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The Sapphire Hybrid X700 Pro has a certain elegance, sporting a small blue heatsink on the X700 Pro GPU and a total of eight heatsinks on the GDDR3 memory chips. It’s a mid-sized card with no need for an extra power connector and the PCI Express x16 connector is still novel enough to excite a certain amount of interest. No doubt we will look back on that comment in six months time with some embarrassment, but for now it’s true enough.
We had hoped that the Hybrid family name alluded to some sort of AGP/PCI Express adapter, but no, it seems that Hybrid is the odd monochrome cartoon character on the Sapphire box.
As you will recall, the X700 Pro chip is built on the technology of the X800, except that it has eight pixel pipelines rather than 16 or 12, and the memory controller is 128bit rather than 256bit. While nVidia is happy to have mid-range chips such as the GeForce 6600 which are effectively half of a GeForce 6800 Ultra, ATI takes a slightly different approach. Starting with the Radeon 9600 it has used its mid-range chips to prove the technology that it will use in the next generation fabrication process, so the X800 uses a 0.13 micron process and typically has 160 million transistors, but the X700 has moved to a 0.11 micron process and the reduction in the number of pipelines means that it has some 120 million transistors. Make no mistake, the X700 is not a crippled X800, and neither is it a jumped-up X600.
Moving to a smaller fabrication process has a number of virtues as the smaller core is cheaper, and it also allows ATI to work out the wrinkles of the process before it adopts it in the high-end chips. If the manufacturer gets the move to a smaller process absolutely right it can reduce power requirement, which also makes it easier to cool the chip, however Intel has proved with the Prescott Pentium 4 that a new fabrication process can be anything but a safe bet.
Sapphire has used the X700 Pro in a very conventional graphics card with one D-SUB port, one DVI-I and a TV-Out, while the box contains the usual DVI-to-D-SUB adapter, an S-Video extension cable, a composite TV cable and an S-Video-to-composite video adapter.
There’s a reasonable software package in the shape of PowerDVD 5 (stereo rather than surround sound), Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow and Sapphire’s usual Redline overclocking utility. We’re not massive fans of Redline as it is rather clunky and basic, and you have to use trial and error when you’re overclocking. Added to that, Redline doesn’t recognise the X700 and instead of issuing an update Sapphire has posted a patch on its website which you have to download and run before you can install the software, which is a bit messy and quite unsatisfactory.
In our initial batch of tests on the TrustedReviews Pentium 4 system the Sapphire did a good job of returning test results even when the resolution was cranked up and FSAA was enabled. No doubt this was aided by the 256MB of memory which ensured that the card never ran out of texture memory, but if you study the results you’ll see that the scores are rather slow. In the most intensive tests and games the frame rates were simply too low to make this ability to run high quality settings relevant. In Doom3, for instance, there was little point running a resolution above 1,024 x 768 and anti-aliasing was out of the question. Far Cry was less of a struggle for the Sapphire but you had to balance the settings to keep the frame rate up. You could have either a high resolution or anti-aliasing, but not both. So, what we needed, we reasoned, was some overclocking to see whether we could get the best of both worlds.