It’s no secret that the Radeon HD 5870 is the fastest GPU on the planet, but what do you get when you take it, toss in a more robust cooler, quieter operation, higher clock speeds and not one, but two free games? You get the Vapor-X, from Sapphire. Despite all that it packs in above the reference version, it modestly carries just a $20 premium.
When AMD launched its ATI Radeon HD 5000 series in late September, gamers had reason to be pumped. After all, ATI’s past generation, the HD 4000 series, were excellent cards in all regards, and it was quite boggling to picture the 5000 series, which essentially doubled everything from the previous. So, the cards were unbelievably fast, and the pricing was appropriate given the competition, at $379 for the HD 5870.
As good as the HD 5870 is, however, there’s a major reason gamers are miffed… lack of availability. Although the cards had ample supply at launch, it’s been near-impossible for people to find them in stock anywhere since. At the current time, Newegg has absolutely no availability of any vendor’s cards, and to top it off, the listings that are there, show pricing $20 higher than MSRP. When the situation will improve is anyone’s guess, but you can bet AMD is working hard on it, especially since we’re heading straight into the holiday season.
Thanks in part to the limited availability of the cards, no manufacturer has released special versions of the cards, because common sense will tell you that there’s no point. If people can’t purchase them, then why put any R&D, time and money into it? Despite that thinking, Sapphire is breaking the mold with its latest Vapor-X card, as it must feel the situation is soon going to improve, and when it does, its special edition card will be there and waiting.
The Vapor-X model of card is rather new, with Sapphire having just unveiled it with ATI’s second-to-last generation, the 3000 series. With it, Sapphire has three obvious goals. The first is to deliver a card that not only runs quieter than reference design, but much cooler as well. The latter leads into the third benefit, improved overclocking-abilities. We first took a look at a Vapor-X card earlier this year, and were left very impressed with all three aspects. The card not only ran cooler, but quieter, and these two things together make for a great graphics card.
The goal of the Vapor-X on the HD 5870 is no different. The card design is a bit different, but the overall goal is the same. As you can see in the diagram below, the focus is to bring heat up through to the center of the cooler, where it dissipates across the entire length of the card, left and right. As the cooler is open on each end, air can come through the opposite end of where the connectors plug in, and help push air through the back. It’s a simple idea, but it works.
Right off the top, as you’d expect with a special version of any graphics card, the Vapor-X carries a price premium. But, at just $20, it’s a premium that promises to be well worth it for a couple of reasons. First, and as already touched on, Vapor-X focuses on cooling and quiet operation, so those are two huge pluses for those looking to retain a rather modest-sounding machine. Second, while many vendors are bundling copies of Dirt 2 with their HD 5000 series, Sapphire ups the ante by bundling a copy of Battlestations Pacific right in the box as well. So, one game now, a second one later. It’s for these reasons that a $20 premium feels like a relative no-brainer.
To top it all off, the Vapor-X also bumps the reference clocks, from 850MHz/1200MHz to 870MHz/1250MHz. It’s a minor increase in all regards, but any boost is a good one. Before we dive into our look at the card, you may wish to review AMD’s current GPU line-up. Note that one card not listed is the upcoming Hemlock “X2″ card, which will essentially be the HD 5870 x 2 in a single card.
Radeon HD 5870
Radeon HD 5850
Radeon HD 5770
Radeon HD 5750
512 – 1024MB
Radeon HD 4890
850 – 900
Radeon HD 4870
512 – 2048MB
Radeon HD 4850
512 – 1024MB
Radeon HD 4770
Radeon HD 4670
900 – 1100
512 – 1024MB
Radeon HD 4650
400 – 500
512 – 1024MB
Similar to the cooler we saw on Sapphire’s HD 4870 Vapor-X, this one has a fan situated directly above the GPU core, with ample room on each side for heat dissipation. For those interested, despite the shroud looking like metal, it’s indeed built of a hard plastic.
Like ATI’s other 5000-series cards, this one features not only two DVI ports, but also a DisplayPort and HDMI port. For those still stuck with VGA, an adapter is included. For those without a secondary PCI-E power cable on their PSU, Sapphire also bundles in 2x Molex to PCI-E 6-pin.
You can get a better look at what’s under the card’s shroud below. Again, it’s a rather simple design, but one that makes complete sense. Heat up through the middle and out each side. It’s not only an effective design, but one that allows for a slower fan speed.
After taking a look at the Vapor-X card inside and out, I have no complaints at all. It’s certainly a complete card, especially with its ample number of display outputs. With that, let’s move right into our testing methodology summary, and then a look at the card’s performance, starting off with Call of Duty: World at War.