Sapphire HD 7770 GHz Edition Vapor-X Review

The Southern Islands series GPUs from AMD have come full circle, encompassing everything from the high-end HD 7990 down to the budget friendly HD 7750. Because Nvidia has yet to release low-end Kepler based GPUs at a price that will attract those on a budget, Team Red is looking to take full advantage by offering Southern Island series cards at both ends of the pricing spectrum. Today, we will be exploring one of Sapphire’s lower end Cape Verde XT offerings, the HD 7770 GHZ Edition Vapor-X.

 

Specifications and Features

In 2007, Sapphire began providing their proprietary Vapor-X cooling system on many of their video cards. While still using a vapor chamber design, it has gone through a few changes since its inception. The latest Vapor-X design now includes a dual copper heatpipe and two 80 mm fans. This particular video card is Sapphire’s first showing of the new Vapor-X cooling design on any 7000 series GPU. Sapphire has decided to put this newly designed Vapor-X cooling to good use by applying a factory overclock of 10% to the GPU core and 6% to the memory. This overclock lands it at 1100 MHz GPU core and 1300 MHz memory speed, up from the stock 1000 Mhz and 1225 MHz, respectively. While the applied factory over clock will benefit gaming performance, the 128-bit memory bus will still be a limiting factor. However, this is expected in a video card offered at this price point.

Here are the specifications as provided by Sapphire:

Output 2 x Dual-Link DVI
1 x HDMI (with 3D)
1 x DisplayPort
DisplayPort 1.2
GPU 1100 MHz Core Clock
28nm Chip
640 x Stream Processors
Memory 1024 MB Size
128-bit GDDR5
5200 MHz Effective
Dimension 225(L)x110(W)x43(H) mm Size.
Software Driver CD
Accessory D-Sub Adapter
6 PIN to 4 PIN Power Cable
HDMI 1.4a high speed 1.8 meter cable (Full Retail SKU only)

Being part of the GCN (Graphics Core Next) architecture, the Sapphire HD 7770 Vapor-X brings a host of features to the table. The GCN architecture has been discussed many times in previous reviews here at Overclockers, but if you need a refresher coarse, have a look at AMD’s GCN explanation page. The Sapphire HD 7770 Vapor-X has a host of features that go beyond what the Graphics Core Next architecture provides. The two big features that set this card apart from the reference design are the factory set overclock, and of course, the Vapor-X cooling system.

Dual Link DVI

Dual Link DVI

HDMI (With 3D)

HDMI (With 3D)

Display Port

Display Port

Display Port 1.2

Display Port 1.2

GDDR5 Memory Technology

GDDR5 Memory

Vapro-X Cooling

Vapro-X Cooling

Black Diamond Choke & Full Solid Cap Desigh

Black Diamond Choke & Full Solid Cap Design

AMD HD3D Technology

AMD HD3D Technology

28 nm GCN (Graphic Core Next) Architecture

28 nm GCN (Graphic Core Next) Architecture

PCI Express 3.0

PCI Express 3.0

AMD Eyefinity 2.0

AMD Eyefinity 2.0

Enhanced Multi-GPU Capabilities

Multi-GPU Capabilities

Discrete Digital Multi-Point Audio

Discrete Digital Multi-Point Audio

Overclocked GHz Edition

Overclocked GHz Edition

Shader Model 5.0

Shader Model 5.0

Open GL 4.2

OpenGL 4.2

DirectX11 Support

DirectX11 Support

AMD Catalyst Control Center

AMD Catalyst Control Center

Dolby TrueHD and DTSHD Master Audio Support

Dolby TrueHD and DTSHD Master Audio Support

Display Flexibility

Display Flexibility

Microsoft Office 2010 Enhanced Productivity

Microsoft Office 2010 Enhanced Productivity

AMD PowerPlay with ZeroCore Power Technology

AMD PowerPlay with ZeroCore Power Technology

Accelerated Internet Applications Rendering

Accelerated Internet Applications Rendering

Cutting-edge Quad HD display support (4K Support)

Cutting-edge Quad HD display support (4K Support)

AMD HD Media Accelerator

AMD HD Media Accelerator

Windows 7 Support

Windows 7 Support

From GPU-Z we can confirm the specifications listed above, as well as gather some additional information. Viewing the sensor information, we see that the clock speeds have dropped to 300 MHz core and 150 MHz memory @ 0.825v. This confirms that the ZeroCore power saving technology is indeed doing its job while the video card is in an idle state. In fact, if you go so far as to turn off the monitor, the ZeroCore feature will reduce power usage to 1 watt or less. It also appears we have a good idle temperature at 32° C with the Vapor-X cooling fans running at only 20% of maximum.

GPU-Z Graphics Card and Sensors Tab

GPU-Z Graphics Card and Sensors Tab

Because this video card is aimed at the budget minded gamer, those of you that fit that bill will be happy to know the system requirements are not extraordinary or expensive by any means. Here is the list of requirements printed on the box.

  • PCI Express® based PC is required with one X16 lane graphics slot available on the motherboard.
  • 2X75 Watt 6-pin PCI Express power connector is required for CrossFireX™ system.
  • 1X75 Watt 6-pin PCI Express power connector is required.
  • Certified power supplies are recommended. Please refer to the AMD approved power supply list.
  • 1024MBMinimum of system memory.
  • Installation software requires CD-ROM drive.
  • DVD playback requires DVD drive.
  • Blu-ray™ / HD DVD playback requires Blu-ray / HD DVD drive.
  • For an AMD CrossFireX™ system, a second same AMD Radeon™ graphics card, an AMD CrossFireX™ Ready motherboard and one AMD CrossFireX Bridge Interconnect cable per graphics card (optional) are required.
  • To support 3 displays, one of the monitors has to support DisplayPort.
  • 450 Watt Power Supply is required.

The Company Line

Below is a snippet taken from Sapphire’s HD 7770 Vapor-X web page.

“The SAPPHIRE HD 7770 Vapor-X OC Edition is the first card in this generation to use the SAPPHIRE exclusive implementation of Vapor chamber cooling technology. Previous products with Vapor-X have received world wide acclaim for delivering very efficient cooling that allows the card to run at higher speeds but with very low noise levels. Based on the latest GPU technology from AMD, the SAPPHIRE HD 7770 Vapor-X OC Edition has 1GB of the latest DDR5 memory, and is factory overclocked with core clocks of 1100MHz and memory clocks of 1300MHz (5.2 GB/s effective) to deliver excellent performance.”

Packaging and Accessories

The front of the retail box does a nice job of explaining the product and the main features it provides. The cool blue coloring applied to the packaging is intended to give the impression of an arctic environment; and by the looks of the cold weather suit the battle-ready female character is in, Sapphire manages to make their point!

The back of the box lists additional features, included accessories, and makes mention of the many awards Sapphire has accumulated over the years. Our now familiar battle- ready character is also on the rear of the box, but this time in her “Gangsta” pose. She’s a freak, and she makes me nervous. So, let’s move on, shall we?

The box sides contain mostly product branding and SKU numbers, but also list the ever important system requirements.

Box Front

Box Front

Box Rear

Box Rear

Box Right Side

Box Right Side

Box Left Side

Box Left Side

Box Top Side

Box Top Side

Box Bottom Side

Box Bottom Side

The Sapphire HD 7770 Vapor-X video card and accessories are securely packed in a brown box that contains a formed cardboard tray. Once opened, immediately noticeable is a warning that the video card must be connected to the computer’s power supply. The video card is in an anti-static bubble wrap bag to protect it during shipping.  Also sitting in the forward area of the tray is the HDMI cable, DVI to VGA adapter, and 4-pin Molex to 6-pin PCI-e power adapter. When removing the tray from the brown box you will find the driver CD, quick installation guide, and the product registration card sitting below. Sapphire has also included a case badge, which sits inside the CD sleeve.

Box with headless freak standing guard

Box with Headless Freak Standing Guard

Tray with Contents

Tray with Contents

Driver CD and Paperwork

Driver CD and Paperwork

Everything Included in the Box

Everything Included in the Box

Out of Box and Still Wrapped

Out of Box and Still Wrapped

Out of Box and Unwrapped

Out of Box and Unwrapped

Up Close

The Sapphire HD 7770 Vapor-X is an attractive looking card that boasts a mostly white and black theme. The upper-left white area is actually built into the fans shroud, while the lower-right white area is derived from a sticker applied to the shroud.  The white “V” with a blue ring on each fan blends in nicely with the overall design of the card.

Overall Appearance

Overall Appearance

Overall Appearance Straight On

Looking closer at the different areas of the HD 7770 Vapor-X, we can seet how the heatpipes look with the fan shroud still on. The heatpipes are only visible when viewing the card from the bottom side. Because the heatpipes are nicely positioned, once the card is installed, you will not see them. The rear of the card has the 6-pin PCI-e power receptacle attached, as well as some angle cut design attributes to the fan shroud. Personally, I prefer the power connection at the top-rear area, especially when dealing with longer video cards. However, because this particular card only measures roughly 9 inches in length, the location should be fine for the vast majority of users.

The dual slot design allows for plenty of room to include two DVI connections, both of which are Dual-Link.  Also located at the front of the card are HDMI and Display Port connections and finally, an exhaust port area.

The top side of the HD 7770 Vapor-X is where the CrossFire connection is located on the PCB. There is also a sticker attached to the top of the fan shroud with the Sapphire logo.

Bottom View

Bottom View

Bottom Front View

Bottom Front View

Bottom Rear View

Bottom Rear View

Rear View

Rear View

Dual Slot - Display Connections

Dual Slot - Display Connections

Top Front View

Top Front View

Top Rear View

Top Rear View

At the back of the HD 7770 Vapor-X we find the four spring loaded screws that need to be removed in order to have a closer look at the Vapor-X cooling chamber design. In addition to all the printed circuitry found on the back side of the card, there are also a few compliance markings and bar code stickers.

Back Side View

Back Side View

Vapor-X Mounting Screws

Vapor-X Mounting Screws

After removing the Vapor-X mounting screws, I was delighted to see a perfect application of thermal interface material. Much too often I see TIM applications that are way overdone with zero attention to detail; it’s nice to see Sapphire recognize the importance of a proper application.

The dual heatpipes extend through the copper base and bend around as they make their way through the aluminum fins, which should provide an excellent escape route as the heat is whisked away by the dual 80 mm fans. The heatsink assembly does not make contact with the memory chips, but the dual fan feature should provide a good amount of airflow to pass over them.

Four more small screws attach the fan shroud to the heatsink, and once removed, we can see the fans are FirstD FD88015H12 models. There isn’t much information available on FirstD, but they appear to be a popular choice amongst those who manufacture AMD video cards.

TIM Application

TIM Application

Heatpipes and Copper Base

Heatpipes and Copper Base

Aluminum Fins

Aluminum Fins

Back Side of Fan Shroud

Back Side of Fan Shroud

Sapphire uses their patent pending “Black Diamond”  choke design on the HD 7770 Vapro-X, which they say runs 10% cooler and offers 25% greater power efficiency than other choke designs. Additionally, the use of high-polymer aluminum caps are advertised as providing improved reliability and overclocking potential.

Aluminum Cap and Black Diamond Choke

Aluminum Cap and Black Diamond Choke

 

The four Elpeda W2032BBBG-50-F memory modules provide the 1024 Mb of onboard memory and are rated at 1.35v.

Elpeda Memory Module

Elpeda Memory Module

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the AMD Cape Verde XT GPU core!

Cape Verde XT GPU Core

Cape Verde XT GPU Core

Positioned one up from the bottom, the Cape Verde XT GPU offers increased stream cores and a slightly faster GPU clock than its little brother the Cape Verde Pro GPU. Below is the reference design specifications for the Cape Verde XT and Pro.

Feature Cape Verde XT Cape Verde Pro
Tech 28 nm 28 nm
Bus PCIe 3.0 PCIe 3.0
Memory 1 Gb GDDR5 1 Gb GDDR5
Stream Cores 640 512
DirectX 11 11
GPU/Mem Freq 1000/4500 MHz 800/4500 MHz
Mem Bus Width 128-bit 128-bit

Performance and Overclocking

Test System

  • EVGA P67 FTW
  • Intel i7 2600K (Stock Speed)
  • G.Skill RipjawsX 2X4 GB @ 1866 MHz 9-10-9-28
  • OCZ ModX Stream 600 W
  • PowerColor PCS+ HD7850
  • Windows 7 x64 SP1
  • Catalyst 12.4 Driver

Benchmark Methods/Settings

  • All synthetic benchmarks (FutureMark and Heaven) were run at their default settings.
  • Aliens vs. Predator was run at its default setting, and again using the highest settings available (4xAA, textures set to “3″).
  • Hawx 2 DX 10 version was run at 1920×1080 with 8xAA, every setting at its highest.
  • Dirt 2 was run at 1920×1080 8xAA/16xAF, every setting at its highest.
  • Stalker: COP was run at 1920×1080 ultra settings, 4xAA with tessellation enabled, using the Sunshafts bench results only.
  • Hwbot Unigine Heaven was run using the “DX 11 extreme” setting.
  • Benchmark results are graphed as percentages relative to the stock PowerColor HD7850 PCS+. What this means is the PowerColor HD7850 PCS+ is always 100%, with all other cards in the comparison calculated on a percentage of that. The raw benchmark scores are listed below the percentage for reference.

Overclocking

With the factory applied overclock already in place, I didn’t hold out much hope for taking this card much further. To my surprise, I was able to overclock the memory to 1475 MHz and the GPU core to 1175 Mhz. When you consider the Cape Verde XT reference clocks of 1225 Mhz (Memory) and 1000 Mhz (GPU Core), we can now boast a 17% memory increase along with a 14% GPU increase from the reference design; not to shabby in anyone’s book!

Sapphire does offer a TriXX tweaking utility at their website, but apparently any core or memory voltage adjustments are reserved for the higher-end cards. Without any voltage manipulation available with TriXX or AMD Overdrive, extreme overclocking will be limited, at best. Even with the lack of available voltage adjustments, the HD 7770 Vapor-X overclocked pretty darn good.

Synthetic Benchmarks

As we make our way through the testing/benchmark phase of this review, keep in mind all of the comparison cards are clocked lower than the Sapphire HD 7770 Vapor-X; some just a little and others quite a bit. The closest match in the charts is the HIS HD 7770 GHz Edition. As mentioned previously, there are two Cape Verde cores available: the XT and Pro. The Pro version is found in the HD 7750 series, and the XT in the HD 7770 series. The charts below should give you a good idea of the performance difference between the two GPU cores and which one will fit your needs.

The HD 7770 Vapor-X comes out on top in both the 3DMark03 and 3DMark06 test runs. The overclock I was able to obtain yielded a 9% performance gain in 3DMark03, and a 5% gain in 3DMark06 over the stock score. Not far behind was the HIS HD 7770 GHz edition.

3DMark03 Results

3DMark03 Results

3DMark06 Results

3DMark06 Results

As we move along to more modern benchmarks that utilize DX11 features, such as tessellation, the 3DMark Vantage and 3DMark11 tests begin to show a larger gap between the Pro and XT GPU cores. The increased stream cores of the XT are no doubt playing a large part here.

The last Synthetic test on the docket is the HWBot Heaven benchmark, which again makes good use of tessellation. On this test we begin approaching a 30% performance increase above the HD 7750′s Cape Verde Pro core. The overclock applied to the HD 7770 Vapor-X resulted in a 10% performance gain here as well.

3DMark11 Results

3DMark11 Results

3DMark Vantage Results

3DMark Vantage Results

HWBot Heaven Results

HWBot Heaven Results

Game Benchmarks

As we continue on with the gaming benchmarks, we’ll see if the HD 7770 Vapor-X can cope and provide playable FPS results. The first gaming benchmark is Aliens Vs Predator. In the default test mode (1920×1080, no AA, textures high) the results show 38.6 FPS at stock and jump to 42.6 when the card is overclocked. When I ramped up the AvP benchmark (4xAA, textures highest), we fell below what I consider to be a playable FPS; 25.5 at stock and 28.4 overclocked. Lowering the resolution or backing down from the highest settings will easily get you a playable FPS.

AvP Default Results

AvP Default Results

AvP Highest Settings Results

AvP Highest Settings Results

 

Next on the parade of gaming benchmarks is Stalker: Call of Pripyat (Sunshafts). This particular benchmark makes good use of tessellation, and the Sunshafts portion of the test is very demanding on a video card. We can see in the chart below that a playable FPS of 33.6 at stock was achieved. The overclocked results were slightly better, coming in at 37.6 FPS, which led all cards in the comparison. These results are far from exceptional, but again lowering a few settings will improve frame rates to a more acceptable level.

Stalker: COP Results

Stalker: COP Results

Our final pair of gaming benchmarks include a run of Dirt 2 and Hawx 2.  The Dirt 2 results again show the Sapphire HD 7770 Vapor-X leading the way with a respectable 57.2 FPS at stock, and 63.4 FPS while overclocked. It was good to see these results when all test options were at their highest available level (1920×1080, 8xAA/16xAF).

Hawx 2 is probably the least demanding of all our gaming benchmarks and typically produces the highest frame rates during our testing. This held true with a 120 FPS score at stock speeds, and 130 FPS while overclocked.

Dirt 2 Results

Dirt 2 Results

Hawx 2 Results

Hawx 2 Results

Temperatures/Cooling

Thanks to AMD’s “ZeroCore” technology, keeping just about any GCN architecture card cool, while in an idle state, is pretty much a given. With the temperature in my testing room at 72° F (22.22° C), and the fan speed set at a near inaudible 20%; the HD 7770 VaporX sat comfortably at 32° C while idle. The highest temperature recorded (via GPU-Z) during all of the benchmark tests was 59° C, even in its overclocked state with the fan speed set to 50%.

The Vapor-X design of the cooler not only looks appealing to the eye, but also does its cooling job efficiently and effectively. At lower fan speeds, any noise generated by the Vapor-X cooling fan is dwarfed in comparison to other running components, especially a CPU air cooling solution. At a fan setting of 50%, you can begin to notice a slight amount of noise, but certainly well within an acceptable level. At 100% fan speed, the noise is expected to get your attention, and it does!

Pushing the Limits (Or Not)

Sapphire has locked out any additional voltage manipulation on the HD 7770 Vapor-X. We all know that AMD Overdrive does not offer voltage options, and Sapphire’s TriXX software didn’t either. I installed MSI Afterburner and the voltage option was greyed out and not available; strike three! Because all of the above benchmarks were run at the highest stable overclock I could achieve on the video card, any boost in benchmark performance from here on out would be solely based on an increased CPU speed. Obviously, the synthetic testing scores would increase with a higher CPU speed, but not because of anything the video card is doing. As far as gaming benchmarks go, CPU speed plays a very small part in the overall scores on the platform we use to test with. So, this time around I think it’s best to bypass the “Pushing the Limits” section, because I have basically done it already!

Conclusion

The Sapphire HD 7770 Ghz Edition Vapor-X is currently available at Newegg for $149.99. At that price range, you will find it around $25.00 (give or take a few dollars) more than the Caper Verde Pro HD 7750 iterations. The performance difference between the two is quite substantial, largely in part because of the factory applied overclock. The Vapor-X cooling design works quite well and looks nice too. Even though I was not able to adjust the voltages upward, the card overclocked quite well, which in most cases resulted in a 10% increase in performance during the testing phase.

Limited by the 128-bit memory bus and lower stream cores, this may not be the card for a hardcore, money is no object gamer. However, if you are on a budget (and who isn’t now days?) and don’t mind dropping a few game settings below the maximum levels on the more demanding game titles, I think this card will exceed your expectations. Given the price and performance of the Sapphire HD7770 GHZ Edition Vapor-X, I think Sapphire has a winner here.

Click the stamp for an explanation of what it means.

Dino DeCesari (Lvcoyote)

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