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AMD's Northern Islands (Radeon 6x series) technology has allowed its motherboard partners to produce graphics cards for the mainstream and value ends of the market.
Not only that, but these cards have performance and features that barely 18 months ago were the sole preserve of cards with the highest price tags.
The biggest of AMD's partners is Sapphire, whose latest card is the Radeon HD6850 Vapor-X. Cards in Sapphire's Vapor-X family are overclocked cards in the factory and come with Sapphire-designed PCBs and cooling systems, so they not only run faster than a standard card, but they are quieter too.
A standard HD6850 has a core clock speed of 775MHz and 1GB of GDDR5 memory clocked at 1000MHz (for an effective speed of 4GHz). For the Vapor-X, Sapphire has nudged the core speed up to 800MHz and added 100MHz to the memory speed so that it sprints along at 1100MHz or an effective 4.4GHz.
As a PCI-Express 16x slot provides only 75 watts of power, the HD6850 Vapor-X needs a little extra help which comes in the form of two six-pin PCI-Express power connectors on the top edge of the card. If your PC's power supply doesn't have the necessary connectors then help is at hand in the shape of two Molex-to-6-pin power cables that are included with the card.
Also bundled is a voucher for the racing game Dirt 3 which allows users to download the game from Steam (though be warned – it's a huge download).
Performance-wise, it coped very well with the current big-name games, especially considering its price. We tested it with Dirt 3's built-in benchmark test at the 1080p resolution (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) and it came out with, on average, 49 frames per second (fps) and that was with some added filtering as well.
When it came to the more intensive Shogun 2 1080p benchmark it still returned a playable average speed of 38fps.
Along with the power cables and game voucher, Sapphire also supplies a mini-Displayport-to-Displayport adapter, high-speed HDMI 1.4a cable, Crossfire connector for adding another graphics card, and a DVI-to-VGA adapter.
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Considering its performance and what it comes with, Sapphire's factory-overclocked HD6580 is a steal for gamers
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