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Sapphire Hybrid Radeon X800 XL
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Date: Feb 21, 2005
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction, Specifications & Bundle

It has been a little over two months since we first got to play with ATI's Radeon X800 XL, and we have now begun to receive retail products based on this eagerly anticipated GPU in the HotHardware labs.  For those unfamiliar with the Radeon X800 XL, it is a .11 micron GPU, with 16 pixel pipelines, 6 hardware vertex shaders and all of the other features found in ATI's X8xx series of products.  We've covered the technology behind the Radeon X800 series of GPUs in detail in this article, and our original X800 XL coverage can be found right here. If you'd like to get more familiar with ATI's current flagship GPU architecture, we suggested reading those two articles; they'll fill you in on all of the pertinent details. For now though, let's get acquainted with the first retail X800 XL to arrive, the Sapphire Hybrid Radeon X800 XL.

This card's specifications mirror those of ATI's reference card, but there are some minor aesthetic differences that we'll cover a bit later.  Sapphire also bundles their cards with a different assortment of software titles and accessories than ATI's own cards.  Check it out...

      
Click Any Image For An Enlarged View

Sapphire Hybrid Radeon X800 XL (PCI Express)
Features & Specifications

ATi Radeon X800 XL
_400MHz engine
_.11 micron
_1.0GHz memory data rate
_256-bit memory interface
_256MB GDDR3 memory
_16 pixel pipes
_6 vertex pipes
_6.4 Gigapixel/second fill rate
_32GB/s Peak Memory Bandwidth
_HYPER Z support for HD resolutions including Hierarchical Z, color and Z compression
_Hierarchical Z and Early Z
_Z Compression
_Fast Z Clear
_Z/Stencil Cache

Six Vertex Engines
_Workstation class vertex processing power
_600 million polygon transforms per second
_5.7 billion vertex shader operations per second
_Workstation-class performance

High-detail Geometry
_Designed for next-gen games with massive polygon counts
_Allows huge numbers of characters on screen at once
_High definition foliage and particle effects

3Dc Compression Technology
_Lossless Normal Map Compression
_4:1 Normal Map Compression technology

Smart Shader HD
_Long pixel shaders
_1536 instructions per pass
_High-detail geometry shaders
_Infinite length shaders (multipass via F-buffer)
_Single pass trig functions (Sine & Cosine)

SmoothVision HD
_Sparse sample pattern AA with gamma correction
_Temporal AA (up to 12X effective)
_Centroid AA
_16X Anisotropic filtering with adaptive heuristics

HyperZ HD
_Optimized for performance at high display resolutions, including HDTV resolutions
_Lossless z-buffer compression (up to 48:1)
_Rejects up to 256 occluded pixels per clock
_Up to 32 Z/stencil operations/clock

VideoShader HD
_High-quality video processing & acceleration
_Real-time user programmable video effects
_Video post processing and filtering
_MPEG 1, 2, 4 encode and decode acceleration
_FULLSTREAM Video Deblocking
_WMV9 decode acceleration
_High-quality resolution scaling
_Adaptive Per Pixel Deinterlacing
_Motion Compensation
_Noise removal filtering
_Display Rotation

 


      

Sapphire included a well balanced array of software and accessories with their Hybrid Radeon X800 XL. The software titles bundled with the card included two full-version games, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora tomorrow, Cyberlink's popular PowerDVD DVD playback software, and Sapphire's own proprietary RedLine overclocking / tweaking utility. A driver CD was also included with the card, along with a complete user's manual, and a few cables and adapters (a DVI-to-DB15 adapter, an S-Video-to-Composite adapter, component output cables, a composite video cable, and an S-Video cable).

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The Sapphire Radeon X800 XL

To give you a clear picture of where the Radeon X800 XL falls in the 3D graphics food chain, we've put together a simple chart outlining the main features and theoretical peak fillrates / memory bandwidth of most of today's popular GPUs.

As you can see, the Radeon X800 XL falls somewhere in between the 16-pipeline Radeon X800 XT and 12-pipeline Radeon X800 Pro.  The Radeon X800 XL's 16-pipeline GPU, which is clocked at 400MHz, give the card a higher peak fillrate than the Radeon X800 Pro (6.4GPixels/s vs. 5.7GPixels/s), and because the X800 XL is also equipped with higher clocked memory than the X800 Pro, the XL's peak memory bandwidth is on par with the standard Radeon X800 XT at 32GB/s (actual clock speed was 980MHz).  When compared to NVIDIA's high-end offerings, the Radeon X800 XL also fares pretty well.  The X800 XL has the same theoretical peak fillrate as a GeForce 6800 Ultra, and the same amount of total memory bandwidth as a GeForce 6800 GT.

The Sapphire"Hybrid" Radeon X800 XL
Slim and Sleek

      

      

Sapphire's Hybrid Radeon X800 XL looks somewhat different then the ATI built X800 XL we reviewed back in December, although most of the differences are only skin deep. Sapphire's card is built upon a blue PCB, but other than the color it is identical to ATI's reference design (Note: some early Sapphire X800 XLs are built upon a red PCB).  The Sapphire Hybrid Radeon X800 XL also uses a different cooler than the ATI built card to cool its 400MHz X800 XL GPU.  Sapphire's cooler is much smaller than ATI's, but it is built entirely of copper and is equipped with a high-speed 13-blade fan. We found this cooler to be very quiet during testing, and it seemed to do its job very well considering we were able to successfully overclock this card well above its stock speeds. The 256MB of 2ns Samsung GDDR3 RAM is distributed evenly on each side of the card, 4 chips on the front and 4 on the back, but only the RAM on the reverse is equipped with heatsinks.  This isn't a problem, however, as GDDR3 memory doesn't get terribly warm during normal operation.

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The Test System & 3DMark05

HOW WE CONFIGURED THE TEST SYSTEM: We tested the Sapphire "Hybrid" Radeon X800 XL on a DFI LANPARTY 925X-T2 Intel i925X chipset-based motherboard, powered by an Intel Pentium 4 560 3.6GHz CPU. The first thing we did when configuring this test system was enter the BIOS and loaded the "High Performance Defaults."  The hard drive was then formatted, and Windows XP Professional with SP2 was installed. When the installation was complete, we installed the latest Intel chipset drivers, then we installed all of the necessary drivers for the rest of our components and removed Windows Messenger from the system. Auto-Updating, System Restore, and Drive Indexing were then disabled, the hard drive was defragmented, and a 768MB permanent page file was created on the same partition as the Windows installation. Lastly, we set Windows XP's Visual Effects to "best performance," installed all of the benchmarking software, and ran the tests.

The HotHardware Test System
Intel-Powered Screamer
Hardware:
Processor -

Motherboard -


Video Cards -





Memory -


Audio -

Hard Drive -


Optical Drive -

Other -

Software:
Operating System -
Chipset Drivers -
DirectX -

Video Drivers
-

Intel Pentium 4 560 3.6GHz

DFI LANPARTY 925X-T2 Motherboard
i925X Chipset

Sapphire Hybrid Radeon X800 XL

ATi Radeon X850 XT PE
ATi Radeon X800 XT
GeForce 6800 Ultra
GeForce 6800 GT

1024MB Kingston HyperX PC5400
CAS 3

Integrated Intel Azalia Hi-Def Audio

Western Digital "Raptor"
36GB - 10,000RPM - SATA

Lite-On 16X DVD-ROM

3.5-inch Floppy Drive


Windows XP Professional SP2 (Fully Patched)
Intel INF v6.0.1.1008
DirectX 9.0c

ATI Catalyst v5.1
NVIDIA Forceware v67.02
Performance Comparisons With 3DMark05
Futuremark's Latest: Only Because You Asked For It


3DMark05
3DMark05 is the latest installment in a long line of synthetic 3D graphics benchmarks, dating back to late 1998.  3DMark99 came out in October of 1998 and was followed by the very popular DirectX 7 benchmark, 3DMark2000, roughly two years later.  The DirectX 8.1-compliant 3DMark2001 was released shortly thereafter, and it too was a very popular tool used by many hardcore gamers.  3DMark03, however, wasn't quite as well received thanks in no small part to the disapproval of graphics giant NVIDIA.  With 3DMark05, though, Futuremark hopes to win back some of its audience with a very advanced DirectX 9 benchmarking tool.  We ran 3DMark05's default test (1,024 x 768) on all of the cards we tested and have the overall results for you posted below...

Throughout this review, we'll be comparing the Sapphire Hybrid Radeon X800 XL to four other cards - a GeForce 6800 GT, a 6800 Ultra and two other Radeons, an X800 XT and an X850 XT Platinum Edition.  Please keep in mind that the Sapphire Hybrid Radeon X800 XL's main competition is the GeForce 6800 GT.  The other cards have similar features, but they are clocked higher and are much more expensive.  We've included their benchmark results for reference only...

Sapphire's Hybrid Radeon X800 XL performed very well in Futuremark's latest iteration of 3DMark.  With a score of 4721, the Sapphire X800 XL outperformed the GeForce 6800 GT by 150 points (3.2%), but as expected it couldn't quite catch the GeForce 6800 Ultra or either of the higher-end Radeons.  Considering the Sapphire card's price though, its performance is excellent.

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Halo v1.06

Benchmarks With Halo
Halo - All Patched & Ready To Go!

Halo
For many gamers, the release of Halo marked the end of a long wait.  To the chagrin of some PC gamers, Halo was originally released as an Xbox exclusive a few years back. No additional patches or tweaks are needed to benchmark with Halo, as Gearbox has included all of the necessary information in its README file. The Halo benchmark runs through four of the cut-scenes from the game, after which the average frame rate is recorded. We patched the game using the v1.06 patch and ran this benchmark twice, once at 1,024 x 768 and then again at 1,600 x 1,200. Antialiasing doesn't work properly with Halo, so all of the tests below were run with antialiasing disabled.

 

 

Halo didn't exactly thrash any of the cards we tested, but it was intensive enough to slow the Sapphire Hybrid Radeon X800 XL down to the point where the GeForce 6800 GT was able to overtake it.  With Halo running at resolutions of 1024x768 and 1600x1200, the GeForce 6800 GT was about 10% faster than the Sapphire X800 XL.  The flagship cards were obviously even faster, but for the prices they command, they'd better be...

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Splinter Cell

Performance Comparisons With Splinter Cell
Stealthy Combat

Splinter Cell
Splinter Cell's version 1.2 patch includes three pre-recorded demos and incorporates a previously unavailable benchmarking tool. The demos included with the patch are somewhat limited by CPU performance, however, so we opted to use the custom "Oil Rig" demo created by the folks at Beyond 3D to test performance with this game. Beyond 3D's demo is targeted squarely at Pixel Shader performance. Shaders are used to render realistic-looking ocean water surrounding an oil rig in the demo and are also used to simulate a night vision effect for a brief period of time. Take note that antialiasing doesn't work with Splinter Cell in its current state. Due to this fact, we do not have any AA scores listed in the graphs below.

 

With Splinter Cell running at a resolution of 1024x768, the Sapphire Hybrid Radeon X800 XL lagged behind the GeForce 6800 GT by about 3.5 FPS (4.4%).  However, with the resolution cranked up to 1600x1200 the Sapphire card was able to overtake the GT by a small margin.  At 1600x1200, the Sapphire Hybrid Radeon X800 XL bested the 6800 GT by 1.7 frames per second, or roughly 3%.

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Aquamark 3

Performance Comparisons With Aquamark 3
DX8 & DX9 Shaders

Aquamark 3
Aquamark 3 comes to us by way of game developer Massive Development. Massive's release of the original Aquanox in 1999 wasn't very well received by the gaming community, but it was one of the first games to implement DX8-class shaders.  This led to the creation of Aquamark 2 - a benchmark previously used by many analysts. Because the Aquamark benchmarks are based on an actual game engine, they must support old and new video cards alike. Thus, the latest version of Aquamark, Aquamark 3, utilizes not only DirectX 9-class shaders, but DirectX 8 and DirectX 7, as well. We ran this benchmark at resolutions of 1,024 x 768 and 1,600 x 1,200 with no anti-aliasing and with 4x AA and 8X aniso enabled concurrently.

 

The Sapphire Hybrid Radeon X800 XL proved to be quite adept at running Massive Development's Aquamark 3 benchmark.  With Aquamark 3 running at 1024x768, Sapphire's X800 XL managed to outperform the GeForce 6800 GT in both test configurations, and even squeaked by the 6800 Ultra when anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering were enabled.  At 1600x1200, the X800 XL again performed well, besting both of the 6800s when AA and aniso were enabled, but in the default test at the higher resolution the 6800s were slightly faster.

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Unreal Tournament 2004

Head-to-Head Performance With Unreal Tournament 2004
Epic's Next Smash Hit!

Unreal Tournament 2K4
Epic's "Unreal" games have been wildly popular ever since the original Unreal was released in the late '90s. Unreal, Unreal Tournament, and then Unreal Tournament 2003 rapidly became some of our favorites for both benchmarking and for killing a few hours when our schedules permitted it. Epic recently released the latest addition to the franchise, Unreal Tournament 2004. We used a patched (v3323) full version of the game to benchmark these cards at resolutions of 1,024 x 768 and 1,600 x 1,200, without any anti-aliasing and with 4x AA and 8X aniso enabled together.  In addition, we used a custom recorded demo of an on-line multi-player match for our benchmark runs.

 

Unreal Tournament 2004 was essentially CPU limited until anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering were enabled. The Sapphire Radeon X800 XL handled this game very well, again outpacing both of the NVIDIA powered cards in 3 out of four test configurations.  At 1024x768, the X800 XL was trailed behind the 6800s by about 1 frame per second when AA and aniso were disable, but with it enabled the X800 pulled ahead of the GT and Ultra by about 5 FPS and 2 FPS, respectively.  With UT 2004 configured to run at 1600x1200 the Sapphire Radeon X800 XL did even better, outpacing the 6800 GT by almost 7FPS with no AA or aniso and by 15FPS when anti-aliasing and aniso were enabled together.  The Sapphire Hybrid Radeon X800 XL was also faster than the GeForce 6800 Ultra in both test configurations at the higher resolution.

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FarCry v1.3

Benchmarks & Comparisons With Far Cry
DX9 Effects Galore.

Far Cry
If you've been on top of the gaming scene, you probably know that Far Cry is one of the most visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date.  Although Doom 3 and Half Life 2 have both arrived, Far Cry still looks great in comparison, especially with the new v1.3 patch installed and some special effects turned on.  Far Cry came along and gave us a taste of what was to come in next-generation 3D gaming on the PC.  We benchmarked the graphics cards in this review with a custom-recorded demo run taken in the "Catacombs" area checkpoint at various resolutions without AA or Aniso Filtering enabled and then with 4X AA enabled along with 8X anisotropic filtering.  Geometry instancing and normal map compression were enabled for these tests, but HDR rending was disabled.  The default pixel shader code path was used.

 

Unlike the three previous DirectX tests we've discussed up to this point, the Sapphire Radeon X800 XL's performance in FarCry wasn't quite as dominant, although it was still quite good.  At 1024x768, the Sapphire Radeon X800 XL and GeForce 6800 GT were basically even, with the X800 XL enjoying a slight edge when no anti-aliasing or aniso was used.  At 1600x1200, however, the GeForce 6800 GT took the lead, besting the Sapphire Hybrid Radeon X800 XL by a little more than 3 FPS both with and without anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering.

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Half Life 2

Benchmarks & Comparisons With Half-Life 2
It Shipped!  And it's GOOD!


Half Life 2
Thanks to the dedication of millions of gamers and a huge mod-community, the original Half-Life became one of the most successful first person shooters of all time.  So when Valve announced Half-Life 2 was close to completion in mid 2003, gamers the world over began chomping at the bit.  Unfortunately, thanks to a compromised internal network; the theft of a portion of the game's source code; a couple of missed deadlines; and a tumultuous relationship with the game's distributor, Vivendi Universal, we all had to wait until November 2004 to get our hands on this gem.  We benchmarked Half-Life 2 with a long, custom- recorded timedemo that takes us along a cliff and through a few dilapidated shacks, battling the enemy throughout.  These tests were run at resolutions of 1,280 x 1,024 and 1,600 x 1,200 without any AA or aniso and with 4X anti-aliasing and 8X anisotropic filtering enabled concurrently.

 

Sapphire's Hybrid Radeon X800 XL returned to its winning ways in our custom Half Life 2 benchmark.  Here, the Sapphire card outperformed both the GeForce 6800 GT and GeForce 6800 Ultra, regardless of the resolution or test configuration.  At 1024x768 without anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering, the Sapphire Hybrid Radeon X800 XL was 8.7% faster than the GT, and with AA and aniso enabled the X800 XL extended its lead to over 29%. The same trend held true at 1600x1200, where the Sapphire Radeon X800 XL was roughly 15% (no aa) and 12% (4XAA / 8X Aniso) faster.

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Doom 3 (Single-Player)

Benchmarks & Comparisons With Doom 3 - Single Player
The Wait Is Over!.

Doom 3
id Software's games have long been pushing the limits of 3D graphics.  Quake, Quake 2, and Quake 3 were all instrumental in the success of 3D accelerators on the PC.  Now, years later, with virtually every new desktop computer shipping with a 3D accelerator, id is at it again with the release of the visually stunning Doom 3.  Doom 3 is an OpenGL game using extremely high-detailed textures and a ton of dynamic lighting and shadows.  We ran this benchmark using custom demos with Doom 3 set to its "High-Quality" mode, at resolutions of 1,024 x 768 and 1,600 x 1,200 without any AA and then with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering enabled.  Note: Doom 3 enabled 8X anisotropic filtering automatically when set to "High Quality" in the game's control panel.

 

So much for Half Life 2! :)  In Doom 3, nothing touches the NVIDIA powered cards, period.  When we tested Doom 3 with our custom single-player demo at 1024x768, the GeForce 6800 GT was about 14-19% faster than the Sapphire Hybrid Radeon X800 XL.  And with the resolution turned up to 1600x1200, things didn't get any better.  At the higher resolution, the Sapphire Hybrid Radeon X800 XL was roughly 24% and 27% slower than the GeForce 6800 GT in our different test configurations.

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Doom 3 (Multi-Player)

Benchmarks & Comparisons With Doom 3 - Multi-player
The Wait Is Over!.

Doom 3
The first round of Doom 3 focused on single-player performance.  In this round we'll run a series of multiplayer tests and see how things unfold.  These timedemos were run with our custom "HH_Frag2" demo, which is a recording of a five-player online match that took place in the "Frag Chamber" map area. We ran benchmarks with Doom 3 set to its "High-Quality" mode at resolutions of 1,024 x 768 and 1,600 x 1,200 without any anti-aliasing enabled and then with 4X AA and 8X Aniso enabled concurrently.  Note: Doom 3 enabled 8X anisotropic filtering automatically when set to "High Quality" in the game's control panel.

 

The Sapphire Hybrid Radeon X800 XL fared a bit better in our custom multi-player Doom 3 test, but the end result was still the same.  NVIDIA's GeForce 6 Series of cards continued to dominate in Doom 3.  At 1024x768 and 1600x1200, the sapphire Hybrid Radeon X800 XL lagged behind the GeForce 6800 GT by margins ranging from 11% to over 34%.

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Overclocking The Sapphire X800 XL

Overclocking The Sapphire "Hybrid" Radeon X800 XL
Making The Fast Even Faster...

Before we completed our testing, we spent a little time overclocking the Sapphire Hybrid Radeon X800 XL using the latest version of Entech's PowerStrip software.  Although, we could have overclocked the card just as easily with the included RedLine utility.  We should note, however, that the RedLine utility did not work "right out of the box" because it would not recognize the X800 XL GPU.  A quick trip to Sapphire's website to download the latest patch for the RedLine utility cleared things right up though...

 

After a little time and a little tweaking, we were able to hit a stable 442MHz core clock speed on the Sapphire Hybrid Radeon X800 XL, and a 558MHz (1.11GHz) memory clock, with nary a visual artifact.  Those are core and memory clock speed increases of 42MHz (10.5%) and 68MHz (13.8%).  With the card overclocked, we re-ran a couple of hi-resolution Aquamark and Doom 3 test and saw some nice performance improvements.  In Aquamark 3, the Sapphire Hybrid Radeon X800 XL's performance improved by about 7.2%, and in Doom 3 the card's framerate jumped by approximately 11.1%.

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Our Summary & Conclusion

Benchmark Summary: Like ATI's reference Radeon X800 XL, Sapphire's Hybrid Radeon X800 XL performed very well throughout our entire suite of benchmarks.  It did best in DirectX games like Half Life 2 and Unreal Tournament 2004, but faltered a bit in the Doom 3 (OpenGL) tests.  In games like Halo, Splinter Cell, and FarCry the Sapphire Hybrid Radeon X800 XL battled it out with a GeForce 6800 GT, with one card winning a few tests only to fall behind in others.

Sapphire's Hybrid Radeon X800 XL is a hit.  This video card succeeds on many different levels.  Sapphire's bundle consists of a very good array of software and accessories, including two full version games (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow), a tweaking / overclocking utility, Cyberlink's PowerDVD software, and an assortment of output adapters and cables.  The Hybrid Radeon X800 XL's cooler is also nice; it's compact and quiet, yet effective.  This card also performed very well, and best of all it's actually in-stock and available at a variety of on-line retailers.  It's no secret that ATI has had some supply issues recently, so it is reassuring to review a new product and actually see it available for sale at the time of publication.  These supply issues seem to have had an effect on the selling price of Radeon X800 XLs, however, as they are currently selling for about 20% more than ATI's MSRP of $299.  The Sapphire Hybrid Radeon X800 XL for example, is selling for about $369 on-line.  $69 more than ATI's suggested price.  Regardless, even at $369 this card is about $60-$80 less expensive than a PCI Express GeForce 6800 GT at the moment.  And with a little luck, hopefully pricing will drift back down to ATi's MSRP once these cards are flowing a bit more freely in the channel.  Then, you'll be looking at serious gaming value for the money. We're giving it a solid 9 on the Heat Meter.

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