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A couple of weeks ago I looked at three mid-range graphics card that all came in well under the £200 mark. The most expensive of the three at £160 was the Leadtek WinFast PX6800GS TDH based upon nVidia’s GeForce 6800 GS chip. This GPU is a respin of the 6800 GT. It’s built on a 110nm micron process enabling it to offer higher clocks and this gave it enough of a lead over the cards based on ATI’s X800 GTO, thereby justifying its higher price. However, Sapphire exclusively offers a part called the GTO2 (GTO Squared). The ‘Squared’ refers to the fact that this card has one ‘quad’ of pipelines that have been disabled, and that with a bit of jiggery-pockery from a BIOS flash and an overclocking tool, it can be turned from a 12-pipeline 400MHz card into a 540MHz 16-pipelined graphics card.
How so? This is because, unofficially at least, this card is to all intents and purposes an R480 - that is an X850 XT. So why is ATI selling full-on X850 XT’s as lowly X800 GTO? Well, it’s simply because X850 XTs were at one point very expensive card to make and to buy, but as its manufacturing process matured costs came down, ATI was able to offer a much cheaper card by producing a full working R480 core and then disabling a pipeline quad. However, by thinly disguising the fact that it can be modded, ATI is able to generate buzz and a lot of mid-range sales, all pretty good for the bottom line. So while it says X800GTO on the box, Sapphire might as well have written it in crayon over the X850 XT sticker. That said, there’s no official support and BIOS flashing will void the warranty, so in the unlikely event of anything going wrong, if you call up Sapphire, you should expect a response along the lines of, ‘don’t know what you’re on about mate’.
This means that instructions on how to mod the card aren’t included in the box but you can find them easily via a search engine. The chances are that the process will be trouble free. However, in fact I did run into problems. Once flashed the card refused to generate a picture on our test system and it turned out that there was a rare incompatibility with our motherboard. Switching to another motherboard the card booted fine and had successfully been modded to 16-pipelines, but it meant we couldn’t test the GTO2 with the original round-up. However, we since moved to a new test system and the card works fine.
The card is a fairly regular looking thing. The heatsink spears to be copper rather than aluminium to take care of the extra heat from the expected overclock. There’s a power connector on the back, which is definitely necessary.