Manufacturer:Sapphire UK Price (as reviewed): £575 (inc. VAT) - expected US Price (as reviewed): $700 (ex. Tax) - MSRP
Core Clock: 800MHz Memory Clock: 4,000MHz (effective) Memory: 2GB GDDR5 Warranty: Three years parts and labour
We love watercooling here at bit-tech. It’s that badge of honour that shows you’re a true enthusiast that you’re not going to let the threat of a few leaks and kinked tubing stop you from reaching those ever elusive higher clock speeds.
However, entry to the watercooler’s club means building a watercooling loop, which is traditionally a very daunting task the first time. Cutting hoses to the right length, clamping jubilee clips and then the nerve shredding process of filling your loop and praying to the digital gods that you don’t spring a leak. While the building your first successful watercooling loop provides an enormous feeling of accomplishment, and a bit of experience goes a long way, for most it’s still an unattractive proposition that’s just too much hassle in comparison to the frankly brilliant air cooling options available today.
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Which is a shame really, as watercooling provides very real benefits in comparison to air cooling in both thermal and acoustic performance. The problem is making something as fragile, bulky and potentially dangerous as watercooling safe to use as a cooling solution for your product and making it compatible with the maximum amount of setups. Previously attempts have produced mixed results with ECS’s naff-tacular watercooled 9800 GTX+ SLI kit a disappointment, but Zalman’s nifty LQ1000 watercooled case a very well executed example, although both only simplify the build process rather than remove it.
There are also a growing number of graphics cards shipping with pre-fitted waterblocks these days, although these will still require a custom built watercooling loop to be fitted into.
Enter Sapphire and its Radeon HD 4870 X2 Atomic. Incorporating not only a heavily overclocked version of ATI’s dual GPU graphics monster, but also a fully pre-assembled and pre-filled watercooling loop from Asetek for both the GPU and the CPU too, all cooled by a single 120mm radiator. Could this finally be the card that makes watercooling accessible for the rest of us without compromising on performance? Let’s find out.
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The Power of the Atom
The Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 X2 Atomic looks to impress from the very start and is shipped in a very swish padded flight case, with the card and accompanying watercooling loop pre-assembled and ready to go right from the off. That's right - absolutely no assembly required.
We’ll talk more about the cooling loop on the next page, but at its heart sits quite possibly the fastest single slot retail graphics card we’ve ever tested here at bit-tech in the form of a heavily overclocked Radeon HD 4870 X2.
With the benefit of watercooling on its side Sapphire really hasn’t held back and has upped the card’s default clocks from 750MHz core, 900MHz (3,600 effective) memory to a whopping 800MHz core and 1,000MHz (4,000MHz effective). While the 50MHz increase in core is welcome, it’s the 400MHz improvement to the memory clock that will have the biggest impact in modern games, especially memory hungry titles like Fallout 3 and Far Cry 2.
The card itself is still a stock ATI Radeon 4870 X2 at heart, with identical components to an air-cooled version, but the cooling solution is far from standard issue. Sapphire has brought in cooling expert Asetek and has fitted its LCLC closed-loop watercooling solution to the Radeon HD 4870 X2 Atomic.
This incorporates a custom single slot aluminium GPU waterblock - covering every single heat producing component on the front side of the card - and a CPU block with an embedded pump. While not up to the sultry looks of specialist 4870 X2 waterblocks, Asetek’s offering still looks great, especially in comparison to the extra chunky dual slot stock 4870 X2 cooler.