Sapphire 4850x2 2GB PCIe Graphics Card Page: 1
IntroductionSapphite logo
 
Dual GPU setups used to be the makings of a geeks wet dream but now they are common place among high end gaming setups. Having a dual GPU used to mean having two cards with a bridging cable across the two cards which linked them together enabling them, theoretically at least, to work in tandem. ATI however, took a different direction and placed two GPU's on the same PCB with an on board crossfire chip, first seen with the previous generation 3870x2. The last incarnation of this format was with the range topping 4870x2 monster. Upon it's release back in August it obliterated all the competition but it's Achilles heel was the price. At the time ATI promised a cheaper version based upon the 4870's sibling, the 4850, due for release around September but due to delays and backroom indecision on whether to ship the GPU with one or two gigabytes of memory the release date was put back. Today however we can finally reveal the latest GPU from ATI under the Sapphire banner, the 4850x2.

Based on a 55 nanometre fabrication, the RV770 core pushes the transistor count to 956 million, including 800 Stream Processors. Couple this with a 256-bit memory controller, DX10.1 and Shader model 4.1 support, cooled by a twin fan/dual heatsink design all wrapped up in a sleek aluminium frame and Sapphire appear to have a giant killer on their hands.

Here's what Sapphire had to say:

SAPPHIRE Technology - the leading innovator of ATI-based graphics solutions for the PC - is now introducing the SAPPHIRE HD 4850 X2 – an exclusive new DUAL GPU graphics accelerator based on the successful HD 4850 graphics processor and delivering industry leading gaming performance at a breakthrough price level from its more cost-effective memory architecture.

Designed by SAPPHIRE, the new HD 4850 X2 comprises two complete HD 4850 graphics systems on a single PCI-Express card connected by an on-board PCI Express Gen 2 bridge chip. Each GPU has 800 stream process units and a 256-bit memory interface driving 1GB of GDDR3 memory, making a total of 2GB on-board memory. Four Dual Link DVI outputs are provided as well as TV-Out. This provides a choice of Multi-monitor operation or CrossFire mode in which 3D applications such as games use both on-board GPU’s together to deliver a single accelerated output on the Primary display. In this mode the SAPPHIRE HD 4850 X2 delivers industry leading levels of performance and achieves previously unavailable frame rates in games even at high resolutions with features enabled.

Specification


The following specification was taken directly from Sapphire:

 Core Clock: 625 MHz & Stream Processors: 2 x 800
 Memory Clock: 993 MHz, 1986 Mbps
 Interface: PCI Express 2.0 x16 bus interface
 Memory: 2x 1024MB /2x256bit GDDR3 memory interface
 Cooling: Dual Slot Dual Fan Active Cooler with Fan Speed Control
 Connections: HDMI compliant via dongle
 Audio: 7.1 Audio Channel Support
 Features: Microsoft® DirectX® 10.1 support, Shader Model 4.1 support
 Output:  Dual DL-DVI-I x 4 +HDTV

Let's take a look at the card itself...


Sapphire 4850x2 2GB PCIe Graphics Card Page: 2
Packaging & Appearance

The outer sleeve of the packaging makes no bones of the fact that this a premium product. A scantly clad Elvin female adorns the front of the package along with a 2GB emblem, signifying that this is indeed the 2GB model and not the cheaper 1GB model also available. The side and rear of the package go into greater detail regarding the features of the card. Removing the glossy outer sleeve and then opening the plain inner box we arrive at a well packed, foam reinforced graphics card.

outer sleeve back sleeve

side box inner box
 

Underneath the main unit is yet another box containing a basic set of accessories. Notable by its omission are 6 and 8 pin adaptors required to power the card should your PSU not have already these connections. To make up for that loss, Sapphire have included a copy of Futuremark Vantage which should soften the blow should you manage to get the card going. A crossfire bridge, HDMI and DVI adaptors and an S-Video dongle are also included.

accessories inner package
 
The product is protected by a thick anti-static bag which should stave off any damaging electricity and finally, we come to the card itself. The card itself is huge, measuring 28.5cm in length and it's also a dual slot design. Bigger than both the GTX280 and its bigger brother, the 4870x2 this card is the largest mainstream GPU on the market today.The main cooler on top is a black anodised aluminium affair which should dissipate heat much better than the plastic casing of the previous generation of x2 GPU's. The rear of the card also has an extra heatsink cooling the power circuitry which may be an issue for crossfire slots situated within one PCI slot of one another.

card front card back
 

The I/O plate has four DVI slots as well as an S-Video output. The four DVI slots will certainly come in useful for those with a multi monitor setup but consideration should be given to the fact that at present, Crossfire only supports dual monitor setups.
On the rear of the card we see the 2 heatsinks cooling the mosfets, one on top and one underneath.

back plate card rear

side1 side2
 
The fans are attached both to the shroud and the heatsink which should cut down on any potential noise through vibration but as the fans are only 80mm in size and have 9 deep-cut fins I suspect I may be needing some form of ear defenders when both are revved up to 100%. As this is a high end card, it requires high end power with both a 6 and 8 pin PCIe cable required.

fan power
 
As you can see, compared to an Nvidia 280GTX, the 4850x2 is over 1cm longer which may present some fitting problems for those with small/midi ATX cases. The only mainstream card that betters this card for size was the 7900GX2 before Nvidia saw the error of their ways and managed to shrink it down with the 7950GX2. As this 4850x2 is not a reference design we may see smaller versions become available in the future but for the time being, the Sapphire 4850x2 is the only 4850x2 on the market so ensure you have enough space before buying one otherwise it might be time to dust off the jigsaw.

comparison measurement
 
Let's strip the card of its aluminium shroud to see what treasures lie beneath...


Sapphire 4850x2 2GB PCIe Graphics Card Page: 3
In Detail

Removing the main shroud was simple enough with only 8 tiny screws holding it to the main heatsinks and not the card itself. This should allow easy cleaning of the card should the heatsink get clogged with dust. Looking closer at the cooling, we see that there are numerous heatsinks separated according to the sections requiring cooling. 

top removed fan
 
The main two heatsinks are attached via 2x4 screws from the back of the PCB which are also spring loaded ensuring an even mount. The remaining heatsinks for both the memory and the VRM's are attached with push pins and are easily removed.

fan2 heatsinks

The paste used on the GPU appeared to be very good with an MX2 type consistency rather some form of cement. Giving both even coverage as well as being very easy to remove is a major plus for both those wishing to continue with the stock cooling and the watercoolers out there.

GPU Clean GPU

Below we see the GDDR3 memory chips from Qimonda. While I would have liked to see DDR4 used, 2GB of that type would have no doubt increased the price of the card, so it appears Sapphire are satisfied with the bang per buck the Qimonda chips supply. Below right we see the Crossfire bridging chip which appeared to be glued onto the core itself as it would not budge regardless of heat applied.

memory chips Crossfire

Below are the numerous VRM's that are cooled by the aluminium heatinks both above and below the PCB. I do worry a little at the fact these heatsinks will not receive a fresh source of air and instead will rely on both the exhaust from the GPUs as well as ambient temps inside the case which may be counter productive.

VRMS vrms rear

Below we see the rear of the memory heatsink which has thermal pads in place of paste which should be adequate. The main GPU heatsinks have copper plates affixed to aluminium fins and as you can see from the picture below the correct amount of paste is used to good effect resulting in a near perfect mount.

memsinks heatsink

hSF VRM sink

Above right and below left we see the top and bottom VRM sinks are also adorned with thermal tape and below right we see the RV770 in all its naked glory.

rear sink crossfire chip
 
So that's enough of the pretty pictures, time now to put this card to the test so head over the page to see our test setup and our overclocking results with the card.



Sapphire 4850x2 2GB PCIe Graphics Card Page: 4
Test Setup

To ensure that all reviews on Overclock3D are fair, consistent and unbiased, a standard set of hardware and software is used whenever possible during the comparative testing of two or more products. The configurations used in this review can be seen below:

i7 Rig

CPU: Intel Nehalem i7 920 Skt1366 2.66GHz
Motherboard: Asus P6T Deluxe 'OC Palm'
Memory: 3x2GB Corsair Dominator DDR3 1600mhz @ 8-8-8-24
HD : Hitachi Deskstar 7k160 7200rpm 80GB
GPU: ATI 4850x2 / Nvidia GTX280
Graphics Drivers: Cat 4.12 / GeForce 180.60
PSU: Gigabyte ODIN 1200w
 
During the testing of the setups above, special care was taken to ensure that the BIOS settings used matched whenever possible. A fresh install of Windows Vista was also used before the benchmarking began, with a full defrag of the hard drive once all the drivers and software were installed, preventing any possible performance issues due to leftover drivers from the previous motherboard installations. For the 3DMark and gaming tests a single card configuration was used.

To guarantee a broad range of results, the following benchmark utilities were used:
 
3D / Rendering Benchmarks
• Cinebench 10
• 3DMark 05
• 3DMark 06
• 3DMark Vantage

3D Games
• Crysis
• Far Cry 2
• Company of Heroes

• Race drive: GRID
• F.E.A.R
• Call of Duty IV
• Unreal Tournament III
• Quake IV


Power Consumption

Power consumption was measured at the socket using a plug-in mains power and energy monitor. Because of this the readings below are of the total system, not just the GPU. Idle readings were taken after 5 minutes in Windows. Load readings were taken during a run of Crysis.


As you can see above, the 4850x2 uses a lot more power than the GTX280 when idle but power usage evened out when both cards were put under load. The GTX however still appears to be the more greener of the two but bear in mind the ATI has two cores to the green teams one and it becomes clear who has the more power efficient setup.


Temperatures

Temperatures were taken at the factory clocked speed during idle in windows and after 10 minutes of running Furmark with settings maxed out (2560x1600 8xMSAA). Ambient temperatures were taken with a household thermometer. As we use an open test bench setup consideration should be given to the fact that the temperatures would likely increase further in a closed case environment.
 
 

Coming from a 3870x2 which was scorching at the best of times, I was surprised to see that the Sapphire 4850x2 ran as cool as it did. That said, with the fan set to auto the noise this thing makes is diabolical. It is easily the noisiest GPU in modern terms and is only beaten by the old 5800Ultra in terms of noise. Be sure to grab a decent set of headphones to drown out the whooshing of air.

Touching the card while under load it felt quite cool thanks to the aluminium frame. Only the VRM sink on the back of the card appeared to be hot. Surprisingly, little heat was being expelled via the rear of the card in contrast to the GTX280 which would serve as a good replacement for a household radiator.
 
 
Overclocking

Overclocking the Sapphire 4850x2 was very easy using the Catalyst Control Centre. However, the GPU and memory clocks were still being recorded incorrectly so I used the latest edition of GPU-Z to clarify the overclock and sure enough, the overclocked settings had been applied.

Stock Overclocked

A meagre 75mhz was applied to the core but I am certain that they could be pushed further as 700mhz was the maximum overclock CCC overdrive would allow us to apply on the GPU. We managed to nudge the memory a further 182mhz past stock before the card started to show signs of instability in 3DMark 06 with some textures being corrupt and some tearing apparent. The downside to the overclocking however was that with additional overclocks comes additional heat and as previously mentioned the fan speeds up to such an extent that it would be unbearable for day to day use without the use of headphones.

Let's move on to our suite of benchmarks where we pitch it up against Nvidia's finest, the GTX280...


Sapphire 4850x2 2GB PCIe Graphics Card Page: 5


3DMark is a popular synthetic gaming benchmark used by many gamers and overclockers to gauge the performance of their PC's. All 3DMark runs were performed a total of 5 times, with the highest and lowest results being removed and an average calculated from the remaining 3 results.

 



 
Results Analysis

The 4850x2 bursts onto the scene, taking the lead in every benchmark we threw at it. All that is apart from Vantage. For whatever reason Vantage refused to run without throwing up a lot of glitches, tearing and artifacts which rendered the benchmark useless and was therefore unable to return a score. This is most likely due to a driver issue that will hopefully be rectified in the near future, especially as Vantage is part of the bundled software!

Let's see how the 4850x2's synthetic 3D performance translates into real world gaming...



Sapphire 4850x2 2GB PCIe Graphics Card Page: 6
 
Unreal Tournament 3 is the highly anticipated game from Epic Games and Midway. The game uses the latest Unreal engine, which combines fast gameplay along with high quality textures and lighting effects. All benchmarks were performed using UTbench with a fly-by of the DM-BioHazard map. As usual, all benchmarks were performed 5 times, with the highest and lowest results being removed and an average calculated from the remaining three.
 


GRID
 
Race Driver: Grid is a visually taxing game that presents a challenge to any graphics system. Results were recorded using FRAPS to log the average FPS over a 2 minute race. To ensure consistency, the same track, car and general path of travel was used in each of the 5 benchmark runs for each graphics card, with an average FPS being calculated from the median three results.
 


 
Company of Heroes is Relic's first title to make use of the "Essence Engine". This engine was designed and coded from scratch by Relic in order to make use of special graphical effects, including high dynamic range lighting, dynamic lighting & shadows, advanced shader effects and normal mapping. On May 29, 2007 Relic released a DX10 patch for Company of Heroes which was applied for this test.  Running the in game performance test 5 times, the highest and lowest scores were omitted with the average calculated from the remaining 3.



 
Results Analysis

Predictably, the GTX stomps all over the 4850x2 in Unreal Tournament thanks to the PhysX processing but the tables are turned in GRID with the 4850x2 returning the favour. However GRID showed some texture and shadow corruption which is most likely due to immature drivers. Company of Heroes produced a mix bag of results with the 4850x2 winning out at higher resolutions.

Let's head over to the next set of benchmarks...


Sapphire 4850x2 2GB PCIe Graphics Card Page: 7


Ubisoft has developed a new engine specifically for Far Cry 2, called Dunia, meaning "world", "earth" or "living" in Parsi. The engine takes advantage of multi-core processors as well as multiple processors and supports DirectX 9 as well as DirectX 10. Running the Far Cry 2 benchmark tool the test was run 5 times with the highest and lowest scores being omitted and the average calculated from the remaining 3.
 


 


Call of Duty 4 is a stunning DirectX 9.0c based game that really looks awesome and has a very full feature set. With lots of advanced lighting, smoke and water effects, the game has excellent explosions along with fast game play. Using the in-built Call Of Duty features, a 10-minute long game play demo was recorded and replayed on each of the GPU's using the /timedemo command a total of 5 times. The highest and lowest FPS results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 




Crysis is without doubt one of the most visually stunning and hardware-challenging games to date. By using CrysisBench - a tool developed independently of Crysis - we performed a total of 5 timedemo benchmarks using a GPU-intensive pre-recorded demo. To ensure the most accurate results, the highest and lowest benchmark scores were then removed and an average calculated from the remaining three.
 
 
 
Results Analysis

In both Call of Duty 4 and Far Cry 2, the 4850x2 blows the GTX280 out of the water bettering it by some margin, even with an increase in resolution and AA/AF are added. Crysis remains a weakness for ATI though with the GTX280 winning hands down in that benchmark. Texture corruption was also apparent in Crysis testing on the 4850x2 which again, is most likely due to the drivers.

Let's head over to the conclusion where I cast my overview on the 4850x2...


Sapphire 4850x2 2GB PCIe Graphics Card Page: 8
Conclusion

Well, what can I say that the benchmarks haven't already shown. Blistering performance coupled with cool running and swish looks are the order of the day for the Sapphire 4850x2. With a competitive price tag, Nvidia have a lot to worry about as this card beats it's current flagship model with relative ease without being too much more expensive.

As usual, ATI and more specifically in this case Sapphire, have some driver issues to iron out. Failing to run Vantage, Crysis and GRID without throwing up a load of glitches and texture anomalies is not acceptable. I do get the feeling that this model was rushed out despite its huge delays in production, in anticipation of Nvidia's GTX295. While the product performs amazingly in some titles, it falls flat on its face in others. Hopefully, this will be sorted with future driver revisions (for which you will have to rely on Sapphire for).

Overclocking is good for a dual card of this nature and cooling is very good, even when under load. This however, comes at a cost and is perhaps the cards biggest deficit. The noise this card produces is crazy. It will hum away happily when idle but when you fire up something a little more demanding than your favourite Internet browser, the 4850x2's fans wind up to such a speed as to disrupt the space/time continuum and reports have been heard of dogs howling across the other side of the planet due to the incandescent whine of the 4850x2. Well, of course it's not quite that bad but believe me it is loud, louder than almost every card on the market today.

Consideration should also be made to the price, at £332.67 (Ebuyer), it is not far from 4870x2 territory and with the 4850x2's bigger brother having mature drivers with most of it's issues now ironed out, it would be hard for me to recommend the 4850x2 over that. The Nvidia GTX280 simply sails through everything we threw at it with no issues at all apart from it being quite considerably slower than the 4850x2 in some of the benchmarks we ran today. So where does that leave the 4850x2?

Driver issues aside, it nestles quite comfortably between the 4870x2 and the GTX280. If it were my money, for raw performance, I would save that little more and get the 4870x2. For trouble free gaming then single card setups are still king and this is where the GTX280 still reigns supreme. If the 4850x2 was a little lower in price, say sub £300, matching the GTX280 and the drivers a little more mature then I would not hesitate to award the 4850x2 our coveted gamers choice award. As it stands, with it's inflated price and driver issues, it will have to be content with the performance award.

The Good
- Performance
- Overclocking
- Cooling

The Mediocre
- No working drivers included (Download from Sapphire)

The Bad
- The noise



Thanks to Sapphire for providing the 4850x2 for today's review. Discuss in our forums.