The drive for the very best is something that holds many gamers in its sway. No matter if it's the fastest processor or racking a PC chock full of RAM, living on the bleeding edge of PC gaming is a popular pursuit. This is certainly true with 3D video cards, and the newest releases are benchmarked, scrutinized and otherwise evaluated, all in a race for the highest performance. This has definitely paid dividends for gamers, as both ATI and NVIDIA have been consistently releasing new models of late, and even if these new powerhouses are beyond your means, this forward march of technology has also driven down the cost of the mid-range and entry-level products.
ATI has been quite successful in virtually all markets, with their Radeon 9800 Pro being of special note. It not only powers the standard Radeon 9800 128-MB and All-in-Wonder versions, but is also featured in an enhanced 256-MB version, matched with new DDR-II memory. While the extra 128-MB of memory has not been a definitive hit, ATI does offer a higher-end card for those that demand power for today and a nod towards tomorrow and its texture-intensive 3D games. Some of ATI's partners have also entered this market with their own branded cards, including Sapphire and their Radeon 9800 Pro Atlantis 256-MB.
The physical design of the Sapphire Radeon 9800 Pro 256-MB card is a virtual dupe of the ATI reference design, going so far as to include an ATI-branded heatsink. This is a quite logical decision, especially since Sapphire is ATI's largest 3rd-party manufacturer, and would be expected to stick close to the base design. The Sapphire card features the 0.15-micron R350 core running at a 380 MHz core speed. The card memory has been upgraded to DDR-II and due to inherent latencies, the 256-MB of DDR-II is clocked at 350 MHz (700 MHz effective), which is slightly higher than the standard Radeon 9800 Pro. The presence of 256-MB of DDR-II memory allows a more forward-looking design, as well as a bit more headroom for high-detail gaming environments.
The Sapphire Radeon 9800 Pro 256-MB card is a very standard design, and includes a basic heatsink-fan and silver heatsinks for each of the DDR-II modules (eight on each side of the PCB). This is a necessary cooling requirement of DDR-II, as it runs hotter than standard DDR. Throughout testing, the heatsinks get hot, but the card exhibited rock-solid stability. The card's backplate includes the usual VGA, DVI and TV-out connectors. As is the case with all Radeon 9800 Pro cards, the Sapphire board requires external power through a standard 4-pin Molex power connector.
Sapphire is well known for excellent bundles, and their Radeon 9800 Pro 256-MB retail card certainly holds up well to past efforts. On the hardware side, Sapphire includes an external power cord (Molex extension), an S-Video cable, a composite video cable, an S-Video to Composite adapter, and a DVI-to-VGA dongle for dual-VGA displays.
The documentation is covered off with a hardcopy manual, and for bundle software, Sapphire has gone all out. Along with the standard driver CD, you will also find a Redline Overclocking Util CD, a copy of PowerDVD, and PowerDirector Pro 2.55 for multimedia editing. The game selection is just as impressive, and features full retail copies of Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Soldier of Fortune II.