The competition between ATI and NVIDIA is really heating up, with the high-end video card market being an important part of the overall war. No matter if it's a higher-clocked revision of an existing core, a new SLI technology, or a performance-enhancing driver upgrade, these two companies are fighting tooth and nail for your business. This is especially true at the enthusiast level, where profits are better and performance enters the nosebleed area. This is where the Radeon X800 (and soon to be X850) XT and XT Platinum face off against the GeForce 6800 GT and Ultra boards, and to the winner go the considerable spoils.
At the X800 level, ATI has a three-tiered line of products, which feature the 0.13-micron Radeon X800 Pro, X800 XT and X800 XT Platinum models. The Radeon X800 Pro represents the base model, and includes a 12 pixel pipeline core running at 475 MHz, along with 256-MB of 256-bit GDDR3 clocked at 450 MHz. The middle child is the Radeon X800 XT, which features a full 16-pipeline core running at 500 MHz, as well as 256-MB of GDDR3 also clocked at 500 MHz (1 GHz effective). The Radeon X800 XT Platinum is simply a higher-clocked version running at 520 MHz core and up-to 575 MHz memory clock speeds. The Radeon X850 XT and X850 XT Platinum raise speeds even higher to approximately 530-540 MHz core and 590 MHz (1.18 GHz) memory.
The Radeon X800 and X850-based cards also receive an upgrade to ATI's High Definition (HD) gaming, which includes SmartShader HD -16 parallel pixel pipelines and 6 programmable vertex shader pipelines - and give these cards a new level of visual realism. VideoShader HD utilizes the shader processing engine to allow user programmable video effects, video enhancements, and to encode/decode video using standard formats like MPEG1/2/4, Real Media and DivX. SmoothVision HD offers improved AA and AF performance, and Hyper Z HD uses enhanced buffer and memory compression to increase bandwidth and performance. The entire X800/X850-based line is fully DirectX 9 compatible, with the only real difference being ATI's decision to go with Shader Model version 2.0b, while NVIDIA has moved straight to Shader Model 3.0 with the GeForce 6 Series.
The Sapphire Radeon X800 XT 256-MB card naturally includes the Radeon X800 XT VPU, along with 256-MB of 256-bit GDDR3. The card is clocked at standard levels, with a 500 MHz core and matching 500 MHz (1 GHz DDR) memory speeds. These are right on line with the ATI reference specifications, and the board is fully compatible with the ATI reference Catalyst drivers and OverDrive features. The Sapphire card is an AGP 8X model and also includes VIVO (Video-In/Video-Out) capabilities for multimedia usage. VIVO functionality is becoming increasingly popular with high-end video cards, and we really like the added functionality, especially in this era of digital video recorders and cameras. Sapphire also offers a standard 1-year warranty on their video cards, which is fairly standard for the industry.
The Sapphire Radeon X800 XT 256-MB follows along with the overall ATI design philosophy, and is a single-slot card with a low-profile heatsink-fan, and features a single Molex power connector. This gives the ATI enthusiast cards a real advantage over the NVIDIA competition, especially the dual-slot, dual-Molex GeForce 6800 Ultra. The cooling system is made up of a Sapphire-branded copper unit and not far removed from the reference design. The card's backplate is also fairly basic, and features VGA-in, DVI-I and VIVO connectors.
Sapphire is right up there with the best when it comes to video card bundles, and we found a virtual cornucopia of goods in our retail box. Let's start off with hardware, which includes the Sapphire Radeon X800 XT 256-MB card, a DVI to VGA adaptor, a Molex Y-adaptor, an S-Video/Composite VIVO adapter, a composite extension cord, an S-Video extension cord, and an S-Video to HDTV (YPrPb) cable. This is serious equipment, especially on the VIVO side, and ranks right up there with the best.
Sapphire has also filled the box with useful software, including PowerDVD 5, PowerDirector 2.55 VE for multimedia use, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow for the hardcore gamer. Sapphire also bundles a hardcopy user manual, a driver CD, a Redline Overclocking Util CD, and even a metallic "Fueled by Sapphire" case sticker.