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Sapphire Radeon HD 5870 1GB Vapor-X Review

Sapphire Radeon HD 5870 1GB Vapor-X Review

Manufacturer: Sapphire
UK Price (as reviewed): Pre-order for £311.35 (inc. VAT)
US Price (as reviewed): Pre-order for $419.99 (ex. Tax)

Core Clock: 870MHz
Memory Clock: 1.25GHz (5GHz effective)
Memory: 1GB GDDR5
Warranty: Two years

With ATI having sewn up the DX11 market up until at least January following the continued delay on the first products based on Nvidia’s Fermi architecture, the Radeon HD 5870 is going to be our high-end card of choice for a while yet – or at least it would be if ATI were actually able to deliver a fraction of the cards to meet demand.

With such poor availability of the 40nm Cypress GPUs most board partners would be forgiven to focus on shipping as many stock cards as possible. But not so Sapphire though, as it has paired ATI’s single GPU powerhouse with its vapour chamber based “Vapor-X” aftermarket coolers to offer something a little different for the more discerning enthusiast.

Sapphire Radeon HD 5870 1GB Vapor-X Review Sapphire Radeon HD 5870 1GB Vapor-X Review
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While the new cooler is more Dark Knight’s Tumbler than the stock cooler’s Adam West Bat-mobile in appearance the Vapor-X line of coolers have an excellent pedigree when it comes to making stock coolers look rubbish in comparison and have previously bested stock coolers by more than 20°C under load whilst remaining ninja-quiet. This model features a centrally mounted 80mm fan blowing down onto the cooler below, fitted with three copper heat pipes (actually one less than the stock cooler) sat atop the cooler's eponymous vapour chamber and dissipate heat out to the almost full length heatsink. However, as the fan is centrally mounted this does mean that most of the hot air is exhausted back into your case rather than out the backplate as with the stock card.

It's not just the cooler that's been upgraded though with Sapphire also bumping the card’s stock clock speeds up too, with the core upped 20MHz to 870MHz (a 2.3 per cent increase) and the memory bumped up by 50MHz/200MHz effective (a 4.1 per cent increase). While these overclocks are minor compared to what we’ve achieved with Asus’s Voltage Tweak HD 5870, they should result in a jump in performance of a frame or two across the board.

Sapphire Radeon HD 5870 1GB Vapor-X Review Sapphire Radeon HD 5870 1GB Vapor-X Review
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Sapphire also claims to have upgraded the card’s power distribution system with “Black Diamond” chokes, which it claims run ten per cent cooler and are 25 per cent more power efficient. Looking at the card itself though all the chokes around the vertically orientated dual 6-pin PCI-E power connectors are identical to the R32 chokes of any other stock HD 5870 and under the heatsink there’s no discernible difference between this card and the reference card Tim looked in his architecture analysis.

As well as the custom cooled, pre-overclocked HD 5870 Sapphire ships the card with a healthy bundle of extras. Two single molex to PCI-E connectors mean even those with a legacy PSU are catered for (although if your PSU is old enough to not come with PCI-E power connectors we’d recommend an upgrade anyway) and are joined by a DVI to VGA adapter, CrossFire bridge, user manual and installation CD. The bundle also includes not one but two new games with which to stress your new GPU in the form of Battlestations Pacific and a Steam redemption code for the DirectX 11 supporting Colin McRae: Dirt 2. It’s a solid collection of kit and games as graphics card bundles go and combined with the card’s standard dual DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort connectivity means you’re well catered for regardless of your AV setup.

Warranty

As with all Sapphire cards the HD 5870 1GB Vapor-X comes complete with a two-year warranty that includes cover for parts and labour. During the first year of the product’s life, your point of contact should be the retailer. However, if you’re having problems getting hold of the retailer (or the retailer goes out of business), you should contact Sapphire’s support team directly. During the second year of the warranty period, you should talk directly with Sapphire. This is pretty much in line with what other ATI board partners offer, and while the two year warranty is more than you’re legally entitled too, it isn’t as comprehensive or as long lasting as what’s available from some of Nvidia’s board partners.