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Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 2G GDDR3
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Date: Jan 28, 2009
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Intro, Specs, and Bundle

 

When AMD launched the Radeon HD 4870 X2 a few months back, the company hinted at the impending release of another, more affordable, dual-GPU powered card aptly named the Radeon HD 4850 X2. Like the more powerful 4870 X2, the 4850 X2 would sport a pair of RV770 GPUs on a single PCB, but on the 4850 X2 they would be clocked somewhat lower and would be linked to more affordable GDDR3 memory.

At the time, AMD planned to release the card at a slightly lower price point than the competing GeForce GTX 280, but it took quite a while for the Radeon HD 4850 X2 to finally materialize. When it did arrive, in the form of the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 2G GDDR3 we'll be showing you here, the 3D graphics landscape had changed somewhat. While the two cards are still priced similarly, they are about $100 cheaper than originally planned.

Sapphire's interpretation of the Radeon HD 4850 X2 is also somewhat different than what we were originally shown during the 4870 X2 launch. AMD's reference Radeon HD 4850 X2 looked just like the 4870, with a similar cooler and dual, dual-link DVI outputs. Sapphire's version, however, has a custom dual-fan cooler, four DVI outputs, and an extra long PCB. Check it out... 


Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2

Radeon HD 4850 / 4870 X2
Specifications and Features

  • 956 million transistors on 55nm fabrication process
  • PCI Express 2.0 x16 bus interface
  • 256-bit GDDR3/GDDR5 memory interface
  • Microsoft DirectX 10.1 support

    • Shader Model 4.1
    • 32-bit floating point texture filtering
    • Indexed cube map arrays
    • Independent blend modes per render target
    • Pixel coverage sample masking
    • Read/write multi-sample surfaces with shaders
    • Gather4 texture fetching
  • Unified Superscalar Shader Architecture

    • 800 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 160 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
  • 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 (2, 4 or 8 samples per pixel)
    • Up to 24x Custom Filter Anti-Aliasing (CFAA) for improved quality
    • Adaptive super-sampling and multi-sampling
    • Gamma correct
    • Super AA (ATI CrossFireX configurations only)
    • All anti-aliasing features compatible with HDR rendering
  • 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
    • 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
  • OpenGL 2.0 support

    ATI PowerPlay

    • Advanced power management technology for optimal performance and power savings
    • Performance-on-Demand

      • Constantly monitors GPU activity, dynamically adjusting clocks and voltage based on user scenario
      • Clock and memory speed throttling
      • Voltage switching
      • Dynamic clock gating
    • Central thermal management – on-chip sensor monitors GPU temperature and triggers thermal actions as required

  • ATI Avivo HD Video and Display Platform

    • 2nd generation Unified Video Decoder (UVD 2)

      • Enabling hardware decode acceleration of H.264, VC-1 and MPEG-2
      • Dual stream playback (or Picture-in-picture)
    • Hardware MPEG-1, and DivX video decode acceleration

      • Motion compensation and IDCT
    • ATI Avivo Video Post Processor

      • New enhanced DVD upconversion to HD new!
      • New automatic and dynamic contrast adjustment new!
      • Color space conversion
      • Chroma subsampling format conversion
      • Horizontal and vertical scaling
      • Gamma correction
      • Advanced vector adaptive per-pixel de-interlacing
      • De-blocking and noise reduction filtering
      • Detail enhancement
      • Inverse telecine (2:2 and 3:2 pull-down correction)
      • Bad edit correction
      • Full score in HQV (SD) and HQV (HD) video quality benchmarks
    • 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 DVI display outputs

      • Primary supports 18-, 24-, and 30-bit digital displays at all resolutions up to 1920x1200 (single-link DVI) or 2560x1600 (dual-link DVI)
      • Secondary supports 18-, 24-, and 30-bit digital displays at all resolutions up to 1920x1200 (single-link DVI only)3
      • Each includes a dual-link HDCP encoder with on-chip key storage for high resolution playback of protected content4
    • Two integrated 400MHz 30-bit RAMDACs

      • Each supports analog displays connected by VGA at all resolutions up to 2048x15363
    • DisplayPort output support

      • Supports 24- and 30-bit displays at all resolutions up to 2560x16003
    • HDMI output support

      • Supports all display resolutions up to 1920x10803
      • Integrated HD audio controller with up to 2 channel 48 kHz stereo or multi-channel (7.1) AC3 enabling a plug-and-play cable-less audio solution
    • Integrated AMD Xilleon HDTV encoder

      • Provides high quality analog TV output (component/S-video/composite)
      • Supports SDTV and HDTV resolutions
      • Underscan and overscan compensation
      • 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
    • ATI CrossFireX Multi-GPU Technology

      • Scale up rendering performance and image quality with two GPUs
      • Integrated compositing engine
      • High performance dual channel bridge interconnect

     



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    Before we dive in and inspect the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 2G GDDR3, we thought we'd show you what kind of bonus hardware and software Sapphire bundles with the card to sweeten the deal. Included with the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 we found a couple of Molex to 6- and 8-pin power adapters, a CrossFire bridge connector, an S-Video to composite adapter, an HD component output dongle, a DVI to HDMI adapter, a DVI to VGA adapter, a user's manual and a Sapphire case badge. In addition to the aforementioned items, Sapphire also throws in a quintet of discs, which include a Ruby ROM with some demos and a screensaver, 3DMark Vantage, a driver disc, and two discs from Cyberlink--one for their DVD Suite and another with PowerDVD. About the only thing missing is a full version game, but there is some useful stuff thrown in here that does add value.

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    Inspecting the Card

    As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, Sapphire's take on the Radeon HD 4850 X2 looks nothing like the reference cards we saw pictured during the Radeon HD 4870 X2 launch.

       

    The card you see pictured here is the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 2G GDDR3. As its name implies, this card sports 2GB of GDDR3 memory (1GB per GPU), but we should note that a 1GB version (512MB per GPU) is also available for a slightly lower price. The pair of GPUs used on the card are clocked at 650MHz, and they're linked to the memory via a 256-bit interface. The memory is clocked at 993MHz (1986MHz DDR).

    Although it may be hard to tell by the pictures, the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 is built upon an extra-long >11" PCB. This is important to consider because this card may not fit in some cases due to its size.

           

    In fact, in our graphics test bed, which resides in a mid-tower case, we had to bend a metal bracket in the hard drive cage to get the card to fit properly.

    The Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 2G GDDR3 is cooled by a custom dual-fan solution that essentially covers the entire front side of the card. Heatsinks sit atop each GPU, the memory, and the VRM, and a shroud encases the entire assembly. The fans blow downward through the heatsinks, but air is not expelled from the system because there are no vents in the card's case bracket.

       

    The reason there are no vents in the case bracket is because the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 2G GDDR3 is equipped with four monitor outputs. Unlike most enthusiast class cards which can support dual independent displays, this puppy can handle 4 (two per GPU). So, although it's designed for gamers, the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 may also appeal to some pro users who need to push more than two displays as well.

    Also note, the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 is equipped with a single CrossFire edge connector, so a pair of these cards can be linked together for some CrossFireX action--or to power up to eight displays.  Just keep in mind, each card requires both a 6- and 8-pin PCI Express power feed, so a powerful PSU is a must as well.

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    Our Test System and 3DMark Vantage

    HOW WE CONFIGURED THE TEST SYSTEMS: We tested all of the graphics cards used in this article on an Asus Striker II Extreme motherboard powered by a Core 2 Extreme QX9770 quad-core processor and 4GB of Corsair RAM. The first thing we did when configuring these test system was enter the system BIOS and set all values to their "optimized" or "high performance" default settings. Then we manually configured the memory timings and disabled any integrated peripherals that wouldn't be put to use. The hard drive was then formatted, and Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 was installed. When the installation was complete we fully updated the OS, and installed the latest DX10 redist and various hotfixes, along with the necessary drivers and applications.

    HotHardware's Test Systems
    Intel and NVIDIA Powered


    Hardware Used:
    Core 2 Extreme QX9770 (3.2GHz)

    Asus Striker II Extreme
    (nForce 790i SLI Ultra chipset)

    Radeon HD 4870 1GB
    Radeon HD 4850 X2
    Radeon HD 4970 X2
    GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 OC
    GeForce GTX 280 OC
    GeForce GTX 285
    GeForce GTX 295
    EVGA GeForce GTX 285 SSC

    4096MB Corsair DDR3-1333 C7
    (4 X 1GB)

    Integrated Audio
    Integrated Network

    Western Digital "Raptor" 150GB
    (10,000RPM - SATA)


    Relevant Software:

    Windows Vista Ultimate SP1
    DirectX November 2008 Redist

    NVIDIA Forceware v180.87
    ATI Catalyst v8.12b

    Benchmarks Used:
    3DMark Vantage v1.0.1
    Unreal Tournament 3 v1.3*
    Crysis v1.21*
    Left 4 Dead*
    Enemy Territory: Quake Wars v1.5*
    FarCry 2
    Fallout 3*
    Mirror's Edge

    * - Custom Benchmark

    Futuremark 3DMark Vantage
    Synthetic DirectX Gaming


    3DMark Vantage

    The latest version of Futuremark's synthetic 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark Vantage, is specifically bound to Windows Vista-based systems because it uses some advanced visual technologies that are only available with DirectX 10, which y isn't available on previous versions of Windows.  3DMark Vantage isn't simply a port of 3DMark06 to DirectX 10 though.  With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, in addition to support for the latest PC hardware.  We tested the graphics cards here with 3DMark Vantage's Extreme preset option, which uses a resolution of 1,920x1,200, with 4x anti-aliasing an 16x anisotropic filtering.

    The Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 couldn't quite keep pace with the more powerful Radeon HD 4870 X2 in 3DMark Vantage, but it did significantly outpace the 1GB 4870.  In comparison to the NVIDIA powered cards, the 4850 X2 is about on par with the GTX 280 and a shade behind the newer GTX 285 here.

     

    If we tunnel deeper into the 3DMark Vantage results, the performance trend doesn't change.  Once again, the 4850 X2 trails the 4870 X2 by a sizable margin, but it right there behind the GeForce GTX 280 and 285.

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    Unreal Tournament 3

    Unreal Tournament 3
    DirectX Gaming Performance


    Unreal Tournament 3

    If you're a long-time PC gamer, the Unreal Tournament franchise should need no introduction.  UT's fast paced action and over the top weapons have been popular for as long as Epic has been making the games.  For these tests, we used the latest addition to the franchise, Unreal Tournament 3.  The game doesn't have a built-in benchmarking tool, however, so we enlisted the help of FRAPS here.  These tests were run at resolutions of 1,920 x 1,200 and 2,560 x 1,600 with no anti-aliasing or anisotropic filtering enabled, but with the UT3's in game graphical options set to their maximum values, with color correction and motion blur enabled.

    The high-end cards performed similarly in our custom Unreal Tournament 3 benchmark at the lower resolution, but the trend changes considerably once the resolution is increased to 2560.  Here, the Radeon HD 4850 X2 just barely squeaks by the GeForce GTX 280 and 285 at the higher resolution--the GeForce GTX 295 and Radeon HD 4870 X2 are still the top dogs, however.

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    Enemy Territy: Quake Wars

    Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
    OpenGL Gaming Performance


    Enemy Territory:
    Quake Wars

    Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is Based on a radically enhanced version of id's 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 large environment and terrain textures that cover vast areas of maps without the need to repeat and tile many smaller 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 their maximum values with soft particles enabled in addition to 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.

    Although the frame rates are lower, the performance trend in the OpenGL-based Enemy Territory: Quake Wars benchmark mirrors UT3 from the previous page.  The Radeon HD 4850 X2 is able to pull ahead of the GeForce GTX 280 and 285 at the higher resolution, but the kingpins at the top remain the 4870 X2 and GTX 295.

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    Crysis v1.21

    Crysis v1.21
    DirectX 10 Gaming Performance


    Crysis

    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 produces some stunning visuals that are easily the most impressive real-time 3D renderings we've seen on the PC 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 a beast of a game.  We ran the full game patched to v1.21 with all of its visual options set to 'Very High' to put a significant load on the graphics cards being tested  A custom demo recorded on the Ice level was used throughout testing.

    Running Crysis at its "Very High" graphics setting puts a hurting on all of the cards we tested.  The Radeon HD 4850 performs relatively well, however, besting all comers, with the exception of the 4870 X2 and GeForce GTX 295.

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    FarCry 2

    FarCry 2
    DirectX Gaming Performance


    FarCry 2

    Like the original, FarCry 2 is one of the more visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date.  Courtesy of the Dunia game engine developed by Ubisoft, FarCry 2's game-play is enhanced by advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, high resolution textures, complex shaders, realistic dynamic lighting, and motion-captured animations.  We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article with a fully patched version of FarCry 2, using one of the built-in demo runs recorded in the "Ranch" map.  The test results shown here were run at various resolutions with 4X AA and No anisotropic enabled concurrently.

    The tables turned somewhat in the FarCry 2 benchmark.  Here, the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 trailed the GeForce GTX 280 and 285 at the higher resolution, but pulled ahead at the lower resolution.  The margins of victory are within a few percentage points of each other.

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    Fallout 3

    Fallout 3
    DirectX Gaming Performance


    Fallout 3

    Fallout 3 is an action role-playing game released by Bethesda Game Studios. It is the third major game in the Fallout series, and it has received a positive response from critics who have praised its open-ended gameplay and flexible character-leveling system. fallout 3 has been compared to the 2007 game BioShock for its setting and use of elements from mid-twentieth century American culture. We tested the game at resolutions of 1,920 x 1,200 and 2,560 x 1,600 with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering enabled and all in game graphical options set to their maximum values.

    Not much to see here.  Technically, the GeForces held onto a slight lead in Fallout 3, but the test is essentially CPU bound and doesn't show much variation at all.

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    Left 4 Dead

    Left 4 Dead
    DirectX Gaming Performance


    Left 4 Dead

    Left 4 Dead is a co-operative, survival horror, first-person shooter that was developed by Turtle Rock Studios, which was purchased by Valve part-way into development. Like Half Life 2, the game uses the Source engine, however, the visual in L4D are far superior to anything seen in the Half Life universe to date. The game pits four Survivors of an apocalyptic pandemic against hordes of aggressive zombies. We tested the game at resolutions of 1,920 x 1,200 and 2,560 x 1,600 with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering enabled and all in game graphical options set to their maximum values.

    Ahh--Left 4 Dead.  My new, favorite time sink.  Here, the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 and GeForce GTX 285 / 280 perform within 1 frame per second of each other at both resolutions; it doesn't get much close than that.

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    Power Consumption

    We'd like to cover a few final data points before bringing this article to a close. Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power our test systems were consuming using a power meter. Our goal was to give you an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling and under a heavy workload. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the motherboards alone.

    Total System Power Consumption
    Tested at the Outlet

    The Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 falls right about where you'd expect it to in terms of power consumption, considering its performance and the fact that it's powered by a pair of GPUs and 2GB of memory.  While idling, it's right about on par with the more powerful Radeon HD 4870 X2, but under load the 4850 X2 consumes considerably less power than its big brother.  Overall, the Radeon HD 4850 X2's power consumption is marginally higher than its NVIDIA-based counterparts, but lower than AMD's more powerful flagship.

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    Our Summary and Conclusion

    Performance Summary: In terms of their designs and specifications, the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 and GeForce GTX 280 / 285 couldn't be any more different.  But in terms of performance, the cards couldn't be more evenly matched.  The GeForce GTX 280 / 285 and Radeon HD 4850 X2 basically traded victories throughout testing, depending on the game, application, or resolution used.


     


    We're a bit torn regarding the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2.  On one hand, the card offers excellent performance, a decent bundle, and a solid feature set, that includes quad DVI outputs.  And its price is right about where it should be in the current 3D graphics market, which is to say it is priced slightly higher than a reference clocked GeForce GTX 280 at about $330.  There are a couple of issues with the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 that take away some of its luster though.  The extra-long >11" PCB may pose a problem in some cases (like the one we used for our reference system) and the card may simply not fit in some systems.  We also found the dual-fan cooler to be somewhat loud in comparison to the similarly performing GeForce GTX 280 and 285 series cards--although not by much.  Consumers must also consider than dual-GPU powered cards like the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 are limited by driver constraints that single-GPU powered cards are not.  Typically, if a single-GPU powered card that offers similar performance is available for about the same price as a dual-GPU powered card, we'd recommend the single-GPU powered card every time to eliminate the potential hassles.  We should note, that cards like the Radeon HD 4870 X2 and GeForce GTX 295 have the same driver-related performance constraints on them as well, but there are no single-GPU powered cards that can outperform them.

    In the end, the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 is a solid performer with some interesting features.  Just be aware of the potential issues we've pointed out if you're in the market for a graphics card of this type.  If it's within your budget and you may make use of the additional outputs, the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 isn't likely to disappoint.

         
    • Good Performer
    • Competitive Price
    • Quad DVI Display Outputs
    • Decent Bundle
    • Extra Long PCB
    • Cooler is a bit loud
    • Dependant on CrossFire profiles



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