Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2 Video Card Review
By Gabriel Torres on June 18, 2008


Introduction

Atomic HD 3870 X2 is a limited edition water-cooled video card from Sapphire. In this review we will take an in-depth look at this card and compare its performance to the performance of its main competitors today like GeForce 9800 GX2 and GeForce 9800 GTX and also to the standard Radeon HD 3870. Read on.

Being a special edition, Atomic HD 3870 X2 comes in a fancy metallic suitcase, as you can see in Figure 1. Inside the suitcase the video card and its water cooling system are surrounded by gray foam, just like gun cases in secret agent movies, see Figures 2 and 3.

Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2
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Figure 1: Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2 suitcase.

Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2
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Figure 2: Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2 suitcase.

Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2
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Figure 3: Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2 suitcase.

In Figure 4 you have an overall look of the video card and its water cooling system. We will talk more about them in the next page.

Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2
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Figure 4: Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2.

Introduction (Cont’d)

Atomic HD 3870 X2 water cooling system comes pre-assembled, so no assembly is required by the user. The water pump and the water tank comes attached to the radiator and the system is sealed, coming already with coolant installed – i.e., this is a “maintenance free” system.

The memory chips located on the back of the card, however, aren’t cooled by the water cooling system, which is the only negative point we saw on this video card.

Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2
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Figure 5: Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2.

Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2
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Figure 6: Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2, back view.

On Figures 7 and 8 you can see the radiator. It uses one 120 mm brushless fan, which spins very slowly, producing no noise. Talking about noise, the water cooling system is somewhat noisy when you first turn on the computer, but the noise level drops after a while, when the water is flowing at a constant rate.

Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2
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Figure 7: Radiator from the water cooling system.

Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2
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Figure 8: Radiator from the water cooling system.

The video card requires two auxiliary power cables, one using a 6-pin connector and the other using a 8-pin connector. The water cooling system requires one standard peripheral power connector.

More Details

To make the comparison between Atomic HD 3870 X2 and the other video cards we included in this review easier, we compiled the table below comparing the main specs from these cards. If you want to compare the specs of Atomic HD 3870 X2 to any other video card not included in the table below, just take a look at our NVIDIA Chips Comparison Table or on our AMD ATI Chips Comparison Table.

The official core clock for Radeon HD 3870 X2 is 825 MHz, while its official memory clock is 900 MHz. Atomic HD 3870 X2 comes factory-overclocked, with its two GPU’s running at 857 MHz and its memory running at 927 MHz. As you can see, this is far from being a big overclocking. Since we hadn’t any other Radeon HD 3870 X2 available we couldn’t see how fast this overclocking made this card to be compared to the standard HD 3870 X2.

Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2 uses Samsung K4J52324QE-BJ1A GDDR3 chips. These chips officially support a clock frequency of up to 1,000 MHz. As mentioned on this video card they run at 927 MHz, so there is a tight 7.9% headroom for you to overclock the video card memories still maintaining them inside their specs. Of course you can always try pushing memories above their specs, but it isn’t guaranteed that the overclocking will work.

GPU

Core Clock

Shader Clock

Proc.

Memory Clock

Memory Interface

Memory Transfer Rate

Memory

Price

GeForce GTX 280

602 MHz

1,296 MHz

240

1,107 MHz

512-bit

141.7 GB/s

1 GB GDDR3

USD 649

GeForce 9800 GX2

600 MHz

1,500 MHz

128

1,000 MHz

256-bit

64 GB/s

1 GB GDDR3

USD 470 - 550

GeForce 9800 GTX

675 MHz

1,688 MHz

128

1,100 MHz

256-bit

70.4 GB/s

512 MB GDDR3

USD 270 - 355

Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2

857 MHz

857 MHz

320

927 MHz

256-bit

59.33 GB/s

1 GB GDDR3

Radeon HD 3870

776 MHz

776 MHz

320

1,125 MHz

256-bit

72 GB/s

512 MB GDDR4

USD 150 - 200

Some important observations regarding this table:

Now let’s go to our tests.

How We Tested

During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only variable was the video card being tested.

Hardware Configuration

Software Configuration

Driver Versions

Software Used

Resolutions and Image Quality Settings

Since we were comparing very high-end video cards, we ran all our tests under three 16:10 widescreen high resolutions: 1680x1050, 1920x1200, and 2560x1600. We always tried to run the programs and games in two scenarios for each resolution, one with low image quality settings and then maxing out the image quality settings. The exact configuration we used will be described together with the results of each individual test.

Error Margin

We adopted a 3% error margin; thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.

3DMark06 Professional

3DMark06 measures Shader 3.0 (i.e., DirectX 9.0c) performance. We run this software under three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680x1050, 1920x1200, and 2560x1600, first with no image quality enhancements enabled – results we call “low” on the charts and tables below –, then setting 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering. See the results below.

GeForce GTX 280

3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0 - 1680x1050 – LowScoreDifference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X216260 
GeForce 9800 GX2156234.08%
GeForce GTX 280149049.10%
GeForce 9800 GTX1275927.44%
Radeon HD 38701069452.05%

GeForce GTX 280

3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0 - 1920x1200 – LowScoreDifference
GeForce 9800 GX2155470.37%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X215489 
GeForce GTX 280142158.96%
GeForce 9800 GTX1163133.17%
Radeon HD 3870945463.84%

GeForce GTX 280

3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0 - 2560x1600 - LowScoreDifference
GeForce 9800 GX2130155.68%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X212315 
GeForce GTX 280117664.67%
GeForce 9800 GTX874340.86%
Radeon HD 3870682380.49%

GeForce GTX 280

3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0 - 1680x1050 – HighScoreDifference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X216260 
GeForce 9800 GX21390016.98%
GeForce GTX 2801215733.75%
GeForce 9800 GTX898181.05%
Radeon HD 38706915135.14%

GeForce GTX 280

3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0 - 1920x1200 – HighScoreDifference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X215489 
GeForce 9800 GX21221326.82%
GeForce GTX 2801099140.92%
GeForce 9800 GTX781198.30%
Radeon HD 38706114153.34%

GeForce GTX 280

3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0 - 2560x1600 – HighScoreDifference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X212315 
GeForce 9800 GX2982925.29%
GeForce GTX 280870441.49%
GeForce 9800 GTX5774113.28%
Radeon HD 38704319185.14%

3DMark Vantage Professional

3DMark Vantage is the latest addition to the 3DMark series, measuring Shader 4.0 (i.e., DirectX 10) performance and supporting PhysX, a programming interface developed by Ageia (now part of NVIDIA) to transfer physics calculations from the system CPU to the video card GPU in order to increase performance. Mechanical physics is the basis for calculations about the interaction of objects. For example, if you shoot, what exactly will happen to the object when the bullet hits it? Will it break? Will it move? Will the bullet bounce back?

We ran this program at three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680x1050, 1920x1200, and 2560x1600. First we used the “Performance” profile, and then we used the “Extreme” profile (basically enabling anti-aliasing at 4x, anisotropic filtering at 16x, and putting all detail settings at their maximum or “extreme” value. The combination of 2560x1600 resolution with extreme settings didn’t produce reliable results according to the program, so we aren’t going to add them here. The results being compared are the “GPU Scores” achieved by each video card.

GeForce GTX 280

3DMark Vantage Professional 1.0.1 - 1680x1050 – PerformanceScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 280769536.17%
GeForce 9800 GX2699023.69%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X25651 
GeForce 9800 GTX380548.52%
Radeon HD 3870297789.82%

GeForce GTX 280

3DMark Vantage Professional 1.0.1 - 1920x1200 – PerformanceScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 280610640.82%
GeForce 9800 GX2537924.05%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X24336 
GeForce 9800 GTX289149.98%
Radeon HD 3870226991.10%

GeForce GTX 280

 

3DMark Vantage Professional 1.0.1 - 2560x1600 – PerformanceScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 280354948.99%
GeForce 9800 GX2291022.17%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X22382 
GeForce 9800 GTX155752.99%
Radeon HD 3870124491.48%

GeForce GTX 280

3DMark Vantage Professional 1.0.1 -1680x1050 - ExtremeScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 280600568.35%
GeForce 9800 GX2485836.19%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X23567 
GeForce 9800 GTX270331.96%
Radeon HD 3870185592.29%

GeForce GTX 280

3DMark Vantage Professional 1.0.1 -1920x1200 - ExtremeScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 280473277.29%
GeForce 9800 GX2350831.43%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X22669 
GeForce 9800 GTX203830.96%
Radeon HD 3870143985.48%

Call of Duty 4

Call of Duty 4 is a DirectX 9 game implementing high-dynamic range (HDR) and its own physics engine, which is used to calculate how objects interact. For example, if you shoot, what exactly will happen to the object when the bullet hits it? Will it break? Will it move? Will the bullet bounce back? It gives a more realistic experience to the user.

We ran this program at three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680x1050, 1920x1200, and 2560x1600, maxing out all image quality controls (i.e., everything was put on the maximum values on the Graphics and Texture menus). We used the game internal benchmarking feature, running a demo provided by NVIDIA called “wetwork.” We are putting this demo for downloading here if you want to run your own benchmarks. The game was updated to version 1.6.

GeForce GTX 280

Call of Duty 4 - 1680x1050 – MaximumScoreDifference
GeForce 9800 GX2106.240.29%
GeForce GTX 280105.339.10%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X275.7 
GeForce 9800 GTX69.19.55%
Radeon HD 387043.076.05%

GeForce GTX 280

Call of Duty 4 - 1920x1200 - MaximumScoreDifference
GeForce 9800 GX294.554.16%
GeForce GTX 28091.749.59%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X261.3 
GeForce 9800 GTX57.76.24%
Radeon HD 387035.473.16%

GeForce GTX 280

Call of Duty 4 - 2560x1600 - MaximumScoreDifference
GeForce 9800 GX264.859.61%
GeForce GTX 28064.859.61%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X240.6 
GeForce 9800 GTX38.36.01%
Radeon HD 387022.481.25%

Crysis

Crysis is a very heavy DirectX 10 game. We updated this game to version 1.2.1 and used the HOC Crysis Benchmarking Utility to help us collecting data. Since we don’t think the default demo based on the island map stresses the video card the way we want, we used the HOC core demo available with the abovementioned utility. We ran this demo under three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680x1050, 1920x1200, and 2560x1600, first with image quality set to “low” and then with image quality set to “high.” Since all video cards achieved a number of frames per second below 10 at 2560x1600 with image details set to “high,” we are not including this test as the results aren’t reliable. We ran each test twice and discarded the first result, as usually the first run achieves a lower score compared to the subsequent runs since the game loses time loading files. The results are below, in frames per second (FPS).

GeForce GTX 280

Crysis 1.2.1 - 1680x1050 – LowScoreDifference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2125 
GeForce GTX 2801250.00%
GeForce 9800 GTX8448.81%
GeForce 9800 GX27566.67%
Radeon HD 38707176.06%

GeForce GTX 280

Crysis 1.2.1 - 1920x1200 – LowScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 2801156.48%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2108 
GeForce 9800 GTX6956.52%
GeForce 9800 GX26371.43%
Radeon HD 38705886.21%

GeForce GTX 280

Crysis 1.2.1 - 2560x1600 – LowScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 2809533.80%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X271 
GeForce 9800 GTX4461.36%
GeForce 9800 GX24269.05%
Radeon HD 387035102.86%

GeForce GTX 280

Crysis 1.2.1 - 1680x1050 - HighScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 2804261.54%
GeForce 9800 GTX2911.54%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X226 
GeForce 9800 GX2254.00%
Radeon HD 38701936.84%

GeForce GTX 280

Crysis 1.2.1 - 1920x1200 - HighScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 2803470.00%
GeForce 9800 GTX2210.00%
GeForce 9800 GX2215.00%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X220 
Radeon HD 38701625.00%

Half-Life 2: Episode Two

Half-Life 2 is a popular franchise and we benchmark the video cards using Episode Two with the aid of HOC Half-Life 2 Episode Two benchmarking utility using the “HOC Demo 1” provided by this program. We ran the game in three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680x1050, 1920x1200, and 2560x1600, under two scenarios. First with quality set to maximum, bilinear filtering and anti-aliasing set to x0. This configuration we are calling “low” on the charts and tables below. Then we maxed out image quality settings, enabling x16 anisotropic filtering and 16xQCS anti-aliasing. This configuration we are calling “high” on our charts and tables. We updated the game up to the June 9th 2008 patch.

GeForce GTX 280

Half-Life 2: Episode Two - 1680x1050 – LowScoreDifference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2160.4 
GeForce GTX 280156.32.62%
GeForce 9800 GTX153.84.29%
Radeon HD 3870145.710.09%
GeForce 9800 GX2136.817.25%

GeForce GTX 280

Half-Life 2: Episode Two - 1920x1200 - LowScoreDifference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2156.7 
GeForce GTX 280156.30.26%
GeForce 9800 GTX146.96.67%
GeForce 9800 GX2135.215.90%
Radeon HD 3870120.130.47%

GeForce GTX 280

Half-Life 2: Episode Two - 2560x1600 - LowScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 280145.111.87%
GeForce 9800 GX2130.60.69%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2129.7 
GeForce 9800 GTX107.920.20%
Radeon HD 387072.878.16%

GeForce GTX 280

Half-Life 2: Episode Two -1680x1050 – HighScoreDifference
GeForce 9800 GTX137.99.36%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2126.1 
GeForce 9800 GX2125.40.56%
GeForce GTX 28089.341.21%
Radeon HD 387068.384.63%

GeForce GTX 280

Half-Life 2: Episode Two - 1920x1200 – HighScoreDifference
GeForce 9800 GTX116.39.20%
GeForce 9800 GX2111.14.32%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2106.5 
GeForce GTX 28070.351.49%
Radeon HD 387056.887.50%

GeForce GTX 280

Half-Life 2: Episode Two - 2560x1600 – HighScoreDifference
GeForce 9800 GTX71.340.91%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X250.6 
GeForce 9800 GX237.534.93%
GeForce GTX 28035.542.54%
Radeon HD 387034.944.99%

Quake 4

We upgraded Quake 4 to version 1.4.2 and ran its multiplayer demo id_perftest with SMP option enabled (which allows Quake 4 to recognize and use more than one CPU), under the same three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680x1050, 1920x1200, and 2560x1600, first with image quality settings configured at “low” and then with image quality settings configured at “ultra.” You can check the results below, given in frames per second.

GeForce GTX 280

Quake 4 - 1680x1050 – LowScoreDifference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2285.30 
GeForce GTX 280268.806.14%
Radeon HD 3870227.7525.27%
GeForce 9800 GTX225.5226.51%
GeForce 9800 GX2220.4829.40%

GeForce GTX 280

Quake 4 - 1920x1200 – LowScoreDifference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2266.23 
GeForce GTX 280235.9212.85%
Radeon HD 3870188.4041.31%
GeForce 9800 GX2174.0652.95%
GeForce 9800 GTX158.8767.58%

GeForce GTX 280

Quake 4 - 2560x1600 – LowScoreDifference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2197.82 
GeForce GTX 280168.8117.19%
Radeon HD 3870116.0170.52%
GeForce 9800 GTX114.3473.01%
GeForce 9800 GX2100.0797.68%

GeForce GTX 280

Quake 4 - 1680x1050 – UltraScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 280246.393.53%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2237.98 
GeForce 9800 GX2218.808.77%
GeForce 9800 GTX194.6522.26%
Radeon HD 3870167.2642.28%

GeForce GTX 280

Quake 4 - 1920x1200 – UltraScoreDifference
GeForce GTX 280224.442.66%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2218.62 
GeForce 9800 GX2158.3538.06%
GeForce 9800 GTX158.1838.21%
Radeon HD 3870144.8050.98%

GeForce GTX 280

Quake 4 - 2560x1600 – UltraScoreDifference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2177.36 
GeForce GTX 280168.435.30%
GeForce 9800 GTX102.0473.81%
GeForce 9800 GX294.6887.33%
Radeon HD 387094.4087.88%

Conclusions

We liked this video card a lot. Not only because this particular model from Sapphire comes with a liquid cooling solution pre-assembled, but also because of its good performance for its price point.

On 3DMark06, which simulates DirectX 9.0c (Shader 3.0) games, Atomic HD 3870 achieved a performance similar to GeForce 9800 GX2 and was a little bit faster than the new and expensive GeForce GTX 280 (5%-9%) when no image quality enhancements were enabled, but when we enabled them the reviewed video card was between 16% and 26% faster than GX2 and between 34% and 42% faster than GeForce GTX 280.

Atomic HD 3870 X2 also achieved a good performance on Quake 4, being between 6% and 17% faster than the new GeForce GTX 280 and between 29% and 98% faster than GeForce 9800 GX2 when image quality was set at “low.” Increasing image quality made Atomic HD 3870 X2 to achieve the same performance level as GeForce GTX 280, but the reviewed card continued to be faster than GX2 (between 9% and 87.33%).

Half-Life 2: Episode Two also showed some good results for Atomic HD 3870 X2, with this card achieving the same performance level as GeForce GTX 280 at 16850x1050 and 1920x1200 with no image quality settings enabled and around 16-17% faster than GeForce 9800 GX2 under the same tests. At 2560x1600 also with no image quality settings enabled it achieved the same performance level as GeForce 9800 GX2, but GeForce GTX 280 was 12% faster. Maxing out image quality settings made Atomic HD 3870 X2 to achieve the same performance level as GeForce 9800 GX2, except at 2560x1600, where the video card from Sapphire was 35% faster.

On Call of Duty 4 maxing out image quality settings GeForce 9800 GX2 was between 40% and 60% faster than Atomic HD 3870 X2. Here, however, the reviewed card was a little bit faster than GeForce 9800 GTX.

On Crysis with image quality set to “low” Atomic HD 3870 X2 was between 67% and 71% faster than GeForce 9800 GX2 and when we set image quality to “high” both cards achieved similar performance, but GeForce 9800 GTX was around 10% faster than the reviewed card.

Besides Call of Duty 4 Atomic HD 3870 X2 also took a beat from GeForce 9800 on the new 3DMark Vantage, which simulates DirectX 10 games. Here GX2 was between 22% and 36% faster. In this program, however, Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2 was between 31% and 53% faster than GeForce 9800 GTX.

After we prepared this review we got the word that this video card won’t reach the US retail market, as only 300 pieces were manufactured – bummer! But we decided to publish this review anyway because we think most readers wanted to see a comparison between Radeon HD 3870 X2 and its main competitors (GeForce 9800 GX2 and GeForce 9800 GTX) and the regular Radeon HD 3870.

If you are looking for a high-end video card and don’t want to sell a kidney to buy the new GeForce GTX 280, Radeon HD 3870 X2 is a great option, especially when you think it is cheaper than GeForce 9800 GX2 and that it could beat this card from NVIDIA on several scenarios. Against GeForce 9800 GTX the reviewed card is a no-brainer, even though it costs more. But, of course, if you have money to buy either GeForce 9800 GX2 or GeForce GTX 280 go for it.

Originally at http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/Sapphire-Atomic-HD-3870-X2-Video-Card-Review/571


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