Sapphire Technology has been one of ATI's closest AIB partners and one of their largest. Sapphire manufacturers a plethora of ATI graphics cards and they always seem to be quite popular with enthusiasts for their reliability, top-notch features, and competitive pricing. Sapphire just doesn't manufacturer two Radeon HD 4850s -- one that complies with ATI's reference design and specifications -- and then the Radeon HD 4850 Toxic, but they actually manufacturer four different SKUs. With the other two Radeon HD 4850 models sold by Sapphire, one ships with 1GB of video memory and the other one just ships with a very large dual-slot cooling solution to satisfy the growing needs of overclockers. But what did we think of the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 Toxic?
The ATI Radeon HD 4850 was already one impressive beast capable of taking out the NVIDIA GeForce 9800GTX and the earlier Radeon HD 3870 by strong margins when applying enough load through anti-aliasing (AA) and anisotropic filtering (AF) on Linux. Sapphire has been successful in taking the Radeon HD 4850 a step further by using the high-performance Zalman VF900 copper heatsink, switching to faster Samsung GDDR3 memory, and applying a factory overclock to the RV770 core. These improvements have positioned the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 Toxic half-way between a normal Radeon HD 4850 and Radeon HD 4870, or what would be a "Radeon HD 4860". This equates to being just a few frames per second faster, but the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 Toxic is selling just $10~20 USD more than the Radeon HD 4850 graphics cards running at the reference speeds. Beyond that, the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 Toxic can still be pushed further, but due to the lack of OverDrive support in the available Catalyst Linux drivers we were unable to overclock it with Catalyst 8.6. In addition to the Zalman heatsink cooling the RV770 core more efficiently, the fan was quieter than the reference cooling solution and it was almost inaudible at times.
We had only published four of the OpenGL test results from the Phoronix Test Suite but we had run other tests as well and had experienced performance gains across the board. We will be delivering additional benchmarks of the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 Toxic in the near future as the Catalyst Linux driver receives additional RV770-targeted features in their evolutionary Linux leap.
In addition to the unique features of this Sapphire graphics card, the same Radeon HD 4850 features still apply such as its Stream Computing support, HDMI audio, Unified Video Decoder 2 (UVD2), and open-source support through either of the AMD-sponsored drivers. The Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 will work with both the xf86-video-ati and xf86-video-radeonhd drivers for basic mode-setting support at this time. Open-source 2D and 3D acceleration support for the Radeon HD 4800 series will arrive in the coming months.
While the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 Toxic 512MB is $10~20 more than a normal Radeon HD 4850, it's still $80~90 less than any of the current Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards. With the after-market heatsink, factory overclock, and the overclocking potential of this graphics card, the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 Toxic is a great buy. Additionally, you can still put two (or four) of these Toxic graphics cards in a CrossFireX configuration for even greater performance, which soon will be supported under Linux. Expect more Linux tests of this graphics card soon.
For more on the Radeon HD 4850 and related graphics cards (along with pricing information), head on over to TestFreaks.com.
Phoronix Product Rating: 9 / 10