Sapphire HD 2600Pro AGP Review

Admin - 2007-10-15 18:31:41 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: Admin   
Reviewed on: October 25, 2007
Sapphire
Sapphire
Price: $104.99

Introduction:

It used to be that if you wanted to experience DirectX 10, but were still sporting an AGP video card, you were forced to upgrade, not only the video card, but your motherboard as well, to support a PCI-Express card.  Well not anymore!  As "yesterday's" technology can still keep up with most of today's software, many people have not made the jump to PCI-Express, and now thanks to ATI, you don't have to. AGP gamers and HTPC users have been hit hardest with being left behind with DX10, new shaders, and HD output. ATI's 2x00 series looks to capitalize on this market.

Sapphire’s ATI Radeon HD 2600PRO AGP bridges the gap between yesterday’s hardware and today’s software.  So for those of us still holding AGP close to our hearts, let's see if it's really worth holding on to.

“For over ten years Sapphire has held true to its unwavering commitment, the commitment to deliver the most feature rich and soundly engineered products. Captured within the circuitry of each of SAPPHIRE's graphic cards and mainboards can be found the collective feedback from generations of enthusiasts in every market niche. Brought to life through performance oriented innovation and an emphasis on quality control, SAPPHIRE designs, manufactures and distributes the most complete range of ATI video boards and mainboards--from the mainstream products that afford the casual user the opportunity to enjoy enriched graphics and affordable platform solutions to the state-of-the-art technological marvels that drive fantasies to before unattainable thresholds of realism.“

Closer Look:

The Sapphire HD 2600PRO comes very efficiently packaged in a box a little bigger than a three-DVD box set. The front of the box stays true to the Sapphire/ATI marketing with an imposing, attractive female, as well as the AGP 8X and 512MB DDR2 info. Strangely, it seems the info on the side of the box needs some updating, as it states that PCI-Express is required.

 

 

Getting to the inside packaging shows the accessories packed in the bottom of the box, and the video card tucked securely in the flaps above. Opening the flaps reveals the thick anti-static bag that protects the card from damage in transit.

 

 

Taking a look at the accessories shows that Sapphire includes the driver installation disk, DVI to D-sub connector, TV out connector, HDTV breakout cable, instruction manual, power cable adaptor, and the all-important case badge.

 

Getting the HD 2600PRO out of the anti static bag reveals the Blue Sapphire heat sink fan with the model number and the attractive female to stand guard over your case internals. The heat sink covers the GPU while the memory is sadly left to fend for itself. The rear of the card is also left bare. The HD 2600PRO has a 4-pin power connector for external power. The card comes with a DVI port, D-Sub and S-Video Out connector.

 

 

 

The HD 2600 Pro should have no problems fitting in the tightest of spaces. For comparison, the 9600XT is pictured next to the HD 2600 Pro.

 

 

Installation:

Installing a video card is fairly straight forward. Begin by uninstalling the current video drivers from your operating system. Once that is complete, power down, unplug the power cord, and discharge any static by touching the metal of your case. Open up the case and remove the existing video card from the system. Replace with the HS 2600Pro, and make the additional power connection (if your case uses screws to secure the bracket in place, make sure you do that as well). Close your case back up, plug the power back in, and you are ready to turn on the system.

 

 

 

Once on your desktop, cancel out of the “New Hardware Found” wizard and insert the driver disk into your drive. Follow the driver installation links and choose your operating system.

 

 

If you choose “Custom” instead of “Typical”, you can choose which part(s) of the driver software gets installed. Moving further into the process, we find out that the Catalyst 7.8 drivers on the disk are not certified; continue anyway.

 

 

Configuration:

After completing the driver install process and restarting, you can dive into the Catalyst Control Center (CCC) and adjust the settings to your likings. You will be asked whether to start in "Basic" or "Advanced" mode. To gain full control of the drivers, we will choose Advanced mode. The CCC pops up to the Welcome screen. The most important info here is the Graphics Adapter; confirm that the adapter displayed matches your card.

 

 

Moving deeper into the driver settings, the most used/beneficial settings are the AVIVO tab, where you can adjust display color options, the 3D tab, where you can adjust the visual goodies (Anti-Aliasing, Anisotropic filtering, etc.), and the ATI Overdrive tab, where you can adjust the Core and Memory clocks for overclocking, once it's enabled.

 

 

 

Specifications:

 

Process (die size)

0,065 µ

Transistor count

390 Mio.

Memory Options

512 MB

Core Frequency

600

Memory Frequency (effective)

1000

Stream Processors

120

Memory Bus (bit)

128

Memory Type

DDR2

Data bus

AGP 4x, 8X

RAMDAC

2x400MHz

Standard cooling

Active

Standard slot solution

Single

External power needed

Yes

DirectX

DX10, SM4.0

Memory optimization

Hyper Z HD

Full screen Anti-Aliasing

Smoothvision HD + Adaptive AA

HDR (10:10:10:2)

16-bit integer or floating point

Video acceleration

MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, WMV9, VC-1, and H.264

HDTV compatibility(YPbPr)

Yes

Native display support

10-bit

3D Graphics Resolution

2560x1600

TV Out resolution

1024x768 1080i

Display Out Put

Dual DVI, TVO

Dual Display support

Hydravision 3

Features:

 

Testing:

Overclockersclub.com runs standard benchmarks available to the public to compare their hardware against. The current gamut of benchmark runs consist of gaming time demos (FarCry, F.E.A.R, Quake4), actual play (BioShock, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Call of Duty 2), and synthetic benchmarks (3D Mark 06). The benchmark suite should give a good picture if the Sapphire HD 2600Pro can take AGP users into realms only PCI-Express users were previously able to enter. The test system being used is by no means cutting edge, but should be a good barometer of the performance capabilities of the card.


Testing Setup:

Gaming Benchmarks:

Benchmark: Far Cry

Far Cry leads off the benchmarking.


Settings:

With the current supporting hardware, 1024x768 on the HD 2600Pro is just playable. Turning down quality options gives a very playable experience. The 9600XT is not playable at all.

Testing:

 

Benchmark: F.E.A.R.

 

F.E.A.R. has a built-in performance test that will benchmark the system.

 


Settings:

 

 

Again we see less than 30 FPS in F.E.A.R. on the HD 2600Pro. The 9600XT can't even get out of the single digits.

Testing:

Benchmark: Bioshock

Bioshock is a newer DX10 title to hit the market (though we'll be running it in DX9 since we're using WinXP). Let's see how the HD 2600Pro handles it. The 9600XT will not be benched since it is not SM3.0 compliant.

 


Settings:

 

 

Playing at 1024x768 with this lowly system actually provided some gaming fun. Nice to see that the HD 2600Pro can hold its own and carry the weight of the lower spec'd hardware.

Testing:

 

Benchmark: Call of Duty 2

 

COD2 still brings a smile to my face every time I load it. Even though I stink at the game, I still play it every chance I get. The venerable Stalingrad map will be the proving ground.


Settings:

 

 

While the benchmark numbers seem low, COD2 was playable at 1280x1024 with no stuttering until the card had to deal with heavy smoke from smoke grenades.

Testing:

 

Benchmark: Quake 4

 

The Quake 4 benchmark is a time demo that runs off the Hardware OC Utility Benchmark.


Settings:

 

The trend continues in Quake 4 with the HD 2600Pro. The 9600XT gets 3FPS at 1600x1200. That's awesome...in a hilariously horrible sort of way.

Testing:

 

Benchmark: Need for Speed Most Wanted

 

Need for Speed Most Wanted is one of the more recent titles in a long line of NFS games. The motion blur effects and ever-changing weather put a decent amount of stress on a card.


Settings:

 

 

Need for Speed Most Wanted follows the trend, but was also very playable while benchmarking on the HD 2600Pro.

Testing:

 

Benchmark: 3DMark 06

 

3DMark 06 is the “go to” synthetic benchmark for GPU’s. Score mightily and you have some serious bragging rights.


Settings:

 

 

3DMark put a hurtin’ on this system, especially in the CPU tests where the results were less than 1 FPS (in the 0.2-0.3 FPS range).

Conclusion:

The Sapphire HD 2600Pro is not a card that will break any benchmark records, nor will it allow you to crank up all the visual goodies. What it will do (and quite well) is allow a large segment of consumers the ability to stretch out the usefulness of their current systems. In today’s day, where you are overloaded with marketing and pushed into upgrading for no other reason than to have the latest greatest hardware, ATI has come to the rescue of the majority of users. The HD 2600Pro put up a good fight and with some tweaking, you can find a happy medium between image quality and performance. While we didn’t look at any DX10 games today, rest assured OCC will take a look at them very soon on this platform.

The Sapphire HD 2600Pro is a very good card and an excellent way for AGP users to stay current. Unfortunately, current certified drivers (i.e. Catalyst 7.9, 7.10) are unavailable. I spent three days searching high and low for current drivers to benchmark the HD 2600Pro with. There are certain partners that show 7.10's for the current AGP series, but they have not worked correctly. There have been users on forums swapping .inf files with older drivers into the current ones, but again that works to varying degrees. The only thing keeping this card from getting an Editors' Choice award is support from ATI with current drivers. There were AGP details in the beta 7.10 RC4 driver, but when the official 7.10's hit, there was no support for AGP. I know AGP is an EOL (End of Life) platform, but if there are going to be current gen cards released, then there should be current support for the hardware.  Hopefully ATI is smart enough to realize that.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: