A little while ago we took at look at the Asus Ares and discovered that whilst it was absolutely a thing of immense power and desirability, it was also fiercely expensive. So what do you do if you want a product that has phenomenal power, a certain exclusivity but wont require you to sell a kidney to obtain one?
Sapphire have always been one of the premiere ATI partners and have been producing premium versions of each generation of ATI GPUs. Anyone who has been around the hardware scene for a while will know how highly the Toxic variants are thought of, and so when we discovered that Sapphire were going to bring out a Toxic version of the already excellent 5970, we couldn't wait to get our hands on one.
The HD5970, for those of you who need a little memory jog, is ATIs twin GPU behemoth and at the time of release was the fastest single card available. It did however have one small drawback. To get the card to fit within the ATX specifications and ensure that the reference cooler could handle the heat of two GPUs whilst still being only a dual-slot solution, ATI had to keep the core speeds quite low.
Sapphire have dispensed with the standard cooler and so does it allow for greater clockspeeds and finally unleash the performance the 5970 has promised?
|Output||2 x Dual-Link DVI|
1 x Mini-DisplayPort
|GPU||900 MHz Core Clock|
40 nm Process Technology
3200 x Stream Processors
|Memory||4096 MB Size|
512(2x256) -bit GDDR5
4800 MHz Effective
|Dimension||310x118x61 mm Size.|
Absolutely. If you'll cast your mind back to the 5970 speeds you will notice that Sapphire have managed to get a 175 MHz increase in core speed and around 200 MHz faster on the memory. An absolute quantum leap forward in speeds compared to the standard design.
Time to take a look at the card in all its glory.
A Close Look at the Toxic
Packaging and Accessories
From the outside the Toxic isn't very expressive about the many changes that it has undergone when compared to the standard 5970. At a glance you'd struggle to tell the difference except for the Toxic branding just above the model name. We're big fans of premium products not shouting about it, but this is perhaps taking things a step too far.
Within the box we get a great selection of accessories. There are your standard adaptors and bridges along with codes for full versions of Dirt 2 and Modern Warfare 2.
On the right is the real hidden gem in the package though. An active DisplayPort adaptor. When you want to use Eyefinity you need two DVI monitors and a DisplayPort capable monitor. DisplayPort monitors tend to be both expensive, and not readily available. If, like us, you prefer to have all your monitors matching then the extra cost of having a DisplayPort model quickly multiplies and becomes almost prohibitively expensive. An active DisplayPort adaptor overcomes this by allowing you to connect the DisplayPort out from the card into a standard DVI port on the monitor and still take advantage of Eyefinity. Considering these are the best part of £90 it's fantastic to have one included in the box.
The Card Itself
Moving on to the card we can instantly see how Sapphire have managed to overcome the heat issues of the standard 5970. Although it isn't labelled as such we'd be willing to bet that this is an Arctic Cooling Accelero Xtreme, a third-party cooler reknowned for its excellent performance.
It does mean that the card is three slots wide, but with modern motherboards having plenty of room, and the Toxic having so much potential power you're unlikely to need more than one, this isn't likely to be an issue. It's something to be aware of though nonetheless.
Of course if we have two GPUs then it's not a surprise to see two 8-pin PCIe power connectors on board.
From the side you can see the subtle Toxic branding on the visible edge of the card. Much like the box this is a product for those who don't want to shout about their performance.
Heat-pipes aplenty on a full length heat-sink, coupled to three fans, ensure that the Toxic can definitely keep these highly-clocked GPUs under control.
There is one more trick up the sleeve of the Sapphire 5970 Toxic. Unlike most non-reference boards this still utilises a reference design board so if you want to transition to water, or perhaps already have a loop, then you can take any 'off the shelf' water block and fit it straight to the Toxic.
Test Setup and Overclocking
An ultra high-end, extreme performance twin-GPU graphics card that costs a substantial amount of money. It's pretty clear that the most direct competitor for the Sapphire 5970 Toxic is the aforementioned Asus Ares and so we're going to be putting them head to head in our testing. The only differences between the two setups from when we tested the Ares to the Toxic are that we're using Catalyst 10.7, and the 980X is only overclocked to 3.6GHz.
Corsair Dominator GT @ 1600MHz
ASUS Rampage 3 Extreme
Intel i7 980X @ 3.6GHz
Windows 7 Ultimate 64 Bit
Noctua NH-D14 with Arctic MX-3
Sapphire HD5970 Toxic
As the Toxic already has a monster overclock we were surprised that we managed to coax a further 99 MHz out of it before it cried enough.
If we were cynical we'd think that 999 MHz is a very convenient number for the card to stop at, especially considering how easily it reached that point. However a 1 GHz 5970 should be more than capable of hammering anything we throw at it, especially considering it is 33% faster than a standard one and the standard 5970 eats games for breakfast.
Time for some benchmarks.
3D Mark Vantage
Starting with the performance benchmark we see that Sapphire have really made the 5970 into the card we all expected it to be when we first heard about it from ATI. It handily keeps up with the much more expensive, and theoretically faster, Ares and in pure GPU score actually beats it. The Ares overclock was much higher than the Toxic so it's really an impressive result for the Sapphire.
Moving onto the more realistic settings that the High benchmark offers, we see the results nearly mirror those above, although at stock the Toxic is starting to drop just by a hair to the bottom of the graph. Nonetheless it's still a mighty showing.
At Extreme, which is the settings we'd expect anyone with this card to run, the Toxic still keeps eating through the frames. In overclocked trim it actually just beats the Ares and therefore is the fastest graphics card we've ever tested.
A fabulous result for Sapphire and one we're incredibly impressed by. Even more so considering it's giving up a little oomph in the CPU department.
Unigine Heaven Benchmark
There isn't much we haven't already said about Unigine, but once again if anything can push a card to the absolute limit, this is it. More eye-candy than Miss World. With zero anti-aliasing the Toxic gets very close to the 100FPS mark that seemed impossible when Unigine was first released. Our overclock doesn't actually seem to make a difference to the results, barring a little higher at the minimum level.
With 8x anti-aliasing applied the Toxic actually compares better than it does in the above graph. Comfortably beating the stock Ares and not that far behind the overclocked Ares, made even more impressive when you consider that the Toxic has a little less CPU power behind it, and that the overclock isn't making any worthwhile difference in this test.
Moving away from the synthetic testing onto some gaming, we introduce a couple of extra tests to the mix. Firstly in the white corner we have a reference HD5970. In the silver corner we have a 5870 Crossfire setup, which we still think is the best quality per quid choice on the market, and when we tested the standard 5970 it absolutely spanked it.
Codemasters Dirt 2, as we've often mentioned, benefits greatly from some good optimisation which means it will be playable on almost anything. It does mean that that even extraordinary amounts of power wont have huge benefits, but you can see here from our graph that the Toxic annihilates its 5970 brother and isn't greatly behind the Ares. Certainly nothing that the £400 odd price differential would justify.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R Call of Pripyat
If ever there was a strange graph, this is it. We've seen a few curious results in our time here at OC3D, but this is mind-blowing. We can only put it down to a couple of things. Either the 10.7 Catalyst update made huge changes to either the performance or image quality of STALKER, the Toxic absolutely eats it for breakfast, or Fraps isn't monitoring it correctly.
We will give it the benefit of the doubt though, because it's been alright in our other testing. In which case if you're a fan of the apocalyptic shooter then you will already be out the door.
Cryteks old Crysis Warhead is the game that just refuses to lay down and die. Despite having proved with Quadfire that it just isn't up to the task of handling huge horsepower, nonetheless it's the game by which all single cards are judged.
The Sapphire 5970 Toxic comfortably keeps the framerate the right side of 60 and, barring a minimum frame-rate issue which is mirrored by the reference 5970 and therefore might be a architectural thing, would definitely be up there with the best. The graph actually belies the smoothness of the experience.
Sapphire have definitely pulled something out the bag with the 5970 Toxic.
They have taken a card which has always been slightly disappointing when compared to the performance of two separate GPUs, and given it such a performance boost that it's almost unrecognisable.
Starting with the most obvious visual aspect, that cooler. We can't praise it enough really. When we were overclocking the Toxic we ran Furmark to ensure stability and the card never got above 71°C at any point. All of this was achieved whilst also being very quiet, even under heavy loading. Sure it's a three slot solution, but when the results are this impressive it's hard to argue. We'll always take effectiveness over slenderness. After all, no-one is buying this to put in their HTPC case.
The accessories package also has to be noted. The inclusion of an active DisplayPort adaptor is a boon and really brings Eyefinity within the reach of anyone who can put their hands on three monitors. The great benefit also being that should you upgrade in the future it will still happily work with anything that has a DVI port on the back of it. Something all but the cheapest monitors have.
Performance is staggering. To say it's using a sledgehammer to break an egg isn't far from the truth. It just gobbles up anything you can throw in its direction whether you have it overclocked or are running it out of the box. Although it can easily take another 100 MHz overclock it's so good 'as is' that there is no game yet that really makes overclocking it worthwhile.
With performance comes cost. As I've probably made clear through this review this is priced in such a way that its only realistic competition is the Asus Ares. They are both very different solutions to the same problem. The Asus is all flash and flair, coming in a aluminium briefcase with a bright red cooler and lots of shiny copper. The Toxic is far more reserved coming in a fairly standard box and, cooler aside, looking pretty standard too. That isn't to say that it's not special, it just goes about it in a different manner. Nonetheless although it's about £400 more expensive than a standard 5970, it's also about £400 cheaper than the Ares. As the graphs show, the performance difference is so negligible that you really have to ask yourself if you want to pay £400 for a briefcase.
And that's the bottom line. You can argue the toss about value all you like. The biggest compliment we can pay, and it is a big one, is that if this had arrived before Ares we'd have looked at that differently. The Toxic is just that good.
Thanks to Sapphire for providing the 5970 Toxic for review. Discuss in our forums.