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Sapphire HD6850 Vapor-X

Overall the Sapphire HD6850 Vapor-X is a good video card for its price. Check out how it stacks up against the competition.

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Introduction

The AMD HD6xxx series is the newest set of graphics cards available from AMD at this time. As with every other series of graphics cards, there are multiple price ranges and product lines to choose from that offer a variety of features and functions. The HD6850 is a high performance graphics card that comes with an affordable price, which is part of what makes the 6850 from Sapphire so popular.

As you would expect from current graphics cards, the HD6850 supports all of the latest technologies like DX11 and Eyefinity, but still retains a reasonable price point. The price of the Sapphire 6850 Vapor-X has not officially been announced at the time of this review but it is expected to be available for right around $180, which puts it right in the middle of the road. It is quite a bit cheaper than the higher 69xx series graphics cards, but at the same time it should perform nearly as well.

As for performance, continue reading to see how well the Sapphire HD 6850 Vapor-X stacks up against the competition.

Features

Dual-Link DVI

Equipped with the most popular Dual Link DVI (Digital Visual Interface), this card is able to display ultra high resolutions of up to 2560 x 1600 at 60Hz.


HDMI 1.4a

HDMI 1.4a builds on previous generations of HDMI connectivity with support for Deep Color, 7.1 High Bitrate Audio, and 3D Stereoscopic support, ensuring the highest quality Blu-ray and video experience possible from your PC.


Mini-DisplayPort

Enjoy the benefits of the latest generation display interface, DisplayPort. With the ultra high HD resolution of 2560 x 1600 the graphics card ensures that you are able to support the latest generation of LCD monitors.


Single-Link DVI-D

Supports Digital monitors up to 1920×1200 resolution.

 


DisplayPort 1.2

Doubling the effective bandwidth of previous DisplayPort implementations, DisplayPort 1.2 now includes support for Multi-Stream, allowing you to drive up to four separate monitors from a single DisplayPort 1.2 connector (requires DP1.2 monitors or Multi-Stream compatible hub), Stereoscopic 3D monitor support  and adds support for high quality, lossless, 7.1 channel audio formats.


Advanced GDDR5 Memory Technology

GDDR5 memory provides twice the bandwidth per pin of GDDR3 memory, delivering more speed and higher bandwidth.

 

 


AMD Eyefinity

AMD Eyefinity technology maximises your field of view across up to three displays, fully engaging your peripheral vision.  For gamers this puts you right IN the game and for other applications it helps to increase productivity by maximising your visual workspace so that you can see more windows simultaneously.  AMD Eyefinity technology is also ideal for multimedia applications as it allows you to keep several ‘palettes’ or ‘panels’ open over a larger workspace whist you edit your images or videos.*
 


Vapor-X Technology

SAPPHIRE’s innovative Vapor-X cooling technology allows products to run not only cooler but also much quieter.  A Vapor-X product means a virtually silent gaming experience and more headroom to explore performance tweaking !
 


40nm Process Technology

Cutting edge manufacturing process allows for efficient, high performance parts which use less power than their predecessors.

 

 


AMD CrossFireX™ Multi-GPU Technology

Triple or Quadruple gaming power with AMD CrossFireX™ Multi-GPU Technology.AMD CrossFireX technology supports up to four graphics cards to be used in a single system.

 

 


PCI-Express 2.0

The latest PCI-Express 2.0 specification doubles data throughput from 2.5Gbps to 5Gbps allowing you to exploit the full performance potential of your graphics card.

 


AMD HD3D Technology

Enjoy the most immersive experience possible with full support for High Definition Stereoscopic 3D, a technique that presents 2D images (movies, games, photos) in a format that creates the illusion of three-dimensional depth when using compatible 3D displays / glasses / software.


Microsoft DirectX® 11

Get intense gaming performance and unrivalled image quality with stunning 3D visual effects, realistic lighting and lifelike imagery with SAPPHIRE graphics cards supporting DirectX®11. New features in DirectX®11 such as Hardware Tesselation, HDR Texture Compression, Multi-threading support and DirectCompute bring lifelike gaming and an experience never possible on a PC before.


OpenGL® 4.1

Supports the latest OpenGL API (Application Programming Interface) to accelerate performance of applications outside of DirectX®, i.e. Adobe Autodesk 2D/3D graphic design.

 


Shader Model 5.0

Supports the latest Shader Model 5.0 feature set including VTF (Vertex Texture Fetch) which is a key feature used extensively in many of the games that ship today. Without support for this feature the game will fall back to a lesser shader path resulting in the loss of cool, lifelike effects made possible by Shader Model 5.0


AMD Catalyst Control Center™

The AMD Catalyst Control Center™ software application gives you complete control over the performance and visual quality of your SAPPHIRE AMD Radeon™ based graphics card allowing for the best experience on your PC.

 


Dolby® TrueHD and DTSHD Master Audio™ Support

Support for copy protected, high bandwidth, 7.1 channel surround sound over HDMI. Get a fully immersive, high definition audio experience with the latest Blu-ray movies. (Requires a DVI to HDMI dongle on some models, an HD capable monitor and a Blu-ray drive)


AMD PowerPlay™

Dynamically manage power efficiency and take control of your performance with AMD’s revolutionary AMD PowerPlay TM power management technology delivering high performance features when needed and conserving power when the demand on the graphics processor is low. This seemless technology dramatically reduces the overall power consumption allowing for break-through energy efficiency.


3rd Generation TeraScale Engine

 

Massive arrays of on-chip compute units offer the latest in graphics functionality and performance allowing you to enjoy what you are watching at the highest quality possible.


TriXX Utility

TriXX helps users to get the optimum performance from compatible SAPPHIRE graphics cards in any application by allowing them to monitor, tune and save different settings of key parameters for the card.


Enhanced Unified Video Decoder 3 (UVD 3)

 

Watch the hottest Blu-ray movies or other HD content at full 1080p (and beyond !) display resolution. Enjoy a feature rich video experience with enhanced Unified Video Decoder 3 (UVD 3), offloading the bulk of the video decoding tasks from the CPU to the GPU allowing for a cooler, quieter and more balanced system.


Enhanced Internet Browser Applications

 

Not just for video and games, the power of your GPU can now accelerate the latest versions of some Internet browsers (IE9/Mozzilla FireFox) utilising Direct 2D rendering for a faster and more responsive browsing experience including high quality image rendering and media playback.


Microsoft Office 2010

 

Take advantage of improved picture and media editing capabilities in Office 2010 as well as edit and share your content in real time.

See more, and get more done. Enhanced productivity with accelerated GPU processing for Office applications.


Windows® 7 support

WHQL (Windows Hardware Quality Labs) Certified drivers and logos are available for all SAPPHIRE HD2000, HD3000, HD4000 and HD5000 series cards ensuring compatibility and reliability with Microsoft Windows 7.

 


AMD App Acceleration

Use the power of your AMD Radeon™ GPU to speed up everyday applications like your web browser and Microsoft Office 2010 using AMD App Acceleration. Do more, and do it faster. Watch Blu-ray movies, online streaming video and other HD content using your AMD Radeon™ GPU and get smooth – high quality playback with amazing image quality.

 

Specifications

Feature/Specification

 Sapphire 6850 Vapor-X
 
 
Output
1 x Dual-Link DVI
1 x HDMI 1.4a
2 x Mini-DisplayPort
1 x Single-Link DVI-D
DisplayPort 1.2
GPU
800 MHz Core Clock
40 nm Chip
960 x Stream Processors
 
Memory
1024 MB Size
256 -bit GDDR5
4400 MHz Effective
Dimensions
238(L)x98(W)x37(H) mm
 
Software
Driver CD
SAPPHIRE TriXX Utility
1 x Dirt®3 Coupon
 
 
Accessories
CrossFire™ Bridge Interconnect Cable
DVI to VGA Adapter
Mini-DP to DP Cable
6 PIN to 4 PIN Power Cable x 2
HDMI 1.4a high speed 1.8 meter cable(Full Retail SKU only)

 

Pictures & Impressions

Click Image to Enlarge
 
With an interesting and eye-catching blue and black package, the Sapphire 6850 Vapor-X is hard to miss. The design looks great and it also gives plenty of information about the video card itself. On the back all of the important features are laid out which makes it easy to find out any information.

Click Image to Enlarge
 
Sapphire also did a great job designing the protective packaging for the 6850 Vapor-X. The cardboard internals for the packaging were very solid which meant there is basically no chance of the card getting damaged in transit; inside of that there is obviously an anti-static bag to keep the card protected as well. Overall the packaging did what it was supposed to, so there are no worries about the card getting damaged.

Click Image to Enlarge
 
Here we have all of the included accessories that came with the Sapphire 6850 Vapor-X. The card came with a CrossFire bridge, DVI to VGA converter, a DP to mini-DP converter, a power converter (Molex to 6-pin PCI-E), a CD with drivers and software and a full size HDMI cable that can be used for video output. The fact that Sapphire included all of the additional cables is a nice touch as some of them (like the DP to mini-DP cable) are somewhat difficult to find. Currently Sapphire is also including a full copy of Dirt 3 though we are not sure how long that promotion will last.
 

Click Image to Enlarge
 
The image on the left makes it clear that this graphics card has a unique cooler on it. The primary difference between the 6850 and 6850 Vapor-X is the cooling system and according to Sapphire, the Vapor-X cooling should be significantly better as well as quieter. Either way it is clear that the Vapor-X cooler has a very large heat sink and fan all wrapped up underneath the plastic shroud. The back of the card is fairly standard and houses the components.

Click Image to Enlarge
 
Here we can see the available output ports on the HD6850 Vapor-X; there are two full size DVI ports (one is Dual link, one is single link), one full size HDMI port, and two mini Display Ports. Each of these ports can be used independently thanks to Eyefinity, which is supported by this card.

Click Image to Enlarge
 
Finally we have some up close shots of the card itself. On the left we can see some of the memory chips underneath the large heatsink; note that they are not actually touching the heat sink which means they are passively cooled; only the GPU itself has a direct connection to the heat sink. This is not uncommon on most video cards, though some do have direct cooling for memory chips as well as the GPU. On the right we can once again see underneath the heat sink, though the more important part is the dual power ports; just like every other modern performance GPU the HD6850 Vapor-X requires two 6-pin connectors.

Software Overview

Software is always an important addition to any video card which is why Sapphire included a CD with the necessities. There is no other software on the disk.

Here is the first screen we see when starting the installation; obviously it is pretty straightforward. ATI Easy Install is the recommended option as it will automatically install drivers and the Catalyst Control Center.

After the first step basically everything is all automated. This screen shows the supported video cards as well as the support operating systems. Once the install is done users will see the following screen which is the standard Catalyst Control Center.

 

Next up we see Sapphire’s TRIXX tweaking utility. Like most video card manufacturers, Sapphire created this program to monitor and control the basic functions of the video card such as fan speeds and overclocking. It works quite well and it even included a Windows Desktop Gadget; the only real problem with this program is that Sapphire did not include it on the software CD. In fact Sapphire did not even mention it in the manual or any of the paperwork so many consumers would never have found the program at all.

Testing and methodology

In the interests of thoroughness and accurate results, we ran each test at least three times, and some tests more than that. We average the total of all the tests from each benchmark then report the average here.

The OS used was Windows 7 Ultimate 64-Bit with all patches and updates applied. We also use the latest drivers available for the motherboard and any devices attached to the computer. We do not disable background tasks or tweak the OS or system in any way. We turn off drive indexing and daily defragging. We also turn off Prefetch and Superfetch. This is not an attempt to produce bigger benchmark numbers. Drive indexing and defragging can interfere with testing and produce confusing numbers. If a test were to be run while a drive was being indexed or defragged, and then the same test was later run when these processes were off, the two results would be contradictory and erroneous. As we cannot control when defragging and indexing occur precisely enough to guarantee that they won’t interfere with testing, we opt to disable the features entirely.

 

 

Hardware

Case

Silverstone RV02
CPU i7 2600-K@ 4.8Ghz
RAM 6GB OCZ Platinum
Motherboard Asus P67 Sabertooth
HardDrive

Intel X-25M 80GB SSD

Seagate 1TB 7200RPM Storage Drive

OS Windows 7 Ultimate 64-Bit
Video Card Text
Power Supply Sparkle 1000W Gold

 

Benchmarks Used

3DMark Vantage

3DMark 11
Heaven Benchmark
Just Cause 2
Crysis Warhead

 

3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage is still one of the most popular benchmarks even though it is getting a bit old now. It lets us get a good idea of the performance of video cards while running DX10 which is still quite common in many games.

3DMark 11

“3DMark 11 is the latest version of the world’s most popular benchmark for measuring the graphics performance of gaming PCs. Designed for testing DirectX 11 hardware running on Windows 7 and Windows Vista the benchmark includes six all new benchmark tests that make extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. After running the tests 3DMark gives your system a score with larger numbers indicating better performance. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.”

Overall the Sapphire 6850 Vapor-X did very well in both of the 3DMark benchmarks. Obviously being both DX10 and DX11 they show that the 6850 Vapor-X is more than adequate for new DX11 games and older DX10 games; it is also quite clear that overclocking the card using the Catalyst Control Center or the Sapphire TRIXX software is able to give a significant boost in performance.

Heaven Benchmark

Unigine Heaven is a benchmark program based on Unigine Corp’s latest engine, Unigine. The engine features DirectX 11, Hardware tessellation, DirectCompute, and Shader Model 5.0. All of these new technologies combined with the ability to run each card through the same exact test means this benchmark should be in our arsenal for a long time.

The Unigine Heaven benchmark showed basically the same results as the other two synthetic benchmarks. The Sapphire 6850 Vapor-X is just as powerful as other cards in the same price range, and with a bit of overclocking, a significant performance boost can be had.

Just Cause 2

“Just Cause 2 is an open world action-adventure video game. It was released in North America on March 23, 2010, by Swedish developer Avalanche Studios and Eidos Interactive, and was published by Square Enix. It is the sequel to the 2006 video game Just Cause.

Just Cause 2 employs the Avalanche Engine 2.0, an updated version of the engine used in Just Cause. The game is set on the other side of the world from the original Just Cause, on the fictional island of Panau in Southeast Asia. Panau has varied terrain, from desert to alpine to rainforest. Rico Rodriguez returns as the protagonist, aiming to overthrow the evil dictator Pandak “Baby” Panay and confront his former mentor, Tom Sheldon.”

As with the synthetic benchmarks it is clear that the Sapphire 6850 Vapor-X performs quite well; a small overclock is once again able to generate a noticeable increase in performance and overall the card simply performs well no matter what is thrown at it. Running at high resolution with plenty of AA and AF, the Sapphire 6850 Vapor-X continues to provide constant frame rates.

Crysis Warhead

Crysis Warhead is the much anticipated standalone expansion pack to Crysis, featuring an updated CryENGINE™ 2 with better optimization. It was one of the most anticipated titles of 2008 and despite being slightly older it is still a standard benchmark in today’s testing.

Just as expected the Sapphire 6850 Vapor-X once again performed well in a real world gaming experience. Obviously it is not quite at fast as the more expensive video cards but with a moderate overclock is is once again able to perform a substantial amount faster.

Overclocking

Overclocking is important to any computer enthusiast because it allows users to get a little extra power out of  hardware without spending any additional money. Fortunately most graphics card manufacturers cater to overclockers quite well which.

Overall the Sapphire 6850 Vapor-X overclocks quite well which can make a pretty big difference in terms of performance. The initial clock speed of the 6850 Vapor-X is 800MHz and with just a little bit of work it is easy to reach into the 900+ MHz range. 900MHz is the speed we used for all overclocked testing during the benchmarks though it was possible to squeeze another 20 or 30 MHz out of the card. Overall the Sapphire 6850 Vapor-X overclocks well which is a great sign for a relatively inexpensive graphics card such as this.

Important note: Overclocking can cause component failure.  Please exercise caution when attempting any level of overclock on system components.

Temperatures

The temperatures were recorded using Sapphire’s TRIXX monitoring and overclocking tool. In order to stress the card and reach a load temperature numerous 3D benchmark programs were run for 30 minutes. The maximum temperature was then recorded for the “load” temperature; the idle temperature was taken prior to any benchmarking or testing of the GPU.

 

GPU Configuration

GPU Temp (ºC) Idle/Load

Standard Clock

38/66
Overclocked 38/76

Just as expected the temperatures of the GPU do increase by a noticeable amount when overclocked. This is unavoidable simply due to the nature of overclocking but the temperatures are still low enough to be safely used. The Vapor-X cooling system developed and used by Sapphire simply performs much better than most standard GPU coolers. Not only does this unique cooler work well, it is also generally fairly quiet. When idling or under minimal load the GPU cooling fan is nearly silent which is always a good thing.

Power Consumption

The power consumption was tested while running 3D stress tests and benchmarks in order to load the entire system. The maximum power used during an extended time period test is what was used for the load values and the idle values were recorded immediately after booting up the computer into Windows.

Configuration

Power Usage (Idle/Load)

Standard Clock

202W/368W
Overclocked 243W/408W

Once again it is clear that overclocking is not only going to generate more heat but it is also going to draw more power. Fortunately the HD6850 Vapor-X uses quite a bit less power than many other mainstream video cards thanks to the 10-phase power control system used by Sapphire. The 6850 Vapor-X is definitely one of the least power hungry cards we’ve tested.

CONCLUSION

The Sapphire HD 6850 Vapor-X might not be the most powerful or the fastest GPU available right now but to many people that isn’t a big deal. The 6850 Vapor-X is more than powerful enough for nearly any modern game and from both the synthetic and gaming benchmarks we ran it is clear that the card performs quite adequately. Cooling and power consumption along with noise are all controlled quite well thanks to the unique Vapor-X cooling used by Sapphire which really makes this card stand out from the crowd.

Of course this card is not perfect; for starters it would have been nice if Sapphire had included all of their software on the included CD. Sapphire TRIXX is a very useful utility but unfortunately since it wasn’t included on the disk many consumers won’t even know the program exists on Sapphire’s website. Fortunately Sapphire made up for this by including plenty of other additional accessories and cables that most manufacturers wouldn’t have included with the package.

OUR VERDICT: Sapphire HD6850 Vapor-X
Performance 8
Value 9.5
Quality 9
Features 8
Innovation 8
We are using a new addition to our scoring system to provide additional feedback beyond a flat score. Please note that the final score isn’t an aggregate average of the new rating system.
Total 8.5
Pros Cons

Quality Cooling Design

Quiet

Overclocks Well

Awesome Value

Lack of Software

Not as fast as some cards

 

Summary: Overall the Sapphire HD6850 Vapor-X is a good video card for its price, and thanks to Sapphire this card has plenty of cooling and power consumption improvements that earn it the Bjorn3D Bronze Bear Award.

 

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