Sapphire X850 XT PE

Sapphire X850 XT PE

Written by John Yan on 9/9/2005 for PC  
More On: Sapphire X850 XT PE
Sapphire’s a great provider of ATI cards. They have a good range of products and do try some innovation once in a while. I’m looking forward to their upcoming Blizzard line of cards that utilize liquid metal cooling. Until then, we have their top of the line card from them today. For those of you still using AGP, here’s a look at the Sapphire X850 XT PE.

The big boy of the ATI line is the X850 XT Platinum Edition. The card comes in with 256MB of GDDR3 ram with a 256-bit memory interface. Built on the .13 micron process, the R481 core is clocked at 540MHz while the memory is clocked at 590MHz or 1180MHz DDR. There are 16 pipelines and the theoretical pixel fillrate is 8.6 Gpixels/sec. It’s the fastest AGP card from Sapphire right now. NVIDIA uses a bridge for cards that are normally PCI-E and made to work with AGP. ATI modified the chip directly so there’s no bridging chip in this product. Unlike Sapphire’s X700 card, the X850 XT PE’s PCB is the traditional red color.

Looking at the card, you can see that it’s a two slot card with a big heavy fan to help cool it down. It’s pretty much a vanilla cooler with Sapphire’s branding on the side. Air is drawn over the heatsink and expelled out the back of the case through the second slot grill. This should help keep the case a little cooler as the air isn’t blown in the case. With such a lard fan, the card is pretty quiet. Once the card gets through the initial bootup, the fan dials down with noise at a very acceptable level.

On the bracket, there are both a VGA and a DVI connector. Newer high end cards are seeing dual DVI’s but since Sapphire’s copied the reference design, you’ll see that it only has one. If you do have two monitors with DVI connectors, there’s a VGA to DVI adapter included.

Since this is an AGP card, the X850 XT PE needs an external power supply unlike its PCI-E brethren. For that, a molex plug sits on the top rear of the card. Included with the package is a power splitter so if you are out of molex power connectors, you can split one off to use with the card.

For the heavy hitter, you’re going to pay the price though. At $399 at, the card certainly isn’t priced for everyone. But then again, this card isn’t for everyone and only for those looking for the fastest AGP ATi card around. Don't worry though as the card's price should be dropping soon with the R520 card being announced in the near future.

Sapphire’s bundle consists of two good games in Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time The bundle is showing it’s age a little bit but the new program that Sapphire’s running should take care of that. You’ll also get the usual array of video software such as PowerDVD and Power Director. With Sapphire’s new process though, this bundle’s showing its age.

Cables and connectors included are the basics that come with most Sapphire cards. You’ll get an S-Video cable, a DVI to VGA adapter, a composite cable, component connector, and the VIVO connectors. The VIVO connectors feature two composite connectors and two S-Video connectors so you'll get an input and an output for both. For those that want to connect the card to an HDTV, the included component outputs will do the job.

Our test system consists of:

AMD64 3200+
2 512MB PC3200 Corsair ram
120GIG 7200RPM Maxtor HD
Windows XP Professional w/ Service Pack 2
Catalyst 5.7

We'll be comparing the card to two previous Sapphire offerings in the 9800 XT and the X800 Pro.
So let’s start of with Futuremark’s 3DMark05.

3DMark05 is the only synthetic benchmark we are using today. From their website: It is the first benchmark to require a DirectX9.0 compliant hardware with support for Pixel Shaders 2.0 or higher! By combining high quality 3D tests, CPU tests, feature tests, image quality tools, and much more, 3DMark05 is a premium benchmark for evaluating the latest generation of gaming hardware.

In the 3DMark05 test, the X850 XT PE shows its muscle beating the two cards handily especially as you raise the resolution. That's nice and all but let's move to some real games.

iD’s latest, Doom 3, pushes graphics cards to the limit. The game will even support cards with 512MB of ram when they are released. The dark atmosphere and smooth characters generate an incredible visual atmosphere that remind me of many horror movies.

As with the 3DMark05 test, the X850 XT PE starts out strong and finishes stronger as we push the resolution to 1600x1200.

Halo is the Microsoft/Bungie/Gearbox first person shooter originally appearing on the Xbox. Featuring great graphics, vehicles, and good gameplay Halo is ran with max settings as well with Pixel Shader 2.0.

For fast Halo gameplay, you'll be able to crank up the resolution high and still get a nice average score. I will say the game does look nice at 1600x1200 and it ran fast as well.

Far Cry is a first person shooter that delivers lush outdoor settings, fast action, and many vehicles for you to use. Discover a whole island and see out far into the distance as you encounter mercenaries and monsters.

The scores actually stayed close but as soon as you push the resolution up, the X850 XT PE card just keeps on chugging. It seems to be pretty CPU bound with the powerful card so we'll turn on some quality effects in our tests later on for this game.

Unreal Tournament 2004 is one of my favorites. While it’s starting to get a little old, it still looks gorgeous and features great gameplay. This is what 2003 should’ve been and with the added Onslaught mode, the game’s one of the best LAN games out there right now.

All three cards run this game pretty fast as it is. As with Far Cry, we'll turn on some antialiasing and anisotropic filtering to see how fast it will still run.
Now let’s take a look at how the card scales when you start turning on anisotropic filtering and anti-aliasing. We’ll test Doom 3, Far Cry, and Unreal Tournament 2004. We ran the test at 4xAA and 4xAF as well as the maximum setting in both with 6xAA and 16xAF.

There's barely a sputter with 4xAA and 4xAF when comparing to the normal scores. About the only game that really pushes it more than a few FPS is Doom 3. So for any game I'd turn on some antialiasing and anisotropic filtering to increase the image quality. Pushing it farther will drag the card down in some games but older ones will be fine.

While the card is expensive now, the X850 XT PE is a workhorse of a card. If you're an ATI fan, this is the one to get if you have the money. Pretty soon, the R5XX series should be announced and hopefully the prices will drop for this card when that happens. Seeing as there aren't any Geforce 7800 series for AGP, the Sapphire X850 XT PE will feed your hunger for power and speed for the older interface. Sapphire's card ran without a hitch and was stable through all testing. They've been a great name in ATI providers and they should definitely be on your short list when considering an ATI card from a third party vendor.
This is a beast of a card for people still with AGP motherboards and don't want to upgrade. It's a little expensive still but well worth it if you play in high resolutions.

Rating: 9.1 Excellent

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

About Author

I've been reviewing products since 1997 and started out at Gaming Nexus. After writing for a few different sites that went under, it's nice to bring back a site that's not dependent on revenue and just wants to deliver news and reviews of products.

I'm  married, and enjoy first person shooters, sports games, and real time strategy games.

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