Sapphire – Radeon X800 Pro review

fast ATI-based graphics card
Photo of Sapphire – Radeon X800 Pro
£309.41

Today’s high end games demand more and more from graphics cards, with both the two main chip producers, ATI and Nvidia, forever raising the bar in terms of sheer performance and features, leading to a bewildering choice of cards for your red-hot gaming system.

Sapphire’s latest top-end card (for this month at any rate) is the 256MB Radeon X800 Pro, based on ATI’s latest GPU; the R420. Built on a 0.13 micron, “low-k” core, the R420 has a thumping 160 million transistors, 45 million more than the previous Radeon 9800XT core.

But thanks to the low-k technology, the core uses less power than the 9800XT and as a result runs a little cooler. The heat and power reduction is aided by the use of DDR3 memory which uses less power and generates less heat than the DDR2 memory on the 9800XT.

There’s nothing really radical in the new core compared with the previous R3xx architecture. ATI has concentrated on optimising and improving what was already there; more vertex shaders, more and improved pixel shaders and an improved memory controller. On the features side there are a couple of new ideas; Temporal Antialiasing and something ATI calls 3Dc.

A proprietary 3D compression technology, 3Dc compresses bitmaps so that they make more efficient use of memory. This sounds great, but as always there is a fly in the ointment; in this case the technology needs applications specially written for it.

Temporal Antialiasing is the name ATI is giving to three new antialiasing modes. It varies the Anti Aliasing sample pattern from one frame to the next to create a higher degree of antialiasing; in effect 2x AA becomes 4x but with little extra overhead.

The new core will, as it stands at the moment, come in two flavours; the Pro and the XT Platinum Pro. The differences between the two are clock speeds and the number of pixel pipelines. The Pro is the less powerful of the two with a core speed of 475MHz and a memory clock running at 900MHz (450MHz DDR). It has twelve pixel pipelines instead of the sixteen of the XT PE but the same 256-bit memory bus, and is the first model to be released on retail boards.

So with all this hardware, the card should perform well. And it doesn’t disappoint, especially at the price point it’s pitched at. A 3DMark03 score of 9,650 at 1,024 x 768 is not to be sniffed at, nor is a frame rate of 35 in Far Cry when tested at a resolution of 1,600 x 1,200.

In overall appearance the card looks very much like its predecessor, even more so with Sapphire’s model as it’s a clone of the reference ATI design and, unlike the opposition’s cards, is a compact, single-slot solution.

Bundled with the card is the usual range of goodies that Sapphire supplies; all the cables you need, including power cables, and copies of Tomb Raider, CyberLink PowerDVD, Tweak (overclocking utility) and a driver CD.

Company: Sapphire

Contact: 01793 423830


Verdict
The Sapphire Radeon X800 Pro can be considered excellent value for money at its full price, but if you shop around you can probably find it up to £40 cheaper. That makes this stunningly quick 3D card even more worth the cash.