The launch of the Radeon HD 5000 series has been a noticeably different than other major GPU launches in the last half-decade. Process problems over at TSMC and a lack of a competitive card from NVIDIA has resulted in a level of demand that until this year could not be satiated. Cypress chips were going out the door to stores practically as fast as they came out of the fab, leaving card vendors with too few chips to do custom card lines. What we have seen up until now has been limited to reference cards, with only minor variations such as a different cooler or a BIOS that allows voltage control. The supply of Cypress chips has only finally reached the point where there’s a suitable number of them for card vendors to produce a custom design.

  AMD Radeon HD 5870 Sapphire 5850 Toxic Edition Sapphire 5850 Vapor-X AMD Radeon HD 5850
Stream Processors 1600 1440 1440 1440
Texture Units 80 72 72 72
ROPs 32 32 32 32
Core Clock 850MHz 765MHz 735MHz 725MHz
Memory Clock 1.2GHz (4.8GHz data rate) GDDR5 1.125GHz (4.5GHz data rate) GDDR5 1.05GHz (4.2GHz data rate) GDDR5 1GHz (4GHz data rate) GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Frame Buffer 1GB 1GB 1GB 1GB
Transistor Count 2.15B 2.15B 2.15B 2.15B
Manufacturing Process TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm
Price Point $399 $339 N/A $299

Today Sapphire is launching a pair of Radeon HD 5850 cards: the 5850 Vapor-X and the 5850 Toxic Edition. Both of these cards use a new custom design – a custom PCB, custom chokes, and of course a custom cooler – making the set of them the first custom 5850 on the market. Both are factory overclocked, with the Vapor-X clocking in at 735MHz/1050MHz, and the Toxic at 765MHz/1125MHz, and are otherwise identical. Sapphire tells us that only the Toxic will be launching in North America, while the Vapor-X will be available elsewhere. As such, today we were looking at their 5850 Toxic Edition.

Diving right in to things, the most distinctive feature of course is the cooler on the Toxic. It’s one of Sapphire’s trademark vapor-chamber coolers as found through their entire Vapor-X/Toxic line, and is designed to be more efficient and quieter than the standard heatpipe-only coolers found on reference cards. Compared to the reference cooler it’s also open-ended, meaning unlike the reference cooler it’s not a blower that exhausts all air outside the case. Rather with a large, centered fan, the Toxic’s cooler pushes air out both the front and the rear of the card.

Cracking open the cooling apparatus we find a fairly large heatsink with 3 heatpipes embedded in it, running down to the vapor chamber in the base plate. The use of 3 heatpipes means the heatsink is asymmetrical, with more pipes going to towards the rear of the card than the front.

With the cooler removed, we can see the rest of the custom kit on the Toxic: the custom PCB and chokes. Right away you’ll notice that Sapphire’s custom PCB is longer than the stock PCB; 10.1” versus 9.5”. The result of this is not only more space that Sapphire has filled with capacitors and chokes, but the entire board is basically shifted to the right compared to the reference board. Meanwhile we can see Sapphire’s custom “Black Diamond” chokes, which are grooved for better airflow and heat dissipation.

One particularly interesting deviation from the reference design is that rather than trying to attach the main VRMs to the cooler, Sapphire has given the VRMs their own small heatsink. This heatsink sits below the larger heatsink attached to the GPU, and catches airflow from the fan bound for the rear of the card. Based on our past observations, the cooling on VRMs on the reference 5800 and 5900 designs has been sketchy – for our 5970 in particular we found that the VRMs would overheat under a modest overclock. Our 5850 reference samples have not provided similar problems thanks to the lower operating voltage of a 5850, but this should still prove to be a better method of cooling the VRMs than the simple metal bar on a reference 5850.

The fact that the card deviates this much from the AMD reference design means that some considerations need to be taken in to account compared to the 5850. At around 0.5” longer than the reference design, the Toxic can get close to impeding whatever may lie behind the card. Sapphire kept the 5850’s rear-facing PCIe power plugs rather than going with 5870-style top-facing plugs, so you have to factor in the additional space required by the cables. In our Spedo case, this is as long as a fully installed card can get without running in to the case fan behind the video card.

The open-ended design also changes cooling considerations slightly. With the card venting hot air out the rear of the card along with the front, we found having a fan behind the card to feed it fresh air to be counter-productive – we were better off removing the fan and letting the card blow air back. On the plus side, the fact that the cooler on this card is open-ended on both sides means that unlike the full sheath on the reference card, this card is compatible with tool-less locking mechanisms such as what’s on our Spedo case.

Moving on, besides the card the rest of the package is unremarkable. The card comes in a full size box, which contains a manual, driver CD, a mid-length Crossfire bridge, a DVI-to-VGA adaptor, and a pair of molex-to-PCIe power adapters. Sapphire doesn’t make their own set of overclocking tools, and with the 5850’s overdrive limit of 775/1125, you’ll need 3rd party tools to do any serious overclocking.

A Quick Note on AMD & Factory Clocks
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  • soccerplayer88 - Thursday, February 25, 2010 - link

    I'll give you all a hint for overclocking it further. Flash the bios.

    Hell I just told you what to do, now you just have to google it.

    Anyways, I've pushed my card to 880/1220. And by the way, what's up with your temps?! My card overclocked to hell is about 10C cooler than your setup. Sounds like poor airflow to me.
  • dvdreplication - Thursday, February 25, 2010 - link

    Well it looks like a giant. Is it fixed or not? I hope that it 'll prove to be a great product. Thanks for sharing such an informative article.

  • darthbinky - Tuesday, February 23, 2010 - link

    For what it's worth, I thought I'd mention that I saw this card for sale on for $310 with a promo code. Everywhere else seems to be selling them for upwards of $350, with stock running out.">

    I haven't ordered from this site before (I usually go Newegg), so don't consider this a recommendation.

  • v12v12 - Monday, February 22, 2010 - link

    Goooood LORD look at the power requirements at load!? The noise and heat?! The GPU industry is LAUGHABLE Vs CPU Vs common-sense engineering. Still more brute-force crapware being metered out to the public. While CPUs are completely in another universe regarding TDP.

    SINGLE-core? Why in the hell are there still these relics being mass produced? METERED-TECHNOLOGY folks... you're all getting hustled w/every release of the market spin-masters "toxic, lava, HAL9000, Halo3" edition releases. Stop buying this crap and they'll stop producing it!?

    Lastly: I've noticed that with many of these so-called "performance" stock HSFs= the engineering tolerances are WAAAAY off! There's all kinds of gaps between the HSF and the ram ICs! They use the cheapest POS, filler TIM (thermal-interface-material) they possibly can to omit real design tolerances! White zinc-gunk is what I call it... When are we going to start demanding some real innovations here with these fraudsters? 3-pipe, aluminum HSF? Ummm GARBAGE! I'll take Zalman's VF-900 and all the custom brackets and stuff that people have been making for YEARS—will still outperform this crap metal, shived lump of a HSF.
    __What a joke... soon as you buy one of these cards, you're dropping another $30-50 on real after-market HSF + TIM + time if you want anything livable and not an in-case heater unit. Come on folks... this is the best you can spend your dollars on? Over-priced, under-equipped, cheaply cooled junk... Kids these days are even more the suckers than they assume their parents are. You guys have no clue how to smart-shop if you're buying into all this gimmick-marketing.

    Give me a damn OEM card, no cooler, no cheap TIM; nothing but the PCB! No fancy ass colors and sh!t esp. WHO CARES what color it is, if it's adding another $10+ to the cost of the card. The whole point of the card is to go INTO a box and PERFORM. I don't want to hear, nor see the card glowing from LEDS or marvel at some "awesome" paint job. When are people going to get that, FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION! Oh wait not in marketing-sucker's-world-2.0....

  • ThermalVent - Friday, March 5, 2010 - link

    Erm why not take your ass out of your head.. I brought one of these at a cut price.
    I get 900Mhz + out of the core and 1300Mhz memory, completely stable and thoroughly tested.
    Not once does it go over 50 Degress celcius under full load for several hours, when idle at these clocks it sits at 23 degrees....................
  • ThermalVent - Monday, March 8, 2010 - link

    make that 1050 core and 1300 memory, completely stable and 28c idle 52 full load after several hours of playing games!
  • austonia - Tuesday, February 23, 2010 - link

    lame attempt at trolling or just ignorant and off medication? hard to tell.
  • v12v12 - Friday, February 26, 2010 - link

    Cut the ad hominem and refute my claims then if you've got something intelligent/on topic to say? If not, please stop wasting time with juvenile 1-upping; douche.
  • austonia - Monday, February 22, 2010 - link

    for a custom card the OC capability is pretty weak, especially considering the additional expense. i have a stock Sapphire 5850 that runs at 900 core/1300 memory at stock voltage, and 1000/1300 at 1.25v using AMD GPU clock tool and MSI Afterburner utility. stable in Crysis benchmark looping and Furmark. this was from an early batch too, about a month after they came out.
  • araczynski - Monday, February 22, 2010 - link

    after all these years i'm still seeing no reason to upgrade my 4850x2.

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