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Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 512MB Toxic
Date: Apr 07, 2008
Author: Jeff Bouton
Introduction and Product Specifications

When we're asked by readers for hardware advice, one of the most popular topics involves the graphics card.  With a myriad of options out there covering the price and performance spectrum, it's not always a cut and dried answer.  First, we need to consider the person's budget requirements, then assess the rest of their hardware to see what best fits their situation.  It's not simply a matter of buying the most expensive card one can afford.  We wish it were that simple.  In the end, it all comes down to a balancing act between price, performance, and user's particular configuration.

On the other hand, there are those who are less concerned with nickel and diming the process of buying a new video card and don't mind indulging themselves with a product that has a little extra panache.  The Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB falls more inline with that kind of thinking.  The "Toxic" model is a souped up Radeon HD 3870 that boasts a single slot Vapor-X cooler, which allows the card to be overclocked without the need for a dual-slot cooling solution.  In the pages ahead, we'll assess the overall performance of the Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB edition and see how it compares with a pricier competitor and also see whether the "toxic" version makes the card more or less attractive from a price-to-performance perspective.  Finally, we'll test the cooler even further to ascertain whether Sapphire left any more headroom for those looking to overclock the card even further.

Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 512MB Toxic
Specifications and Features
666 million transistors on 55nm fabrication process

256bit 8-channel GDDR3/4 memory interface

Ring Bus Memory Controller

  • Fully distributed design with 512-bit internal ring bus for memory reads and writes
  • Optimized for high performance HDR (High Dynamic Range) rendering at high display resolutions

Unified Superscalar Shader Architecture

  • 320 stream processing units
    • Dynamic load balancing and resource allocation for vertex, geometry, and pixel shaders
    • Common instruction set and texture unit access supported for all types of shaders
    • Dedicated branch execution units and texture address processors
  • 128-bit floating point precision for all operations
  • Command processor for reduced CPU overhead
  • Shader instruction and constant caches
  • Up to 80 texture fetches per clock cycle
  • Up to 128 textures per pixel
  • Fully associative multi-level texture cache design
  • DXTC and 3Dc+ texture compression
  • High resolution texture support (up to 8192 x 8192)
  • Fully associative texture Z/stencil cache designs
  • Double-sided hierarchical Z/stencil buffer
  • Early Z test, Re-Z, Z Range optimization, and Fast Z Clear
  • Lossless Z & stencil compression (up to 128:1)
  • Lossless color compression (up to 8:1)
  • 8 render targets (MRTs) with anti-aliasing support
  • Physics processing support

Full support for Microsoft DirectX 10 / 10.1

  • Shader Model 4.0
  • Geometry Shaders
  • Stream Output
  • Integer and Bitwise Operations
  • Alpha to Coverage
  • Constant Buffers
  • State Objects
  • Texture Arrays

Dynamic Geometry Acceleration

  • High performance vertex cache
  • Programmable tessellation unit
  • Accelerated geometry shader path for geometry amplification
  • Memory read/write cache for improved stream output performance

Anti-aliasing features

  • Multi-sample anti-aliasing (up to 8 samples per pixel)
  • Up to 24x Custom Filter Anti-Aliasing (CFAA) for improved quality
  • Adaptive super-sampling and multi-sampling
  • Temporal anti-aliasing
  • Gamma correct
  • Super AA (CrossFire configurations only)
  • All anti-aliasing features compatible with HDR rendering

CrossFire Multi-GPU Technology

  • Scale up rendering performance and image quality with 2 or more GPUs
  • Integrated compositing engine
  • High performance dual channel interconnect

PCI Express 2.0 x16 bus interface

OpenGL 2.0 support

Texture filtering features
  • 2x/4x/8x/16x high quality adaptive anisotropic filtering modes (up to 128 taps per pixel)
  • 128-bit floating point HDR texture filtering
  • Bicubic filtering
  • sRGB filtering (gamma/degamma)
  • Percentage Closer Filtering (PCF)
  • Depth & stencil texture (DST) format support
  • Shared exponent HDR (RGBE 9:9:9:5) texture format support

ATI Avivo HD Video and Display Platform

  • Two independent display controllers
    • Drive two displays simultaneously with independent resolutions, refresh rates, color controls and video overlays for each display
    • Full 30-bit display processing
    • Programmable piecewise linear gamma correction, color correction, and color space conversion
    • Spatial/temporal dithering provides 30-bit color quality on 24-bit and 18-bit displays
    • High quality pre- and post-scaling engines, with underscan support for all display outputs
    • Content-adaptive de-flicker filtering for interlaced displays
    • Fast, glitch-free mode switching
    • Hardware cursor
  • Two integrated dual-link DVI display outputs
    • Each supports 18-, 24-, and 30-bit digital displays at all resolutions up to 1920x1200 (single-link DVI) or 2560x1600 (dual-link DVI)
    • Each includes a dual-link HDCP encoder with on-chip key storage for high resolution playback of protected content
  • Two integrated 400 MHz 30-bit RAMDACs
    • Each supports analog displays connected by VGA at all resolutions up to 2048x1536
  • HDMI output support
    • Supports all display resolutions up to 1920x1080
    • Integrated HD audio controller with multi-channel (5.1) AC3 support, enabling a plug-and-play cable-less audio solution
  • Integrated Xilleon HDTV encoder
    • Provides high quality analog TV output (component / S-video / composite)
    • Supports SDTV and HDTV resolutions
    • Underscan and overscan compensation
  • HD decode for H.264/AVC, VC-1, DivX and MPEG-2 video formats
    • Flawless DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-Ray playback
    • Motion compensation and IDCT (Inverse Discrete Cosine Transformation)
  • HD video processing
    • Advanced vector adaptive per-pixel de-interlacing
    • De-blocking and noise reduction filtering
    • Edge enhancement
    • Inverse telecine (2:2 and 3:2 pull-down correction)
    • Bad edit correction
    • High fidelity gamma correction, color correction, color space conversion, and scaling
  • MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, WMV9, VC-1, and H.264/AVC encoding and transcoding
  • Seamless integration of pixel shaders with video in real time
  • VGA mode support on all display outputs

For some background details on the Radeon 3870, we suggest taking a look back at our launch article from when
ATI first introduced their RV670 GPU.  There is a detailed explanation of the GPU's architecture as well as thorough performance testing including noise and power consumption versus a slew of competitive products.
The Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB Up Close

The Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB graphics card came with a retail package virtually identical to that of the more affordable Sapphire Radeon HD 3650 512MB that we recently evaluated.  Both models came with an installation manual, drivers/installation CD as well as bonus software including PowerDVD 7 6-Channel and a PowerDVD Suite which includes PowerProducer 4, PowerDirector 5 Express and Power2GO 5.5.  Sapphire also included a copy of FutureMark 3DMark06 for those looking to benchmark their new graphics card.

Each package also came with a DVI-to-HDMI adapter and DVI-to-VGA adapter for those running analog displays.  Sapphire provided a TV-Out S-Video adapter, HD Component display adapter and a CrossFire link for teaming the Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB with a second card.  Where the two packages differ is that with this model, Sapphire added an HDMI cable, Molex-to-6-Pin PCI-Express power cable along with a free voucher for "The Black Box" which includes Valve's Half Life 2:  Episode Two, Team Fortress 2 and the addictive Portal delivered through Steam.

The Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB itself is a svelt single slot card designed around ATI's RV670 GPU.  The Toxic Vapor-X cooler offers cooling comparable to dual-slot solutions through vapor chamber technology, which gives Sapphire the flexibility to tinker with the card's clock speeds, running them a bit higher than the reference specification.  The GPU, for example, comes clocked at 800MHz, compared to the stock 777MHz.  The 512MB of GDDR4 came set to run at 1152MHz (2304MHz DDR) which equates to roughly a 75MHz DDR increase over reference specifications.  The Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB also benefits from the RV670's 55nm design, reducing the external power to a single 6-Pin PCI Express power input compared to the more power hungry R600 it succeeds. 

Before we move on to testing the card in our benchmarking segment, we'd like to briefly explain the Vapor-X's vapor chamber technology.  In a nutshell, the Vapor-X's vapor chamber technology is based around a solid copper sink that is backed by a chamber of liquid refrigerant.  As the copper sink heats, that heat causes the refrigerant to boil, and in turn it vaporizes, pulling the heat away from the sink.  The heat is then transferred to the fins to be wisked away by the the fan, which continually adjusts its speed based on the temperature of the GPU.  As the vapor cools, it changes back to a liquid, repeating the cycle.  This solution delivers a quieter option compared to the stock Radeon dual-slot cooler designs while maintaining proper airflow at all times.
Test Setup and FutureMark 3DMark06 Benchmarks

HotHardware Test Bed
Intel Core 2 Duo E6550
(2.3GHz - Dual-Core)

MSI P35 Platinum Combo
(Intel P35 Express Chipset)

2x1GB Kingston HyperX DDR3
CL 6-6-6-15 - DDR-1300

Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic

ASUS GeForce 8800GTX

Nvidia Geforce 8600 GTS

WD740 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Ultimate SP1
Catalyst 8.3
NVIDIA Forceware 169.25
DirectX Redist (November 2007)

Benchmarks Used:

3DMark06 v1.1.0
Company of Heroes
Half-Life 2: Episode Two

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

Futuremark 3DMark06
Synthetic DirectX Gaming


3DMark06 is the most recent addition to the 3DMark franchise. This version differs from 3Dmark05 in a number of ways, and includes not only Shader Model 2.0 tests, but Shader Model 3.0 and HDR tests as well. Some of the assets from 3DMark05 have been re-used, but the scenes are now rendered with much more geometric detail and the shader complexity is vastly increased as well. Max shader length in 3DMark05 was 96 instructions, while 3DMark06 ups that number to 512. 3DMark06 also employs much more lighting and there is extensive use of soft shadows. With 3DMark06, Futuremark has also updated how the final score is tabulated. In this latest version of the benchmark, SM 2.0 and HDR / SM3.0 tests are weighted and the CPU score is factored into the final tally as well.

In the overall score, we saw the Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB fall behind the 8800GTX by 557 points while with the Shader Model 2 and 3 tests, the card trailed by 440 and 295 points respectively.  Overall, this is rather impressive considering the 8800GTX can cost twice that of a Radeon 3870.
Benchmarking with Company of Heroes and Crysis

Performance Comparisons with Company of Heroes
Details: http://www.companyofheroesgame.com/

Company of Heroes
Relic Entertainment's World War II era real-time strategy game Company of Heroes was originally released as a DirectX 9 title for Windows, but recent updates to the game have incorporated support for new DirectX 10 features that improve image quality and enhance the game's finer graphical details. The game features a built-in performance test, which which we used to attain the results below. Our Company of Heroes tests were run at a resolution of 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 with 4X Anti-aliasing and all of the game's image quality settings set to "High"

With Company of Heroes' built in benchmark, the Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB trailed the ASUS GeForce 8800GTX by close to 30 FPS at both resolutions.  Both the Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB and GeForce 8800GTX nearly tripled the scores of the value-class cards.

Crysis v1.2
DirectX 10 Gaming Performance


If you're at all into enthusiast computing, the highly anticipated single player, FPS smash-hit Crysis, should require no introduction. Crytek's game engine visuals are easily the most impressive real-time 3D renderings we've seen on the computer screen to date.  The engine employs some of the latest techniques in 3D rendering like Parallax Occlusion Mapping, Subsurface Scattering, Motion Blur and Depth-of-Field effects, as well as some of the most impressive use of Shader technology we've seen yet.  In short, for those of you that want to skip the technical jib-jab, Crysis is HOT.  We ran the SP demo with all of the game's visual options set to 'High' to put a significant load on the graphics cards being tested.

In this test, the Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB competed well, although both cards struggled with this very graphically intense game.
Benchmarking with Half Life 2:EP2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

Half Life 2: Episode 2
DirectX Gaming Performance

Half Life 2:
Episode 2

Thanks to the dedication of hardcore PC gamers and a huge mod-community, the original Half-Life became one of the most successful first person shooters of all time.  And thanks to an updated game engine, gorgeous visual, and intelligent weapon and level design, Half Life 2 became just as popular.  Episode 2 offers a number of visual enhancements including better looking transparent texture anti-aliasing. These tests were run at resolutions of 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 with 4X anti-aliasing and 8X anisotropic filtering enabled concurrently.  Color correction and HDR rendering were also enabled in the game engine as well.  We used a custom recorded timedemo file to benchmark all cards in this test.

Once again, the Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB performed admirably compared to the potent GeForce 8800GTX.  At 1280x1024 we saw the Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB lag by 18FPS while that gap nearly doubled to 31FPS at 1600x1200.

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
OpenGL Gaming Performance

Enemy Territory:
Quake Wars

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is Based on id's radically enhanced Doom 3 engine and viewed by many as Battlefield 2 meets the Strogg, and then some.  In fact, we'd venture to say that id took EA's team-based warfare genre up a notch or two.  ET: Quake Wars also marks the introduction of John Carmack's "Megatexture" technology that employs extremely large environment and terrain textures that cover vast areas of maps without the need to repeat and tile many small textures.  The beauty of megatexture technology is that each unit only takes up a maximum of 8MB of frame buffer memory.  Add to that HDR-like bloom lighting and leading edge shadowing effects and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars looks great, plays well and works high end graphics cards vigorously.  The game was tested with all of its in-game options set to High with soft particles enabled in addition to 4X anti-aliasing and 8x anisotropic filtering.

With Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, the results between the ASUS GeForce 8800GTX and the Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB were a bit closer than the previous test.  In this test, the Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB was 12FPS slower at 1280x1024 while that margin narrowed to 6FPS at 1600x1200.
Overclocking, Performance Summary and Conclusion

Overclocking the Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB
Not worth the effort

To see what kind of extra headroom the Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB had hiding under the hood, we used the Overdrive control panel built into ATI's drivers.  In the end, Overdrive topped out at a GPU speed of 875MHz and Memory speed of 1342MHz (2684MHz DDR).  Unfortunately, the GPU speed was too high, with Half-Life 2:  Episode Two pausing and starting throughout the test.  With trial and error, we found the card to stabilize at a GPU speed of 850MHz, while the memory speed needed no further adjustment.

While the increase in GPU speed equated to a 6.25% boost, we recorded a 6.5% increase in frame rates at 1600x1200 while 1280x1024 jumped 7.25%.

Performance Summary:  In all tests, the Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB graphics card performed well and on a competitive level to that of the GeForce 8800GTX. When you consider the 8800GTX we used costs double that of the Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB, the Sapphire card really begins to show its value at the resolutions tested.

Every once in a while, a piece of hardware comes long that stands out from the rest. Sometimes it's the features, performance or both that help propel that component above the others in its family, and with the Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB, it's the complete package that helps it shine.

From a performance perspective, the Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB does well.  When we look at the margins we recorded and factor in that the GeForce 8800GTX we used for reference retails for double the price of the Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB, the value aspect of the card becomes increasingly evident.  Top that off with a complete retail bundle, bonus software and a free voucher for "The Black Box" and the Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB's value proposition looks good.

Retailing in the area of $190, we think the Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB offers an excellent bang for the buck.  Sapphire backs the card with a single-slot Vapor-X cooler, a comprehensive retail bundle and delivers a modestly overclocked card that offers solid performance for the price.  There is a lot to like about the Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB, and we definitely recommend users in the market for a graphics card check it out.  With it's higher than reference clock speeds, good bundle, and single-slot cooler, the Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Toxic 512MB is one of the most attractive Radeon HD 3870 cards available.

  • Excellent Performance for Price
  • Great Image Quality
  • Solid Supporting Bundle with The Black Box Voucher
  • 512MB Frame Buffer
  • Single Slot Cooler
  • More expensive than other 3870s

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