Taking a Closer Look at Sapphire's Single PCB Dual GPU HD 4850 X2

In today's market, both ATI and NVIDIA are pulling out all the stops when it comes to high-end performance graphics. Video cards like the Radeon 4870 X2 and GeForce GTX 295 are perfect examples of this, with a price tag to match. Given the current state of the economy, many people are looking for high performance without the big hit to the wallet. It is to this end that we have the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2, a dual GPU solution on a single PCB, similar to the 4870 X2. I think it is worth noting that Sapphire is the only manufacturer to build and sell the 4850 X2, which gives them a leg up on other ATI add-in card vendors looking to compete with NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 200 series.

Sapphire HD4850x2

In the $300 price segment, the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850x2 can't be accused of bringing a knife to a gunfight; with 1600 Stream processors, 2GB of GDDR3 memory running at 993MHz, and two GPU's clocked at 625MHz all packed on the massive 11 1/4" single PCI-Express circuit board, the HD 4850 X2 is ready to go against NVIDIA's GeForce GTX280, as well as today's most popular games. Let's take a look and see what Sapphire brings to the table in their HD 4850 X2...

Sapphire HD4850x2

Upon first look at the card, I was impressed to find that the fan shroud was not the standard plastic piece found on many cards, but instead a brushed aluminum housing looking sexy in black. Being made of aluminum should help to further dissipate the heat created beneath it.  Behind the cover, we see the dual fans tasked with keeping the pair of ATI 4850 GPU's cool.

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Looking at data end of the card, we see the 4, yes 4, Dual-Link DVI ports and the S-Video/video breakout connector. This is an incredible amount of connectivity; don't forget about the added ability to utilize those without having to toggle between CrossFire modes!

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At the other end, we see that the Sapphire 4850x2 requires both an 8 pin and a 6 pin PCI-Express connector to power things.  Don't worry if your power supply is a little short on connectors, as mine was -- Sapphire takes care of you with molex to PCI-Express adapters for both plugs in the box.

Speaking of... let's go ahead and take a look at the retail box and bundle.

Retail Box and Bundle

Sapphire HD4850x2

The first thing I noticed about the box from Sapphire, other than the attractive caricature of Ruby of course, was the beautiful color that adorns the top and bottom of the carton. Changing from blue to purple and back, the box is certainly eye-catching in the right light.

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On the back of the box, we find another picture of Ruby and the Product Highlights, along with a list of what's bundled inside the box.

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Product Highlights:

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The list of what's "In the Box!" is a bit misleading, as this is one of the best bundles I've encountered recently. Inside I found the user's manual, DVI to VGA adapter, DVI to HDMI adapter, S-Video Adapter, component breakout cable, CrossFire Bridge, Driver CD, Ruby Rom, PowerDVD and DVD Suite CDs from CyberLink, 3DMark Vantage (benchmarking software) from FutureMark, and power adapters to be sure you have both the 6 pin and 8 pin adapters necessary to power the card, assuming you have a few spare molex plugs.

The only thing missing from the bundle is a full retail game... but finding a single title to make all gamers happy would be virtually impossible.  The inclusion of the DVD software from CyberLink and FutureMark's 3DMark Vantage is a nice touch as this is more likely to be used than some genre specific game title.  Well done Sapphire, well done.

Test System & Setup

Sapphire HD4850x2


Intel Test Platform

Component

Brand/Model

Live Pricing

Processor

Intel Core 2 Duo E8400

Motherboard

Gigabyte EP45 DS3L

Memory

4GB OCZ Reaper HPC Edition

Video Card

See Above

Hard Drive

Seagate 7200.10 320GB

Cooling

Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro

Power Supply

PC Power & Cooling S75QB 750W

Operating System

Windows Vista Ultimate

 

For all the tests conducted in this review, we used the Intel test system with a Gigabyte EP45-DS3L motherboard loaded with an Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 cooled by an Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro and 4GB of OCZ Reaper HPC Edition memory. Powering the system is a PC Power & Cooling 750W Quad Silencer.

Software consisted of Windows Vista Ultimate 32bit, updated with SP1 and all available system updates.  Call of Duty 4 was patched to the latest version, 1.07, and Crysis Warhead is up to date. ATI Catalyst drivers, version 8.57 released Jan 27, 2009 for the 4850x2, were used throughout the review.

Note: please excuse the mess in the test system. It is in the process of being rebuilt with some MUCH needed cable management.

Let’s jump right into it, and see how the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850x2 stands up against today’s hottest games and most popular 3D benchmarks.

Crysis Warhead

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Crysis Warhead updates and refines the gameplay of Crysis through a side story plot involving Psycho, one of previous protagonist Nomad's allies. The game is a parallel story that follows Sergeant Michael "Psycho" Sykes, a character from the original Crysis, as he faces his own trials and challenges on the other side of the island during the time period of the first game. It features new fully customizable weapons, vehicles and enemies, along with new multiplayer content. It also showcases a new, enhanced and optimized version of Cry Engine 2.

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Playing in “Gamer” mode automatically sets resolution to 1280x1024 and optimizes the other settings around this resolution.  Also for the testing, we left the other settings at Gamer optimized and pushed resolution up to 1680x1050.

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Results: At 1280x1024, Crysis Warhead was able to nearly double the frame rate of the NVIDIA GeForce 9800GT at stock speeds, and more than double the Radeon HD 4830 when overclocked.

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Results: At 1680x1050, results remained the same against the other cards tested and Warhead remained EXTREMELY playable even at stock clocks of 625MHz GPU and 993MHz Memory.

Call of Duty 4

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Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is a first-person shooter developed by Infinity Ward and published by Activision for Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC. Modern Warfare is the fourth installment in the Call of Duty series. It was announced on April 25, 2007 and was released on November 6, 2007 in North America. The single player game can be completed in well under six hours, but the graphics are awesome and multiplayer helps to extend the replay value of this game.

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Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare runs on a proprietary graphics engine, and has features such as true world-dynamic lighting, HDR lighting effects, dynamic shadows and depth-of-field. "Bullet Penetration" is calculated by the engine, taking into account things such as surface type and entity thickness. Certain objects, such as cars and some buildings are destructible. This makes distinguishing cover from concealment important, as meager protection such as wooden fences, thin walls and such no longer provide sufficient protection. The bullet's speed and stopping power are decreased after penetrating an object, and this decrease is calculated realistically depending on the thickness and surface of the object penetrated. The game also makes use of a physics engine, which was not implemented in previous Call of Duty titles for the PC. Death Animations are a combination of pre-set animations and ragdoll physics. Some mistook the game's graphics to be DirectX 10 based, but it is stated that the graphics use DirectX 9.

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Results: At 1280x1024, testing hardly seemed fair as the Sapphire HD 4850 X2 was able to pump out insane frame rates without so much as breaking a sweat. 

 

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Results: We see that the HD 4850 X2 still had no problems pushing numbers that scale appropriately, even given the higher resolution of 1680 x 1050.

3DMark Vantage

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3DMark Vantage is the new industry standard for PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, newly designed for Windows Vista and DirectX10. It includes two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, and support for the latest hardware. 3DMark Vantage is based on a completely new rendering engine, developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10, the new graphics API from Microsoft.

For today's testing, we used both the Performance setting (P), with a resolution of 1280x1024 and the High setting (H) with a resolution of 1680x1050.

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Results: in 3D Mark Vantage, we see that the dual 4850 GPU's were able to put down some serious numbers.  When overclocked, the card was able to push those numbers up by another 10% or so in both categories.

Overclocking

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As we've seen throughout our testing, the Sapphire HD 4850 X2 is plenty capable of taking care of business at stock clock speeds of 625MHz GPU and 993MHz Memory... but of course, no enthusiast is going to leave well enough alone.  It was once that only the most extreme, warranty be damned, users would dare attempt overclocking, but now it's so common place that ATI has included Overdrive overclocking software in their Catalyst Control Center.

Using ATI Overdrive is the safest form of overclocking your ATI video card because the software is designed to downclock the card's clock speeds if temperatures get too high and put the card in danger.

Using ATI Overdrive to find the maximum clocks of our card was as easy as just a few clicks of the mouse.  Simply open the Catalyst Control Center and navigate to the Overdrive tab.

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Once in the Overdrive tab, you will need to unlock the clocks on the card. This is as easy as clicking the lock. Doing so will unlock the sliders which can be adjusted manually from 500 to 700MHz GPU Clock and 750 to 1200MHz Memory Clock or automatically by clicking the Auto-Clock button.  We decided to let the software do the work for us and clicked the Auto-Tune button.  After a few minutes, we arrived at the above clocks of the software's maximum of 700MHz GPU and 1200MHz Memory.

Folding@Home

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Folding@Home is a distributed computing client program that uses your free CPU/GPU cycles to help understand how proteins are assembled, or folded. The project is put on by Stanford University whose goal is to find out how proteins assemble themselves and why they sometimes misfold. This misfolding is related to many serious diseases including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

By donating your spare CPU/GPU cycles to the Folding team, you are pitching in to help find out how this process works and eventually to find a cure. Not only will you be doing a good deed for humanity but you will enjoy participating in our team and promoting the healthy competition among team members to produce the most work units of our group. Visit the Folding Forum to find out more about Folding@Home and how to join Team 38296 Legit Reviews.

The first work unit that we pulled from the Assignment Server was a P4743. This set of projects is assigned to the ATI GPU2 core. We're studying the villin headpiece sub domain, the lambda repressor monomer, and WW domain fip35. Each of these is commonly studied in experiments probing protein folding; simulating these molecules using GPU2 not only helps us to test the ATI core but allows us to better understand published experimental results. This unit is valued at 548 points.

[03:54:36] Completed 30%
[03:56:37] Completed 31%
[03:58:39] Completed 32%
[04:00:40] Completed 33%
[04:02:41] Completed 34%
[04:04:42] Completed 35%
[04:06:43] Completed 36%
[04:08:44] Completed 37%
[04:10:45] Completed 38%
[04:12:47] Completed 39%
[04:14:48] Completed 40%

At stock clock speeds of 625MHz Core and 993MHz Memory, the Sapphire HD 4850 X2 was able to finish each step (%) of the unit in 2 minutes, 1 second at a value of 3897 points per day.

[07:36:44] Completed 80%
[07:38:34] Completed 81%
[07:40:24] Completed 82%
[07:42:14] Completed 83%
[07:44:04] Completed 84%
[07:45:54] Completed 85%
[07:46:44] Completed 86%
[07:47:34] Completed 87%
[07:48:24] Completed 88%
[07:49:14] Completed 89%
[07:50:04] Completed 90%

When we pushed the clocks to 700MHz Core and 1200MHz Memory, we saw the time per step drop to 1 minute 50 seconds.  This pushed the productivity on the P4743 Work Unit to 4291ppd.

Temperature and Power Consumption

Sapphire HD4850x2

With dual GPUs on a single PCB, it might be expected that the Sapphire HD 4850 X2 might run a bit warm... but that just wasn't the case.  As seen in the photo above, the front of the printed circuit board is almost completely covered with heatsinks.  The combination of the heatsinks, the dual ATI labeled fans, and the aluminum shroud really do a nice job keeping this card running cool, even under full load.

Running at idle with the fan on Auto, the card ran around 39-40 deg C with a fan speed of 3% and fan noise was kept to a whisper.  Loading the card, we saw the fan speed up to 36% but the temperature never went over 66 deg. C while the fans stayed at a completely acceptable level.

Out of curiosity, we switched over to manual fan control and kicked the fan speed to 50% on both fans while at idle.  We observed the temps drop to about 36 deg C, but also noticed a big increase in fan noise.  Bumping the fans to 100% at idle, the temp inched down another tick to 35 deg C, but at this point, the fan noise was unbearable.  When pushing the fan speeds to 50% and 100% under load, the temps decreased to 65 deg C and 62 deg C respectively, but again as fan speed increased, fan noise went with it.

Sapphire HD4850x2

At idle, the card steps down from stock clocks of 625MHz Core and 993MHz Memory to 500 and 750MHz, respectively.  Not only does this help the life of the card by keeping it running cooler, but it also helps to conserve energy when you are taking a break from the battlefield.

To test the level of power consumption, we plugged the system into our P3 Kill-A-Watt Electrical Load Meter.  Once connected, we let the test system idle at the desktop for 15 minutes at both stock and overclocked speeds and took the highest readings.  To test draw under load, we fired up a full test with 3D Mark Vantage at both stock and overclocked speeds and took the highest readings.

At stock clock speeds, we recorded an idle draw of 168 watts and a load draw of 323 watts.

At overclocked speeds of 700MHz Core and 1200MHz Memory, we recorded an idle draw of 172 watts and a load draw of 348 watts.

Final Thoughts and Conclusion

Sapphire HD4850x2

Throughout every review, I try to find things that I can report to our readers that I would consider "wrong" with the product. I consider myself a pretty critical person, a trait which seems to be heightened by dollar signs. The greater the price of the item, the harder I look for something wrong. With this Radeon HD 4850 X2 from Sapphire, I struggled to find things that would even be considered a bit "off."

In the past, I've had personal trouble with ATI drivers, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.  ATI has addressed this with a fully WHQL driver which is now available for download from AMD.

In using this card, I notice that the fans got pretty loud at times when I was pushing it with a heavy load of my favorite games and benchmarks. Sapphire has addressed that issue with improved fan profiles now that the card is in volume production, making it MUCH more tolerable, even when fully loaded.

For those trying to watch their budget, the HD 4850 X2 even helps out a bit there. When you aren't pushing the card to the extremes on the virtual battlefields (come on... we can't game 24/7, can we?), it steps down both the Core and Memory speeds on the dual 4850 GPU's, reducing the amount of energy your system is consuming.

Ok... I'll just come right out and say it. I really like this card! For around $300, you get a dual GPU, single PCB solution that answers the call on all of the games and benchmarks I threw at it.  With game developers constantly pushing graphics hardware to the limits, the fact that this card supports CrossFireX Technology makes future proofing a breeze. Throw a pair of these in a CrossFire capable motherboard and watch the frame rates fly right off the charts.

Sapphire HD4850x2

Legit Bottom Line: Sapphire's little brother to the HD 4870 X2 is certainly no "red-headed stepchild."  The HD 4850 X2 is able to hold its own in the 3D games and benchmarks we tested... all while looking good, keeping cool and quiet, and doing it for around $300.