Summary: The Sapphire Toxic 4850 is loaded with features. The card ships with an all-copper dual slot, dual heatpipe cooler from Zalman, the VF900-Cu. But that's not all, the board is also OC'ed to higher speeds than any other 4850 card on the market. In this article we officially review the Sapphire Toxic 4850 as well as its younger brother the 4850 Dual Slot. Both cards deliver cooling that's significantly improved over ATI's cooler. Find out how well these cards perform in today's review!
This is exactly the opposite of ATI’s previous generation GPUs, including the Radeon 2900 XT and Radeon 3870, who put up strong 0xAA performance, but once the AA was cranked up, stumbled horribly in comparison to the competition.
All isn’t perfect with the Radeon 4850 however. As strong a performer as it is for the price, the card has one key weakness: in bone stock form, the GPU and even the card itself generate an extraordinary amount of heat. Many enthusiasts have reported idle temps in the 70 degree Celsius range just running at the Windows desktop! As you can imagine, load temps while gaming quickly spike up from there rather quickly.
While the board and GPU are designed to run at these temperatures, it isn’t comforting to many users who prefer to have their PC and its underlying components run as cool as possible. After all, excessive heat can affect overall system stability and can eventually prematurely kill system components.
For these types of users, the reference design Radeon 4850 with its single slot cooling is simply unacceptable. The stock card just generates too much heat within the PC to be considered for use in their system. Instead these users have been eager to get their hands on an alternative Radeon 4850 card with better cooling.
Fortunately these alternative cards are beginning to hit online retailers. A few weeks ago we took a look at MSI’s R4850 512M board and found it delivered an extraordinary improvement in cooling performance over the stock 4850 reference design. Now we’re here today to showcase two of Sapphire’s Radeon 4850 cards with custom cooling, the Sapphire Toxic HD 4850 and the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 with dual-slot cooling.
Both of these cards can be found on Newegg today with prices starting at $179.99. How do they compare to one another in terms of cooling and 3D performance, and how do they both stack up against the stock Radeon 4850 cooler? Let’s find out shall we!
Sapphire’s Toxic cards are targeted towards gamers and hardware enthusiasts who are looking for a graphics card that delivers a little more sizzle than ATI’s reference board design provides. For added performance, Toxic cards are usually overclocked, and they also emphasize cooling with better coolers than the stock reference boards.
Over the years we’ve heaped nothing but praise for Sapphire’s Toxic line of graphics cards. Their X1900 XTX Toxic took home our Bull’s Eye Award in 2006, while their Toxic X800 Pro earned our Editor’s Choice Award back in 2004.
For their latest Toxic card, the Toxic X4850, Sapphire continues this tradition. The board’s most distinctive feature is easily its Zalman VF900-Cu cooler. The VF900 is a dual-slot heatsink/fan unit built entirely from copper. It’s no longer Zalman’s flagship GPU cooler, but it’s still a highly popular solution with two copper heatpipes responsible for drawing heat off the graphics processor. The twin heatpipes are then surrounded by a circular copper heatsink with 0.2mm fins. According to Zalman, the thin fins are used in order to maximize the surface area of the heatsink while minimizing airflow resistance. Basically they’ve decided to cram as many fins as possible onto the VF900-Cu in order to spread the heat from the heatpipes as evenly as possible while still providing enough room for air from the card’s fan to keep the entire apparatus cool.
In previous tests with the VF900-Cu we’ve found it’s one of the best aftermarket VGA coolers on the market, although it’s a bit on the pricey side selling for $40 even to this day.
The only difference between the retail VF900-Cu cooler and Sapphire’s heatsink/fan is that Sapphire doesn’t bundle the Fan Mate 2 fan controller with their card. Instead Sapphire runs the fan in Zalman’s silent mode 100% of the time (with Fan Mate 2 you can manually control the exact RPMs of the fan). The fan itself is one of the largest in the industry (96(L) x 96(W) x 30(H)mm), yet it operates whisper quiet.
Besides the GPU cooling, Sapphire also includes Zalman RAMsinks on the GDDR3 memory modules. The RAMsinks are made from aluminum, helping to keep the graphics memory cool and look quite good on the Toxic card, matching its blue PCB.
Speaking of the PCB, besides its blue shade, the board design of the Toxic card itself is 100% identical to ATI’s reference board design. Sapphire makes no changes to any of the board level components, although Sapphire does include a beefier blue heatsink for cooling the board’s VRM circuitry.
The performance crowd will be glad to hear that Sapphire does overclock the Toxic 4850. The GPU is clocked at 675MHz, 50MHz higher than ATI’s reference speed, while the memory is OC’ed 107MHz to 1100MHz.
We’ll take a look at how these tweaked speeds improve performance over the stock 4850 in our performance benchmarks.
Hardware accessories bundled with the Toxic 4850 include one DVI adapter, an HDMI adapter, 6-pin PCIe power adapter, CrossFire bridge connector, and component video cable. Sapphire also includes a very nice software bundle that includes the full version of 3DMark Vantage, the game Ruby Rom, and CyberLink PowerDVD, and a CyberLink DVD Suite than includes copies of PowerProducer 4, PowerDirector 5 Express, Power2GO 5.5, and Medi@show 3.
The Radeon HD 4850 Dual Slot is Sapphire’s newest Radeon 4850 card offering, and in our 100% subjective opinion, it’s the best-looking 4850 card on the market today. Even our 1600x1200 images don’t do this card justice; it’s a real head turner.
The real irony though in comparison to the Toxic 4850 is the dual-slot card’s board design. Given Sapphire’s history of selling high-end cards with custom board designs and cooling under their Toxic and Ulimate lines, you’d expect the pricier Toxic 4850 to be the card with the custom board design, but actually it’s Sapphire’s less flashy, cheaper HD 4850 Dual Slot that features the custom design!
As far as we can tell, Sapphire’s tweaks to the ATI reference board design are focused on improving the efficiency of the 4850 card. The most obvious change Sapphire has integrated is a shorter PCB. The PCB of the 4850 Dual Slot measures in at just over 8”, whereas ATI’s reference board design call for a 9.5” PCB. The shorter PCB should allow Sapphire’s 4850 Dual Slot to fit more easily in small cases such as Shuttle’s XPC line.
After looking at the Sapphire 4850 Dual Slot side-by-side with the Toxic 4850, it really highlights all the empty space on ATI’s reference 4850 board design.
What modifications has Sapphire made to get their board so short?
The first tweak they’ve implemented is shifting the 2-phase power circuitry from the back of the board, just underneath the external PCIe power connector on ATI’s reference design to the front of the board, just behind the dual-link DVI connectors and ahead of the RV770 GPU. In fact, Sapphire has moved a number of additional capacitors to the opposite side of the board as well.
With the power now up front, Sapphire has placed the RV770 GPU further back on the PCB of their 4850 Dual Slot board. Why Sapphire has completely reversed the layout of their dual-slot board is unknown to us, we’re assuming Sapphire’s engineers must have some reason but we weren’t able to get a firm answer in time for this article’s publication.
Besides the tweaked PCB, Sapphire has also come up with their own custom dual-slot heatsink/fan unit for the 4850 Dual Slot. At the heart of the cooler is a copper slug that rests directly above the RV770 chip, pulling heat off the GPU. This copper slug is then surrounded by a light gray Orb-shaped heatsink that is composed entirely out of aluminum. The heatsink’s task is to keep the copper slug cool.
By using a combination of copper and aluminum, Sapphire is able to keep costs down while maximizing cooling performance. As anyone who follows the commodity market can tell you, copper prices have risen dramatically over the past year, so it just wasn’t cost effective for Sapphire to build their GPU cooler entirely from copper (the all-copper Toxic sells for about $20 more than the dual-slot 4850). Sapphire’s copper/aluminum mixture also has the added benefit of being lighter weight than an all-copper cooler.
Keeping the cooler supplied with fresh air is an 80mm fan.
Unlike the Toxic board, Sapphire sticks to ATI’s stock clock speeds for the 4850 Dual Slot. The GPU runs at 625MHz while the board’s memory operates at 993MHz.
Hardware and software bundle
Sapphire ships the 4850 Dual Slot with the exact same bundle of hardware and software accessories as the Toxic 4850. This is pretty surprising considering the lower price of the Dual Slot card, but we definitely won’t complain. In case you missed it, Sapphire’s software bundle includes the full version of 3DMark Vantage, Ruby Rom, CyberLink PowerDVD, and a CyberLink’s DVD Suite which includes PowerProducer 4, PowerDirector 5 Express, Power2GO 5.5, and Medi@show 3.
Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6850
EVGA nForce 790i Ultra SLI motherboard (for GeForce cards)
ASUS P5E3 Premium WiFi AP Edition (for Radeon cards)
4GB OCZ DDR3 @ 1333MHz
GeForce 9800 GTX+
GeForce 9800 GTX
GeForce 9600 GT
GeForce 8800 GT
Palit GeForce 9800 GT Sonic
AMD Radeon HD 4850
Sapphire Toxic HD 4850
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 Dual Slot
300GB Western Digital Caviar SE
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 1
Company of Heroes 1.71
Crysis High – Direct3D
When it comes to OC’ing, it seems that ATI’s 4850 GPU is limited to right around 670-685MHz. We’ve tested nearly half a dozen different cards and they all seem to top out around that speed despite cooling.
Radeon 4850 GPU: ATI’s Radeon 4850 GPU is the price/performance champ right now. ATI equips the 4850 GPU with 800 stream processing units running at 625MHz. The chip also supports DirectX 10.1. Combined these features not only give the GPU the shading horsepower for today’s latest games, but tomorrow’s as well.
Pricier than other dual-slot 4850s: The Sapphire Toxic 4850’s price can actually be a pro or a con depending on your perspective. On the “pro” side, consider the cost of buying a Radeon 4850 card and a Zalman VF900 cooler. Judging by Newegg’s latest prices, the cheapest 4850 is priced at $153 after mail-in rebate, while the Zalman cooler sells for $40 on Newegg. Altogether that adds up to $193.
Terascale graphics engine: ATI’s Terascale graphics engine brings a TeraFLOP of compute processing power to the desktop. Conceivably the card will usher in a new era for graphics; soon CyberLink software will bring video encoding to the Radeon 4850, while GPU-acceleration will be making its way into Adobe PhotoShop and Premiere as well this Fall.
???: It’s hard to find anything wrong with Sapphire’s 4850 Dual Slot. As we just stated, the card sells for $160 after a $20 mail-in rebate, so it’s quite aggressively priced considering what you get, and its cooler is quite good. Sapphire’s really nailed it with this board.
Sapphire Toxic 4850:
If you don’t have to have the fastest Radeon 4850 card on the market and want to save a little money, Sapphire’s 4850 Dual Slot is an excellent alternative to the Toxic.
The Dual Slot board doesn’t run quite as cool as the Toxic as it lacks the all-copper construction and dual heatpipes, but Sapphire’s cooler is still quite effective; we witnessed temps that were 19 degrees cooler than the ATI reference design.
Besides cooling, price is this board’s killer feature. Newegg sells the HD 4850 Dual Slot for the same price as Sapphire’s bone stock Radeon 4850 card based on ATI’s reference design: you pay no price premium for the card’s dual-slot cooler. Currently on TigerDirect, the Saphire 4850 Dual Slot is actually priced cheaper than the stock Sapphire 4850!
With prices this low, it makes no sense to buy the stock 4850 card unless you absolutely must have single-slot cooling.
Because of its low price and unique dual-slot cooler, we’re going to award Sapphire’s 4850 Dual Slot with our Bull’s Eye Award. As it stands right now, the Sapphire Dual Slot card is the price/performance champ among 4850 cards currently available on the market.
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