AMD's current flagship graphics card is the Radeon HD 3870 X2. It comes with two RV670 GPUs on the PCB that run in CrossFire mode. As you can imagine this setup produces quite a bit of heat.
Sapphire who is one of AMD's biggest board partners has always been looking for innovative and exclusive solutions that will give them an advantage over the competiton. The Sapphire HD 3870 X2 Atomic Edition is just another example of that. It comes with a pre-filled, completely self contained watercooling solution on the graphics card. The additional cooling potential that watercooling offers also allows Sapphire to increase the operating frequency of the card.
Not only the card itself has been pimped out, the package itself screams "premium product" with its huge silver metal case and tons of accessories. Of course all this comes at a price. The Sapphire HD 3870 X2 Atomic Edition retails for around $550 with limited quantities available.
3870 X2 Atomic
||512 MB x2
||512 MB x2
||2x 512 MB
|Memory Bus Width
||256 bit x2
||256 bit x2
||2x 256 bit
Packaging & Contents
This metal case packaging was introduced by Sapphire with the HD 3870 Atomic Edition (non-X2). For the HD3870 X2 Atomic it is even bigger. When you buy this card with your hard earned cash you will definitely get something to carry home proudly. However, I'm not sure how airport security would like the "ATOMIC" logo and text.
You will receive:
- Graphics card with pre-installed watercooling
- HDMI Cable
- 2x PCI-Express power adapter
- 2x DVI Adapter, 1x HDMI Adapter, TV Out cable
- CrossFire Bridge
- Driver CD, Power DVD full version, 3DMark06 full version
The waterblock which covers most of the card looks extremely sexy. When looking at the card from the side you can see that the card requires two slots, with plenty of space left though.
The card has two DVI outputs, in case you need an analog VGA port you can use one of the two included DVI adapters. The included HDMI adapter lets you use this card with HDMI+HDCP+Audio, perfect for your media PC. An HDMI cable to connect your TV is also included in the package.
The tubing selected is thick black rubber which can do some tight bends without kinking. A 90° joint connects the tubing to the waterblock, you can rotate the tubing around the joints freely which helps you arrange everything in your case during installation.
Sapphire has chosen not to cool the memory chips on the back of the graphics card, while the chips on the front are cooled by the water block. This means that while overclocking memory, the chips on the back will get hotter and hotter and the ones on the front stay cool, effectively limiting the memory overclock.
Here are the front and the back of the card, high-res versions are also available (front
). If you choose to use these images for voltmods etc, please include a link back to this site or let us post your article. I reused the pictures of the original HD 3870 X2 review, because the Sapphire card uses the exact same PCB.
A Closer Look
The external component of the watercooling loop is dominated by the big 120mm fan which sits directly in front of the radiator.
On the side you have to connect a Molex to supply power to the pump, fan and control circuitry inside the external part.
The top includes a big Sapphire ATOMIC logo and some instructional text to avoid any mistakes during installation. Given the big name "Sapphire" and the positioning of this product I would have expected better English grammar though.
Sapphire's HD 3870 X2 Atomic can be combined with any other HD 3870 X2 or HD 3870 to form a QuadCF or TripleCF rig. Unfortunately the watercooling loop can not be extended to cool the second card as well. So you would need quite a big case that has space for two of the cooling assemblies, not to mention the big wallet to afford the cards.
ATI's HD 3870 X2 design uses one 6-pin and one 8-pin PCI-Express power connector to deliver the juice to this hungry beast.
Sapphire has also covered the voltage regulator area of the card with the waterblock. However, under heavy use these can easily reach 100°C, which is a normal operating temperature for these components.
The GDDR3 chips (why not GDDR4, Sapphire?) are made by Samsung and have the model number K4J52324QE-BJ1A. They have a cycle time of 1.0 ns (= 1000 MHz). Since the memory chips on the back of the card are not cooled it is understandable that Sapphire did not go with 0.8 ns chips here.
The bridge chip is the same PCI-E 1.1 chip as on the first cards, while it would limit the bandwidth in theory, there is not much to be gained from going 2.0 here, other than higher cost.
Two RV670 GPUs are present on this board, they are made in a 55nm process at TSMC with 666M transistors.
Since I had no case that could fit the watercooling component of the Sapphire HD 3870 X2 Atomic, I stole the pictures from Fudzilla
The cooler will usually be installed on the back 120mm fan slot of a case, near the CPU cooler.
As you can see it is a tight fit sometimes, even when using a normal sized CPU cooler.
Everything installed and ready to go.
You need 60 mm of clearance between case back and CPU cooler to slide the cooler in. On the back of the case (where you screw on the cooler) you need an area of 125 mm x 125 mm to accommodate the fan and some additional plastic from the case.
||Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 @ 3.6 GHz
(Wolfdale, 6144 KB Cache)
||2x 1024MB A.DATA DDR2 1066+ CL4
||WD Raptor 740ADFD 74 GB
||OCZ GameXStream 700W
||Windows XP SP2
ATI: Catalyst 8.5
- All video card results were obtained on this exact system with the exact same configuration.
- All games were set to their highest quality setting
Each benchmark was tested at the following settings and resolution:
- 1024 x 768, No Anti-aliasing, No anisotropic filtering. This is a standard resolution without demanding display settings.
- 1280 x 1024, 2x Anti-aliasing, 8x anisotropic filtering. Common resolution for most gamer flatscreens today. A bit of eye candy turned on in the drivers.
- 1600 x 1200, 4x Anti-aliasing, 16x anisotropic filter. Highest non-widescreen resolution available to a wide range of users. Very good looking driver graphics settings.
- 2048 x 1536, 4x Anti-aliasing, 16x anisotropic filter. Highest non-widescreen resolution available to any consumer video card. Very good looking driver graphics settings.
Call of Duty 4
Call of Duty 4
is a first-person shooter that is built on the award winning Call of Duty Series. It is the first version to play in modern times. In a near-future conflict between the United States, Europe and Russia you get to play as a United States Marine and a British SAS operative. The engine is Infinity Ward's own creation and has true dynamic lighting, depth of field, dynamic shadows and HDR. Even though the game plot is scripted you will find yourself in intense battles, often working together with computer controlled team mates.
Company Of Heroes
The real-time strategy game Company of Heroes
is set during World War II where you take two American companies through several fights all over France to liberate the country from German occupation. Company of Heroes is the first game to use Relic's next-generation engine "Essence Engine" which includes support for HDR lighting, Shader Model 3.0, normal mapping, dynamic lighting and shadows. You are able to zoom in from the tactical view of the battle field to see the individual units fighting. Often you catch yourself admiring the detailed animations of the soldiers while the fight around you is raging. We tested the DX9 version of the game at maximum details.
After the tremendous success of Far Cry, the German game studio Crytek released their latest shooter Crysis
in 2007. The game was by far the most hyped and anticipated game in 2007, the forums were full of "Can my system run Crysis?" threads because of the high hardware requirements of this game. Just like in Far Cry the plot evolves on a small island with a thick and richly detailed jungle world. A lot of attention has been given to small details like correct physics. For example when you fire on a tree trunk, it will shatter and the tree will fall over leaving a stump behind. Enemies in a car can be stopped by shooting the tire of the car. The game graphics are by far the best ever seen in a PC game so far, yet the game still runs well on most computers. We tested the DX9 version with graphics set to "High", which is the highest non-DX10 setting in the game.
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
The first-person shooter Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
is set in the science-fiction universe of Quake and requires several classes to work together to achieve certain goals on a map. In the campaign mode you gain experience which you can use to buy upgrades for your class. The player gets to pick from five classes of either the Global Defense Force or the Strogg faction. As underlying game engine, the successful id Software Doom 3 engine has been licensed, but several features like MegaTextures have been added, giving the outdoor world a much more detailed appearance. We tested the DX9 version of the game at maximum details.
was released in early 2004 by the new development studio Crytek. It quickly became a massive success because it was one of the first titles to take you in a beautiful 3D outdoor world. Far Cry was one of the most demanding games at its time. Even with today's video cards you can still see big differences in frame rates, especially at the higher resolutions.
The first person shooter F.E.A.R
, developed by Monolith Game Studios, was released in Fall 2005 and has a great 3D engine that uses a large number of shading and shadow effects to accurately model the game world. In addition to that it features a realistic physics engine that lets you interact with many objects in the game world. The game was voted game of the year by several publications.
is based on a highly modified 3D engine made by id Software. This first person shooter brought a completely new way of gaming to the genre. In many levels you find yourself walking upside down or on the walls. This adds a completely new aspect to the gaming experience in this genre.
The Quake titles are among the most successful first person games. Developed by id Software, the famous game studio that brought you DOOM, you find yourself in a scifi world that is full of aliens and shocking effects. The main focus of the game is the single player story line. Quake 4
puts you on the home planet of the Strogg. In a number of missions you and your fellow marines will encounter all sorts of enemies, including some really huge aliens.
Splinter Cell 3: Chaos Theory
The Splinter Cell Series is endorsed by popular book author Tom Clancy. In the 2005 title Splinter Cell 3: Chaos Theory
you play the NSA agent Sam Fisher who has to use stealth and finesse to make his way through a number of levels mainly set in eastern Asia. The game is based on a modified Unreal 2 engine with support for HDR, normal mapping, parallax mapping and soft shadows. A patch added Shader Model 2.0 support for ATI in addition to the Shader Model 3.0 support which was already part of the original shipping game.
Before its release in 2007, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
was one of the most hyped games of the last years. This RPG/FPS hybrid game is set a few years in the future, after a nuclear disaster occurs at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The release of radiation causes strange things like mutations in the nearby area. You take the role of a Stalker who seeks fame and riches in the contaminated area around Chernobyl. The game engine features all the latest buzzwords like HDR, bullet physics, skeletal animation, soft shadows and weather effects. Stalker's vast outside world is richly modeled, you can interact with a large number of objects in the game thanks to the physics engine.
If you hear people talk about a real-time strategy game with "massive numbers of units fighting" you can be sure they are talking about Supreme Commander
. The unofficial successor to the Total Annihilation Series completely redefined some aspects of the RTS genre. In Supreme Commander you can zoom out so far that you can see the whole map on your screen and units are just little blips. This is much needed in fights when several hundred units go at each other. Supreme Commander is also one of the most demanding RTS games with support for up to four CPU cores - a dual-core system with high-end graphics is recommended for optimum game play.
Unreal Tournament 3
The fourth game in Epic's highly successful Unreal Tournament Series is simply called Unreal Tournament 3
. It is based on the all-new Unreal 3 engine which is a major step forward from the previous engine. The game principle is centered about an arena style gameplay where several contestants try to reach a certain kill count or capture a flag for example. As you would expect from a new 2007 title, the graphics are top notch, with large and detailed textures. One major drawback of the way the engine is designed is that there is no support for Anti-Aliasing. While video card vendors like ATI have found ways to force this in their drivers we did all our testing with AA disabled in DX9 at maximum settings.
is the number one player in the world of synthetic benchmarking. The 3DMark series is the most popular test suite for video card testing and is used by gamers, overclockers and manufacturers alike to determine how fast their hardware is. Even though it is a few years old, 3DMark03 can easily stress today's video cards.
Another benchmark from Futuremark
is 3DMark05 which comes with four completely new game tests that make massive use of shaders and lighting effects. 3DMark05 is a great test for modern video card architectures - in some tests you are often close to the 30 fps mark, below which your games will feel sluggish.
Even though it's based on Futuremark's 3DMark05, the new 3DMark06 adds new tests for Shader Model 3.0 and HDR rendering. It is also the first 3DMark to incorporate a CPU score into the final 3DMark score. All tests have received an overhaul, for example in the Canyon Flight test you can now see beautiful sun glare effects with the help of High Dynamic Range rendering.
Cooling modern video cards is becoming more and more difficult, especially when users are asking for quiet cooling solutions. That's why the engineers are now paying much more attention to power consumption of new video card designs.
||Intel Core 2 Duo E6550 2.33 GHz
(Conroe, 2x 2048 KB Cache)
||2x 1024MB A.DATA DDR2 1066+ CL4
||WD Raptor 740ADFD 74 GB
||OCZ GameXStream 700W
||Windows XP SP2
In order to characterize a video card's power consumption, the whole system's mains power draw was measured. This means that these numbers include CPU, Memory, HDD, Video card and PSU inefficiency.
The three result values are as following:
- Idle: Windows sitting at the desktop (1024x768 32-bit) all windows closed, drivers installed.
- Average: 3DMark03 Nature at 1280x1024, 6xAA, 16xAF. This results in the highest power consumption. Average of all readings (two per second) while the test was rendering (no title screen).
- Peak: 3DMark03 Nature at 1280x1024, 6xAA, 16xAF. This results in the highest power consumption. Highest single reading
Sapphire's card uses higher clock speeds, an extra pump and a bigger fan which causes the total power draw to increase by about 10 Watts which isn't that much.
In the past years users would accept everything just to get more performance. Nowadays this has changed with people being more aware of the fan noise and power consumption of their graphic cards.
In order to properly test the fan noise a card emits we are using a Bruel & Kjaer 2236 sound level meter (~$4,000) which has the measurement range and accuracy we are looking for.
The tested graphics card is installed in a system that is completely passively cooled. That is passive PSU, passive CPU cooler, passive cooling on the motherboard and Solid-State HDD.
This setup allows us to eliminate secondary noise sources and test only the video card. To be more compliant with standards like DIN 45635 (we are not claiming to be fully DIN 45635 certified) the measurement is conducted at 100 cm distance and 160 cm over the floor. The ambient background noise level in the room is well below 20 dbA for all measurements. Please note that the dbA scale is not linear, it is logarithmic. 40 dbA is not twice as loud as 20 dbA. A 3 dbA increase results in double the sound pressure. The human hearing is a bit different and it is generally accepted that a 10 dbA increase doubles the perceived sound level.
While the fan is generally whisper quiet and temperature controlled, the pump is running at a constant speed which emits a bit of extra noise. Sapphire's watercooling solution can make a huge difference when the card is under load. In this scenario the air cooled HD 3870 X2 is a lot louder, while the Sapphire card stays relatively quiet.
To create this graph we took all performance results of all benchmarks and all resolutions, threw them together and calculated the relative performance of each card, compared to our review sample.
Performance per Watt
This graph was created by taking the relative performance numbers and putting them in contrast to the average power consumption results. To offset power consumption of the rest of the system we subtracted 50W from the average consumption.
Performance per Dollar
If you are looking for the best bang for the buck, then you will love this graph. We looked up the current USD price of each card on the online shop Newegg and used it and the relative performance numbers to calculate the Performance per Dollar Index.
To find the maximum overclock of our card we used a combination of AMD Internal OC Software, ATITool and our benchmarking suite.
The final overclocks of our card are 931 MHz core (8 % overclock) and 1153 MHz Memory (21 % overclock). Compared to the AMD reference design clocks this is an increase of 13% and 28%. Both overclocks are good, I have a feeling that additional memory overclocks would be possible if the memory on the back of the card would be cooled as well. Also this card looks like a good voltmod candidate to me, of course doing so will void your warranty.
Compared to the temperatures of the regular air cooled reference design card there is not that much of a temperature difference. Still even about 10°C less helps improve the overclocking potential of the card.
Value and Conclusion
- Sapphire's HD 3870 X2 Atomic will rip a big hole in your budget with a price of about $550.
- Fastest HD 3870 X2 card available
- Good additional overclocking potential
- Pre-filled, maintenance free
- Overclocked out of the box
- Quad CrossFire support
- Excellent accessory package, great presentation
- Slower than GeForce 9800 GX2
- New ATI and NVIDIA products very soon
- High price
- Limited availability
- No PCI-Express 2.0 support
- High power draw
- External cooling unit might not fit all cases
||Sapphire's HD 3870 X2 Atomic is the fastest HD 3870 X2 card money can buy you today. Unfortunately the extra performance gained from the overclocks is not as big as one would expect, but still, it's the fastest X2 card. For less experienced users who do not want to go into overclocking, but have a fat wallet, this is a great choice because it gives you high performance and the bragging rights of watercooling. Sapphire's watercooling solution works extremely well and feels like a solidly made product. The fan is exceptionally quiet and also controlled depending on temperature. Typically watercooling fans run at a constant speed which often makes them noisy when not much cooling performance is required, good job here, Sapphire. The biggest problem I see with the external watercooling unit is that you need to have a certain amount of space in your case for it to fit properly. Please check if your case can fit the cooler before you buy.|
One reason to wait a bit with your purchase is that this month both AMD and NVIDIA will launch their new high-end products, which will certainly have very competitive performance and pricing. Sapphire's package is exemplary of what you can do if you want to present a product as ultra high-end. The metal case looks just beautiful and there bundle is about as good as it gets.
Overall I would suggest the Sapphire HD 3870 X2 Atomic Edition to everybody who wants the latest and the greatest with money being of secondary interest. If you want the best bang for the buck, then the Sapphire card is way too expensive. With the latest price drops you can almost get two aircooled HD 3870 X2s for the price of one X2 Atomic.