Summary: With a $200 price tag and vapor chamber cooling, Sapphire's Vapor-X 4870 1GB is tailored toward enthusiasts looking for a solid Radeon 4870 card with aftermarket cooling, yet don't want to pay a huge price premium. The card delivers well on this mission, while boasting VGA, DVI, and HDMI video outputs. Read our impressions of this card in this review!
With the recent introduction of the Radeon 4890, you’d think the 4870 would be slowly going away, but actually the opposite is the case: ATI has decided to reduce pricing on the 4870 512MB and 1GB SKUs to $150 and $200 respectively. At these new price points, the Radeon 4870 has become an affordable solution for more than just die-hard enthusiasts, even gamers on a budget may be tempted to splurge on a new 4870. But which card should you choose?
Obviously there’s a lot of variety out there on the market right now. You’ve got your standard Radeon 4870 cards based on ATI’s reference design, but we recommend you avoid those as they tend to run hot – 60 degree idle temps aren’t unheard of.
Nowadays you can find Radeon 4870 cards with coolers that are much more powerful than the stock ATI cooler. And the beauty is you don’t have to pay a ridiculous price premium to get one either, the Sapphire Radeon 4870 Vapor-X 1GB card we’re reviewing today sells for $200 after mail-in rebate on Newegg.
So what makes the card so special? Its Vapor-X cooling, which is based on vapor chamber cooling technology.
Sapphire’s vapor chamber technology works much like a conventional heat pipe. Sapphire’s vapor is a sealed vacuum chamber composed of three “wicks”. There’s a vaporization wick, condensation wick, and a transportation wick. Heat from the GPU heats up the water within the vaporization wick, causing it to vaporize. This water vapor then moves through the vacuum until it hits the condensation wick. Here the water vapor condenses and forms back into a liquid (releasing the heat in the process); this liquid is then absorbed by the transportation wick (by capillary action), where it’s then transported back to the vaporization wick and the process is repeated.
According to Sapphire, their vapor chamber cooling is more effective than heatpipes, as its omni-directional versus the uni-directional nature of heatpipes. Sapphire also claims that their vapor chamber cooler boasts lower thermal resistance than heatpipes, with higher heat conductivity as well.
Sapphire’s vapor chamber cooler is made from copper and is then cooled by an Orb-shaped dual-slot aluminum heatsink with dozens of fins. Surrounding this heatsink is a black plastic duct, although unlike the standard 4870 cooler, the duct Sapphire uses on the Vapor-X isn’t enclosed, so air from the card’s fan doesn’t actually exhaust outside your case. Instead most of the air is passed out the sides of the duct.
Interestingly enough, Sapphire places a heatsink on the bottom of the Vapor-X card to cool the memory modules located on the backside of the card, but the Qimonda memory modules on the top of the card aren’t cooled. As a result, only half of the board’s memory is cooled (keep in mind that technically cooling isn’t necessary, as the memory modules are rated for 4.0Gb/sec operation).
Sapphire employs a variable speed fan for cooling the card that adjusts RPMs based on GPU temperature. In 2D mode, the fan spins very slowly, generating just 20dB of noise according to Sapphire. Then, when a 3D app is loaded, the fan kicks up the RPMs to generate 30dB of noise. If the GPU hits a temp of 85 degrees the fan will kick the RPMs up another notch to bring temps back in check, although we’ve got to admit, we never came anywhere close to hitting those kinds of temps so we don’t know how loud the card gets if the temps begin to get excessive.
Flanking the GPU cooler is a massive heatsink for cooling the board’s VRM circuitry. The heatsink itself is nearly as tall as the GPU cooler.
Here we should also point out the power subsystem of the 4870 Vapor-X. Sapphire uses all-solid capacitors on the board as well as Sapphire’s own unique “black diamond” chokes. Sapphire says their patent-pending chokes are 25% more efficient and run 10% cooler than conventional power chokes. What does this mean for the end user? A more energy-efficient card that should also run a little cooler as a result.
The final touch Sapphire adds to their 4870 Vapor-X is a blue LED adorned with the “S” Sapphire logo, located at the top of the cooler.
Bundle and accessories
Our 4870 Vapor-X card shipped with a slightly different software bundle than the $199 SKU that’s currently offered on Newegg. Whereas the Newegg card ships without a game bundle, our card shipped with a copy of Ruby Rom, 3DMark Vantage, PowerDVD 7 (6-channel edition), and CyberLink’s DVD Suite, which includes a range of different CyberLink programs. This is Sapphire’s standard software bundle since the 4800 launch.
Hardware accessories bundled with the 4870 Vapor-X include two 6-pin PCIe power adapters, and CrossFire connector. No component video cable or other hardware accessories shipped with the card.
Intel Core i7-920
6GB OCZ Reaper HPC DDR3-1600
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260 216-shader
ATI Radeon HD 4870 1GB
Sapphire Radeon 4870 Vapor-X 1GB
300GB Western Digital Caviar SE
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 1
Call of Duty 4
Call of Duty 4 – DirectX 9
Crysis – DirectX 10
Far Cry 2 – DirectX 10
STALKER – DirectX 9
Vapor-X cooling: We’re huge fans of Sapphire’s vapor chamber cooling technology found on the Radeon 4870 Vapor-X. The cooler does an incredible job of drawing heat off the GPU, which allows the fan to run super quiet as a result. Sapphire claims the fan generates 20dB of noise in 2D mode, and 30dB in 3D mode (as long as the GPU remains under 85 degrees): based on what we heard, we believe it.
VGA output?: While we appreciate Sapphire’s concern for VGA users by placing a VGA output directly on the backplate of the Vapor-X, we wish the company would have outfitted the card with a second DVI output. As a result, the card unfortunately lacks out-of-the-box support for those of you with two DVI displays.