Last minute lineup changes
The X800/X800 XL factor
ATI’s moves at the end of last year caught everyone off guard, including ATI’s own board partners. Not only did ATI refresh their high-end lineup, they also added two “mainstream” products in the form of the RADEON X800 XL and the vanilla X800, each with 256-bit memory interfaces and 12 or more pixel pipelines.
Originally these two cards were intended to retail for $349 and $249 respectively, but at the last minute ATI reduced the price on both these boards by $49. This change had huge ramifications on the hardware industry, as the 12-pipeline RADEON X800 now hit the extremely popular $200 price point, while the X800 XL was priced at $300. Never before had such powerful cards been priced so low. With one fell swoop, ATI had essentially made the RADEON X700 XT and RADEON X800 SE obsolete, and had put incredible pricing pressure on 256MB RADEON X700 PRO cards, as it shared the same manufacturer’s suggested retail price as the RADEON X800 at $200.
The TOXIC and GeForce 6600 GT cards
A closer look at the TOXIC X700 PRO card
This put card manufacturers like Sapphire in a bind, especially if they wanted to produce a high-end X700 PRO SKU to fill out their X700 lineup. With only 8 pipelines and a 128-bit memory interface, a 256MB X700 PRO doesn’t stand a chance against the 12-pipe RADEON X800, yet they’re priced so similarly. Retailers and distributors with supplies of 256MB RADEON X700 PRO were also caught off guard by this move.
Of course, if you’ve tried to purchase a RADEON X800 recently, you know by now that these cards are still impossible to find at retail, as once again ATI has horribly miscalculated availability of their boards. This has given board partners and retailers more time to clear supplies of 256MB RADEON X700 PRO cards, but at the same time has likely prevented a few potential sales as consumers wait for the newer X800 parts.
So how does all this tie in with Sapphire’s TOXIC X700 PRO? Simple, it all comes down to board production costs.
128MB of memory
With all the extra features Sapphire includes on their TOXIC cards (which we’ll discuss on the next page), production costs for the TOXIC X700 PRO are higher than on one of their typical Hybrid X700 PRO cards like the one we reviewed back in October. In order to keep the final retail price competitive, Sapphire had to axe something. In this case, Sapphire chose to save a little by reducing the total amount of memory on the TOXIC X700 PRO, slashing it in half from 256MB, down to 128MB.
This comes as an interesting move to us, as we’ve seen cases with high-end cards that clearly take advantage of the extra memory. Half-Life 2 is the most prominent example, as well as Call of Duty with image quality settings cranked up to their maximums with 4xAA and 8xAF enabled. Our guess is that Sapphire must have felt that the X700 PRO VPU isn’t capable of pushing the extra memory, or if it does take advantage of it, it’s only at the higher resolutions where the X700 PRO lacks the memory bandwidth to provide playable frame rates. Thus it isn’t a big deal if the TOXIC X700 PRO only ships with 128MB of memory. We’ll see if that theory holds up in the performance results, but now let’s take a look at the TOXIC board itself.