Sapphire Radeon X800 GTO Ultimate review

Price when reviewed

The GeForce 6600 GT has sat comfortably on our A List for a year. With playable frame rates in all our test games at 1,280 x 1,024, it packs a punch for the £100 asking price. But these scores are without our harsh use of AA and anisotropy to push the high-end cards to their limits. With these applied, the 6600 GT stutters to barely playable frame rates.

This isn’t the case with the X800 GTO. It’s based on the same chip as the X800 XL, a recent Labs Winner. It’s fundamentally the same, apart from a disabled pixel quad. But even with this, the X800 GTO still has a quad’s worth of pixel rendering power over the 6600 GT.

It’s this extra pixel-processing muscle that powers the X800 GTO to impressive scores. To provide some reference, we expect a 6600 GT to score around 30fps in our three test games at our standard 1,280 x 1,024 with 4x AA and 8x AF settings. In both Far Cry and Half-Life 2, the X800 GTO scored roughly double that. And although the Doom 3 score looks low, it still beats the 6600 GT by 3fps. If you reduce the anti-aliasing and anisotropy that we use, you’ll easily get playable frame rates.

Unlike the venerable 6600 GT, high-resolution gaming is possible with the X800 GTO. We were reluctant to push the 6600 GT to output to 1,600 x 1,200 screens, as jitter and freezing became all too common at this extreme setting. With the X800 GTO, though, we had no such worries: even with 4x AA and 8x AF we saw playable frame rates in tests, and reducing the AA and AF gave us smooth, high-resolution, immersive gaming. There’s only Shader Model 2b/c support, though, so we weren’t able to see how far the card could be pushed with Far Cry’s HDR rendering mode, but even so, the X800 GTO is hugely impressive.

Best of all, this Sapphire card is totally passive. Three heatpipes snake from the front to the rear, feeding the huge rear-mounted heatsink with heat from the GPU. This heatsink leaves 36mm clearance to your motherboard, accommodating the tallest of north bridge heatsinks too. As you’d expect, it all gets rather toasty, but the advantage of passively cooling such a powerful card isn’t that you can have a silent gaming rig; rather, you forego the tiny screaming on-card fan for a thrumming, slow-spinning 120mm case exhaust fan.

However, both ATi and nVidia have launched new chips for the next wave of cards, which will be significant improvements on the current generation.

Nevertheless, this card is available now and is more than capable of playing almost any game you care to throw at it. The exceptions are the next-generation games that are starting to come through – Call of Duty 2 and F.E.A.R. for example, which will both require Shader Model 3 and huge rendering power. Here and now, though, you can’t match the X800 GTO; if you’re unable to wait for the new arrivals, it’s the best mid-range option available.

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