Summary: Sapphire's TOXIC X800 PRO VIVO merges Arctic Cooling's near silent, copper-based VGA Silencer 4 with the X800 PRO VPU. But that's not all, on top of this, Sapphire adds VIVO and built-in overclocking via their Automated Performance Enhancement (APE) utility. All this adds up to one unique X800 PRO card that should deliver superior performance. See how it fares in today's review!
One of the main gripes enthusiasts always mention whenever a new graphics core is released is the lack of innovation among ATI and NVIDIA’s board partners. Quite simply, most card manufacturers choose to take the easy road out, sticking with the reference board design instead of coming up with a unique card of their own. As a result, the first batch of graphics cards are all basically the same and are even produced off the same production line; the only real differences are literally the price and the software bundle.
Fortunately, there are a few card manufacturers that will go to the drawing board and add their own spin to the original reference design. These second generation cards often ship with better cooling or in some cases they’ll ship with faster memory modules. Both of these changes allow the card to operate at higher clock speeds than stock. Some manufacturers have also focused on adding additional features such as video input capability.
Sapphire has targeted their efforts on the enthusiast segment that not only wants a high performing graphics card, but one that operates silently or near silently. This started with the Sapphire RADEON 9700 PRO ULTIMATE Edition. Sapphire paired their RADEON 9700 PRO card with a Zalman ZM80A heatpipe cooler. By relying solely on the card’s heatpipe to keep the graphics card cool, the board emits no noise, making it perfect for use in quiet PCs. The card’s RADEON 9700 PRO VPU also made it perfectly suited for gaming.
While we loved the performance of the 9700 PRO ULTIMATE, the combination of the 9700 PRO and Zalman ZP80 heatpipe meant that the board generated a lot of heat. This made it a less than ideal situation in cramped cases, or cases with little airflow.
Sapphire eventually resolved this problem with the RADEON 9800 XT ULTIMATE Edition. By bundling a large, yet quiet Zalman ZM-OP1 fan, the heatpipe could do its work while the fan fed a steady supply of cool air to the board and its components. This addition dramatically reduced board temperatures, making the card feasible for use in the most demanding environments.
Unfortunately, Zalman’s latest heatpipes haven’t been qualified for use with ATI’s newer RADEON X800 VPU. As a result, Sapphire had to turn to another outside source if they wanted to bring quiet cooling to this generation of cards. Their solution was found in Arctic Cooling’s fourth generation VGA Silencer, which can be used on any RADEON X800/RADEON 9800 card. In their new TOXIC line, Sapphire molds the VGA Silencer with their RADEON X800 cards, and to really spice up the package, Sapphire adds other goodies such as APE overclocking, hardware monitoring support, and VIVO.
The most striking aspect of Sapphire’s TOXIC X800 PRO is undoubtedly its large orange heatsink/fan unit, which is manufactured by cooler manufacturer Arctic Cooling.
Dubbed by Sapphire as “Lethal Cooling”, Arctic Cooling’s VGA Silencer 4 is a very impressive piece of work. Arctic Cooling starts with a copper base plate, which sits at the bottom of the VGA Silencer 4. This copper base draws in heat from the X800 PRO’s R420 VPU, where it’s then transferred to a traditional aluminum heatsink, which is soldered to the copper base plate. This heatsink is tall enough to occupy the PCI slot immediately adjacent to the TOXIC X800 PRO, and sports multiple fins. The copper base also makes direct contact with the TOXIC X800 PRO’s GDDR3 memory modules on the top of the card.
This copper/aluminum combination does a good job of combating heat, but it wouldn’t be complete without the VGA Silencer 4’s massive cooling fan. Arctic Cooling integrates a large fan on the top of the card, and uses an oversized channel surrounding the card’s fan to draw in as much air as possible. By using a larger fan design, the fan itself can spin at lower RPMs, resulting in less noise than a small, high-RPM fan. The fan is also located offset of the graphics core (actually dangling over the right edge of the board’s PCB) for increased effectiveness. This is the same strategy ATI first employed with their RADEON 9800 XT cooler only it has been executed to a much larger scale with the VGA Silencer 4.
A plastic, ducted enclosure is then placed on top of the apparatus, which channels air from the VGA Silencer 4’s fan across the copper base and aluminum heatsink, and then out the left end of the duct, effectively outside the system case. While we’re not sold on the orange color Sapphire has selected for the TOXIC’s duct, we can’t deny the effectiveness of the cooler’s results, and in the end that’s all that matters.
In addition, the fan runs nearly silently. In operation the VGA Silencer 4 was barely audible next to the Pentium 4 3.4GHz’s stock cooler, and even in its higher RPM setting it cranks up to under higher temperatures the fan was still quieter than ATI’s stock fan used on their X800 cards.
Finally, a sticker with the blue alien that’s quickly becoming Sapphire’s trademark sits comfortably atop Arctic Cooling’s VGA Silencer 4.
Looking more closely at the TOXIC card itself, you’ll notice a small 2-pin connector that pokes out the edge of the VGA Silencer 4. This connector is for Sapphire’s temperature monitoring ready (TMR) technology.
TMR is meant to provide quick and easy access to hardware monitoring information to end-users. It will be a 5.25” or 3.5” drive bay that you can mount in the front of your case. TMR will include an LED readout and other accessories, Sapphire has mentioned S-Video, DVI, and composite ports in the past to us, as well as a knob for manually adjusting the speed of the card’s fan, so TMR will probably be a popular accessory with enthusiasts looking for a simple way to tweak their card.
Sapphire adds a small thermal diode to their TOXIC line of X800 cards. This diode sits near the VPU, recording temperatures. Sapphire eventually plans to tie this with TMR.
Hopefully Sapphire can get TMR up and running soon, as the TOXIC X800 PRO doesn’t support ATI’s OVERDRIVE dynamic overclocking utility. This may come as a disappointment to some users, the addition of TMR may subdue this somewhat.
The TOXIC board design itself looks indistinguishable from ATI’s reference X800 PRO. For added styling, Sapphire uses an an aqua blue PCB for the TOXIC X800 PRO, but other than this change Sapphire carries over everything else from the reference X800 PRO board design, including the yellow connector for analog video capture.
With previous ULTIMATE Edition cards Sapphire stuck with the same fire engine red PCB as the other ATI board partners, so at least it is nice to see Sapphire doing something a bit different for their TOXIC X800 PRO.
On the underside of the card you’ll notice the presence of ATI’s Rage Theater chip. This gives the TOXIC X800 PRO VIVO (video-in/video-out) capability. Rather than borrow the purple breakout box that ATI has used in the past for its ALL-IN-WONDER cards (as ASUS does), Sapphire includes their own video input/output cable with composite and S-Video connections inside the TOXIC X800 PRO’s packaging.
Accessories and software bundle
Speaking of the TOXIC packaging, besides the video input/output cable Sapphire also includes a composite video cable for hooking the TOXIC X800 PRO to an HDTV, S-Video and RCA cables, a DVI adapter, and a power connector. On the software side, Sapphire includes full copies of Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow and Price of Persia: The Sands of Time, as well as copies of PowerDVD 5 and PowerDirector 2.55 VE.
Intel Pentium 4 3.4GHz “Prescott”
ABIT IC7-G MAX II Advance
512MB Corsair XMS3200 DDR SDRAM
ATI RADEON X800 PRO
ATI RADEON X800 XT Platinum Edition
Sapphire TOXIC X800 PRO
beta CATALYST 4.9 (for DOOM 3 testing)
PNY Verto GeForce 6800 GT
Windows XP with Service Pack 1
250GB Maxtor Hard Drive Maxline III SATA Hard Drive w/16MB Cache
Lock On: Modern Air Combat (Mig-29 custom demo)
Call of Duty – OpenGL
IL-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles – OpenGL
Lock On: Modern Air Combat – Direct3D
Halo – Direct3D
Tomb Raider – Direct3D
Tomb Raider – Direct3D
Unreal Tournament 2004 – Direct3D
Splinter Cell – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
DOOM 3 - OpenGL
DOOM 3 - OpenGL
Far Cry – Direct3D
Performance: Thanks to its 12 pixel pipes and 900MHz GDDR3 memory, ATI’s X800 PRO is a screamer out of the box. Sapphire extends the X800 PRO’s performance a little more with their APE technology, which allows the TOXIC X800 PRO VIVO to run a little faster than other X800 PRO cards. This makes it even more competitive with the X800 XT Platinum Edition from a performance perspective, and the card costs less.
APE: Sapphire’s Automated Performance Enhancement technology, better known as APE, automatically increases the clock speed of the TOXIC X800 PRO from ATI’s default of 450MHz for the X800 PRO to 520MHz, a 13% increase. This allows the board to run a little faster than typical X800 PRO cards. Sapphire qualifies each TOXIC board for use at 520MHz and backs the card up with a full warranty, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t install APE in our opinion.
Hardware monitoring: Sapphire adds a thermal diode to their TOXIC X800 PRO, this provides core and memory temperature information for TOXIC X800 PRO owners. Eventually Sapphire plans to offer an accessory 5.25” drive bay module that will relay this information to you. This will provide an easy way to monitor the temperature of your graphics card at all times.
Unfortunately, these changes make the TOXIC incompatible with ATI’s OVERDRIVE, but with APE and Sapphire’s Redline overclocking utility, hardware enthusiasts still have plenty of options when it comes to overclocking.
Cooling: With its large dual-slot heatsink, Arctic Cooling’s VGA Silencer does an excellent job of keeping ATI’s X800 PRO VPU cool. The fan draws in air from within your case, and passes it over the X800 PRO chip and its memory. Hot air then exits out the back of your system, outside of the case.
Meanwhile, on the underside of the TOXIC X800 PRO, Sapphire provides a large aluminum plate for keeping the board’s memory cool. This makes Sapphire the first card manufacturer to provide cooling for these memory modules on any card, whether its an X800 PRO or X800 XT Platinum Edition. This added cooling helps to keep component temperatures down, hopefully allowing you to overclock your board even further for added performance.
VIVO: Thanks to the addition of ATI’s Rage Theater chip, the TOXIC X800 PRO VIVO provides video-in/video-out capability, a feature that has been exclusive to ATI’s ALL-IN-WONDER line for many years.
Software bundle: Sapphire bundles the TOXIC X800 PRO with free copies of Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, two modern DX8 games that have been released within the past year to positive reviews. Also included in the TOXIC’s packaging is a copy of CyberLink’s PowerDVD 5 and PowerDirector 2.55 VE for making home movies.
Overclocking: ATI’s X800 PRO VPU has proven to be an excellent overclocker. Remember, these cores are the same ones ATI uses in the X800 XT Platinum Edition, this means that they were originally designed with 16 pipes in mind and clock speeds well over the X800 PRO’s stock frequency of 475MHz. We also have a strong suspicion that disabling four of the pipelines goes a long way towards helping the X800 PRO reach higher speeds. Of course, TSMC’s 0.13-micron manufacturing process plays a large role here as well.
Price: TOXIC Edition cards are currently retailing for anywhere from $442-$520 online. If Sapphire prices the TOXIC X800 PRO VIVO too closely to the X800 XT Platinum Edition and GeForce 6800 Ultra, they risk losing sales to these high-end cards as many enthusiasts would gladly pay the extra $50 or so for the added pipelines and performance. This is why Sapphire wanted to originally release the TOXIC Edition version of the X800 XT Platinum Edition initially, then follow up with the PRO model a little later. Unfortunately the X800 XT PE is still hard to come by, so Sapphire was forced to release the TOXIC X800 PRO card to market first.
Sapphire has pulled off another winner with the TOXIC X800 PRO VIVO. Sapphire kicks things off by including the fourth generation of Arctic Cooling’s VGA Silencer. This large, dual-slot cooling unit does an excellent job of keeping the graphics core and memory cool, but more importantly, it does so without adding an excessive amount of noise to your system. In fact, after getting used to the noise level of TOXIC X800 PRO, ATI’s stock X800 PRO/XT cooler sounds loud in comparison.
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