- Review Price: £266.00
It’s been over two months since I was in Toronto at the launch of the Radeon X800 platform, and during that time I’ve done a lot of testing and writing about the latest generation of graphics cards. However, it has taken this long for that announcement in Canada, to turn into a tangible retail product.
Before me right now is the first retail card based on the Radeon X800 chipset to make its way into the TrustedReviews offices. Of course I’ve looked at a few reference boards, but until I see a proper, boxed retail card it’s all a bit ethereal – after all, you can’t buy a reference board, so the existence of engineering samples means little to the general public.
It comes as no surprise that the first retail X800 board came from Sapphire. Back in the days when ATI branded and sold graphics cards itself, Sapphire was the company that actually manufactured the boards. So when ATI moved to a board partner model, Sapphire obviously had a bit of a head start on the competition. It also comes as no surprise that this board is based on the X800 Pro variant of the chipset, rather than the top of the range X800 XT Platinum Edition. The official launch of the latter was a couple of weeks after the Pro, so I’m fully expecting to have to wait a while longer before I see a retail X800 XT Platinum Edition board.
Sapphire has gone the extra mile with the packaging, providing a large box complete with a hinged flap and a see-through window so you can see the card without having to open it up. The overall effect is pretty good and it does help to spell out the message that this is a special piece of hardware.
Once you’re bored with looking at the card through the window, it’s time to open the box and see what goodies are inside. It’s fair to say that Sapphire hasn’t skimped on the extras with the Radeon X800 Pro. As far as games go you’re getting a full version of Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness. This was one of the first games to use proper DirectX 9 effects, and it does look very good in places. However, it was never a particularly great game, and it’s showing its age visually now as well. But, to be fair, bundled games are a pleasant bonus to find inside a graphics card box.
Besides Lara’s latest adventure, the box also contains a copy of PowerDVD, Redline Overclocking software, a composite video cable, an S-Video cable, an S-Video to composite video converter, a DVI to D-SUB converter and a power splitter. What’s particularly interesting is that Sapphire also provides a cable that splits into three discrete RCA ports allowing for a component video signal to be output, giving the highest possible video quality. So, Sapphire has pretty much covered all the bases, and you should have everything you could possibly need at the point of purchase.
Given that Sapphire traditionally sticks to the ATI reference design, I was slightly surprised to see that this card is using a blue PCB rather than the traditional ATI red. Other than the colour though, this board is pretty much identical to the reference boards that I’ve tested. There’s a copper heatsink and fan assembly covering the VPU, but it’s small enough to keep the card a single slot solution. A single Molex connector provides the X800 Pro with enough power to operate, while the backing plate sports a DVI connecter, a D-SUB port and an video output.
The X800 Pro chipset runs at a core speed of 475MHz, with the 256MB of GDDR3 memory clocked at 450MHz equating to an effective speed of 900MHz. But it’s not the clock speeds that really separate the X800 Pro from the X800 XT Platinum Edition, it’s the number of pixel pipelines. Where the X800 XT Platinum Edition sports 16 pixel pipelines, the Pro only has 12, although they both have six vertex pipelines. Of course, the lack of pixel pipelines is a reasonable differentiator for ATI to separate the two cards, but the recently announced nVidia GeForce 6800 GT has thrown the cat among the pigeons.
A few weeks ago we looked at a GeForce 6800 GT reference board, which is a single slot solution and still sports 16 pixel pipelines, but most importantly nVidia is quoting an estimated street price of around £299, putting it in direct contention with the Radeon X800 Pro. Of course I haven’t looked at a retail 6800 GT yet, but Scan already has an XFX retail board listed at £288.46, which is only about £22 more than Komplett is charging for this Sapphire.
So, how did the Sapphire X800 Pro measure up in the benchmark tests? Well running the older 3DMark 2001 the Sapphire managed to keep the 6800 GT at bay, but moving up to 3DMark03, the 6800 GT solidly beat the Sapphire at every setting. Aquamark was a much closer affair, with the Sapphire managing better scores than the 6800 GT when FSAA was switched on. But with X2: The Threat, the 6800 GT left the Sapphire X800 Pro in its wake once more.
Testing with the bundled Tomb Raider: Angel Of Darkness showed a fairly even match, although the 6800 GT was still slightly ahead. The Sapphire lagged behind considerably on the Halo test, with scores of 62.7fps and 46.9fps at 1,280 x 1,024 and 1,600 x 1,200 respectively, compared with 75.8fps and 59.9fps on the 6800 GT.
But turning to Far Cry, the Sapphire turned in some great numbers, that not only beat the 6800 GT reference board, but are also way ahead of the X800 Pro reference board I previously looked at. Of course, to be fair, the X800 Pro reference board was running on older drivers, and an older revision of Far Cry, which could explain the performance boost. But it definitely appears that the X800 Pro is less bothered by AF than the 6800 GT.
It’s lucky for Sapphire that Komplett is selling this card at such a low price, because no other online retailer is coming close to matching it. At £266 the X800 Pro is a much more attractive proposition than at £300. Although the Sapphire managed to drag its performance up for the Far Cry test, I’m still looking forward to seeing how a retail 6800 GT will perform. But as it is, Sapphire has produced the most affordable step into the world of next generation graphics so far.
Even with only 12 pixel pipelines the Sapphire Radeon X800 Pro turned in some good numbers in the benchmarks, and if you go to Komplett you’ll get it at a reasonable price too. The impending release of the GeForce 6800 GT may spoil the party for the X800 Pro, but for now it’s the only, reasonably, affordable next generation graphics solution.
”’Sapphire Radeon X800 Pro vs nVidia GeForce 6800 GT ””'(P4 Extreme Edition 3.4GHz)”
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