Sapphire Radeon X1800XL - Our first retail sample

Sapphire sent us their brand new Radeon X1800XL graphics card to be put through the usual VGA review torture.
| Oct 16, 2005 at 11:00 pm CDT
Rating: 90%Manufacturer: Sapphire Technologies


IntroductionToday we not only have our first R520 series graphics card in our hands but also our first full retail offering. While nVidia were able to release their GeForce 7800GTX and GT the day of launch, ATI were unable to match it with the best being the Radeon X1800XL coming after a week or after the initial launch.While this is a lot better then previous releases by ATI, it would have been nice to see their top of the line X1800XT being released at the same time - unfortunately we are still roughly a month off before it gets into the retail channel and we aren't too sure about supply. Fingers crossed those ATI enthusiasts will get their hands on an X1800XT before Christmas.ATI's new X1800XL is a similar VPU to the XT variant however clock speeds are slower - both have the same amount of pipelines. The XT variant is available with onboard memory up to 512MB while the XL only has 256MB of GDDR3 memory. Sapphire has clocked the core of their retail card at 500MHz and the memory at 1GHz DDR - the same as the ATI specification. The XT variant is clocked substantially higher at a core clock speed of 625MHz and memory clock speed of 1.5GHz DDR, according to the ATI specification.Sapphire gave us the heads up the other day that their Radeon X1800XL was coming off their factory line extremely soon and shipped to us straight away. As far as we can tell, this is one of the first retail offerings to be benchmarked so let's see what Sapphire have done package wise and have a look at one of the first X1800XL retail cards which is actually available on the market.

The Package

The Package It's been a while since we've seen graphics card samples from Sapphire then out of nowhere we managed to get three brand Sapphire new cards come to our door step in a span of only one week. The X1800XL was the one we were really excited about receiving as the only X1K cards that had made our way to the door was the X1300 and X1600 a week after the release and now the X1800XT but just a little late.The box is a very nice white with a picture of an alien on the front along with a Crossfire supported logo in the background. We have a list of the main features which include 256MB, Dual DVI, VIVO and the software package. We also have a check list like sticker on the front for Crossfire - this shows that we have a Crossfire compatible card but we still need a Crossfire motherboard and master card...
Turning the box over we don't have the nice little window that we have seen on many other Sapphire products but just an extended rundown on the card, what its capable of and what is included in the box along with a picture of the actual card.
Opening up the box we find ourselves entangled in a web of cables and CDs. On the cable front we have our VIVO cable, 6 pin PCI E power connector, S-Video cable, RCA cable and a DVI to VGA connector.
Moving along to the other part of the package we have our usual manual, copy of PowerDVD, PowerDirector, Sapphire Select with two CD keys and the installation CD which has the drivers and a few extra bits and pieces.Sapphire Select allows you to unlock (register) up to two full version games. This is a great idea as you can try the game before you decide to buy it.
While normally we wouldn't use the drivers that are provided on the CD, we had no choice this time since the Catalyst 5.10 drivers that ATI just released don't support the X1K series of cards.Since the 5.10 drivers came out at such an early date this month, it's possible that we will get an early release of the 5.11 drivers to accompany the X1K series of cards in November as they become readily available on the market.

The Card

The CardThe first thing you notice about the Radeon X1800XL is the length - at first it does feel a lot longer then the GeForce 7800GTX but quickly pulling out a spare does show that it is the same length.
The Sapphire X1800XL is a good looking card and uses an equally attractive single slot design for cooling. On the right side of the front of the card we can sees another red heatsink that covers the card and helps cool down some of the other bits and pieces that get hot. It works by the air being pushed out of the heatsink and running through the fins.As you would expect of a card of this caliber, we do have a 6 pin power connector since the PCI Express slot cannot provide all required power. The fan is slightly smaller then the one on the 7800GTX and but we did notice a small whining noise when at full speed. Fortunately it is becoming quite common amongst most companies to utilize temperature throttling which means the only time it speeds up is when you're playing a game and your sound would normally drown this out.
The back of the X1800XL is very plain, with no memory being on the rear of the card we just have a bracket and some screws holding the heatsink in place. Apart from all our normal information like model, serial number and so on, there isn't much else to be found on the back of the Sapphire X1800XL.
As we mentioned when looking at the box the card comes with Dual DVI which is becoming extremely common throughout higher-end graphics cards. We also have our VIVO port located between the DVI ports for people who want to make use of the video in and video out feature.
While we would normally be worried about a card of this length, the GeForce 7800GTX has been out for over four months now and no real problems with its length has been reported. We don't see why anyone who does want to venture down the ATI path (instead of the nVidia path) would run into any troubles in a typical computer case.On the other hand if you're running a small form factor we would recommend that you venture over to Google before rushing out and buying one of these cards to make sure that people with a similar model SFF have not had any troubles with the GTX card length.

Benchmarks - Test System Setup and 3DMark03

Test System SetupProcessor(s): AMD Athlon X2 3800+ Motherboard(s): ASUS A8N SLI Premium (Supplied by ASUS)Memory: 2 X 512MB Mushkin PC4000 DDR (Supplied by Mushkin)Hard Disk(s): WD Raptor 74GB 10,000RPM SATA (Supplied by Western Digital)Operating System: Windows XP Professional SP1Drivers: Mixture of ATI drivers and DX9cDriver wise we are a bit all over the place today due to the Catalyst 5.10 drivers not supporting the X1K line up. Since our Sapphire X1800XL also arrived before our reference X1800XT sample, we used the drivers that came with the Sapphire card and quickly discovered that these drivers wouldn't work with the XT variant.Since the drivers that came from ATI are not available to be downloaded, we have used the driver that came from Sapphire which is labeled which we think translates to 21st September 2005 driver and for the reference X1800XT we have use the driver labeled 8.173.1-050921a-026915E which seems to be dated the same but be a different driver and finally for the GeCube X800XL and X850XT we have used the latest official release Catalyst 5.10.We will be doing most of our normal benchmarks but unfortunately we have been unable to get a hold of an overclocking tool for the X1K cards as ATI Tool doesn't support these cards at the moment. We have all intentions of overclocking the X1800XL and X1800XT cards but it won't be today unfortunately. We have included our normal CPU overclock and high quality tests to see how the cards fair when we mix it up.We have compared the X1800XL from Sapphire today against its predecessors the X800XL and X850XT to see what kind of performance jump we get but we have also thrown in the X1800XT to see also just where the X1800XL sits.3DMark03Version and / or Patch Used: Build 340Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: It Here
By combining full DX8 and partial DX9 support with completely new tests and graphics over the previous version, 3DMark03 continues the legacy of being the industry standard 3D benchmark.Please Note: Due to recent events with the 3DMark03 series, we are adding results purely for those who are still in favor of 3DMark03. These results should not be taken too seriously and are only added for interest sakes.
The X1800XL performs slightly faster then the X850XT and it would seem that pricing on both cards are very similar. This is an excellent start for the X1800XL and we can also see that the X1800XT gets quite a large boost not only over the X1800XL but the previous generation cards.

Benchmarks - 3DMark05

3DMark05Version and / or Patch Used: Build 110Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: It Here
3DMark05 is the latest version in the popular 3DMark "Gamers Benchmark" series. It includes a complete set of DX9 benchmarks which tests Shader Model 2.0 and higher.For more information on the 3DMark05 benchmark, we recommend you read our preview here.
3DMark05 shows excellent increase in performance over the similar priced X850XT. We can see that the X1800XT is over 1000 marks quicker again though over the X1800XL.

Benchmarks - Far Cry

Far CryVersion and / or Patch Used: 1.3Timedemo or Level Used: Ubisoft VolcanoDeveloper Homepage: http://www.crytek.comProduct Homepage: http://www.farcrygame.comBuy It Here
There is no denying that Far Cry is currently one of the most graphic intensive games on the market, utilizing PS2.0 technology (the latest versions support Shader Model 3.0 with DX9c) and offering an exceptional visual experience there is no denying that even some of the faster graphics cards struggle.
Far Cry as always is so CPU limited that it shows all the cards being with in an FPS of each other.

Benchmarks - Half Life 2

Half Life 2Version and / or Patch Used: UnpatchedTimedemo or Level Used: Custom TimedemoDeveloper Homepage: Product Homepage: http://www.half-life2.comBuy It Here
By taking the suspense, challenge and visceral charge of the original, and adding startling new realism and responsiveness, Half-Life 2 opens the door to a world where the player's presence affects everything around him, from the physical environment to the behaviors even the emotions of both friends and enemies.We benchmark Half Life 2 with our own custom timedemos as to avoid possible driver optimizations using the "record demo_name" command and loading the timedemo with the "timedemo demo_name" command - For a full list of the commands, click here.
Half Life 2 performance seems to be up and down and we think it is safe to put this down to some early drivers.We don't have any doubts thought that Half Life 2 performance will increase greatly when we get our first official set of Catalyst drivers for the X1K series of cards.

Benchmarks - Doom 3

Doom 3Version and / or Patch Used: UnpatchedTimedemo or Level Used: Custom TimedemoDeveloper Homepage: Product Homepage: http://www.doom3.comBuy It Here
Doom 3 is the latest game to hit our test lab and is one of the most intensive games to dates. With our own custom time demo we are able to give a realistic rating on what kind of FPS you will be achieving.For more information on benchmarking Doom 3 we recommend you check out our extensive article regarding it here.
Doom 3 performance at the higher resolution shows a greater performance increase in the X1800XL when compared to the previous generation cards.

Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AF

High Quality AA and AFIn our High Quality tests we bump the Antialiasing (AA) and Anisotropic Filtering (AF) up causing the card(s) to be put under more load.This usually helps us remove the CPU limitation. We use 4 x AA and 8 x AF as this is quite a common setup for most people who are venturing into the AA and AF area.
When it comes to AA and AF testing the X1800 series of cards really shine with the X1800XL really getting ahead of the X850XT which is priced about the same.
Half Life 2 scores aren't all over the place when we turn on AA and AF but we find that all the cards are performing roughly the same.
Doom 3 sees a 10% increase on the X1800XL when compared to the X850XT with the X1800XT seeing a further 10%.

Benchmarks - CPU Overclocking

CPU OverclockingEven with the power of the AMD Athlon X2 and Intel Extreme Edition processors, we still find ourselves hitting a CPU limitation in a lot of our benchmarks. That is, the graphics cards have more performance to give but the processor is letting the team down.By overclocking the processor we can see what kind of a performance increase we get. When something isn't CPU limited the performance increase isn't all that major but when we do have a CPU bottleneck, every MHz extra we can get can show us an excellent jump in performance.The Athlon X2 3800+ was increased from 2GHz to 2.35GHz with a slight increase in the front side bus utilizing the stock X2 HSF.
3DMark03 doesn't see much of a performance increase when it comes to overclocking the processor as we can see that both cards score very similar to each other.
3DMark05 also sees very little performance gains when overclocking the processor with the only noticeable difference being the X1800XT at the lower resolution.
Far Cry as always sees the greatest performance gains thanks to it being so CPU limited. Both cards gain almost a 10FPS increase when the CPU is overclocked.

Final Thoughts

Final ThoughtsThe Sapphire Radeon X1800XL is a great graphics card and it is going to be a perfect option for people who can't afford to spend the extra dollars to buy the XT variant of the new generation. The X1800XL unlike the X1800XT is available now, which is excellent news for people who just couldn't bring themselves to purchase a GeForce 7800GT or 7800GTX from nVidia.The bundle included within the Sapphire X1800XL is healthy and the Sapphire Select program is a nice addition. It works by it giving you a number of options for recent released games - it allows you to unlock a number of games depending on the number of keys you have (two in this case) to get the full version.There is no doubt that some people are going to want to wait for the X1800XT but if you cant hold back any longer and you are using anything from an X800PRO or below, the jump to an X1800XL is going to be very welcome change for you.Out of the two drivers we tried on the X1K graphics cards, as far as we can tell one driver is a WHQL one while the other is more of a beta driver yet both released on the same date. We can safely say you'll see more performance refinements from ATI in upcoming driver releases.- ProsGood performanceIdeal upgrade from X800PRO and belowSapphire SelectSingle slot designDual DVI and VIVOBeautiful packageAvailable NOW- ConsTRIXX overclocking tool doesn't work (yet)Rating - 9 out of 10 and TweakTown's "MUST HAVE" Editors Choice Award

Last updated: Apr 7, 2020 at 12:26 pm CDT

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Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.

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