Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Ultimate

Aron Schatz
June 5, 2008
Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Ultimate
When you need a completely silent and fast graphics card for your next build, look no further than the Sapphire Radeon 3870 Ultimate.

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While the next generation of graphics cards from ATI are just around the corner, you can get some amazing performance with full open source support for a great price. Some of the readers might also be looking for a silent solution while having good performance and the Sapphire Radeon HD 3870 Ultimate steps up to provide that. It combines a truly massive heatsink with the powerful 3870 GPU to create a fast and completely silent graphics card for your quiet PC.

About Sapphire:


Pioneers in a new era of how data is displayed and games are played, Sapphire shepherds the performance oriented with ground-breaking solutions to an environment that remains in a constant state of flux and ultimate evolution. For over ten years Sapphire has held true to its unwavering commitment, the commitment to deliver the most feature rich and soundly engineered products. Because of Sapphire's firm position on achieving excellence with each product that leaves our ISO9001 and ISO14001 certified factories, you can rest assured that your customers will recognize YOUR commitment to selling only the highest of quality components.

"Sapphire is ATI's largest and best performing partner World Wide" Dave Orton, CEO ATI

Since ATI announced its manufacturing & distribution relationships with ODMs and AiBs in June of 2001, SAPPHIRE has been THE key ATI Graphics Boards Supplier worldwide and now stands poised and ready to capture the mainboard audience of those who seek a stable platform for their mission critical operations.

Captured within the circuitry of each of SAPPHIRE's graphic cards and mainboards can be found the collective feedback from generations of enthusiasts in every market niche. Brought to life through performance oriented innovation and an emphasis on quality control, SAPPHIRE designs, manufactures and distributes the most complete range of ATI video boards and mainboards--from the mainstream products that afford the casual user the opportunity to enjoy enriched graphics and affordable platform solutions to the state-of-the-art technological marvels that drive fantasies to before unattainable thresholds of realism, and offer the pinnacle of stability and performance! SAPPHIRE refuses to compromise quality by cutting corners at the expense of its customers experience with their products. All ATI board designs undergo a stringent layout inspection by our staff of engineers to guarantee that they represent the usual high-quality image of ATI original boards. We also enjoy the resources of a highly innovative technical department that layout complex designs to accommodate different market niches as they arise. SAPPHIRE ATI video boards have long been the reliable choice for a great number of OEMs and large System Integrators in Europe, North America, Asia and Latin America based largely on our ability to meet a fast paced technical markets advancements as well as our means to produce large quantities of product.

All SAPPHIRE ATI video boards are manufactured under 100% ATI production criteria including QC and outgoing system. Our monthly video board production capacity can reach a lofty 1.8 million and often topples this landmark figure. Our factory has always been the major manufacturer on ATI boards for most of the top ten tier 1 OEMs worldwide. With this background, you should undoubtedly be guaranteed of the impeccable quality, production capacity and product reliability of all ATI video boards and mainboards from SAPPHIRE. Be they business oriented or something just off center of the crosshairs, Sapphire has a solution for you and we look forward to an exciting and prosperous relationship with you!



This is the Ultimate retail box. What I find very interesting is the fact that the box doesn't mention anywhere that it is a completely silent, passively cooled card. You would think that would be one of the selling points of the card!



A bit strange is the fact that the card didn't come in an anti-static bag. I'm assuming that the card was a repacked one as Sapphire uses cards from other places for review. Even so, the card is fine without the bag protecting it. That warning is important as I forgot to plug the power in (by accident). Nothing bad really happens, though.


  • 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

This card is a bit slower than the recently reviewed Toxic edition from the same company. For a passively cooled card, this is quite good. You probably won't notice the difference in speed, but will in noise.
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Along with the card, the package contains a number of goodies. For you Windows fans (...) you get a smattering of software for use with the card including a full version of 3DMark06 and PowerDVD with a DVD suite from CyberLink. A driver CD rounds out the software for Windows. Linux users need not worry about these since most Distros have an easy install process for full open source drivers or the (closed, but better) fglrx driver from ATI. You also get the array of video cables such as a DVI to VGA adapter, a DVI to HDMI adapter (this card has sound support), TV out cables, a molex to 6-pin cable, the Crossfire connection, and the manual.

Sapphire has consistently provided an excellent bundle with their graphics cards. I hope they will package a game or so on the next cards they make since Windows only software usually costs money. I'd rather get a game for free than software I can't (or don't need to) use.


When you first scope out the Ultimate, you'll notice how different the card looks from a normal actively cooled graphics card. The top of the card has no massively large heatsink and fan combo, but does have four heatpipes going somewhere on the bottom of the card. I'm assuming some of the GDDR4 featured on the card is under that secondary heatsink.


As we make out way around the card itself, we see the four heatpipes going into a massive block of metal. The top portion of the card also contains the Crossfire connection ports. Surprisingly, the top of the card is pretty bare without a huge heatsink covering the ENTIRE top.


A profile view of the card shows just how big of a heatsink we are dealing with. Remember that the PCIe cards are installed upside down so if your graphics card is the first slot, you won't lose a second slot. You just need to hope that the heatsink doesn't interfere with your RAM or northbridge heatsink.


Those four heatpipes hold the card to the massive heatsink on the bottom. There is a clearance between the card and heatsink so it won't melt the card while in use. The warning label is very much correct. If your case ventilation is substandard, this heatsink becomes burning to the touch. Be VERY careful when handling it if the computer is in use.


The back of the card shows how well the heatsink is designed. You can see the fins provide a large surface area to give off the massive amounts of heat it is absorbing from the card. Also on the back is the 6-pin PCIe power connector.


You can clearly see the vertical clearance of the heatsink in this shot. Also notice that the top of the card does not house a large heatsink, just a small place with the heatpipes. Heatpipes work extremely well and allows for designs such as this. The pipes are sturdy enough to not flex when handling the card from the heatsink alone.


This card is fairly standard in that it supports two DVI connections and a TV out connection. What isn't standard is that it supports HDMI with HDCP which I'll never use. HDCP is one of those 'features' that attempts to take your rights away. Tough. HDMI also means that this card actually has a sound processor built-in. It doesn't use a passthrough. I couldn't test the HDMI, though.


The PCIe 16x 2.0 slot is fully standard and this card is RoHS for green compliance. The blue PCB is a nice accent and gives Sapphire its unique look. Well, this card gives a unique look all its own. Not only that, the card is heavy. What would you expect with a big chunk of metal hanging off of it? It still stands in a PCIe slot just fine... I would be weary about shipping a card in a system unless fully secured with a screw (not a quick connection like most modding cases have).
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Installing the card was no different than any other graphics card except that you need to install the RAM since once the card is installed, there is no turning back. The Asus P5N-T Deluxe shown works fine the Sapphire 3870 Ultimate with the northbridge heatsink and RAM. Granted, there isn't much clearance, but there is enough. The Asus P5E3 Deluxe also had no problems with the card and I suspect most motherboards should work fine. Be mindful that you should have proper ventilation in your case. Just because you want a silent system doesn't mean you should allow heat build up.


All testing on ASE Labs is done with the current version of Ubuntu (8.04 at the time of this writing). The Ultimate was tested with the newest Catalyst 8.5 drivers that were just released from ATI's site. The Catalyst Control Center was also installed along side. Testing was initially done on an Asus P5N-T Deluxe but a problem with the board made that impossible. The new test setup consisted of an Asus P5E3 Deluxe with 2GB of Crucial PC3-1600 RAM and a Core 2 Quad Q6600 running at 2.7GHz (1800MHz FSB). The Ultimate was tested against the Toxic reviewed last month to compare a silent card with a comparatively noisy one.

A word on the P5N-T Deluxe problem. This board has a very weird problem with the Toxic edition of the Sapphire 3870 series. The board works fine the the Ultimate edition and a MSI 8600GTS but the board refuses to detect any hard drive while the Toxic is being used. These crazy hardware issues really plague current system builders with problems that just should be. Who's fault is this? Certainly it isn't Sapphire's since the card works as expected in other systems.


The AMD Catalyst Control Center still needs work to get up to its Windows counterpart but progress is being made. The information provided by the CCC shows the card is running at the rated specs. Compiz Fusion works well with the fglrx driver and while it is a non-free binary blob, the radeonhd driver is coming out sooner or later and will provide everything in a completely free driver. Even worse is that the fglrx driver still doesn't support Crossfire. I suspect that this year we will see more and more support for Linux coming out. Linux is truly the future.


I tested this card using the newly released SPECviewperf 10 benchmark. It is probably the best professional OpenGL benchmark and really tests a graphics card very well overall. As you can see, the Toxic bests the Ultimate due to it being the faster card.

I also tested the card in Nexuiz, which is a free and open source FPS. On the highest settings at 1920x1200, the card was 1 FPS behind the Toxic on average. At those settings, the Toxic managed to push 40 FPS average while the Ultimate was 39 FPS. You'll hardly notice the difference.

For a passively cooled card, you are getting great performance. Remember that the goal here is to provide good performance with no noise. You can't just look at raw performance alone.


You know, I couldn't find the pricing for this card at any site. I guess the retail channel doesn't have this card just yet. You can bet that it will be competitively priced and the passive cooling of this card gives it the edge for a silent PC. You really can't put a price on how great it is to have a nice and silent PC and this card certainly helps meet that goal. Sapphire makes a great product once again and once the card hits retail, I'm sure it will be great. Silent PC builders will want to snap this card up when they can. I highly recommend it.

I'd like to thank Don from Sapphire for supplying this card for review.
members/attachments/upload/2008/06/05/2630m.jpg box.jpg members/attachments/upload/2008/06/05/2631m.jpg packaging.jpg members/attachments/upload/2008/06/05/2632m.jpg parts.jpg members/attachments/upload/2008/06/05/2633m.jpg cardtop.jpg members/attachments/upload/2008/06/05/2634m.jpg cardside.jpg members/attachments/upload/2008/06/05/2635m.jpg cardbottom.jpg members/attachments/upload/2008/06/05/2636m.jpg cardback.jpg members/attachments/upload/2008/06/05/2637m.jpg cardside2.jpg members/attachments/upload/2008/06/05/2638m.jpg cardfront.jpg members/attachments/upload/2008/06/05/2639m.jpg cardside3.jpg members/attachments/upload/2008/06/05/2640m.jpg hsheight.jpg members/attachments/upload/2008/06/05/2641m.jpg clearance.jpg members/attachments/upload/2008/06/07/2642m.png CCC members/attachments/upload/2008/06/07/2643.png spec.png


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