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Sapphire Radeon X800 PCI-E Video Card

Sapphire Radeon X800 PCI-E Video Card

Supplied by Sapphire Tech


Video card manufacturers are gearing up to meet demand as PCI-Express mainboards gain ground in the consumer marketplace. The buyer wants performance at an affordable price. Sapphire Tech used the ATI R430 core to produce the Sapphire Radeon X800 video card for PCI-Express. This performance/price mid-ground is where Sapphire have positioned themselves with the Radeon X800.

The promise of PCI-Express is more bandwidth. More bandwidth can equal advances in gaming and graphics performance. Remember that a PCI-Express video card cannot be used with a standard AGP equipped motherboard. PCI-Express is aimed squarely at the home computer market as the next level in motherboard technology and PCI-Express connections aren’t limited to just the video card.

The Sapphire Radeon X800’s initial appeal is the price tag at around $300 USD for the OEM version. $300 USD becomes quite affordable when compared to the near $1000 USD sticker shock of the top of the line X850 XT Platinum Edition cards. Not many can or want to hand over the credit card for the “latest and greatest”. The Sapphire Radeon X800 does pack quite a bit under the technical hood.




  • 256MB of GDDR3 memory
  • 256-bit memory interface
  • 12 parallel pixel pipelines
  • PCI-Express x16 lane native support
  • Dual display support
  • S-Video TV-out port
  • Full support for DirectX® 9.0 and the latest OpenGL® 2.0 functionality
  • SMARTSHADER™ HD technology
  • SMOOTHVISION™ HD technology
  • 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.

RADEON X800 Technology Specifications **

  • 160 million transistors on 0.13 micron low-k fabrication process
  • Up to sixteen extreme parallel pixel pipelines
  • Six programmable vertex shader pipelines
  • 256-bit quad-channel GDDR3 memory interface
  • AGP 8X support or PCI-Express ™ support


  • Support for Microsoft® DirectX® 9.0 programmable vertex and pixel shaders in hardware
  • DirectX® 9.0 Vertex Shaders
    • Vertex programs up to 65,280 instructions with flow control
    • Single cycle trigonometric operations (SIN & COS)
  • DirectX® 9.0 Extended Pixel Shaders
    • Up to 1,536 instructions and 16textures per rendering pass
    • 2nd generation F-buffer technology accelerates multi-pass pixel shader programs with unlimited instructions
    • 32 temporary and constant registers
    • Facing register for two-sided lighting
    • 128-bit, 64-bit & 32-bit per pixel floating point color formats
    • Multiple Render Target (MRT) support
  • Complete feature set also supported in OpenGL® via extensions


  • 2x/4x/6x Anti-Aliasing modes
    • Sparse multi-sample algorithm with gamma correction, programmable sample patterns, and centroid sampling
    • Lossless Color Compression (up to6:1)at all resolutions, including widescreen HDTV resolutions
    • Temporal Anti-Aliasing
  • 2x/4x/8x/16x Anisotropic Filtering modes
    • Up to 128-tap texture filtering
    • Adaptive algorithm with bilinear (performance) and trilinear (quality) options


  • High quality 4:1 Normal Map Compression
  • Works with any two-channel data format


  • 3-level Hierarchical Z-Buffer with Early Z Test
  • Lossless Z-Buffer Compression (up to 48:1)
  • Fast Z-Buffer Clear
  • Z Cache optimized for real-time shadow rendering
  • Optimized for performance at high display resolutions, including widescreen HDTV resolutions


  • Seamless integration of pixel shaders with video in real time
  • FULLSTREAM™ video de-blocking technology for Real, DivX, and WMV9 formats
  • VIDEOSOAP™ noise removal filtering for captured video
  • MPEG1/2/4 decode and encode acceleration
    • DXVA Support
    • Hardware Motion Compensation, iDCT, DCT and color space conversion
  • All-format DTV/HDTV decoding
  • YPrPb component output for direct drive of HDTV displays†
  • Adaptive Per-Pixel De-Interlacing and Frame Rate Conversion (temporal filtering)
  • Dual integrated display controllers
  • Dual integrated 10 bit per channel 400 MHz DACs Integrated 165 MHz TMDS transmitter (DVI 1.0 / HDMI compliant and HDCP ready)
  • Integrated TV Output support up to 1024×768 resolution
  • Windows® Logo Program compliant
  • CATALYST™ Software Suite

Resolutions, colors and maximum refresh rates (Hz) in 256, 65K or 16.7M colors

Monitor Resolution Hz


800×600 200
1024×768 200
1152×864 200
1280×1024 160
1600×1200 120
1920×1080* 16:9 120
1920×1200 100
1920×1440 90
2048×1536 85

*16:9 aspect ratio monitors are supported on 1920×1080 and 848×480 on Windows® XP, and Windows® 2000. The complete list of resolutions depends on the driver version and operating system. NOTE: resolutions are limited by the performance of the attached monitor.


65K colors 2048×1536
16.7M colors 2048×1536

**specifications for X800 core taken from ATI.com

What should catch the eye is the X800 has 12 parallel pixel pipelines. So what? This begins to make sense when looking to the X700 predecessor which only had 8 parallel pixel pipelines. A jump to the current maximum of 16 parallel pixel pipelines will mean a jump in price but that’s what the X800 XL will be for…the next level for “just a bit more”.

A pipeline is the process of breaking a large task down into smaller tasks. The task of rendering a scene in a game, for example, is broken up into more manageable stages. The graphics pipeline is like a conveyor belt on an assembly line. Tasks can be loaded one after the other on the “input” of the conveyor pipeline to flow towards completion.

In layman’s terms parallel pipelines means multiple “conveyor belts”. The task of building a scene in a video game is broken down into smaller stages and spread out across the multiple pipelines. It’s a crude definition and parody’s the “two hands are better than one” phrase…but more is better.

What’s in the box

It’s been a while since any manufacturer has put the amount of extras into a box. Sapphire will not disappoint.


First and foremost is the Sapphire Radeon X800 PCI-Express video card.


The fan/heatsink area features fan blades that are more “paddle” than curved blade.


This cuts down on the noise level from the fan area but gone are the hair dryer days of the nVidia cards. This fan produces very little ambient noise.

This PCI-Express version draws all the power directly from the slot and there’s no need for auxiliary power connections that are common with the high end video cards. This is an important fact to remember for those who are upgrading as often a PSU upgrade is required to support PCI-Express. Some PCI-Express video cards require auxiliary power via a 6-pin molex connector which is a specialty option for power supplies which can be difficult to obtain.


Overclockers may want to consider RAM heatskinks on the back of the video card.


The heatsink removes easily. There are two screws that anchor the heatsink to the card.


(UPDATE since posting) The R430 core is the heart of the Sapphire X800.



It was actually Josh over at Penstar Systems that looked looked over our shoulder and brought this to our attention. Previously the X800 (and others) had been built on the R420 core (AGP) and R423 (PCI-Express). Credit goes where credit is due. Thanks Josh for the correction.

The Sapphire Radeon X800 features the standard VGA, SVIDEO and DVI connections.


The familiar DVI-VGA adapter comes standard with most video cards but the yellow connector beside it is an SVIDEO to RCA adapter.


It can be used with the included RCA video cable to port computer video to an alternate monitor source such as a TV.


Once step up is the included SVIDEO cable to take a source signal direct from the SVIDEO out of the video card to SVIDEO in of a TV.


The final step up to TV monitor support is the included SVIDEO to RGB connection cable providing superior alternate monitor support.



The manual is multilingual and approximately 8 pages per language. The Sapphire Radeon X800 software package is rewarding. First is the driver installation CD.


Next is Sapphire’s overclcocking utility CD.


Add to this Cyberlink’s Power DVD which is the 2-channel standard edition.


Sapphire bundles two games with the Radeon X800; Splinter Cell “Pandora Tomorrow” and Prince of Persia “The sands of time”. It’s always a bonus to get a couple of “free” games with a video card purchase.



It is refreshing to get a few more add-ons and software discs in the package. Many PC buyers are looking for value and these inclusions help the consumer feel they got a bit more for their money besides a pretty box and a video card.


Considering a new video card or an upgrade is a question of performance versus price. This question is a balance between the desire to have the best and what “best” the pocketbook can afford.


The test systems.

  • AMD Athlon 64 4000+ Processor (32-bit mode)
  • MSI K8T Neo2 MS-6702E ver 1 ATX mainboard
  • Gigabyte GA-K8N Ultra SLI motherboard
  • ATI 9800 PRO 256 MB Video Card Catalyst 4.9 drivers (Default settings)
  • Gigabyte ATI X800 Platinum XT AGP Video Card Catalyst 4.9 drivers
  • Sapphire Radeon X800 PCI-Express Video Card
  • 2 x 512 MB Corsair CM512-3200XL TwinX DDR RAM
  • LG 8x DVD+/-RW.
  • 120 GB Seagate SATA Hard Drive
  • Samsung 950p 19″ Monitors
  • USB Keyboard and MX700 Optical Mouse
  • Retail HSF
  • AMK PC67 PC case (window, fans, cables, loom)
  • FSP Blue Storm PSU
  • Windows XP Professional Service Pack SP1 & 2 slipstreamed updated

Programs used

*benchmarked using Benchemall.

Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 1 and 2 slipstreamed used for installation. Catalyst settings: let application decide for Anti-Aliasing/Anisotropic filtering, quality texture preference, quality midimap detail level, no smartshader or truform. AGP aperture
was set to 256 MB. Windows visual effects
was set to ADJUST FOR BEST PERFORMANCE and system restore set to disabled. Pagefile set to 1024 MB fixed on a separate partition.

Individual performance will vary with any particular or specific timings or
tweaks enabled by you. All programs were benchmarked with initial monitor
settings at 1024×768@75Hz. Your own mileage may very.

3DMark 2003

3D Mark 2003 was originally designed to measure performance specifically in
shader-heavy titles.


3DMark 2005

3D Mark 2005 takes advantage of more DirectX 9 functionality that many new game titles are using.


GL Excess

GL Excess is an OPENGL benchmark that is optimized for DX8.1.


Quake III high quality

Quake III still continues to hang around. This benchmark is one that
most can’t just let go of and it retains grandfather rights in the community.
Many of today’s games are based upon the Quake engine. The accuracy of this benchmark is becoming questionable with frame rates consistently around or over 300.


Serious Sam

Serious Sam uses OPENGL.


UT2003 Flyby


UT2004 Benchmark



X2 Rolling Demo

X2 – The Threat is a teaser with a benchmark option for Egosoft’s
upcoming release. It does not use pixel shaders.


SplinterCell (Chinese Embassy Timedemo)

Splinter Cell is a DirectX 8.1 based game that is involves very GPU-intensive texture rendering.


Sisoft Sandra 2004






Doom III


Half-Life 2


Specviewperf 8.01

SpecviewPerf measures the rendering performance of systems
running under OPENGL incorporating eight standard SPECopc applications viewsets:

  • 3dsmax-03 , based on SPECapc for 3ds max 3.1 configured with the Open GL driver; includes three models containing an average of 1.5 million vertices each, and tests performance of scenes with different levels of lighting.
  • catia-01, based on Dassault’s CATIA, with models containing up to two million vertices.
  • ensight-01 , based on CEI’s EnSight engineering and scientific visualization application, covers both display-list and immediate-mode workloads.
  • light-07 , based on traces of Discreet’s Lightscape radiosity application.
  • maya-01 , based on traces of Alias’ Maya 5.
  • proe-03 , based on SPECapc for Pro/ENGINEER 2001, measures two models in three modes — shaded, wireframe and hidden-line removal (HLR).
  • sw-01 , based traces of the Solidworks 2004 application from Dassault Systemes.
  • ugs-04 , based on SPECapc for Unigraphics V17, tests performance based on an engine model containing 4.1 million vertices.


Adobe After Effects 6.0

Adobe After Effects is a tool to produce motion
graphics and visual effects for film, video, multimedia and the web. It is primarily
a 2D application using imported graphics or digital footage or self generated
effects. A test project was created combining many video footage
files, resizing and rasterizing effects, text animations and multiple layer
effects. This “average” combination was felt to best demonstrate advantages
and/or disadvantages that a real world user may experience rather than isolating
and benchmarking a particular effect.

There is no official benchmark for After Effects
but render tasks can be timed to show specific results. Rendering, or the task of building
and compiling frames, is primarily CPU intensive and After Effects generally bypasses
the video card to rely solely upon the processor for speed. The time taken
to a render 900 frame Quicktime 720×486 movie file (animation codec, millions of colors, best quality) shows how fast the processor is working on the
given task.


Benchmark Conclusions and overclocking

The following chart is an overall comparison between the ATI 9800 PRO and the Sapphire X800 PCI Express. Each number represents the sum of the benchmarks across all tested resolutions. This is not an industry standard comparison.

It’s obvious that the AGP and the PCI-Express versions of the Radeon X800 beat out the 9800 PRO. It’s surprising that the PCI-Express version of the X800 fell behind the AGP version. PCI-Express is supposed to deliver more bandwidth than the AGP…twice as much. It’s quite apparent there is an memory bandwidth issue with the current motherboard. Sandra and PCMark04 both point to this as the culprit.

There were problems.

The first errors were that Aquamark and Wolfenstein would not run. Second is the Red Line overclocking utility would not install. A “video card not supported” message persisted even after applying the software updates from the Sapphire Tech site. Tweak 3D’s overclocking utility would also not recognized the Sapphire X800 and ATI Tool produced some very odd results.

This is one incredible overclock considering the default core of the Sapphire X800 is 389 and the memory is 349…which of course is an error. Benchmark tests confirmed this apparently stunning overclock produced no significant change from default numbers.

Benchmarks were also recorded after two clean installations of the entire operating system and benchmark package in efforts to troubleshoot the seemingly low numbers in comparison to the AGP version of the X800 video card (Remember that the Gigabyte AGP X800 is the Platinum XT model but PCI-Express holds the promise of increased bandwidth. Catalyst 4.9, 5.2 and 5.3 drivers were tested on random benchmarks but no significant differences occurred to point to any obvious driver/hardware issues.

A search of the Internet showed several other reviews of the Sapphire Radeon X800 PCI-Express video card and none showed any erroneous behavior but all used different hardware configurations.



The Sapphire Radeon X800 PCI-Express video card bundles good performance and price into one $300 USD package (approximate street price). Price, however, is the name of the game as the next level is not far up the ladder and can be obtained for less than 50 more dollars. This is the way it has worked for video card flavors. If one model is too expensive for the consumer then the step down may be more affordable and have most of the options and performance. The manufacturer prefers the consumer look up to the next level which is put tantalizingly in reach but not so close as to push the other out of the market. Video card manufacturers like to offer consumers options and many price points up and down the product ladder is just another option.

The PCI-Express X800’s performance was expected to at least match or be slightly better than its AGP counterpart. The results were curious and the lackluster performance could be most likely chalked up to driver and hardware issues between the motherboard and video card. Not every motherboard manufacturer can test every card to and vice versa with a video card manufacturer. There are bound to be conflicts and while errors or poor performance can be frustrating they do not make for a bad product. Sometimes it merely means that all of the bugs haven’t been ironed out. This is especially true with newer technology.


For the moment the Sapphire Radeon X800 PCI-Express video card lands right in the middle. It isn’t a budget video card and it doesn’t have the big ticket price of the high end video cards. It’s a stock of sorts; one to watch. It wasn’t too long ago that the 9800 PRO was a formidable product but it now falls far behind in comparison to the Sapphire Radeon X800. Back in November of 2003 the 9800 PRO launched at approximately $450 USD. If the Sapphire Radeon X800 can be purchased for around $250 USD, give or take $10 or $20, then the performance/price question has been smartly answered by Sapphire.


Our thanks to Sapphire for
their support of this and many other sites.



  • Comparatively affordable
  • No PCI-Express PSU required
  • Good performance


  • Requires PCI-Express mainboard
  • Just shy of the next level

Scores Breakdown
Attribute Score Comments
Bonus items & software 9 Sapphire have done well in what they’ve included.
Fine-tuning features 8 Redline overclocking software is included but did not work with the test configuration.
Performance & stability 8 Two benchmarks would not run.
Presentation 9 Another eye-catching presentation
Price / value 9 If it can be found closer to $250 USD rather than $300 then the deal get’s better.
Total score 43/50 86%


  1. lemonlime
    lemonlime Great review MediaMan! Always wondered why Sapphire liked the sickly blue PCB though. The least they could do was match up the graphic on the heatsink :D. My X850 luckily came with the red flavour, even though there were both in circulation.

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