Summary: With dual Radeon 4850 GPUs, Sapphire's Radeon 4850 X2 packs 1600 shaders, 4 DVIs, 2GB of GDDR3 memory and is one incredible performer. All isn't perfect with the card however. See where the card excels, and where we see room for improvement in this review!
There was a lot going on behind the scenes though and we were getting conflicting information from various partners surrounding the launch of the 4850 X2. Back then ATI’s board partners were more focused on transitioning to 4850 and 4870 cards with 1GB of memory rather than the 4850 X2. As we now know the 4850 1GB and 4870 1GB launched quietly in August, while the Radeon 4670 was launched successfully in the beginning of September.
At the time of the 4670 launch ATI provided no new guidance on the 4850 X2, indicating that the card was still on track for a September release towards the end of the month. Of course if you spoke privately with ATI’s board partners they all had conflicting plans for the 4850 X2; some weren’t certain the amount of memory they’d ship their potential 4850 X2 boards with (1GB total or 2GB), while others weren’t even sure if they’d produce a 4850 X2 SKU at all! In comparison to ATI’s previous 4800 launches that went off without a hitch, the 4850 X2 was a pretty confusing mess to follow because of the inconsistent message we’d hear from each of the board partners, all while ATI reps were confident that the card would arrive soon.
With October’s arrival of the Radeon 4830 we asked ATI what the status of the 4850 X2 was yet again. From our news post on the topic: “I spoke with ATI about this yesterday and they explained that their board partners have chosen to focus on the 4870 X2 rather than the 4850 X2. Since they won't be providing a 4850 X2 card directly, they're entirely reliant on their board partners to distribute cards. As Xbit mentions, ATI is now pushing their board partners to ship 4850 X2 cards with 2GB of memory (1GB per GPU); back in August most of the board partners we spoke with were leaning towards going with just 1GB of RAM.
The cards are indeed in the process of getting certified, although right now it looks like Sapphire is going to be first out of the gate with cards at the retail level. This shouldn't be much of a surprise considering that Sapphire is currently handling all 4870 X2 card production for ATI and their board partners.”
Fortunately ATI’s projections were correct this time with Sapphire’s Radeon 4850 X2 hitting retail shelves at the beginning of November. We recently snagged one of these cards for review and were impressed by its performance and feature set, but all isn’t perfect with this card.
When ATI first announced the Radeon 4870 X2, we assumed their board partners would adopt a similar board design for the 4850 X2, although obviously with adjustments to make the board a little cheaper to produce. Surprisingly enough however, that’s not what Sapphire’s done with their 4850 X2; they’ve actually decided to start from scratch, implementing their own brand new board design for the card.
The PCB itself is massive. Measuring 11.25” in length, the Sapphire 4850 X2 is actually longer than the GeForce 9800 GX2, the GTX 280, and ATI’s own Radeon 4870 X2 reference board design! Because the card is so long, it will not only reach across the edge of your motherboard, it’s actually so long you may have difficulty fitting it in some mid-tower ATX cases. Complicating matters is an aluminum heatsink sitting on the bottom of the board that’s responsible for cooling the power circuitry used on the card. Sapphire actually uses two heatsinks to accomplish this task, one on each side of the PCB!
While it looks elaborate, the cooling solution Sapphire has developed to cool the GPUs is rather simple. Each RV770 GPU is cooled by its own all-aluminum heatsink/fan unit. There’s no copper, no heatpipes, nor any use of Sapphire’s wicked vapor chamber cooling used on previous Toxic Edition cards.
By integrating such a simple cooler, Sapphire is able to keep the 4850 X2 card’s overall weight down and they’re able to keep the board’s production cost down. The downside is that the cooler isn’t as effective at cooling the GPUs as a copper or heatpipe-based unit would be. Therefore in order to compensate for this, Sapphire has elected to crank up the RPMs on both cooling fans.
At idle we recorded noise levels of 56.7 decibels! Keep in mind this is the noise level emitted by the card while idling at the Windows desktop. In other words, the card is operating in 2D mode and barely pushing the capabilities of the GPUs. This figure alone is higher than any other graphics card we’ve tested in the last year. Even the GeForce 9800 GX2 didn’t run this loud at full load.
At load noise levels for the 4850 X2 spiked to 61.4 decibels.
There’s only one card we’ve tested in the last 10 years that runs louder at idle than Sapphire’s 4850 X2: NVIDIA’s infamous GeForce FX 5800 Ultra.
In Sapphire’s defense, the 4850 X2’s noise levels aren’t overbearing. We’ve heard louder CPU coolers (Thermaltake’s Volcano comes to mind) and X1800 XT/X1900 XT CrossFire setups that enthusiasts have had no problems running fulltime in their case in the past.
The noise levels are noticeable though, particularly at the Windows desktop. Considering that the GPUs are running at just 40 degrees Celsius at idle, Sapphire may want to consider toning down the 2D fan speeds just to keep the noise levels down at the Windows desktop. As it stands now this solution is probably a little too noisy for movie watching.
By now you’re probably thinking we’re complaining about the noise levels too much, especially considering that the latest Catalyst drivers offer manual fan speed adjustment. While this is certainly true, unfortunately the manual fan control in Catalyst 8.11 and 8.12 doesn’t work properly with the Sapphire 4850 X2. Even if you drag the slider to the minimum 0% fan setting, the fans actually spin faster, generating more noise than the automatic (default) fan setting.
One neat feature Sapphire’s Radeon 4850 X2 supports is four DVI outputs. This makes the card ideal for multi-monitor or workstation users who would like to drive more than the traditional two displays. According to Sapphire, all four DVI outputs are dual-link capable, providing full support for 2560x1600 resolution. Sapphire also includes a TV output on the bottom of the card’s backplate as well. Here you can hook up the card to a TV display using S-Video, or to an HDTV using the component video dongle included in the card’s packaging.
Sapphire relies on the stock Radeon 4850 clocks for their 4850 X2. The GPUs are clocked at 625MHz, while the board’s memory runs at 993MHz.
Sapphire includes a pretty robust bundle of software and accessories with the 4850 X2. Inside the box you’ll find a copy of 3DMark Vantage as well as the game Ruby Rom, PowerDVD, CyberLink DVD Suite, driver CD, two power adapters (an 8-pin and 6-pin), an HDMI adapter, DVI adapter, CrossFire connector, and component/composite video cables.
Intel Core i7 965 Extreme Edition
Intel X58 Smackover Motherboard
3GB Qimonda DDR3-1066MHz
NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GTX+
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260 w/216 shaders
ATI Radeon HD 4850 512MB
ATI Radeon HD 4870 1GB
ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 2GB
300GB Western Digital Caviar SE
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 1
World In Conflict 1.009
In the following graphs you’ll see many cases at 2560x1600 where the 512MB cards aren’t able to generate performance results. This is because we ran the majority of our tests with 8xAA and these cards aren’t capable of running with 8xAA at such high resolution.
Crysis High – Direct3D
Unfortunately our OC’ing tool of choice, RivaTuner doesn’t support the Radeon 4850 X2, so we couldn’t use it to OC the Sapphire card. Instead we had to rely on ATI’s Overdrive software, which is maxed out to 700/1200. As you can see, we nearly hit those max speeds, topping out at 690MHz on the core and 1160MHz for memory.
Performance: With two RV770 GPUs inside, Sapphire’s Radeon 4850 X2 packs 1600 stream processors total, nearly 2 billion transistors and 2.0 teraFLOPS of compute power. Short of a Radeon 4870 X2, this is simply an unprecedented amount of performance for one graphics card.
Noise: Unfortunately with two fans running at high RPMs Sapphire’s 4850 X2 generates more noise than other graphics cards. At load we recorded noise levels of 61.4 decibels – that’s only a few dBs higher than running a pair of Radeon 4850 cards in CrossFire so we can halfway excuse it, but at idle the card still generates nearly 57 decibels of noise. In comparison the 4850 CrossFire setup is 50.4 decibels thanks to the use of variable speed fans.