Sapphire 4890 Vapor-X PCIe Graphics Card Page: 1
Introduction
 
Since ATI rejoined the fight to become champs of the graphics card market with the 4870 in June 2008 and the formidable 4870x2, time has pretty much stood still for the graphics card giant with a slowdown in releases. Unlike Nvidia with their re branding shenanigans, ATI only appear to release a GPU when they have something new to show off, not to shift stocks of GPU cores. The HD4890 is one such card, which while not being radically new, is certainly a cut above the already powerful HD4870 with some significant changes. We recently reviewed the stock Asus 4890 and an overclocked version from XFX, now it's Sapphire turn with the HD4890 Vapor-X.
 
Being a Tier 1 partner of ATI, Sapphire are no strangers to GPU production and are among the top producers of overclocked editions as well as stock clocked reference cards. Sapphire are also certified to ISO9001 and ISO14001 standards and as such each product is manufactured to the very highest standard and quality. Also, since 2001 Sapphire have been in partnership with ATI so it goes without saying what they don't know about ATI simply is not worth knowing. Drawing on the technical expertise offered by Sapphires own engineers have enabled Sapphire to produce the card we have today.
 
The Vapor-X line of GPU's is Sapphire's overclocked range which while not as speedy as the 'Toxic' versions is still faster than stock. The Vapor-X cooler is also radically different from the stock ATI heatsink in that a larger than standard fan is used and it's positioned centrally rather than at the furthest reaches of the PCB but that's just the beginning. I'll be examining the cooler in greater detail overleaf but rest assured, this card runs cool and quiet. The PCB is also a fetching blue rather than the stock red familiar with all reference ATI cards.
 
Here's what Sapphire had to say about their product:
 
The SAPPHIRE HD 4890 Vapor-X model is a new SAPPHIRE original design. It has SAPPHIRE’s Vapor-X cooling module on the GPU together with a heatsink and profiled fan venting heat out of the case. It is quieter and significantly faster than the standard reference model, with core clock speed of 870MHz and 1GB of DDR5 memory clocked at 1050MHz. Any two of the four output options can be used simultaneously, giving maximum flexibility for connection to different display types. An HDMI to DVI adaptor is also included for those who wish to use a pair of DVI monitors.
 
Specification
 
The following specification was taken directly from Sapphires product page:
 
I/O Output: Display Port+HDMI+DL-DVI+VGA
Core Clock: 870 MHz
Memory Clock: 1050 MHz, 4.2 Gbps
Interface: PCI Express 2.0 x16 bus interface
Memory Interface: 1024MB /256bit GDDR5
Cooling: Dual Slot Vapor-X Cooler
HD: HDMI compliant via dongle
Audio: 7.1 Audio Channel Support
DX Version: Microsoft® DirectX® 10.1 support
Shader model: Shader Model 4.1 support
 
So then, while the clockspeed is not overly extended (20MHz past stock), Sapphire have taken advantage of the revised memory architecture by pre-overclocking it 300MHz(effective) faster than stock from 3.9GHz to a stunningly fast 4.2GHz. But before we get to see the effects of these overclocks, let's take a look at the package itself...


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Packaging & Appearance
 
Straight out of the blocks, the Sapphire 4890 Vapor-X looks ice cold to the touch with Antarctic scene. I must say this is a pleasant break from the tired routine of displaying CGI Characters and as aesthetically pleasing ATI's Ruby might be, I do tire of seeing her plastered on every ATI product I come across. It's plainly obvious by the front of the box that Sapphire intend to promote this cards cooler being that the Vapor-X emblem takes pride of place in the centre of the box. A brief run down of the features are also displayed on the front with the main title of Radeon HD4890 displayed towards the bottom of the package on an icy silver backdrop. Flipping the box over, Sapphire go on to display the product highlights and features in greater detail.
 
box front box rear
 
One thing I have heavily criticised Sapphire for in the past is the lacklustre packaging methods but the Vapor-X 4890 has seen a revised method of using a plastic insert to hold the anti-static, bubble wrapped card in place. Beneath this is a further cardboard box holding the accessories meaning a much improved package overall. The included accessories quite good with a DVI-HDMI dongle, two twin Molex to PCI-6 pin power cables, a Crossfire bridge, PowerDVD, DVD suite, a copy of Futuremark Vantage and the driver CD concluding the list.
 
inner box accessories
 
The card itself is a very attractive affair with the Vapor-X cooler sitting atop a fetching blue PCB. While I'm not a great fan of coloured PCB's, blue does match the cards aesthetics quite nicely. The card is as long as a standard ATX motherboard is wide so there should be no issues with fitting the card in a standard ATX sized case. A further heatsink sits abreast the MOSFETs with the Sapphire name emblazoned across the top.
 
card top card bottom
 
The black plastic fan is very quiet in operation being almost silent when idle. Cool air is taken in from the fan and then blown over the Aluminium finned heatsink underneath which in turn cools the copper Vapor chamber. Because of the thickness of the cooling design, the card is a dual slot version, much the same as the reference cards. Like the reference ATI cooler, the Vapor-X cooler is partially shrouded to prevent hot exhaust air from escaping into the PC case and instead directs the flow to the rear finned I/O plate.
 
fan card side
 
The I/O plate itself interestingly houses DVI, VGA as well as HDMI ports allowing all the technology of today to be connected through this card. At the back end of the card we see that the 4890 requires 2x 6-pin PCI power cables to be connected despite the cards revised power circuitry. Regulating the power behind the PCIe ports are solid capacitors ensuring greater reliability of the card along with Sapphires own 'Black Diamond'  power choke which Sapphire claim run 10% cooler and offer up to 25% better power efficiency than a standard choke.
 
PCI card rear
 
Removing the heatsink assembly was as easy as removing a stock reference heatsink as just four screws hold it in place around the GPU core area. A further two screws hold the MOSFET cooler in place. With these coolers removed we can see the 4890's nakedness in all it's glory.
 
card naked card base
 
The Vapor-X cooler is based on the same principles of heatpipe technology we have become familiar with in the past with a liquid coolant vaporising closest to the core and then condensing towards the top of the cooler only to be returned back to the hot surface. If you want to know more about Vapor-X click, HERE. How good this process works will be examined in our test setup area when we place the card under some extreme load conditions. Nevertheless, it is nice to see Sapphire have used copper as the contact surface rather than inefficient aluminium.
 
contact core
 
The Sapphire HD4890 Vapor-X uses the same memory chips as the stock reference cards. In this case however the 1GB of GDDR5 Qimonda chips are clocked to a massive 4.2GHz. This will hopefully negate the very conservative GPU core overclock. Below right, we see the 16 MOSFET's which also interestingly have space for an additional two. This leads me to believe that perhaps 14 are used for the core with two reserved for the memory being that this version is the 1GB GDDR5 rather than the separately available 2GB which would likely incorporate the additional MOSFETS required to regulate the power of an extra 1GB.
 
memory fets
 
Sapphire have designed a very attractive card, not only in the packaging but also the card itself. The accessory list is complete enough to get everyone started and one might even wish to venture into the world of benchmarking given that Sapphire have also included Futuremarks Vantage. I would perhaps liked to have seen an included game but if this omission keeps the price down then I can see the reasoning behind not including one.
 
Let's take a look at the test setup I will be using today to evaluate the performance of the Sapphire HD4890 Vapor-X... 


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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 (@3.8 Ghz)
Motherboard: Gigabyte EX58-UD5
Memory: 3x2GB Corsair DDR3 1600mhz @ 8-8-8-24
HD : Hitachi Deskstar 7k160 7200rpm 80GB
GPU: Sapphire HD 4890 1GB Vapor-X
Graphics Drivers: Supplied by Sapphire
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
• 3DMark 05
• 3DMark 06
• 3DMark Vantage

3D Games
• Crysis
• Far Cry 2
• Oblivion

• Race drive: GRID
• Call of Duty IV
• Unreal Tournament III
 

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 Furmark.
 
 
 
Power consumption of the Sapphire HD4890-Vapor-X was nothing really to shout about. While idle power draw was fairly low, when placed under full load the power consumption rocketed. One has to bear in mind that this is for the whole PC setup taken at the socket and not the card itself but still, the 4890 was among the hungriest of GPU's in our list.
 
 
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.
 
 
Despite the amount of power the 4890 consumed, temperatures were kept to a minimum thanks mostly to the Vapor-X cooling atop of the GPU. Idle temperatures were not fantastic but the load temps were nothing short of exceptional, especially when you consider the fan was running at AUTO speed which at the time rarely exceeded 40% ensuring that the graphics card temperatures were kept in line with ATI's specification while the noise emitted from the cooler was next to nothing.
 
 
Overclocking
 
For our overclocking tests I used the RivaTuner utility which worked perfectly with our setup. To test stability I ran 3D Mark 06 and a few runs of Call of Duty 4.
 
stock overclocked
 
As with our previous reviews of the HD4890, the card maxed out the sliders on ATI's overdrive facility with both GPU(1GHz) and memory (1200 (4800 effective) ). With the card clocked at these massive speeds it has to be noted that the Sapphire Vapor-X cooler performed admirably, hardly spinning up at all during the test runs.
 
Here are the effects of the overclocks:
 
 
Call of Duty IV showed some good gains throughout at all the resolutions tested. Most impressive was the extra 14FPS gained at the lowest resolution of 1680x1050. It goes without saying that should you purchase the Sapphire Vapor-X HD4890 then you really should consider overclocking the card to the max. However, while there are benefits to be had from overclocking, this card might not need it so without further delay let's start up our suite of benchmarks starting with the synthetics... 


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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 card performed exceptionally well in 3DMark 05 beating it's XFX overclocked counterpart by a fair margin showing that GPU speed isn't everything and that the higher memory clocks of the Vapor-X card gave it the advantage in this test.. However, the tables were turned once I ran 3DMark 06 and more specifically 3DMark Vantage, where the extra core clocks of the XFX card became apparent.

Let's see if this transfers over to our real world gaming benchmarks.


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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.
 
 
 
 
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.
 
 
Results Analysis
 
 
The results above showed a mix bag of returns. Both COD4 and Unreal Tournament III showed both overclocked 4890's neck and neck with perhaps the Sapphire version just stealing the glory. However, GRID showed that raw GPU grunt counts in this arcade racing sim with the XFX outpacing the Sapphire card by a fair margin.

Let's move on..


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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.
 
 
 

Oblivion from Bethseda is now an 'old' game by today's standards, but is still one of the most visually taxing games out there. The benchmark was run in the wilderness with all settings set to the maximum possible. Bloom was used in preference to HDR. The test was run five times with the average FPS then being deduced.
 
 


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.
 

 
 
Results Analysis
 
 
Both Crysis and Far Cry 2 once again placed the two competing 4890's close enough together to make a comparison very difficult while the older yet graphically intensive Oblivion once again showed the XFX to be top dog as far as GPU grunt was concerned. In contrast to the XFX card, as with the stress testing, the Sapphire HD4890 Vapor-X was near silent throughout the run of benchmarks which is worth a lot more than a couple of frames per second in my book as the eye cannot detect those FPS while the ear can plainly detect the noise the stock cooled 4890 throws out.
 
Let's move on to the conclusion...


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Conclusion
 
Sapphire have yet again shown other manufacturers how to build a graphics card. The HD4890 Vapor-X may not be the highest  pre-overclocked card available but it is definitely the quietest air-cooled version. There's a lot to be said for high performance, quiet running GPU's and Sapphire should shout from the rooftops about this card as it has silence, stock reference cards can only dream about.
 
The card graphically performs on a par with other pre-overclocked 4890's and while this card has a miserly 20MHz overclock on the core, this speed can easily be increased using CCC's overdrive facility with the minimum of effort should you yearn for the absolute maximum frames per second. The memory overclock however, is already fairly high as overclocked versions go and this helped minimise the deficit of the GPU overclock shown by the majority of the benchmarks we ran today. Again, if you are overclocking the core you may just as well overclock the memory to Overdrive's limit as this cards cooling capacity can clearly take the heat.
 
Another area I was particularly impressed with was the packaging. While the included accessories were nothing above the norm, the improvements Sapphire have made to both the internal structure and external presentation are very welcome indeed. I can only hope that these methods are transferred to the lesser cards in Sapphire line up which at times left a lot to be desired. At present we do not have an exact price for the HD4890 Vapor-X version but I would expect it to be in the region of competing overclocked versions.
 
To summarise, the Sapphire HD4890 Vapor-X is an extremely good example of how innovative cooling solutions can make the difference between a good card and an excellent one. Sapphires Vapor-X technology is one such innovation which differentiates this card from being an also-ran to a 1st place finish. An old adage said that if you can't stand the heat you'd better get out of the kitchen. Well if you have this card in your armoury you can stay in the kitchen all day long. Personally, that would just be a waste of good gaming time which if I haven't already mentioned, this card also happens to excel at.
 
The Good
- Excellent overclocking ability
- Best cooling solution this side of watercooling
- Aesthetically pleasing
- Great connectivity
 
The Mediocre
- No included game
- Conservative GPU overclock
 
The Bad
- Nothing
 
 
 
Thanks to Sapphire for providing the HD4890 Vapor-X for todays review. Discuss in our forums.