massive on-screen battles it can stress even highest-end graphics cards.

The Vapor-X does extremely well when playing at mid-to-higher definition resolutions, but starts to slow at 2560x1600. While it suffers at the highest settings, the HD 6850 still offers excellent performance for its price point.

F1 2010 is a video game based on the 2010 season of the Formula One world championship and is a mutli-console port. It was developed by Codemasters and released released in September 2010 for the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, with the PC version including DX11 features.

F1 is one of those DX11 games that even a mid-range graphics card can handle up to 2560x1600. The impact on performance is small when comparing the difference between 1680x1050 and 1920x1200, though this clearly widens once compared to the 2560x1600 results.

Dragon Age II is a role-playing video game created by Bioware's Edmonton studios and is a follow up to the highly successful original Dragon Age: Origins. In this game players take the role of Hawke, who has just fled fled the nation of Ferelden with his family after it was destroyed. The PC version of Dragon Age II includes DX11 features such as tessellation for enhanced geometric detail and compute shaders for post process rendering like blur, bloom, film effects.

The HD 6850 managed to produce smooth frame rates across the board, but what was the most impressive was how well it scaled once overclocked.

Batman: Arkham Aslyum mixes extraordinary visuals with great gameplay in order to make an excellent benchmark. It's not a stressful as Crysis, but it can still push cards to their limits.

The Vapor-X HD 6850 easily handles older DX10 games such as Batman Arkham Asylum. Since the upcoming Batman: Arkham City uses the same graphics engine, the HD 6850 should have no issues handling the highly anticipated title.

Crysis Warhead is one of the most graphically intensive games on the mainstream market. It's graphically breathtaking, and can bring any system crashing to it's knees.

The results here demonstrate how the sweet spot of this graphics card is right around 1920x1080 level.

Just Cause 2 places you in Panau, southeast Asia as agent Rico Rodriguez. The game is a third-person shooter that pits you against countless enemies with the opportunity for plenty of environmental destruction. With explosions and gun fire galore, this game is perfect for testing out the latest hardware.

The card performed well across the board, but again we can see (especially in the overclocked results) that the 1GB frame buffer just doesn't like to going above 1920x1200.

Temperature:

To measure core GPU temperatures, we run three in-game benchmarks and record the idle and load temperature according to the min and max temperature readings recorded by MSI Afterburner. The games we test are Crysis 2, Lost Planet 2 and Metro 2033. We run these benchmarks for 15 minutes each. This way we can give the included thermal solution and GPU time to reach equilibrium.

The Vapor-X thermal solution proved to be performed quite well during our stock testing, but after we increased the voltage the thermal efficiency did decrease. Still the Vapor-X solution was far more efficient than the reference heatsink and was nearly inaudible when the fan was spinning at low RPM.

Power Consumption:

To measure power usage, a Kill A Watt P4400 power meter was used. Note that the numbers represent the power drain for the entire benchmarking system, not just the video cards themselves. For the 'idle' readings we measured the power drain from the desktop, with no applications running; for the 'load' situation, we took the sustained peak power drain readings after running the system through the same in-game benchmarks we used for the temperature testing. This way we are list real-world power usage, as opposed to pushing a product to it's thermal threshold.

The overall power consumption was right inline with what we expected to see from this graphics card. When using the Vapor-X model at the reference clock speeds the power consumption for our system was a 275 watts, which is just 2 watts higher than the consumption rating of the reference model. After we overclocked the graphics card the power rating for our system jumped to nearly 300 watts, but this is still and adequate power rating for a mid-range graphics card.

In its three years on the market, the Vapor-X design has evolved from a single slot thermal solution to an all-in-one heatsink that includes heatpipes, a large fin array and a large centralized fan in conjunction with the vapor chamber. All these feature ensure the Vapor-X thermal solution is highly efficient at transferring heat away from the GPU and dissipating it out of the array. Additionally, with the heatsink having such an efficient design, the fan can run at a lower RPM level, meaning the HD 6850 Vapor X will produce less noise than a standard HD 6850 card.

Along with thermal efficiency, the HD 6850 Vapor-X Edition graphics card also offers excellent mid-range performance. The HD 6850 effectively replaced the HD 5750 in terms of market positioning and pricing, but the total performance offered by this particular card is more in line with the HD 5850. This means the HD 6850 offers plenty of bang for the buck and will be able to play virtually any game at resolutions up to 1920x1080. However, the performance does take a hit at resolutions higher than 1080p, but for $169 you would be hard pressed to find a graphics card that can play games at 2560x1600.

The Sapphire HD 6850 Vapor-X also supported a wide array of features and technologies. These include AMD's HD3D technology, which allows games to be played in full stereophonic 3D, Eyefinity, and Advanced Parallel Processing. All of these features really help improve the overall value of the HD 6850, making it is an affordable graphics card that offer excellent desktop expansion and 3D support, all while playing virtually any DX 11 game at high resolutions.

The Vapor-X Edition graphics card is also quite capable when it comes to overclocking. The GPU clock frequency managed to reach 990MHz, which required the voltage to be set at 1237mV. For an HD 6850 this is an impressive overclock, but other models Neoseeker has tested such as the MSI R6850 Cyclone easily scaled beyond the 1000MHz marker. While the Sapphire HD 6850 Vapor-X overclocks quite well, it is not necessarily the best option available for anyone looking for the best overclocking potential possible.

All in all there is really nothing bad to say about the Sapphire HD 6850 Vapor-X Edition graphics card given its solid performance, high efficiency, support for a wide array of technologies and having an MSRP below $200. So if you're in the market for a new mid-range graphics card, this is model is one of the best options available.

»Neoseeker.com

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