We’ve put up with hot, noisy graphics cards for so long that we’d almost forgotten there was a time when the little buggers didn’t need cooling fans. Sapphire’s Radeon X800 GTO Ultimate brings back that age with just a few compromises.
Sapphire’s engineers selected ATI’s last-generation Radeon X800 GTO for the mission, so this card won’t win any drag races. But the X800 GTO is no jalopy, either: The GPU offers 12 pixel pipelines and a 256-bit memory interface; Sapphire clocks the core at 400MHz and the 256MB of GDDR3 memory at 490MHz.
But Sapphire’s fan-less cooling solution is the feature that piqued our interest. A large oval heatsink is mounted on the front of the board, directly over the GPU. Three heat pipes emerge from beneath the heatsink, arc over the edge of the card, and disappear beneath an equally large rectangular heatsink mounted to the back. The oval heatsink covers the entire GPU and blocks the adoining slot. The heatsink on the back radiates heat from both the GPU and memory. Both components got scorching hot—surface temps registered 61.7 C—during benchmark testing.
Anyone contemplating buying this card should bear in mind that they’ll be giving up support for Shader Model 3.0 and a lot of speed in their pursuit of silent running. They should also not expect state-of-the-art performance—this card’s benchmark scores were a shade better than ATI’s X1600 XT, but they were a bit slower than the nVidia 6800 GT cards we’ve tested.
It would be unfair to judge this card based solely on its benchmark numbers—especially if gaming isn’t your primary application. It’s hard to put a price on peace and quiet, and the X800 GTO Ultimate is priced only about $10 to $15 higher than conventionally cooled cards based the same GPU. It could be the perfect fit for anyone looking to build or upgrade a home-theater PC.
Month Reviewed: February 2006