Sapphire HD 2900 XT Video Card
Reviewed by: Admin
Reviewed on: May 14, 2007
Precious gems seem to attract anyone and everyone, but one has always been a favorite of mine and that is a genuine sapphire. Just the pure blue color of it grabs my attention even more than a diamond. Sapphire Technology has just released one of their newest gems, the long anticipated Sapphire HD 2900 XT, a video card based on ATI’s newest R600 GPU chipset. The R600 chipset was originally planned for release in early 2007, but setbacks have pushed back its release. Hopefully, this extra time has allowed AMD/ATI to make the R600 the best it can be. The Sapphire HD 2900 XT is a DirectX 10 video card that will finally give some competition to nVidia’s DirectX 10 series GPUs.
Sapphire Technology is ATI’s largest and best performing partner worldwide. Sapphire is known for their commitment to delivering the most feature rich and soundly engineered products. Sapphire Technology is not only a manufacturer of graphics cards, they also produce a variety of motherboards to compliment your system. Sapphire Technology produces products to satisfy the needs of all users...from enthusiast to the basic home user.
Packaging, packaging, packaging, the mixture of the blues and grays along with the phantom on the box screams out pick me up, I’m here. Amazing! The clear plastic panel insert shows you what is hidden inside, while the rear of the box further attracts your interest with product highlights and a peek of what you'll find inside the box.
The Graphics Board:The Sapphire HD 2900 XT comes safely stored in-between two to three inches of foam to buffer any blows during shipping.
The video card itself comes with a very large heatsink that has a red translucent Lexan cover. This lets you actually see the unit it's protecting. On the back of the card, you can see the bracket that secures the heatsink in place.
The Sapphire HD2900 XT uses a PCI-E interface and has two DVI outputs and one S-Video; you will also need an open expansion slot under the card to allow for the air intake on the heatsink to function.
The Sapphire HD 2900 XT requires an external power source to function, this card will run with two, 2x3 PCI-E connectors but in order to take advantage of its ATI Overdrive functions it will require one 2x3 and one 2x4 PCI-E connector. Many power supply manufacturers are sending these cables free of charge to those who have recently purchased a PSU, so give your manufacturer a call and reserve one today.
Provided with the Sapphire HD 2900 XT are all the cables and dongles you will need to utilize its many extra features. Included are two DVI to D-Sub dongles, one DVI to HDMI dongle, one Crossfire molex, one S-video cable and one HDTV breakout cable.
Software Bundle and Manual:
Also Included is a great software bundle that includes a full version of 3DMark06 by Futuremark, which is one of the benchmarks I will be testing the card with today.
You’re purchasing this video card to play games, so why not take advantage of the free copy of “The Black Box?" Which is a collection of three new games: Half-Life 2 Episode two, Team Fortress 2 and Portal. Details on how to obtain the games are enclosed.
Of course no video card is complete without a users manual, with graphics like this on a manual, I had to read it.
The ATI R600:
What is it that makes this video card tick? Let's break down the components and find out. First we'll start with the rear bracket that secures the heatsink and fan to the board. It's of metal construction for a sturdy foundation.
The heatsink and fan cover is made of a Lexan plastic which screws into the plate that surrounds the heatsink and holds the fan.
The plate which holds the heatsink and fan in place is made of plastic.
The heatsink is pure copper and also has a pipe system to vent hot air away from the chip.
The backbone of the whole system is the ATI R600 Chip. it is 80nm and has 700 million transistors. For more on the R600, please remember to read our specifications section.
Finally there are the memory chips.
If the terms 'memory' and 'pixel shaders' seem alien to you, please visit our video card definition section for common and ATI related definations. (Graphics Board Definitions: ATI)
There are no special tools needed to install the Sapphire HD 2900 XT, it installs the same as any other PCI-E video card. Remove the side panel on your case, remove your old video card and make sure that you have the expansion slot underneath open. Then slide the card in the slot, screw it in or snap your tool-less clip and your ready to go. Don’t forget to replace your side panel. If your monitor is DVI capable, you will not need to use the D-Sub dongle.
Well, I did order an eight pin PCIe connector, but unfortunately it did not get to me before I started this review. As I stated earlier, the Sapphire HD 2900 XT does not require the eight pin connector, but it will run with 2 six pin connectors. I tried the six pin connectors in the far left and right and it did not seem to make a difference. The eight pin connector is suggested if you choose to use ATI Overdrive.
Installing the ATI Drivers:
After powering up your computer you’ll need to install the ATI software drivers, I was not expecting what was about to happen. I have used ATI drivers before but WOW!, there were quite a few extras that were included with this video card.
Place the software driver CD into your CD-ROM drive and follow the on-screen instructions,
While installing, you will encounter a screen or two that asks you to install some hot fixes. These are for the HDMI sound that is built into the Sapphire HD 2900 XT. Just allow the program to progress.
One more hot fix and your done, just reboot your computer when prompted.
Catalyst Control Panel:
Once all your drivers are installed and you have rebooted your computer, you might want to configure the Catalyst Control Panel so you can change the settings to your liking. Here are just a few screen shots of the ATI CCC.
There is no difference between this and previous versions. As you can see, there is no ATI Overdrive option. Since I do not have the eight pin connector, the overclocking tool was not installed.
SAPPHIRE HD 2900 XT
ATI Radeon HD 2900
750 MHz – TOXIC = up to 15% >
1650 MHz - TOXIC = Pre-Overclocked
512 MB GDDR3 - TOXIC = 1GB GDDR3
DVI-I + DVI-I + VIVO
Dual Link DVI
Multi-Channel Audio (5.1 Surround) via HDMI Support
Sapphire Software Bundle (Full Retail Version Only)
- Power DVD (for Window XP)
Windows Vista ™
- 700 million transistors on 80nm HS fabrication process
- 512-bit 8-channel GDDR3/4 memory interface
- Fully distributed design with 1024-bit internal ring bus for memory reads and writes
- Optimized for high performance HDR (High Dynamic Range) rendering at high display resolutions
- 320 stream processing units
- Dynamic load balancing and resource allocation for vertex, geometry, and pixel shaders
- Common instruction set and texture unit access supported for all types of shaders
- Dedicated branch execution units and texture address processors
- 128-bit floating point precision for all operations
- Command processor for reduced CPU overhead
- Shader instruction and constant caches
- Up to 80 texture fetches per clock cycle
- Up to 128 textures per pixel
- Fully associative multi-level texture cache design
- DXTC and 3Dc+ texture compression
- High resolution texture support (up to 8192 x 8192)
- Fully associative texture Z/stencil cache designs
- Double-sided hierarchical Z/stencil buffer
- Early Z test, Re-Z, Z Range optimization, and Fast Z Clear
- Lossless Z & stencil compression (up to 128:1)
- Lossless color compression (up to 8:1)
- 8 render targets (MRTs) with anti-aliasing support
- Physics processing support
- Shader Model 4.0
- Geometry Shaders
- Stream Output
- Integer and Bitwise Operations
- Alpha to Coverage
- Constant Buffers
- State Objects
- Texture Arrays
- High performance vertex cache
- Programmable tessellation unit
- Accelerated geometry shader path for geometry amplification
- Memory read/write cache for improved stream output performance
- Multi-sample anti-aliasing (up to 8 samples per pixel)
- Up to 24x Custom Filter Anti-Aliasing (CFAA) for improved quality
- Adaptive super-sampling and multi-sampling
- Temporal anti-aliasing
- Gamma correct
- Super AA (CrossFire configurations only)
- All anti-aliasing features compatible with HDR rendering
- 2x/4x/8x/16x high quality adaptive anisotropic filtering modes (up to 128taps per pixel)
- 128-bit floating point HDR texture filtering
- Bicubic filtering
- sRGB filtering (gamma/degamma)
- Percentage Closer Filtering (PCF)
- Depth & stencil texture (DST) format support
- Shared exponent HDR (RGBE 9:9:9:5) texture format support
- Scale up rendering performance and image quality with 2 or more GPUs
- Integrated compositing engine
- High performance dual channel interconnect
- Two independent display controllers
- Drive two displays simultaneously with independent resolutions, refresh rates, color controls and video overlays for each display
- Full 30-bit display processing
- Programmable piecewise linear gamma correction, color correction, and color space conversion
- Spatial/temporal dithering provides 30-bit color quality on 24-bit and 18-bit displays
- High quality pre- and post-scaling engines, with underscan support for all display outputs
- Content-adaptive de-flicker filtering for interlaced displays
- Fast, glitch-free mode switching
- Hardware cursor
- Two integrated dual-link DVI display outputs
- Each supports 18-, 24-, and 30-bit digital displays at all resolutions up to 1920x1200 (single-link DVI) or 2560x1600 (dual-link DVI)
- Each includes a dual-link HDCP encoder with on-chip key storage for high resolution playback of protected content
- Two integrated 400 MHz 30-bit RAMDACs
- Each supports analog displays connected by VGA at all resolutions up to 2048x1536
- HDMI output support
- Supports all display resolutions up to 1920x1080
- Integrated HD audio controller with multi-channel (5.1) AC3 support, enabling a plug-and-play cable-less audio solution
- Integrated Xilleon™ HDTV encoder
- Provides high quality analog TV output (component/Svideo/ composite)
- Supports SDTV and HDTV resolutions
- Underscan and overscan compensation
- HD decode acceleration for H.264/AVC, VC-1, DivX and MPEG-2 video formats
- Flawless DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-Ray playback
- Motion compensation and IDCT (Inverse Discrete Cosine Transformation)
- HD video processing
- Advanced vector adaptive per-pixel de-interlacing
- De-blocking and noise reduction filtering
- Edge enhancement
- Inverse telecine (2:2 and 3:2 pull-down correction)
- Bad edit correction
- High fidelity gamma correction, color correction, color space conversion, and scaling
- MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, WMV9, VC-1, and H.264/AVC encoding and transcoding
- Seamless integration of pixel shaders with video in real time
- VGA mode support on all display outputs
- PCI Express x16 bus interface
- OpenGL 2.0 support
OverclockersClub has always strived to be different when it has come to benchmarking; our goal is to give realistic benchmarks that even the average user can achieve. We don't try to excite you with unrealistic resolutions or tons of synthetic benchmarks with extraordinarily high numbers. However, times are changing and LCD monitors are getting cheaper every day. With the introduction of widescreen monitors, higher resolutions are now possible even for those who have very tight budgets. So with that said, I am sad to say goodbye to the 800x600 resolution from past reviews and say hello to the wide screen resolution of 1680x1050. In addition, due to popular demand, OverclockersClub will be adding two synthetic benchmarks as well; the popular 3DMark06 by Futuremark and a newcomer to the benchmarking scene: RyderMark, by Candella Software. So without further adieu, let’s see what the Sapphire HD 2900 XT has to offer.
After speaking to Candella Software I was informed that RyderMark is not a synthetic benchmark it is actually a game created for benchmarking by Candella Software.
- AMD 64 5400+ AM2 CPU
- Abit AN9 32x
- 2 GB Mushkin XP8500
- Mushkin 650w PSU
- Sapphire (ATI) HD 2900 XT 512mb
- XFX (nVidia) 8800GTS 320mb
- Windows XP Pro SP2
- DirectX 9.0c
- All Video Drivers are the most up to date at time of benchmarks.
- BenQ FP222WH Monitor
- Logitech MX 610 Left Handed Mouse
- Far Cry: Hardware OC (Ubisoft Volcano)
- F.E.A.R. (Performance test)
- Call of Duty 2: Stalingrad (FRAPS)
- Quake4: Hardware OC (Hardware OC v 1.5)
- Need For Speed Most Wanted (FRAPS)
- Microsoft Flight Simulator X
- 3D Mark 06
- Ryder Mark
Benchmark: Far Cry
Lets begin with Far Cry, an older game but still a popular benchmark. Our resolutions will be 1024x768, 1280x1024 and 1680x1050. These will also be the standard resolutions for all other benchmarks.
- Maximum quality option, Direct3D renderer
- Level: Volcano, demo: Volcano.tmd
- Pixel shader: model 2.0b
- Antialising: 4×
- Anisotropic filtering: 8×
- HDR: disabled
- Geometry Instancing: disabled
- Normal-maps compression: disabled
In comparison, the 8800 GTS did much better with our Far Cry benchmark than the 2900 XT. But in the past where other ATI GPU's have failed to show true color variations and even have missed quite a lot of detail, the video quality was crisp and better than that of the 8800.
F.E.A.R. is also a first person shooter and it has its own benchmark built into the game. With the latest version of 1.8, the 1280x1024 resolution has been added. In the past benchmarks were run at 1280x960.
- FSAA: x4
- Anisotropic: x16
- Effects: Max
- Computer: High
- Soft Shadow: Off
Although the Sapphire HD 2900 XT didn't overtake the 8800 GTS in our lower resolution as the resolutions got higher, the 2900 XT took control and out performed the 8800 GTS.
Benchmark: Call of Duty II
Call of Duty 2, the second installment in the Call of Duty Series, is an intense, action-packed WW2 thriller where you can fight on all battlefronts of the European Theater.
- Anti-aliasing: x4
- Texture Filter: Trilinear
Benchmark: Quake 4
Quake 4, is the newest arrival in the Quake Series. It can be played in single and multi-player modes. The x1650 Pro and the XFX 7600 GT were not tested with V1.5.
- Demo: HardwareOC
- Quality: High
- Aspect Ratio: [4:3]
- Antialiasing: 4×
- Anisotropic filtering: 4x
- Symmetric MultiProcessing (SMP) enabled (for X1950 and 8800 GTS)
This new version was rough on both cards, I really expected higher frame rates but none the less, the 2900 XT performed well.
Benchmark: Need For Speed: Most Wanted
This is a racing game in which you can choose from a number of vehicles, different types of vehicle setups and also choose which type of race course you prefer.
- Track; Clubhouse and Hollis
- All basic video settings set to ¾ on scroll bar
- All geometric features: High
- Vsync: Off
82 FPS in all 3 resolutions, I ran it 4 times just because I couldn't believe it. The difference was hundreds of seconds. NFS Most Wanted did not give me an option for a resolution higher than 1280x1024, so the 800x600 resolution was added back into the benchmark.
Benchmark: Microsoft Flight Simulator X
Lets just sit back and relax while we fly our plane to Hawaii. Microsoft FSX is being introduced as a new benchmark that replaces Doom III. Microsoft FSX with its clouds, blue sky and scenery, will prove to be a great test of how well we can get those pixel shaders working.
- Target Frame rate to unlimited
- Bilinear filtering
- All other settings to Medium high
Benchmark: 3d Mark 06
For the time being, default settings will be used, while benchmarking 3D Mark 06 Professional.
- SM2.0 Graphics Tests: GT1- Return to Proxycon, GT2- Firefly Forest
- CPU Tests: Cpu1- Red Valley, CPU2- Red Valley
- HDR/SM3.0 Graphics Tests: HDR1- Canyon Flight, HDR2- Deep Freeze
RyderMark is a new benchmark developed by Candella Software, there are many options that can be changed in the benchmark, I played with different settings and different shaders etc and hopefully have come up with a good combination. The benchmark is themed in Venice Italy during a speed boat race. Please check back for a full review on this new benchmark.
- Default 3.0
- Resolutions 1024x768,1280x1024,1680x1050
- AA 4x Quality 8
- AF 16x
- 64 Bit Shader
- Memory set to video card level
This looks like it is going to be a must have - overclocked and water cooled, with the option to add a CPU water block. So what does it look like and when is it coming? A week a month? Here is a sneak peek so check back frequently to see the OCC review on the Sapphire HD 2900 XT Toxic!
- 1GB GDDR3
- Pre-Overclocked Core – 15% above stock
- Pre-Overclocked Memory – 50-70MHz above stock
- Complete water cooled Sapphire System Solution technology
- Drive bay / cooler that allows for addition of 3rd party CPU and 2nd CrossFire VGA water blocks to be added
Water-Cooled Sapphire System Solution Specs:
- Dual 5.25" Drive Bay design: liquid cooling system in-a-box to save the space in the chassis and simplifies installation
- Mesh design front bezel enhances ventilation
- Easy to install and refill.
- 12cm Motorsports Radiator:
1. DTT - Dimple Tube Technology swirls the coolant within the radiator to increase thermal transfer.
1. Effective cooling for the GPU and the video card memory at the same time with aluminum memory heatsink
2. Brazing Pure Copper Waterblock for maximum heat conductivity from heat source
- Ultra-low noise fan: silent variable fan with blue LED (1600 ~ 2400rpm).
- High-performance Liquid Pump:
1.Silent and powerful P500(500L/hr) pump provide superb reliability
2.The ceramic bearings significantly extend the life-expectancy of the pump.
- Quick connector:
1. Quick Disconnect Coupling: Valves shuts off water flow immediately when dismantling to prevents water leakage
2.User friendly Quick Install Connector saves you time and energy.
- Durable 3/8” Tube: Special material to prevent wear & tear from being clogged up or over-bending.
2. An all-aluminum radiator featuring expanded outer fins and tube style for maximum performance.
The Sapphire HD 2900 XT, being the next generation of ATI based video cards is, nor claims to be, an nVidia 8800 GTX or Ultra killer. This card is made to perform in a comparable manner, but at a price that almost anyone can afford. Just shy of $400 dollars U.S., it is less expensive than the 8800 GTX and should improve in performance as the new catalyst drivers’ progress. The Sapphire HD 2900 XT did very well against competitor which it outscored in 12 of 23 benchmarks, as resolutions increased the HD 2900 XT performance stabilized losing less frames per second than the 8800 GTS. Even though the 8800 GTS is only a 320 MB video card, it is also an overclocked edition being the XXX with a 1.8 GHz clock. Could I have run the 8800 GTS 640mb card against it? Yes but I chose not to the reasoning behind it was simple, I did not receive an 8800 GTS 640mb in time to conduct a comparison. The Sapphire HD 2900 XT is just a “Plain Jane" version with no extra features added. So comparably, it can only get better. Are you looking for a video card that will last more than a year? Do you want performance but not at a price that will break the bank? Then I suggest looking at the Sapphire HD 2900 XT. With its HDMI capabilities and ability to play all of today’s games, maybe that media center you were looking to build isn’t as out of reach as you may think. The 8800 GTS is not HDMI so if you choose to use it in you media case you will not have the HDMI capabilities of the HD 2900 XT. Scrolling through forums and reading many posts it seems that the consensus is that the R600 will be a "flop". I'll be the first to say I have favored nVidia for a long time but I am impressed with the Sapphire HD 2900 XT. AMD/ATI has never claimed this will be the send all and say all to the video card wars, it is just a DirectX 10 video card that will perform. Did it perform? You have seen the benchmarks, run them yourself and you'll get the same results. This card does what it is suppose to, It's a DirectX 10 video card with HD capabilities and it an alternative to the 8800 GTS.
There may be speculation that this review appears to be biased, but negative comments are only usually made by people who are either members of other websites, or they themselves have biased opinions on the product. My job is to inform the public of how a video card performs; the benchmarks and resolutions used were conducted at specifications almost everyone can achieve. Yes, it’s nice to see how well a video card performs at 2560x1600, but does the every-day user have those capabilities? No, nor do most enthusiasts. At overclockersclub.com we are realistic and conduct our tests in environments that all can appreciate.
A final note: this card can be overclocked, but the reasoning behind not overclocking the card, was due to Overclockersclub not receiving the 8 pin cable for the power input that activates the overdrive. As soon as the cable is received, we will revise this test review.
- DirectX 10
- 512 BIT memory interface
- Great looking packaging
- Cross Fire
- Drivers are still very new
- The fan is quite loud at times