Sapphire Radeon X800 PCI Express
Best balance between budget and performance?
Review I recently looked at a PCI Express version of Nvidia's GeForce 6800 Ultra from Leadtek. While not a new graphics chip, the support for PCI Express incarnation was reason enough to take a look, and the same applies to this Sapphire Radeon X800 board, writes Benny Har-Even.
When the X800 originally launched, there was no vanilla version - just the X800 Pro. Based on the 'R420' GPU, this was a 12 pixel-pipeline chip built on a 130nm process. The X800, however, is an 'R430', a 12-pipeline chip produced on a 110nm process. While this enables clock speeds to be ramped up, the X800 is actually clocked below the Pro, at 390MHz for the GPU and 350MHz - 700MHz effective - for the memory. Instead, consumers can enjoy the benefits of greater availability and lower prices and it's still higher than the 325/700MHz specs of the regular GeForce 6800.
Essentially, the 16 pixel-processing pipelines of the R430 are grouped into batches of four - if one of the groups isn't quite up to scratch, the chip becomes an X800. It also has a full six vertex shaders and of course, supports 3Dc normal map compression.
Alongside the GPU, the board boasts 256MB of GDDR 3 memory, which compares favourably to its Nvidia equivalent - most standard GeForce 6800-based boards have only 128MB of memory.
Lost most other cards in this class, the Sapphire board sports a VGA and a DVI connector, with a VGA dongle adaptor included in the box. There's a TV port which connects to a cable providing S-Video and composite ports. The cost saving compared to more powerful cards means there's no video input, so you can't use it to capture video content. However, it's lower power requirements means that it doesn't require an external power connector. Indeed, the GPU is also covered by a relatively modest heatsink and fan arrangement, which in turn means that noise levels aren't excessive.
Sapphire bundles a full version of Price of Persia, Cyberlink's PowerDVD and Red Line's overclocking utility with the card. There's also an OEM 'lite' version without these extras.
Testing the board on a 3.46GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, I was able to compare the X800 with previously reviewed X800 XL and the X800 XT Platinum Edition cards.
Generally, the performance is in line with what you'd expect. Move up the product line and you see an linear scale showing clearly what you get for your money.
The exception is Doom 3, where the X800 XL is outpaced at all resolutions when full-screen anti-aliasing (FSAA) and anisotropic filtering (AF) are enabled. However, the XL was tested last December with an older driver, version 4.11. If the XL was re-tested using the current driver, 5.3, I'd expect its Doom 3 performance to improve and bring it back into line.
So what do you lose by saving money and going for a 12-pipeline ATI card over a 16-pipeline version? Essentially, you rule out playing at 1600 x 1200 with FSAA and AF enabled. If you really want to crank it up, you'll going to have to go for a more powerful card. What's more, the 3.46GHz Extreme Edition Pentium 4 that these tests were conducted on is still a high-end machine, so most people will see lower scores. This might even put 1280 x 1024 with FSAA and AF out of reach, depending on the CPU.
If you only play games at 1024 x 768 then the standard X800 is a great choice - it's hard to justify going for a more expensive card. But at higher resolutions, the benefits of a 16-pipe card can be clearly seen, especially in newer games. With a DirectX 8.1 title like Unreal Tournament 2004, the X800 acquitted itself well even at maximum settings, but for more up-to-date games it hasn't quite got the horsepower to compete.
This means that the price:performance sweet spot for ATI is still the X800 XL. Comparing it with Nvidia-based offerings, seeing as the X800 offers 256MB of video memory compared to 128MB, and that the standard GeForce 6800 lacks the SLI compatibility, the X800 blows the Nvidia product out of the water.
If you can't stretch your budget to a Radeon X800 XL, the X800 is a good alternative. At around £167 the Sapphire board is not so far off the price of a single GeForce 6600 GT. For those that don't want the costs associated with going down Nvidia's SLI route it's a sensible choice.
|Sapphire Radeon X800 PCI Express|
|Price||£167 inc. VAT|
|More info||The Sapphire site|
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