Sapphire Hybrid X700 Pro graphics card
Stuck between rock, hard place?
Review The Sapphire Hybrid X700 Pro has a certain elegance, sporting a small blue heatsink on the ATI Radeon X700 Pro GPU and a total of eight heatsinks on the GDDR 3 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, writes Leo Waldock.
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.
The X700 Pro chip is built on the same technology as the X800, except that it has eight pixel pipelines rather than 16 or 12, and the memory controller is 128-bit rather than 256-bit. 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 130nm process and typically has 160m transistors, but the X700 has moved to a 110nm process and the reduction in the number of pipelines means that it has some 120m 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 adaptor.
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's 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.