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Sapphire X800 XL Ultimate


Silent but Deadly


by Josh Walrath


            I had previously reviewed the standard Sapphire X800 XL, and it proved to be quite a solid product in terms of overall performance and price.  In fact, at the $299 price point, it is probably the best deal around.  It is significantly faster than the more expensive X800 Pro, and most often it is able to compete quite favorably with the NVIDIA GeForce 6800 GT.

            The X800 XL is a 16 pixel pipeline chip with 6 vertex shaders.  This chip is made on TSMC’s 110 nm process, so while it doesn’t run nearly as fast as the 130 nm Low-K ATI products, it is a bit cheaper to produce.  The chip itself runs at 400 MHz, which gives it a theoretical fillrate that matches that of the GeForce 6800 Ultra.  For one reason or another, the ATI products are not nearly as fast per clock as the NVIDIA products, so the X800 XL more closely resembles the 6800 GT in overall performance.  The X800 XL’s feature 256 MB of GDDR-3 memory running at 500 MHz (1000 MHz effective).

            Sapphire took the basic X800 XL design and added a couple of nice touches.  The first is that the PCB is blue as compared to the standard red PCB that ATI based products usually have.  The second is that they placed ramsinks on every piece of memory on the board.  If you remember from my previous X800 XL review, ramsinks were only applied to ½ of the memory, leaving the other half bare.  The third, and probably largest addition, is that of the Zalman VF700 cooler.  This massive aluminum cooler features a large, slow spinning fan, which more than adequately cools the X800 XL chip.

The transparent plastic allows the consumer to see exactly what product they are getting.

            The standard cooler that is usually supplied with the X800 XL is a solid affair, but it starts to get fairly loud when it hops up to 66% speed.  Once 100% speed is reached it becomes a very annoying.  Now, while it rarely went up to 100% for me in the lab, in warmer climates it could quite often hit that magic number.  The Zalman cooler, with its large fan, spins at one speed all the time (at least as far as I noticed).  This keeps the chip very cool all of the time.  Once games start running, the back of the board behind the GPU never gets warm to the touch. 

Opening Impressions

            When people buy a $300+ video card, they want to be impressed with the product right out of the box.  This is one area that Sapphire excels at.  The box itself is nicely designed with interesting graphics.  The front of the box lists all of the software that will be included in the package, and once the box is flipped over the consumer can see exactly what they are getting through the transparent window.

            Once the box is open, the consumer is assailed by many extras including a component video cable, composite video, S-video, DVI to VGA adapter, composite to S-video adapter, manuals, and software CDs/DVDs.  The package is very complete.  Two full games, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow and The Prince of Persia: Sands of Time are included in the box.  While these are not really new titles, they are still very solid games for anyone who has not yet played them (which includes me).  My wife would like to thank Sapphire for packaging those games with this product so I can spend even more time at my computer.

Once the inner box is opened, we can see just how much stuff Sapphire packed in.

            Just holding the box is a positive experience, mainly because it is fairly heavy and the user knows that they will be getting a lot of extra goodies with this purchase.  All of those accessories are piled up above where the video card is, and once those are removed we finally get our first glimpse of the X800 XL Ultimate.  The board itself is fairly heavy due to the massive cooler on it.  Nothing of course fell off the board when I first picked it up, and Sapphire is known for its high quality manufacturing of video cards.


Next: More Impressions


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