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Sapphire HD 4670 Ultimate 512MB Passive Video Card Review

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SKYMTL

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Sapphire HD 4670 Ultimate 512MB Passive Video Card Review





Manufacturer Product Page: SAPPHIRE Ultimate HD 4670 512MB GDDR3 PCI-E
Product Number: 100255U
Availability: Now
Warranty: 2-Years
Price: Click here to compare prices



After the mad dash over the latter part of last year by both ATI and Nvidia to release a swarm of new products, the graphics card industry was due for a breather. Both companies have staked their territory for the most part and that is why the last month and the next few months will be relatively quiet save for a few renaming antics of course. This gives us the perfect opportunity to take a closer look at some of the more interesting graphics cards on the market that tend to get passed by in the hustle and bustle of new GPU releases. These may not be the marquee cards which will get your blood pumping, or cut through framerates like no one’s business; they are products which will appeal to a certain niche market but could be equally well suited for those of you just looking for something different.

With so many consumers now having their PCs running double duty as home theatre devices, passively cooled cards are gaining ground rather quickly against their (sometimes loud) actively-cooled brethren. Passively cooling a graphics card is very much a double edged sword where all fan noise normally associated with a graphics card is eliminated but heat buildup can quickly become an issue. There is also a constant balancing act between wanting to provide optimal cooling but also trying to keep the size of the heatsink within acceptable limits. Heck, you could passively cool a GTX 295 but the resulting heatsink would be take up abhorrent amounts of space and cost a fortune to produce. This is why lower-end cards are usually the only ones that used to be passively cooled. The result was a glut of cards which were perfectly suitable for high definition video decoding but fell flat on their butts when it came to gaming. Luckily, that is all about to change with the current and future generations of GPUs.

The Sapphire HD 4670 Ultimate we are looking at today takes advantage of a cool-running 55nm RV730 core in order to offer passive cooling to a card that allows for more than acceptable gaming performance in addition to its HD decoding muscle. Indeed, Sapphire has a massive selection of HD 4670 cards ranging from reference models to GDDR4 equipped performance versions and even 1GB bruisers. Couple that with widespread availability at retailers across the country and you have a pretty good chance of finding exactly the right HD 4670 for you in Sapphire’s current lineup. You all just have to remember that Sapphire only offers a 2-year warranty on their cards which may have been fine a few months ago but it now looks paltry in comparison to XFX’s offerings. Just remember that 2 years is probably longer than most of you will keep this card in your systems.

Judging from the information we have seen, Sapphire is targeting the HD 4670 Ultimate directly at HTPC users with the inclusion of the aforementioned passive heatsink as well as a native HDMI connector instead of the usual dongle. I could go on and on about the features of this card but its real selling point remains the passive cooling. However, how will this cooling solution stand up to our torture test in a compact ATX case with virtually no airflow? And more importantly, how will this thing perform in games? Let’s find out.

 
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SKYMTL

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The New ATI Lineup / Sapphire HD 4670 Ultimate Specs.

The New ATI Lineup



As the ATI lineup takes better shape, it becomes apparent that like Nvidia before them they are trying to have something for everyone. This market saturation brought Nvidia shouts of disdain from both the community and resellers as their lineup was far too confusing for the average consumer but ATI has taken a fundamentally different approach. Instead of releasing cards across two different series at the same time (like the boys in green did with the 8 and 9-series), Team Red has now almost completely discontinued the 3xxx-series in favor of the 4-series architecture. However, there are still 3-series cards on the market at various price points and this causes an unfortunate overlay with the new 4-series. We wouldn’t be surprised to see some 3-series cards like the HD3870 stick around for a little while longer to not only clear out stocks but also retain an ATI presence in the sub-$200 price brackets price bracket.

At this point the beastly X2 cards take the top spots even though the HD 4850 X2 has not seen the light of day other than a few cards from Sapphire trickling into the retail channels. The HD 4870 X2 still carries the title of the most powerful graphics card on the fact of the planet and has a price to match but even that high MSRP has been slowly falling. Meanwhile, the HD 4870 currently occupies the upper portion of the highly lucrative and popular $200 to $300 price bracket along with the HD 4850.

The HD 4830 has also been added as direct competition for the 9800 GT on Nvidia's side and it indeed does quite well at that. It is basically a cut-down version of the HD 4850 which means performance is definitely there in spades while pricing and availability remain excellent

Rounding out this lineup we have the HD 4600-series cards which were introduced to go after the more budget-conscious portion of the market while still offering great performance against the competition. Even though both are geared to compete against the 9500 GT and 9400 GT respectively, they literally stop the Nvidia cards in every test possible.


Sapphire HD 4670 Ultimate Specs.



To be honest with you, the spces we were presented from Sapphire came as a bit of a shock since this is of course billed as one of their “Ultimate” series of cards. In the past Ultimate cards usually carry with them a slight overclock along with a custom cooler but this time Sapphire seems to have underclocked the memory a bit from ATI’s stated reference speeds.

Before I go any further, let me give you a bit of background information about this. When the HD 4670 launched, ATI’s documents showed that the GDDR3 speeds of the card would be between 1800Mhz and 2000Mhz DDR and after launch, all of the cards were within this speed range. However, as time moved on, certain manufacturers seem to have been cutting costs a bit by including slightly lower-spec’d memory. While the difference isn’t anything significant, you will see this card performing slower than a reference HD 4670 in this review due to the fact the stock card we have has memory that runs at 2000Mhz.

Other than the unfortunate memory clocks, the core speed stays well within the norms so the overall performance of this card should not be too far off from most reference-based examples.

 

SKYMTL

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The R700's Features

The R700's Features


It seems like in this brave new world of parallel processing capabilities of GPU cores, both ATI and Nvidia are racing to take advantage of the potential the modern graphics card has locked away within its confines. What we will soon see is a massive increase in the performance of certain applications like video transcoding, Folding and physics calculations. ATI has been on this bandwagon for some time now with their Folding @ home application which first came out for X19xx-series graphics cards, made the jump to the R600 / RV670 cores a few months ago and will soon be move over to the new HD4800 / HD4600-series as well. With their massive number of stream processors, the R700 cards should be able to handle any application thrown at them. Let’s take a look at what ATI has to offer with additional features.


DirectX 10.1


Even though DX10.1 is a minor update to the Vista-exclusive DX10, ATI feels that its implementation will benefit gamers quite a bit in today’s market. Let’s cut right to the chase: DX10.1 doesn’t offer us anything particularly new in terms of outlandishly new features but it does offer new paths for developers to simplify their code which in turn has the potential to increase performance in certain areas. At present, among the “big two” graphics processor manufacturers, ATI is the only one which supports DX10.1

Even though we run the risk of editorializing here we have to say that ATI’s acceptance of the DX10.1 API seems to be the right thing to do in today’s graphics card industry. After seeing first-hand the performance benefits it brings when applying AA to a DX10 environment in games like Assassin’s Creed we can only express disappointment and outright shock that other GPU manufacturers haven’t followed ATI’s lead. Consumers have been left high and dry without any reason to purchase an OS with DX10 for the simple fact that the performance in impact of DX10 is does not justify minor graphical benefits. DX10.1 works to alleviate those performance hurdles by offering developers more options when producing their games. We can only hope that ATI’s present generation cards become widespread enough that more game developers will implement DX10.1 into their titles.


Crossfire X


Up until the HD2900-series was introduced, running more than one ATI card was a clumsy affair which included external cables and more headache than should have been necessary. Then they introduced their very own Crossfire bridge connector and it was all sunshine and roses since daisy chaining two, three or even four cards together became possible. This technology continues today with the HD4000-series cards and AMD has promised that users will get better drivers, quick driver revisions and better industry acceptance among game developers.


PowerPlay Technology


In ATI’s never-ending quest to offer us the most power savings possible they have introduced something called PowerPlay. This technology allows the Catalyst software to dynamically adjust voltages and core speeds depending on the application it is being used for. This results in less idle power consumption and power being distributed when and where you need it.


Havok Physics


When AMD and Havok announced their partnership to optimize the Havok physics engine to run on ATI hardware, many enthusiasts perked up and listened. Havok Physics has been implemented into a vast variety of games form every single genre the vast majority of the industry’s upcoming blockbuster titles (including Starcraft II) support it. This not only gives ATI’s physics push a massive installed user base but it also guarantees that there will be games with Havok released for years to come. With both ATI and Nvidia firmly entrenched in the war to bring physics processing to a wider market acceptance, we may look back at this point in time as the moment when the renaissance of in-game physics really began.
 

SKYMTL

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Enhancing the Visual Experience

Enhancing the Visual Experience



ATI’s cards have been the staple of people building HTPCs for some time now with features like UVD, HDMI and high-end audio options. With the HD4000-series, AMD are taking things to the next level with some very interesting advances on their already-established technologies which will make these cards even more appealing to HTPC aficionados and regular consumers alike.

To do this they have set before themselves three primary goals: to provide multi-stream HD playback as supported in Blu-Ray 2.0 profiled movies, to improve the visual quality on HD monitors and to accomplish fast video transcoding by taking advantage of the processing power of the R770 core. Considering we have seen in the past how well features like UVD work, any enhancements to already-existing features is more than welcome in today’s quickly changing world of high definition. While we will be going over some of the features ATI has implemented it is just the tip of the iceberg of what is being offered to those of us who use our graphics cards to process HD signals.


UVD 2 – Dual Bitstream Playback


With Blu-Ray finally winning the high definition format wars, manufacturers have taken lightning-quick steps to step up support for the format. One of the many ways AMD is doing this is through full support of the Blu-Ray 1.1 profile and BD Live (profile 2.0). With UVD 2 the R700-series processors are able to decode two streams of high definition (H.264, VC-1 and MPEG-2) content in order to give the viewer the picture-in-picture options present in the 1.1 profile. This gives us the capability to watch a movie in large format while having something like an alternate scene or director’s commentary playing in the smaller picture in the corner of the screen.


High Definition Audio & Video through HDMI & Displayport


HDMI is quickly becoming the standard of choice for high definition movie and audio aficionados. With the HD3800 series AMD supported 5.1 channel audio-out through the HDMI connector but with the HD4800-series, they have taken things one step further by offering full 7.1 channel output. This means the these new cards will have support for AC3, DTS, Dolby True-HD and DTS HD formats with a full 6.144 Mbps bit rate and 192KHz sample rate along with up to 24 bits/sample. Add to this native HDCP support and true 1080P output and what we have here is a true multimedia powerhouse.

Did we mention that the R700-series core has native support for Display Port as well? Well, it does but it is up to the board partner’s discretion whether or not they add the necessary output connector.


Enhanced DVD Upscaling & Dynamic Contrast


While there are plenty of us who will use HD signals through the HD4000-series of cards, whether we like it or not we will still be outputting lower definition signals to our wonderful new HDTV every now and then. In these cases, a standard 480i picture will look absolutely horrible if it is scaled up to fit on a high definition 1080P TV so ATI provides the Avivo HD upscaling option in their drivers. What this does is take the low resolution signal and clean it up so to speak so it looks better when displayed on a high definition screen.


Another interesting feature ATI has packed into their drivers is the Dynamic Contrast Adjustment. Personally, I more often than not adjust the contrast manually based on the application since the values from one game or movie to the next can vary a lot. ATI has taken the guesswork and thrown it out the window by providing a post-processing algorithm which will automatically (and smoothly) adjust the contrast ratio in real time.
 

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AVIVO HD: The Real Deal

AVIVO HD: The Real Deal


Even though we have reviewed quite a few ATI graphics cards which support AVIVO HD technology, we have never really touched upon its benefits. Since this card can caters to the HTPC crowd as much as it does towards the casual gamer crowd, we figured now would be as good a time as any to touch upon the benefits.

First of all, AVIVO HD (and its accompanying UVD 2) offers hardware decoding of high definition video streams which will minimize load on your CPU and thus provide smoother playback. What many people have to remember is that the HD 4670`s closest competitor (the Nvidia 9500GT) is based on Nvidia’s older technology and thus only supports Purevideo 2. This means that the 9500GT offers full H.264 decoding and AACS decryption but offloads decoding of VC-1 video streams to the CPU. Meanwhile, all of the cards in ATI’s lineup from the lowest HD 3600-series all the way up to the HD 4800-series support full VC-1 and H.264 hardware decoding. Just remember, you need software which supports hardware decoding such as Cyberlink’s PowerDVD.

Let’s take a look at what is offered in the Catalyst Control Center when it comes to AVIVO options


When you first enter the AVIVO portion of the CCC, you have a quick-select box which will give you various preset video settings so you won’t have to fiddle around with too many settings to get your desired color levels. However, for those of you with a finer taste for the perfect picture, ATI has more for you.

In the Basic Color section you have all of the, brightness, contrast, tint and saturation controls at your fingertips. There is also a Use Application Settings which will cause any game or software-specific color profiles to override the settings you choose in this section.


ATI also includes and area with finer color adjustments for skin tone and color vibrancy. Normally, we don’t dare touch these settings but since some movies tend to have different color parameters than others, they come in handy every now and then.

In the Basic Quality section, you are able to control the deinterlacing mode used in videos. While we normally recommend you keep this at its default value, when watching movies on a high resolution screen, I personally set it to Vector Adaptive and Pulldown Dection.


The two final options you have here are Theatre Mode and All Settings. In Theatre Mode, you are able to scale the video output across multiple displays while the All Settings holds….well...all the settings from the previous sections without their accompanying thumbnail preview.
 

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories



The packaging this card comes in is quite understated without any flash graphics or overly loud colors. As a matter of fact, for some reason the white reminded me a lot of the older Sapphire motherboards which were produced with a stunning white PCB. Other than that, there really isn’t much mention of clock speeds but there are some advertisements regarding the included software.


The actual card is held within Sapphire’s usual “box within a box” where the outside packaging is nothing more than a slip cover for a standard brown cardboard box. Within this, the HD 4670 Ultimate is perfectly protected by a transparent plastic insert and high density foam inserts. In the past, we had expressed some reservations about Sapphire’s packaging scheme but it looks like they have really turned things around.


The accessories that come with the Ultimate are basically nil. Why? Because no adaptors or additional connectors are needed since as you will see, the card itself already has all the connectors you could possibly want. Other than that, you get an extremely well-rounded software package which includes a DVD Suite, a slightly outdated version of Cyberlink’s PowerDVD software and a CD with various other extras such as wallpapers and screensavers.
 

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A Closer Look at the Sapphire HD 4670 Ultimate

A Closer Look at the Sapphire HD 4670 Ultimate



The reference HD 4670 is perfectly suited for HTPC use considering its diminutive stature and Sapphire has kept its dimensions to a tee while decking it out in a signature blue PCB. The PCB layout is slightly different but the main differentiating point between the Ultimate and a reference card is the completely passive heatsink. We will touch a bit more upon its design in a bit but for now let’s just say that its configuration is interesting to say the least.


When we look at the connectors on the Ultimate the first thing that becomes clear is that it is missing the usual Crossfire connector. While we haven’t tried it, this HD 4670 supports bridgeless Crossfire on certain motherboards so you won’t have to worry about searching for a Crossfire connector anytime soon.

As for the output connectors, as we already said; the Ultimate has everything you could possibly want. There is a standard VGA connector as well as HDMI and DVI connectors. Trust me, after using a DVI to HDMI dongle for the last year or so, the inclusion of a native HDMI connector was a true blessing.


The heatsink in an interesting all-aluminum affair which is extremely well fabricated and consists of a pair of heatpipes along with two distinct fin assemblies. On the top portion of the card, there are some short fins to dissipate some of the heat the heatpipes are not able to immediately transfer away from the core. Heat is then transferred on to the primary fin assembly where it should be evenly dissipated by the natural airflow within your case. We really have to wonder about the size of this heatsink since it seems a bit small for its intended use. However, its size may also be a testament to the efficiency of the HD 4670’s core.

Even though everything seems to be well planned out, once installed into your case the Sapphire logo on the leading edge of the Ultimate will be upside down if you are using a standard ATX configuration.
 

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A Closer Look at the Sapphire HD 4670 Ultimate cont.

A Closer Look at the Sapphire HD 4670 Ultimate p.2



The heatpipes run the entire length of the primary fin assembly but there is one thing that bothers me a bit about this design: the fins aren’t oriented in the right direction to take advantage of the airflow within a case. While this may or may not have an impact on overall cooling performance, it would have been much preferable if this assembly was rotated at 90° so air could freely flow between the fins as it enters and then exits your enclosure.


There really isn’t much to see on the back side of the Ultimate other than the aforementioned heatsink and some of the GDDR3 memory ICs. That being said, Sapphire deserves some credit for attaching the heatsink with proper rubber washers so as not to damage the PCB in any way.


The memory used on this card boggles my mind. Sapphire used Hynix H5RS5223CFA N0C modules which are rated at 2Ghz DDR but instead chose to run them below 1800Mhz. What gives? Either they have timings that are tighter than a virg…oh, forget about that line… or the memory is running well under its rated speeds. While we won’t have an overclocking section in the review itself, stay tuned to the Comment Thread for full results.
 
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SKYMTL

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Test System & Setup

Test System & Setup

System Used

Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q 9450 @ 2.67Ghz
Memory: G.Skill 2x 2GB DDR2-1000 @ 800Mhz DDR
Motherboard: ASUS P5E Deluxe X48
Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Hitachi Deskstar 320GB SATAII
Fans: 2X Yate Loon 120mm @ 1200RPM
Power Supply: Corsair HX1000W
Monitor: Samsung 305T 30” widescreen LCD
OS: Windows Vista Ultimate x64 SP1


Graphics Cards:

Sapphire HD 4670 Ultimate
HD 4830 512MB (reference)
HD 4670 512MB (reference)
HD 4650 512MB (reference)

9800 GT 512MB (EVGA / stock speeds)
9600 GT 512MB (EVGA / stock speeds)
9600 GSO 384MB GDDR3 (Palit / stock speeds)
9500 GT 512MB GDDR3 (EVGA / stock speeds)


Drivers:

Nvidia 180.48 WHQL
ATI 9.1 WHQL


Applications Used:

Call of Duty: World at War
Crysis: Warhead
X3: Terran Conflict
Dead Space
Left 4 Dead
Far Cry 2
Fallout 3
Need for Speed Underclover


*Notes:

- All games tested have been patched to their latest version

- The OS has had all the latest hotfixes and updates installed

- All scores you see are the averages after 4 benchmark runs

All game-specific methodologies are explained above the graphs for each game
 

SKYMTL

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Call of Duty: World at War

Call of Duty: World at War


To benchmark this game, we played through 10 minutes of the second mission (Little Resistance) starting from right after the player calls in the rocket strike on the enemy positions on the beach. This was benchmarked using FRAPS.

1440 X 900





1680 X 1050



 
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