With two chips, two memory interfaces, and two lots of RAM, the Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 X2 has some searing specifications.
It's been a good while since the graphics card market has seen a truly radical new chip, but that hasn't been a bar to performance continuing to rise to ever more ridiculous heights. Indeed, almost every month seems to crown a new king of performance. And guess what? This month is no different - albeit with some rather important qualifiers.
Mind you, both ATI and nVIDIA have been making use of a rather crafty short-cut to get more out of existing technology - simply build a card with not one but two chips. Unsurprisingly then, ATI has followed up its rather stunning 4870 launch by unleashing the 4870 X2. With two chips, two memory interfaces, and two lots of RAM, the Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 X2 has some searing specifications.
Not that ATI has simply doubled every figure. Whereas the original 4870 came with 512MB of memory, the X2 offers a crunching 2GB - four times as much. ATI has always played a leading role in pushing forwards the memory market, and at a time when nVIDIA has stuck with GDDR3 memory on its high end GTX 280, ATI's decision to equip the X2 (and the 4870) with ultra modern GDDR5 makes for some eye-watering clock speeds. Indeed, the 4870 X2's memory clock speed is (taking into account DDR) in effect 3,600MHz - an astonishing amount given that the GTX 280 can only manage 2,214MHz (DDR effective).
Not that the 4870 series is stellar in every department. As with all modern ATI cards, the X2 offers DirectX 10.1 support - rather than the mere 10.0 of the nVIDIA cards. However, in practice it makes little to no difference whether your card offers 10.1 or 10.0, with virtually no games currently designed to take advantage of the (itself fairly minor) difference. And while the GeForce GTX 280 could add some extra value in the future courtesy of its CUDA and PhysX technology, the X2 offers no such promise.
The Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 X2 is weighty, but seems more compact than the rather too substantial GTX 280. It does, though, put out plenty of heat. A word should be said here for Sapphire's excellent backup pack, and not only do you get some free titles, but the box also includes the special adaptors you'll need in case your PSU can't support the 6pin and (in particular) 8pin connectors. This should only be seen as a temporary solution until you can upgrade your PSU but is, nonetheless, welcome.
So does the Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 X2 deliver trail-blazing performance. Well, yes and no. If you're playing games at a resolution of 1,680x1,050, there's no point in paying for this card. Indeed, even 1,920x1,200 is dubious. Frankly, the single 4870 will offer virtually the same frame rate at less than half the price. However, should you be lucky enough to be in possession of a screen that can go up to 2,560x1,600, you'll find this card delivering approximately 15-20% extra performance in the likes of Crysis, World In Conflict and Stalker.
Visit PC Advisor's dedicated Games website to download hundreds of the latest titles, to read gaming news and reviews and to pick up tips and discuss your favourite games in the popular PC Advisor Games forum