So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Sapphire Atomic HD 4870 X2
This Radeon-based card offers liquid cooling out of the box.
- Liquid cooling system for graphics and CPU, overclocked out of the box, some performance improvements
- Exorbitant price, fiddly installation, poor results from DIY graphics card overclocking
The Atomic HD 4870 X2 has taken the fun out of liquid cooling and overclocking but for those who can pay for it, the card has its advantages. Still, the card's performance isn't worth the asking price unless you're keen on an all-in-one liquid cooling system for your graphics card and CPU.
Price$ 949.00 (AUD)
Note: pricing for this product is in $US.
Overclocking and liquid cooling used to be the realm of those who put in the hard work to squeeze every last drop of power out of their CPU or graphics card. Now it seems anyone with enough money can purchase the likes of Altech's NRG Storm and join the fray without having to expend a bead of sweat. Sapphire's latest graphics card, the Atomic HD 4870 X2, offers factory liquid cooling but it only delivers slight improvements over standard HD 4870 X2 cards.
The Atomic HD 4870 X2 is more than just a video card; it is an all-in-one liquid cooling system for both graphics and CPU. This makes the price — a heart wrenching $US949 — seem a little more reasonable, as it allows users to overclock their CPU as well as the video card. This offering does have its drawbacks though: the three-piece system cannot be separated or modified easily, rendering the use of a second Atomic HD 4870 X2 in a CrossFire setup impossible without modification.
For the most part, Sapphire's Atomic HD 4870 X2 retains the same specifications as its vanilla counterparts. Based on the RV770 chipset, the card has 1600 stream processing units and 1.9 billion transistors, and is able to produce 2.4 teraFLOPs of computing power. The cores share 2GB of GDDR5 memory between them, each clocked at 1000MHz for a total memory bandwidth of 119GB/s. The Atomic HD 4870 X2 is overclocked out of the box to 800MHz per core, though this isn't a huge stretch over the 750MHz found on standard HD 4870 X2 cards (at least not for true overclockers anyway).
Previous offerings of ATI's HD 4870 X2 have hogged two PCI-E slots on a computer, but Sapphire's liquid cooled variant only takes up one. Without the cumbersome fan and heatsink the card is extremely thin, but it does retain that other bane of space-tight PC enthusiasts: length. Measuring 267mm from end to end, the Atomic HD 4870 X2 breaches the outer stretches of the ATX form factor, on par with its main competitor, NVIDIA's [[prodid:7169]. It might be a difficult task to fit in smaller cases.
The Atomic HD 4870 X2 is made up of three separate parts — graphics card, CPU cooler and fan. All three are joined together through Teflon pipes which are somewhat bendable but cannot be detached. The pipes are only just long enough to suit a standard configuration in an ATX case, making custom configurations a lot harder to employ. The package lacks a retainer ring to suit Core i7 motherboards as well, so early adopters of Intel's latest platform are short changed on this front. Unfortunately, though factory liquid cooling would suggest that the card is open to DIY overclocking, we found the opposite to be true. Our attempts at overclocking the graphics card's memory and core clocks beyond their default settings easily caused severe artefacting in games, even though the card was only hitting 50°C. It is clear Sapphire wants to keep all the fun for itself when it comes to overclocking the video card. However, users should be able to play with CPU voltages and clock speeds until their motherboard is coated in a thin layer of silicon.
To work out whether Sapphire's Atomic HD 4870 X2 actually outperformed its air-cooled counterparts, we ran the card through a barrage of various tests on a PC equipped with 2GB of DDR2 RAM, a 750GB Barracuda ES hard drive and a 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Quad CPU, all running on Windows Vista 32-bit. Overall, the Atomic HD 4870 X2 provided a slight speed increase over the AMD's ATI Radeon HD 4870 x2 reference graphics card, though in some areas it actually performed worse.
3DMark06 showed the slightest of performance bumps: from 14,430 points for the reference card to 14,472 for the liquid cooled Atomic version.
Our F.E.A.R. and Crysis showed the biggest improvement, with the Atomic HD 4870 X2 managing 202 frames per second vs. 194fps and 31.3 vs. 23.9fps, respectively. The card still comes nowhere close to matching the performance of ASUS' ENGTX295 (2DI/1792MD3) in Crysis (this NVIDIA-based card managed 38.9fps). To be fair, though, Crytek’s action game has never liked Radeon boards much.
Despite our best efforts, some of our regular graphics tests showed poor results, with the 130fps managed in Half Life 2 appearing paltry in comparison the 171fps from AMD's ATI Radeon HD 4870 x2. Similarly, the DirectX 10 version of Lost Planet: Extreme Conditions revealed an odd disparity between the cards — the Atomic HD 4870 X2 managed 36.6fps to the reference card's 56fps. Although Sapphire's overclocking seems to have made some headway in providing better performance overall, there are some games in which the air-cooled vanilla variant is superior.
If the potential installation difficulties and mixed performance don't dissuade you, you only have one more obstacle to overcome: Sapphire doesn't distribute the Atomic HD 4870 X2 to Australia at the moment, so users will have to purchase the card overseas.
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