As AMD’s premium partner, Sapphire has a certain reputation that it’s been maintaining for very long. Although they rarely venture out to the market with specials models such as ASUS’ Matrix, Ares or MSI’s Lightning, they still always manage to match their competitors. This they accomplish through constant quality, which has admittedly been questioned after the information about them having certain issues with Radeon HD 7870 leaked to the internet. Still, even such rare mishaps aside, Sapphire’s graphics cards have never been on top, but always very close by. Their advantage is based on frequent reality checks, unlike ASUS, MSI and Gigabyte, who tend to wander off into a higher price range in their desire to be the best. Sapphire sticks to the mortals and offers excellent models with an alternative design, with a far more interesting price tag. One direct consequence thereof has been the Dual-X model, always among the cheapest on offer, but with great cooling and excellent performance nevertheless. After the said model from the latest series, it was only logical to expect a card with a Vapor-X cooler. If you aren’t familiar with it, Vapor-X is the best Sapphire has to offer in terms of cooling, since it’s their in-house solution. These coolers rely on a large vapour chamber which is essentially one large heatpipe, lending its name to the entire series. Of course, this cooler has also evolved from one generation to the next, and one could say that this card sees it at its largest and most impressive.
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Wealth all around

Opening a Sapphire box is never monotonous, since you’re bound to find a load of converters, adapters, cables and documentation inside, while few other manufacturers will provide you with a two-metre HDMI cable in the bundle. Although this won’t shift any purchase decisions by itself, it feels nice and appreciative by Sapphire. The card itself is very large and massive. If you put it next to ASUS’ Matrix or MSI’s Lightning, it really wouldn’t be ashamed. True enough, the Vapor-X cooler may not appear that impressive in such a company, but it wouldn’t seem inferior either. We’ll get to the negative points immediately, though. It’s the plastic cooler shield that bothers us. We’re simply unable to understand how Sapphire can possibly think that this is a better option than an aluminium shield, at least on their flagship product. The combination of glossy silver and matte black plastic makes the entire product look cheaper than it is. However, the list of flaws ends here. The cooler will take up one additional slot, as expected, and conceals a large piece of metal (several types, in fact) underneath.
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The cooling profile fins are made of aluminium, as is the section covering the memory chips. The heatpipes are copper-based, of course, and nickel-coated, while the vapour chamber has a copper appearance without any particular finish. The active part of the cooler consists of two large fans with a diameter of 90 mm. The large blades make sure airflow is adequate and are unlikely to ever go into higher RPM rates. This is excellent news for all those who appreciate a quiet environment even with components under high workload. The backlit logo on top of the system also looks fairly attractive. Removing the cooler exposes the passively cooled power unit. The latter is done in eight phases, which isn’t record-breaking, but is still above average. With the quality shielded coils with ferrite core, voltage should be more than stable enough to sustain maximum overclock. Unlike some other brands, Sapphire never seems to “forget” to slap a passive cooler onto the memory chips and the power unit. The PCB itself has more than the high-quality power unit to pride itself on; there are also voltage shift modulators. CHiL VRM units have been chosen for this purpose, since they have a reputation for being reliable and high-quality.

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The total memory capacity amounts to 3 GB, split into twelve chips signed by Hynix. The memory in question is the very fast GDDR5, forming a 384-bit bus. The high memory bandwidth they add up to produce is the highest you can get in a graphics card today. But let’s go back to the GPU itself for a second. The GPU in question is the world’s first 28 nm graphics chip, codenamed Tahiti. It features 2048 stream processors combined with 32 ROP and 128 texture units. Of course, the architecture at hand is the already familiar GCN, which we’ve written about on multiple occasions. Since this model is declared to be a “GHz Edition”, frequencies have been increased compared to the first generation of HD 7970. The GPU works at a nominal clock of 1 GHz, and as long as its TDP isn’t exceeded, the automatic overclock system will push it as close as possible to 1050 MHz. The memory works at 1500 MHz, giving an effective 6 GHz, which yields a bandwidth of 288 GB/s. Finally, the four video outputs are noteworthy, with two DVI, one HDMI and one DisplayPort at disposal to users. As for internal connections, two CrossFireX are as present as ever, and you’ll also need to connect one 6-pin and one 8-pin molex for proper power to be supplied to the card.

Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 Vapor-X
GPU Tahiti
Technology [nm] 28
GPU-a [MHz] 1050
No. Stream processors 2048
No. ROP / textural units 32 / 128
Memory GDDR5 / 3GB / 384
Memory freq. / effective [MHz] 1500 / 6000
Price 400

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Test results
Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 Vapor-X
Clock (GPU / MEM) 1050MHz / 1500MHz (effective 6GHz)
1920x1080 4xAA 16xAF / 2560x1440 4xAA 16xAF
Futuremark 3DMark 11 (extreme preset) GPU Score 3085 / 1187
3DMark Vantage (Extreme preset) GPU Score 22401 / 14093
Unigine Heaven 3.0 (DX11, high, normal tesselation) [fps] 75.3 / 51.2
Unigine Heaven 3.0 (DX11, high, extreme tesselation) [fps] 54.8 / 40.3
Crysis Warhead (DX10, Enthusiast) [fps] 64.1 / 42.3
Crysis 2 (DX11, Ultra, HD Textures) [fps] 98.1 / 93.4
Metro 2033 (DX11, very high, tesselation) [fps] 54.9 / 35.3
AvP DX11 (DX11, max) [fps] 78.1 / 49.5
F1 2010 (DX11, max) [fps] 89.4 / 82.6
F1 2012 (DX11, max) [fps] 81.4 / 78.8
Dirt Showdown (DX11, Ultra) [fps] 78.1 / 68.2
Sniper Elite V2 (DX11, Ultra) [fps] 37.1 / 33.1
Sniper Elite V2 (DX11, High) [fps] 60.5 / 53.7
Test configuration: Intel Core i5 760 @ 3.8GHz, 2 x 4GB AMD Memory 1600MHz DDR3, ASUS Maximuss III Extreme, WD 500GB, Windows 7 64bit Ultimate, Catalyst 12.11 beta


Practice makes perfect?

img 7244 sThis card looks excellent on paper, and the same has been confirmed in practice. The massive cooler had no trouble keeping the GPU at 32 degrees in idle mode and merely 69 under full load. This is particularly worthy of praise because the “GHz Edition” cards are known for being hard to keep cool. Still, the low temperature comes at a price, and that price is paid in slightly increased noise levels. If this sort of trade-off seems acceptable to you, you’re good to go; otherwise, feel free to adjust the cooling profile yourself via the supplied Sapphire TriXX software or some other application. The overclock session was very successful and we managed to reach 1180 MHz without much increase in voltage. All things considered, and especially the very attractive price of this model, Sapphire’s Vapor-X deserves only the warmest recommendations.