Sapphire (ATi) Radeon 9800 Pro 256MB

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SUMMARY: No longer “King of the Hill”, but still one of the best

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Now that ATi has released the X800 Series cards (and nVidia their 6800 Series), the 9800 Pros aren’t at the top of the heap anymore.

But, where they’ve released the newer products, the prices on these older cards (9×00 series) have come down a good amount in price. With some detective work, watching and waiting for
sales, MIR’s (Mail In Rebates), it’s now very possible to acquire a new 9800 Pro 128 for well under $200 USD (not the 128 bit memory version either, I’m talking about real deal
Pros w/ the 256 bit memory), and a 9800 Pro 256 for well under $250 USD.

The 9600 Pros, which were ranging around $160 when I reviewed one, are dropping closer to $100 by the day.

During reviewing that 9600 Pro (and the 9600XT shortly thereafter), I found it (them) to be very admirable performer(s).

So, with the price dropping as low as it is, and still running a GeForce 4 Ti4200 128MB (4x AGP) card myself, I decided it was high time to do something about upgrading to something newer.

I did some research on makes, models, onboard ram, overclocking, benchmarking, and finally settled on Sapphire’s product seen here today.

Card front

I purchased this at www.newegg.com where it is still available (as I write this). The version I bought is the retail box
model. They also carry the “OEM” model which includes fewer extras, but costs a good deal less moeny.

One other item I considered while shopping, and this swayed my choice a good deal, was that this model was reported to be shipping with the R360 (9800XT GPU) core.
Those cards equipped with one stood a very high chance of being transformed into an XT, as the two cards shared common components (PCB, DDR, and GPU). They differed in the BIOS
that was flashed onto them by Sapphire.

Core

When I received my card, I found mine to have the R360 core. As well as the exact same Hynix DDR memory as the 9800XT. A Wolf in Sheep’s clothing, as it were…

Hynix

While I intend on covering the procedure for flashing this card into an XT in another article, I will say it went flawlessly, and technically I now own a 9800XT.

Today however, we’ll look at the card as it’s shipped. I’ll then run it through the paces I had run the 9600’s previously, to see how much of an increase in the benchmark scores there is.

9800Plogo

Detailed Specifications:

  • Graphics Controller: ATI RADEON 9800PRO (R350, some R360)
  • Memory Configuration: 256MB DDR (256 bit)
  • Connectors: 1 x VGA out(15 Pin D-Sub), 1 x TV-Out(S-Video/Composite Out), 1 x DVI Connector
  • AGP Bus Interface: 4X/8X
  • Maximum Resolution: 2048×1536@85Hz
  • TV Tuner and Video-in: N/A
  • Video-Out: Supported
  • Clock Speed: 380MHz
  • Memory speed: 680MHz (340MHz DDR)
  • System requirements: Requires Intel Pentium 4/III/II, Celeron, AMD K6/Duron/Athlon/Athlon XP or compatible with AGP 8X, 4X slot, 64MB of system memory
  • Operating Systems Support: Windows ® XP/2000/ME/98
  • 500MHz minimum processor speed for MPEG-2 video capture
  • Supports DirectX ® 9.0 and OpenGL ® 2.0
  • New SMARTSHADER ™ 2.1 technology allows users to experience complex, movie-quality effects in next-generation 3D games and applications.
    SMOOTHVISION ™ 2.1 technology enhances image quality by removing jagged edges and bringing out fine texture detail, without compromising performance.
    128-bit floating-point color precision allows for a greater range of colors and brightness.
    Unique VIDEOSHADER ™ engine uses programmable pixel shaders to accelerate video processing and provide better-looking visuals.
    ATI’s new FULLSTREAM ™ technology removes blocky artifacts from Streaming and Internet video and provides sharper image quality.

  • Installation software requires CD-ROM drive, DVD playback requires DVD drive

So, what’s in the box?

Cables

Slowly becoming standard equipment all, the cables and adapters included here are:

  • DVI to VGA adapter
  • Composite via S-Video adapter
  • S-Video cable
  • Composite video cable
  • (Included, but not pictured here; 4 pin Molex power adapter)

Software

Included for software is the usual driver disk, Redline overclocking utility disk, PowerDVD 5, and a full copy of Tomb Raider Angel of Darkness.

Maybe it’s me, but isn’t TR AoD getting a bit “long in the tooth”? How about something newer? [cough]FarCry[/cough] =P

Tucked into the driver disk envelope was the usual “Fueled By Sapphire” case badge.

HSF

Here’s a decent shot of the heatsink/fan assembly used on this card. Don’t confuse that for saying this is a decent HSF… These cards (and the 9800XT’s) run
notoriously hot, and this piece is adequate at default speeds. If you start overclocking the GPU, things get very hot, very fast.

In the near future, I plan on another article with thoughts for aftermarket cooling and modding, to get those temps down. I wrote a piece recently that started covering this, but
the future article planned goes much further indepth.

The point is, if you intend on doing some overclocking with this card, plan also on upgrading the original HSF for something a bit better. This is a recurring “hot topic”
(no pun intended) in the Video Cards/ATI Topic here at OC-Forums. A search here will find many different ideas for aftermarket and user modified cooling solutions.

Note also in the picture above; If you plan on installing ramsinks, the OEM cooler overhangs the memory chips slightly. You’ll need to find another HSF to use that does not cover the Hynix chips first before you can add ramsinks to them.

Card back

Business as usual on the backside of the card.

Installing and Testing

I’ve yet to test out an ATI card that had clearance issues with the ram slots, and this is no exception. With the OEM HSF in place, you won’t lose any PCI access below the card either.

However, given the temperatures this card runs at, it might be best to leave at least two (if you can) slots open below it, to allow as much air to get into the HSF as possible.

When I installed this card, I had the same issues with losing the video signal I had with the two 9600’s (Pro and XT) previously. Frequently when first booting, and always
on a reboot, the BIOS screen would appear, and then the video would cut out. I would then have to shut down, turn off the power at the PSU, wait a few seconds, and restart the machine.

Every ATI card I’ve tested (coincidentally, all of them have been Sapphire products) have done this. If someone could e-mail me with a reason this does this, I’d be very grateful.
I cannot find any answers anywhere to why they do this.

I’m currently building a pair of PC’s for a local company, and both of the cards in them (Sapphire 9600 Pros) do this as well.

Anyway…

The system I installed this into and tested with is the same one I used in the “Vantec Fan Card; Revisited” article I linked to above. It specs out as;

UV

For these tests I was running Windows XP Pro SP1a, and using ATI Catalyst 4.4 drivers.

I ran through each series of tests at default speed, next with the CPU overclocked only, and then with both the CPU overclocked and video card overclocked to “XT” speeds
(412MHz core, 730MHz memory (365MHz DDR)). All benchmarking was done at 1024 x 768, 75 Hz. The default settings were used with each individual program.

Benchmark

Default

2.8 @ 3.2GHz

3.2GHz + “XT”

3D Mark 2001SE

17101 Marks

18744 Marks

19421 Marks

3D Mark 2003

5730 Marks

6136 Marks

6547 Marks

Aquamark 3

42944

44899

47363

Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby

218.121

239.802

245.141

Unreal Tournament 2003 Botmatch

75.431

86.073

86.360

PC Mark 2002 CPU

6971

7982

7966

PC Mark 2002 Memory

9283

10384

10383

PC Mark 2002 HDD

1156

1171

1187

PC Mark 2004

4440

4906

4938

I was able to get the clock speeds higher on the 9800 Pro, especially after replacing the HSF with an Arctic Cooling VGA Silencer.

With the Silencer installed, I’ve gotten this card stable to 430MHz/780MHz (390MHz DDR). At these speeds, and 3.3GHz, I was able to break the 20,000 Mark and 7000 Mark barriers in
3D Mark 2001SE and 2003 respectively.

I also got well into the 49,000’s in Aquamark 3 at those speeds, but have yet to break 50K in that one.

Gaming

Upgrading from a GeForce 4 Ti4200 to this card was a giant step up in graphics for my system. I was not only able to run at a much higher screen resolution, but use AA and AF as well.

For example, I get slightly higher framerates at 1024 x 768 screen resolution in Unreal Tournament 2004 (with all graphics settings in game maxed out) with the 9800 Pro running 6x AA and 8x
AF versus the Ti4200 and AA/AF disabled.

Comparatively, with the 9800 Pro, I get roughly equal framerates to the latter (Ti 4200, 1024 x 768, no AA or AF) running 1280 x 1024 with 6x AA and 8x AF. The Ti4200 would barely run this resolution with AA/AF disabled.

The difference visually between the two at 1024 x 768 is amazing. The framerates the 9800 Pro gets at 1024 x 768 with AA/AF disabled is mindboggling.

This is one fast piece of silicon.

And while it’s no longer “King”, it’s definitely still a member of the Royal Family somewhere… 😉

CONCLUSIONS

Upgrading video cards right now is a difficult decision.

Jump now, and get some decent hardware for reasonable money, or hold out and upgrade the entire system with PCI Express.

I’ve seen some benchmarks running the latter, and one of ATI’s new X800 XT’s. You could take some of my benchmarks here, and double them. I’m seeing scores in 3D Mark 2003 posted routinely
breaking 12,000 Marks, some breaking 13,000 with the newest cards.

With prices coming down on the 9×00 cards, now is a great time to upgrade for those still running older models than these if waiting for PCI Express isn’t an option.

All in all, I’ve been quite happy with this card so far. I’ve got no problem waiting a while for PCI Express to mature, and this gets me back in the game until then.

Cheers!

Email Brian

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