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Sapphire Radeon X800 Pro


Product
Sapphire Radeon X800 Pro
Date
22nd July 2004
Manufacured By
Supplied By
Price
Author

Introduction:::...

After a fairly uneventful 2003, the graphics marker is suddenly looking healthier and more exciting than it has in a long time. With NVIDIA's reputation riding on NV4x and ATi determined to prove the R300 was no fluke, it was always going to be a thrilling year for gamers and gadgeteers.

With both NVIDIA and ATi heading up the push towards genuine, real-time cinematic graphics it seems the last few generations have delivered what they claimed they would but not at sufficiently fast framerates to make their use practical for anything but the most basic titles which tended not to support them anyway.

These days gamers have started adding the words "image quality" to a vocabulary that used to consist of nothing more than the words "frame" and "rate", and the expectations from high powered GPUs and VPUs is at an all-time high. Anti-aliasing and Anistropic filtering are no longer pleasant features for those rare occasions they can be applied, they're now a essential part of the gaming experience and to many people the idea of running without them is simply unthinkable.

With websites worldwide queuing up to sniff out "cheats" and "unfair optimizations", gamers screaming for better and faster eye candy and lower prices and partners begging for a saleable product and a few months to try and earn an honest crust from them, ATi and NVIDIA were being pushed all the way to the tape, or should that be all the way to the tape out?

Well, the dust has finally settled and a few truths seem to have surfaced. The first is that, on balance, NVIDIA appear to have won this latest round on points, but even that could be open to debate as it seems positions at the top are still in a state of flux. Strangely though, ATi haven't felt the backlash often felt by the "runner up" in these battles, perhaps a reflection of the respect they earned for themselves during NVIDIA's recent public flogging over NV3x. Perhaps also, and I hope this the case, people are realising that there will always be a winner and a second place at least and that doesn't always translate as a superior and an inferior product. Maybe at last we're begining to get over our framerate mentality and see the bigger picture. I'm growing a touch tired of seeing the same equation trotted out at every possible opportunity. You know the one, if Card A = 120fps and Card B = 122fps then Card B = Better. It doesn't work, it never worked and it probably never will work. That's not to say the faster card can't be the better card, it just means don't bet your house on it until all the facts are in.

Anyway, the subject of today's review is the Radeon X800 Pro courtesy of SAPPHIRE Tech. Running at 475MHz for the core and 900MHz for the memory (450MHz base), the biggest difference between the pro and the XT is that the Pro runs off just 12 of the available 16 pipelines while the XT uses all 16. How much will this hurt performance? Let's see.

Here's a quick feature rundown lifted straight off their site:

Features:

  • 256MB of 'Xtreme performance GDDR3 memory accelerates the latest cutting edge 3D applications
  • 256-bit quad-channel GDDR3 memory interface
  • Twelve 'Xtreme parallel pixel pipelines
  • Supports the AGP 8X and AGP 4x standard, providing a high-speed link between the graphics board and the rest of the PC
  • Six programmable vertex shader pipelines
  • Full support for DirectX® 9.0 and the latest OpenGL® functionality
  • New SMARTSHADER™ HD technology allows for support for Microsoft® DirectX® 9.0 programmable vertex and pixel shaders in hardware as well as OpenGL® via extensions.
  • SMOOTHVISION™ HD technology provides enhanced image quality by removing jagged edges and bringing out fine texture detail, without compromising performance
  • 3Dc™ High quality 4:1 Normal Map Compression delivers beautiful scenes without the performance hit.
  • Unique VIDEOSHADER™ HD engine uses programmable pixel shaders to accelerate video processing and provide better-looking visuals
  • HYPER Z™ HD is optimized for performance at high display resolutions, including widescreen HDTV resolutions.
ADDITIONAL POWER CONNECTION REQUIREMENTS

The RADEON™ X800 PRO must be connected to the computer? power supply to meet its performance and high-speed memory requirements.
In order to supply the ATI Graphics Accelerator card with the necessary power, we have included the Power Extension Cable.
Use the Power Extension Cable to connect the Radeon X800 PRO to the computer? hard Drive power connector.

1. Remove the power cable from the hard drive.
2. Connect the 4-pin connector of the Power Extension Cable to the RADEON™ X800 PRO power connector.
3. Connect the Power Extension Cable to the power supply connector.
4. Connect the Power Extension Cable to the Hard Drive connector.

Available in both FULL Retail and Lite Retail Versions

Full retail indicates that the package contains the entire bundle including the Game software bundle and utilities. The Lite retail versions do not come bundled with the software bundle and are packaged with the neccessities needed to enjoy the pinnacle in performance from Sapphire alone.

General Card Specifications are subject to change dependent upon region purchased in and subject to component availability. Sapphire has enjoyed a commitment to excellence and to its customers so please do not hesitate to inquire about specific products at your regional Sapphire office.

The Technology:::...

Let's not pull any punches here, the R420 isn't a massively different chip to its predecessor the R300. There are however a few important additions and refinements so before we move on let's take a quick look at the more important ones.

3Dc:

Short of building even the most simple of objects from many tens of thousands of polygons, the best way to add detail to the surface of an object is though the clever use of high resolution textures or manipulation of the available lighting information. Imagine a low ploygon model, it looks angular and false. Now drape it with a high quality texture and suddenly it loses some of its angles and starts to resemlble what it's meant to be. At this stage though the texture still looks flat and lacking any depth and real detail.

Rather than pump up the polygon count, a far lest costly way to increases surface detail is to use high resolution normal maps.

A Normal is a piece of data showing the way in which light interacts with a surface at a given point. The problem is that models made from too few polygons contain too few normals to create a properly lit surface. What 3DC does is to create a high resolution normal map which stires vastly more information than would normally be generated and then apply that to the object, so giving the illusion that it contains far more detail than it really does.

Because this method uses pixel operations rather than geometry functions, it tends to be more efficient on consumer graphics cards which are often optimized for pixel data throughput.

Of course the benefits from 3Dc are slowly being eroded as polygon counts and texture quality inreases in modern games but ultimately it's a feature worth having. 3Dc works on any two-channel data formats and is not particularly limited to normal maps.

 

Temporal Antialiasing:

Temporal antialiasing is a simple yet brilliant idea and may well set the trend for sharing workloads across multiple frames. The idea is this, apply 4x anialiasing but rather than apply it all in a single frame, split the load across two adjacent frames. Brilliant! 4xAA for the same cost as 2x, 8x for the same cost as 4x and 12x for the same cost as 6x. Well, brilliant provided the framerate is high enough, a flickering mess if it's not which is why lower threshold is set via the drivers.

I can't help but ponder the other possibilities here. Could we see super-high resolution textures applied progressively across two frames? How about ultra AF where the foreground of a scene is rendered in frame one and the background in frame 2. Perhaps my dreams that on-the-fly dynamic IQ levels could see everything cranked up when a scene slows and we're more likely to be admiring the scenery and things gradually, and without intervention, get lowered as things become more frantic.

 

High definition gaming with up to 16 pipelines, up to 80 concurrent shader operations per clock, 6 vertex shaders delivering in excess of 750million vertices per second, improved Centroid sample and new Temporal Antialiasing plus FULLSREAM video deblocking, HDTV support, HYPER Z HD and more, and all in a single slot solution.

Sound tempting? Let's look at the hardware.

 

 
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