Moving on to a 3.4GHz Prescott test system on an Intel D925XCV motherboard with 1GB of dual channel DDR2 533MHz memory, we installed Redline on top of the Catalyst 4.10 drivers. Initially we could only raise the core speed from 425MHz to 439MHz, while the memory would barely move from 864MHz to 878MHz. Predictably this tiny overclock had a negligible effect, and we were rather unimpressed. What was the point of all of that GDDR3 memory if it wouldn’t scorch along at an infernal pace, we wondered?
At that very moment ATI released the Beta of Catalyst 4.12 so we gave it a whirl. On standard timings the scores in 3DMark05 didn’t change, while our Doom3 results rose by a few frames per second, but the real benefits came when we started overclocking. With the new Catalyst drivers we could push Redline almost to its limits, with the core speed hitting 486MHz and memory speeds up at 986MHz. It took us some time to get to those speeds as Redline requires you to use trial and error, and the speed sliders move in jumps of 4 or 5MHz. For the record we also tried overclocking with Riva Tuner and Powerstrip and the results were exactly the same as Redline.
We’d managed to bump up the speeds by 14 per cent, and when we re-ran 3DMark05 and Doom3 we saw the benefits as the scores rose by almost exactly that amount. That’s much more encouraging, but those numbers don’t tell the full story. Running Doom3 at 1,600 x 1,200 on standard timings gave a rate of 12.5fps, and when we overclocked the rate rose to 14.3fps. The thing is, neither of those speeds are playable, so the overclocking makes little difference. Of course it’s better to play Doom3 at 1,024 x 768 with an enhanced frame rate of 48.6fps, rather than the standard 44.5fps but the extra 4fps is the icing on the cake, rather than something that radically changes your perception of the graphics card.
That’s where this review gets a little sticky as the Sapphire X700 Pro is undoubtedly a good mid-range graphics card but it’s rather expensive at £150. For an extra £50 you could buy a basic GeForce 6800 which is far better in all respects, and then there’s the issue of the DirectX 9 support that ATI offers. The X700 Pro complies with Shader Model 2, rather than Shader Model 3, and while that may make no difference at all for the time being it’s something to bear in mind for the future.
The most bizarre aspect of the X700 range is that the X700 XT is the same price as the Pro, but has half the memory. This ultimately makes the X700 message a rather confused one, and we’d have rather seen the X700 Pro with 128MB of memory and a correspondingly lower price.
The Sapphire X700 Pro is too expensive to be a budget graphics card, and too slow to be ranked as a real gaming card, which leaves it in an uncomfortable position.