Non-reference board for 5870s?

I'm deciding between different 5870s, and I keep reading reviews of people saying that certains cards are not "reference boards." What does this mean exactly? Is one "better" than the other? From what I gather the first card is a reference board, and the second card is not:

Also, I assume both Sapphire and Diamond are OK brands, correct?
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  1. You are quite correct on the first part. The first one strictly uses ATI's design whilst slapping a sticker on the side of the GPU. Nothing to see there.

    When something is, "non-reference," it simply means it isn't the original. When ATI's AIBs (the manufacturers such as Sapphire, XFX, MSI, etc) receive the chips from ATI, they can choose to put them on their (the manufacturer's) custom boards. These boards can vary from having higher-grade parts (MSI's military-quality parts), to better cooling (Sapphire's VAPOR-X). Typically any non-reference card will always be better.

    Also, I wouldn't recommend Diamond. Bad customer support.
  2. If you buy a reference card, you'll get the exact same card from whatever vendor you purchase from. They might have different stickers, but under the hood, you're getting the same thing. That being the case, your biggest considerations should be price and customer service.

    If you buy a non-reference card, as Shadow noted, it's going to be different than the non-reference cards of another manufacturer. The GPU itself will be the same, but (again, as Shadow noted) you're likely to see different cooling systems (more fans, different ventilation/heat sinks, water blocking, etc.) and a certain degree of factory overclocking. While the guts are the same, non-reference cards bring additional factors into the equation. Are you planning to overclock heavily? Then you might want to stick with a manufacturer like Sapphire, who place a great deal of emphasis on efficient cooling. If you aren't looking to overclock, or already have great airflow/cooling in your case, then you may not need to spend extra on a non-reference board. It all comes down to what you need, what's available, and how much you want to spend.

    Whether you want/need a non-reference card or not, as a general rule, HIS, Sapphire, and XFX all have a great reputation for outstanding customer service. XFX offers a lifetime warranty on their cards, while most other manufacturers will offer 1-3 years. Whether or not a lifetime warranty is worthwhile is a subject of some debate, but that's a matter for a different thread. Diamond, on the other hand, seems to have a reputation for pretty lousy customer service. You won't get a card from them that's cheap enough (compared with the competition) to justify the nightmare you might experience if you had to try and RMA a card.

    Hope that helps, and again, hat tipped to shadow for his info - +1 to all of it.
  3. Do you plan on overclocking your card?
  4. Bighairyman said:
    Do you plan on overclocking your card?

    I would like to overclock it, yes. I see some people saying that the non-reference cards can't change the voltage... which is a problem?
  5. billtimbob said:
    I would like to overclock it, yes. I see some people saying that the non-reference cards can't change the voltage... which is a problem?

    I'm not sure it's true that all non-reference cards are voltage locked, but I have heard people talking about problems with voltage locked Vapor-X cards. There may be ways to get around this, either with hardware or software mods, but I am not sure. You might want to do a bit of additional research about the non-reference boards that are currently available, and whether people have had success overclocking them, or breaking through any voltage locks.

    If you have a case with good cooling though, you may be able to overclock well with a reference card - some cards will overclock extremely well, others won't. Product binning doesn't create a lot of certainty, sadly.
  6. billtimbob said:
    I would like to overclock it, yes. I see some people saying that the non-reference cards can't change the voltage... which is a problem?

    It all depends how much you want to overclock it. I pulled the trigger on a Gigabyte 5870 yesterday but now I'm reading that I might not be able to change the voltage. If I had a chance to do it over again, I would purchase this one:

    It comes with voltage software and I've read people overclocking it over 1ghz with good temps.
  7. Im not sure about voltage locked but a lot of voltage tweeking software is card specific. The MSI afterburner software isn't card specific though.

    You would have a hard time over volting memory since not many software does it.

    I got my 5970 to run at 1ghz core. So im sure a 5870 can do the same.
  8. If you haven't already, you might want to check out this post. It is about the 5850 specifically, but the research he did may help guide your decision as to whether you want a reference or non-reference board for you HD 5870.

  9. If you're into OC'ing, an MSI HD5850 can get to 1kcore/1.3kmem easily. The $120 you saved could go into a crossfire motherboard, and then you can CF and OC another HD5850 later.
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