While it isn’t the fastest card in NVIDIA’s GeForce 6 stable, since its inception the GeForce 6800 GT has arguably stirred the most excitement among gamers and hardware enthusiasts. As you probably know by now, the GeForce 6800 GT borrows all the same features found in NVIDIA’s flagship GeForce 6800 Ultra (including 16 pixel pipelines), only it ships with slightly slower clock speeds and it’s priced $100 cheaper.
This has made the 6800 GT a favorite among the performance crowd as well as the consumer who wants high-end features, but doesn’t want to pay the lofty price tag such a graphics card usually commands. When you factor in NVIDIA’s recent price cuts on the entire GeForce 6800 lineup, the 6800 GT looks even more enticing. As a result, NVIDIA has been able to take back much of the high-end DX9 share they lost during the NV3x generation of GPUs.
To combat this card, ATI concocted the RADEON X800 XL, borrowing a trick from NVIDIA’s playbook by integrating the same feature set as found in their high-end X850 line, right down to the 16 pixel pipes, only they have one key advantage over NVIDIA: their card is actually cheaper to produce.
Whereas the GeForce 6800 GT is produced on the same 0.13-micron manufacturing process NVIDIA uses for the GeForce 6800 Ultra, for X800 XL, ATI didn’t borrow the X850’s process, instead the chip is built on TSMC’s 0.11-micron process.
By using this smaller process, manufacturing costs are reduced, as ATI gets more X800 XL cores per silicon wafer, assuming equal yields. The only downside (for enthusiasts and overclockers at least) is that TSMC’s 0.11-micron process isn’t designed for high clock speeds, newer technologies such as low-k dielectric insulating material aren’t found at 0.11, instead the emphasis at 0.11 is on value.
This means that cards based on TSMC’s 0.11-micron process can’t scale to higher clock speeds like 0.13-micron X800/X850 cards can. This may or may not be a big deal to you, depending on your perspective concerning overclocking. X800 XL cards have been selling like hotcakes to this point, so this apparently hasn’t upset too many people.
With X800 XL cards selling so well, many card manufacturers have decided to refresh their X800 XL lineup; in our RADEON X800 XL roundup we noted that both MSI and Sapphire were hard at work designing enhanced X800 XL cards.
Sapphire’s RADEON X800 XL ULTIMATE Edition is the first of these second generation X800 XL cards and we recently received a board for testing. See how the card stacks up in this review.