Sapphire HD3870 Ultimate 3870 Video Card

Posted by on Sunday, June 28, 2009 - 6:15am

smallBased off of the RV670 chipset is the Sapphire Ultimate 3870 video card. This card many not be overclocked like the Toxic we reviewed a few weeks back. This means it won’t perform at the same level of the Toxic did, but the major thing the Ultimate has over the Toxic is silence. Combined with 512MB of GDDR4 and Shader 4.1, silence isn’t the only feature the card has that it can boast about. Just how well does it match up against the Toxic mode? Read on to find out.





With the eve of the R770 GPU just a few months away, we can only predict that the sales of current cards based on the RV670 will go up as their prices go lower. Depending on the performance numbers of the RV770 there is a chance the RV670 will have a better price to performance ratio.  For now we have the RV670 and competing products from Nvidia.

Based off of the RV670 chipset is the Sapphire Ultimate 3870 video card. This card many not be overclocked like the Toxic we reviewed a few weeks back. This means it won’t perform at the same level of the Toxic did, but the major thing the Ultimate has over the Toxic is silence. Combined with 512MB of GDDR4 and Shader 4.1, silence isn’t the only feature the card has that it can boast about. Just how well does it match up against the Toxic mode? Read on to find out.

Straight from Sapphire’s mouth

Unshackle your PC's performance from the coin in your pocket as the SAPPHIRE HD 3870 liberates your inner gamer without compromising your wallet. Hard pressed to find a comparable product on the market for the price, the SAPPHIRE HD 3870 extinguishes all doubt that the Radeon HD 3870 core is a mid-range performing product. With features such as: DirectX® 10.1 and Shader Model 4.1 support, integrated HDMI and HDCP support for Blu-ray™/HD DVD decoding and for the extreme enthusiast, CrossFire X™ support, the SAPPHIRE incarnation of the HD 3870 will own your imagination and accelerate your performance on the virtual battlefield of your desktop! Reinvent the way you engage your gaming experience with every LOAD!


Packaging and contents

The Ultimate comes in a box similar to the one the Toxic came in. So we won’t delve into it much. The accessories are the same as well.

box front

box back

contents cds


  • 666 million transistors on 55nm fabrication process
  • PCI Express 2.0 x16 bus interface
  • 256-bit GDDR4 memory interface
  • Ring Bus Memory Controller
    • Fully distributed design with 512-bit internal ring bus for memory reads and writes
  • Microsoft® DirectX® 10.1 support
    • Shader Model 4.1
    • 32-bit floating point texture filtering
    • Indexed cube map arrays
    • Independent blend modes per render target
    • Pixel coverage sample masking
    • Read/write multi-sample surfaces with shaders
    • Gather4 texture fetching
  • Unified Superscalar Shader Architecture
    • 320 stream processing units
        • Dynamic load balancing and resource allocation for vertex, geometry, and pixel shaders
        • Common instruction set and texture unit access supported for all types of shaders
        • Dedicated branch execution units and texture address processors
    • 128-bit floating point precision for all operations
    • Command processor for reduced CPU overhead
    • Shader instruction and constant caches
    • Up to 80 texture fetches per clock cycle
    • Up to 128 textures per pixel
    • Fully associative multi-level texture cache design
    • DXTC and 3Dc+ texture compression
    • High resolution texture support (up to 8192 x 8192)
    • Fully associative texture Z/stencil cache designs
    • Double-sided hierarchical Z/stencil buffer
    • Early Z test, Re-Z, Z Range optimization, and Fast Z Clear
    • Lossless Z & stencil compression (up to 128:1)
    • Lossless color compression (up to 8:1)
    • 8 render targets (MRTs) with anti-aliasing support
    • Physics processing support
  • Dynamic Geometry Acceleration
    • High performance vertex cache
    • Programmable tessellation unit
    • Accelerated geometry shader path for geometry amplification
    • Memory read/write cache for improved stream output performance
  • Anti-aliasing features
    • Multi-sample anti-aliasing (2, 4, or 8 samples per pixel)
    • Up to 24x Custom Filter Anti-Aliasing (CFAA) for improved quality
    • Adaptive super-sampling and multi-sampling
    • Temporal anti-aliasing
    • Gamma correct
    • Super AA (ATI CrossFire™ configurations only)
    • All anti-aliasing features compatible with HDR rendering
  • Texture filtering features
    • 2x/4x/8x/16x high quality adaptive anisotropic filtering modes (up to 128 taps per pixel)
    • 128-bit floating point HDR texture filtering
    • Bicubic filtering
    • sRGB filtering (gamma/degamma)
    • Percentage Closer Filtering (PCF)
    • Depth & stencil texture (DST) format support
    • Shared exponent HDR (RGBE 9:9:9:5) texture format support
  • OpenGL 2.0 support
  • ATI Avivo™ HD Video and Display Platform
    • Dedicated unified video decoder (UVD) for H.264/AVC and VC-1 video formats
        • High definition (HD) playback of both Blu-ray and HD DVD formats
    • Hardware MPEG-1, MPEG-2, and DivX video decode acceleration
        • Motion compensation and IDCT
    • ATI Avivo Video Post Processor
        • Color space conversion
        • Chroma sub sampling format conversion
        • Horizontal and vertical scaling
        • Gamma correction
        • Advanced vector adaptive per-pixel de-interlacing
        • De-blocking and noise reduction filtering
        • Detail enhancement
        • Inverse telecine (2:2 and 3:2 pull-down correction)
        • Bad edit correction
    • Two independent display controllers
        • Drive two displays simultaneously with independent resolutions, refresh rates, color controls and video overlays for each display
        • Full 30-bit display processing
        • Programmable piecewise linear gamma correction, color correction, and color space conversion
        • Spatial/temporal dithering provides 30-bit color quality on 24-bit and 18-bit displays
        • High quality pre- and post-scaling engines, with underscan support for all display outputs
        • Content-adaptive de-flicker filtering for interlaced displays
        • Fast, glitch-free mode switching
        • Hardware cursor
    • Two integrated dual-link DVI display outputs
      • Each supports 18-, 24-, and 30-bit digital displays at all resolutions up to 1920x1200 (single-link DVI) or 2560x1600 (dual-link DVI)
      • Each includes a dual-link HDCP encoder with on-chip key storage for high resolution playback of protected content
    • Two integrated 400 MHz 30-bit RAMDACs
      • Each supports analog displays connected by VGA at all resolutions up to 2048x1536
    • HDMI output support
      • Supports all display resolutions up to 1920x1080
      • Integrated HD audio controller with multi-channel (5.1) AC3 support, enabling a plug-and-play cable-less audio solution
    • Integrated AMD Xilleon™ HDTV encoder
      • Provides high quality analog TV output (component/S-video/composite)
      • Supports SDTV and HDTV resolutions
      • Underscan and overscan compensation
    • MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, WMV9, VC-1, and H.264/AVC encoding and transcoding
    • Seamless integration of pixel shaders with video in real time
    • VGA mode support on all display outputs
  • ATI PowerPlay™
    • Advanced power management technology for optimal performance and power savings
    • Performance-on-Demand
        • Constantly monitors GPU activity, dynamically adjusting clocks and voltage based on user scenario
        • Clock and memory speed throttling
        • Voltage switching
        • Dynamic clock gating
    • Central thermal management – on-chip sensor monitors GPU temperature and triggers thermal actions as required
  • ATI CrossFireX™ Multi-GPU Technology
    • Scale up rendering performance and image quality with two, three, or four GPUs
    • Integrated compositing engine
    • High performance dual channel bridge interconnect
  • Dual channel interconnect is not required for ATI CrossFire, and may not be included in all product configurations
  • Some custom resolutions require user configuration
  • HDCP support for playback of protected content requires connection to a HDCP capable display





256-bit GDDR4 memory interface


Blue PCB


Core/Memory Clock – 775 / 1125MHz


PCI Express 2.0 x16 bus interface


DirectX® 10.1 support


CrossFire X™ support


ATI PowerPlay™


Hardware processed 1080p video playback of Blu-ray™ and HD DVDs


HDMI with 5.1 surround sound audio

Closer look

There are various methods available for cooling a graphic processor.  Some vendors go to the extreme with using water.  On this note, Sapphire has a water-cooled 3870 x2 available. The unit we received from Sapphire does the job without the aid of water or fans. The Ultimate uses an impressive passive cooler to cover the RV670 GPU chipset.



The heat pipes take the heat and moves it to the rear of the card. The heat escapes into the open area that occupies the under regions of the case. In some cases there is usually a fan blowing in this area that would definitely aid in heat dissipation. Regardless of fans or open air this setup is great for anyone looking for silence.

heat pipes


The GPU and ram chips are covered by a single aluminum plate. With the way this cooler is designed, it is similar to CPU coolers where the base of the cooler is not directly attached to the fins, but raised high to dissipate heat.

small sink


The back of the card has two Dual-Link DVI and a single S-Video connection, and from the looks of the rear I/O plate you would think this is a single slots card. Which is to a point as the larger side of the heat sink would be towards the CPU socket leaving you able to use the next slot below.


Testing Hardware and Software

Testing Experiment

Intel Core2Duo E8400 (overclocked @ 4.0GHZ)

OCZ PC14000 Titanium

Thermalright Ultra 120

Sapphire Toxic HD 3870

Maxtor DiamondMax 10 100GB

HP DVD740 drive

Ultra ProX 800 power supply

Noctua cooling fan


Testing Software


Futuremark 06




Far Cry


Half Life: Episode 2

We used GPU-Z to show core and ram speeds.


Pushing Sapphire and the Ultimate
Futuremark 3DMark 06
Futuremark 3DMark06 Build 1.0.2 3DMark®06 is the worldwide standard in advanced 3D game performance benchmarking. A fundamental tool for every company in the as well as PC users and gamers, 3DMark06 uses advanced real-time 3D game workloads to measure using a suite of DirectX 9 3D graphics tests, CPU tests, and 3D feature tests. 3DMark06 tests include all new HDR/SM3.0 graphics tests, SM2.0 graphics tests, AI and physics driven single and multiple cores or processor CPU tests and a collection of comprehensive feature tests to reliably measure next generation gaming performance today. Futuremark's exclusive Online ResultBrowser tracks and compares 3DMark06 scores.




Sierra Entertainment F.E.A.R.
“Gamespot’s PC Shooter of the Year is coming to the Xbox 360™ gaming and entertainment system with new levels, new weapons, and more explosive online action - Coming Fall 2006. 
F.E.A.R. ™ (First Encounter Assault Recon) is a paranormal action thriller presented entirely in first-person. An unprecedented adrenaline rush of close quarters combat seamlessly melded with the spine-tingling, shocking intensity of the paranormal unknown.
Already a critical and commercial smash on the PC, F.E.A.R. will bring a new level of FPS game play to Xbox 360 with brand new single-player content designed to immerse the player deeper in the world of the F.E.A.R. team, as well as brand new multiplayer content created to fully utilize Xbox Live®.”




3D Realms Prey
“Tommy is a down-on-his-luck garage mechanic, stuck in the middle on who-knows-where on some forgotten reservation, where Native Americans are tucked away out of sight, out of mind.
And then the unthinkable happens! Earth becomes prey to the galaxy's largest predator, a space bound Texas-sized alien that's looking to satiate its hunger with the organic goodness that most populates Earth: Us. And the first course is a certain forgotten reservation.
Tommy and his girlfriend have become prey, his grandfather killed, and hundreds of his tribal nations have been abducted through space-warping portals. Freeing himself, all Tommy cares about is saving Jenny. But the spirit of his grandfather beckons him to embrace his heritage, accept the ancient teachings, and prepare to battle the menace that threatens to destroy all the planet's life.  It's a choice between love and responsibility. It's a choice that cannot be made easily.”




Electronic Arts Crysis
“Earth, 2019. A team of US scientists makes a frightening discovery on an island in the South China Sea. All contact with the team is lost when the North Korean Government quickly seals off the area. The United States responds by dispatching an elite team of Delta Force Operators to recon the situation. As tension rises between the two nations, a massive alien ship reveals itself in the middle of the island. The ship generates an immense force sphere that freezes a vast portion of the island and drastically alters the global weather system. Now the US and North Korea must join forces to battle the alien menace. With hope rapidly fading, you must fight epic battles through tropical jungle, frozen landscapes, and finally into the heart of the alien ship itself for the ultimate Zero G showdown.”





Ubisoft Far Cry
“A tropical paradise seethes with hidden evil in Far Cry, a cunningly detailed action shooter that pushes the boundaries of combat to shocking new levels.
Freelance mariner Jack Carver is cursing the day he ever came to this island. A week ago, a brash female reporter named Valerie had offered him an incredible sum of cash to take her to this unspoiled paradise. Shortly after docking, however, Jack's boat was greeted by artillery fire from a mysterious militia group swarming about the island.
With his boat destroyed, his money gone, and the gorgeous Valerie suddenly missing, Jack now finds himself facing an army of mercenaries amidst the wilds of the island, with nothing but a gun and his wits to survive. But the further he pushes into the lush jungle canopy, the stranger things become.
Jack encounters an insider within the militia group who reveals the horrific details of the mercenaries' true intentions. He presents Jack with an unsettling choice: battle the deadliest mercenaries, or condemn the human race to a maniac's insidious agenda.”




Valve Half Life 2: Episode Two
‘Half-Life® 2: Episode Two is the second in a trilogy of new games created by Valve that extends the award-winning and best-selling Half-Life® adventure.
As Dr. Gordon Freeman, you were last seen exiting City 17 with Alyx Vance as the Citadel erupted amidst a storm of unknown proportions. In Episode Two, you must battle and race against Combine forces as you traverse the White Forest to deliver a crucial information packet stolen from the Citadel to an enclave of fellow resistance scientists.
Episode Two extends the award-winning Half-Life gameplay with unique weapons, vehicles, and newly-spawned creatures.”




Inserts taken from respective deverloper's website.


The main reason for me being impressed with the Ultimate is due to its quiet operation. When it comes to performance it is pretty good at that as well. The one thing this card does do is get hot with its cooler. Since I test in an open environment I decided to see how hot it was. Well there is a warning on this cooler for a reason, I found out first hand. When connected to a 790i board, the cooler got pretty dang hot to the point where you can’t touch it for any extended period of time. I was really surprised. When contacted to my regular test board which is an ASUS P5E3 it still got hot, but not to the point it did on the other board.

As for temps, the Ultimate idles at 48C constantly which is not bad considering there aren’t any fans to help cool the unit. Pumping up the volume a little with some game play the temps quickly rose to 63C and never went above this.



The whole reason for purchasing this card is due to the fact that it is as quiet as you will ever get. The whole idea of having a higher end video card that is quiet and can play today’s games should be fascinating to any gamer. I think this card has spoiled me, because after I installed it in my everyday rig I enjoyed the total silence. I was able to go about my everyday duties without being bothered by the whine of my 8800GT.

It would be awesome to see two of these in Crossfire. Even better performance and no noise. If you think about it a little more you can have the ideal quiet PC. High end coolers are being offered with ultra quiet cooling fans, hard drives are getting quieter every year, and power supplies are as quiet as ever.  An individual can go all day without hearing a peek from their PC.

Performance wise we could not be happier. Yes there are faster cards out there, but how many of them can be cooled passively. Not many as they produce way too much heat to run this way. We reviewed the Toxic version of the 3870 awhile back, and were impressed with its performance numbers. We are just as proud of this cards performance as well. A real solid purchase if you ask me.

Speaking of purchasing we searched many online retailers to see if we could find a price for the Ultimate. We are sad to say that we did not find any. I would suspect the card to go for about $140-$150 as the price of the 38xx chipset has dropped due to the introduction of the 4850 and 4870.

To sum up the Ultimate in short form….it gets no better when it comes to quiet operation.