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.
Keep in mind that CrossFire only supports two displays max, so you will have to disable CrossFire in order to run four displays simultaneously.
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.
While we’re discussing the memory, it’s important to note that Sapphire produces two 4850 X2 SKUs. One with 1GB of memory (512MB per GPU) and a second, more popular SKU with 2GB of memory (1GB per GPU). So far the 1GB card hasn’t hit US retailers, but we wouldn’t be surprised if someone picks it up shortly as it’s expected to sport a lower price tag. We’d suggest you avoid the 1GB model if you plan to game with high levels of AA and/or high screen resolutions above 1920x1200, as 512MB just isn’t enough memory for these situations with many of today’s latest games. We’re finally getting to the point where high-end cards really do need 1GB of RAM for the optimal gameplay experience.
For powering the card, one six pin and one 8-pin power connector are required, just like the 4870 X2. The PCB is so long it actually flexes when pushing in the power connectors, so you’ll want to support the back of the card with your hand when hooking the power up in order to prevent potentially damaging the card.
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.