Sapphire Radeon HD2600 Pro

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Sapphire Radeon HD2600 Pro
  • Sapphire Radeon HD2600 Pro
  • Sapphire Radeon HD2600 Pro
  • Sapphire Radeon HD2600 Pro

Pros

  • Passive cooler, Unified video decoder

Cons

  • Low benchmark results

Bottom Line

Our gaming tests didn't return very promising results, but we expect this silent, budget card will appeal to anyone building a media centre, or a smaller form factor PC, that can still run Windows Vista comfortably.

Would you buy this?

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ATI hasn't yet released its high-end competitor to NVIDIA's 8800 GTX GPU (assuming one is coming), but there are plenty of options available at the lower end of the market. For those of us who wish to run Windows Vista smoothly, play some basic level of gaming and watch movies on the computer, without greatly impacting system performance, the Sapphire Radeon HD 2600 Pro is an affordable option. Sapphire's budget version of the HD 2600 GPU slots in below its Radeon HD2600 XT on the performance scale. This version of Sapphire's Pro card is also a silent one; it uses a passive cooler to help keep your PCs noise level to a minimum.

Like the Radeon HD2600 XT, which uses GDDR4 memory but also has a GDDR3 version, our test sample of the HD 2600 Pro uses 256MB of GDDR3, but a GDDR2 version is also available, in capacities from 128MB to 512MB. Apart from the memory size and type, and the passive cooling on our review model, there are no other variations among the different HD 2600 Pro cards. They're all built using the new 65nm fabrication process and have a core clock speed of 600MHz and a memory clock speed of 1000MHz (effective). The stream processor count tops at 120, a far cry from the 320 used at the current top end of the HD 2000-series, and a much smaller 128-bit memory bus has also been used.

Although the hardware is not primed for serious gamers, offering fairly mediocre scores in our benchmarks, its passive cooler and less-invasive size will appeal to people looking to build a quiet, and possibly smaller form factor, PC that can handle media applications. In particular, it's good for watching DVDs or high-definition media such as Blu-ray or HD-DVD. According to ATI, all HD 2000-series graphics cards have ATIs UVD (unified video decoder) to handle video decoding, rather than offload it to the CPU, and they also include a DVI to HDMI converter in the sales pack. The HDMI output supports digital video and audio signals, so it's simple to hook up to your TV or amplifier.

In our benchmarks, the Sapphire HD 2600 Pro proved to be a bit of a slow coach. In our DirectX 9 tests, it barely scraped through as playable and in our DirectX 10 tests it really hit rock bottom.

DirectX 9

Using 3DMark 2006 at the default setting, which consists of a 1280x1024 resolution, no antialiasing (AA) and no anisotropic filtering (AF), it scored a reasonable 4408. However, when the resolution was pumped up to 1680x1050 and 8xAA was turned on with 16xAF, the scored dropped dramatically to 1558.

In the F.E.A.R in-game performance test, it scored an average of 23fps (frames per second) using a resolution of 1280x960 with 4xAA and 16xAF.

DirectX 10

In the Call of Juarez DirectX 10 benchmark, using a resolution of 1280x1024 with high-quality image details, the card scraped out a mere 6.9fps. Dropping it down to the balanced quality setting only added one frame to the average, which is no help at all. Increasing the resolution only worsened the situation.

In the Lost Planet: Extreme Condition DirectX 10 demo, it averaged 15.5fps, which is mildly better but still virtually unplayable.

Judging by the benchmarks alone, we don't recommend using this card if you're a keen gamer. The HD 2000-series does offer native Crossfire support. This means that a boost in performance could be achieved later by introducing a second HD 2600 Pro card to your motherboard and teaming them up (the motherboard must support Crossfire). The Sapphire HD 2600 Pro's sales pack includes a Crossfire bridging cable. Also included in the box is a DVI to D-sub adapter, a Component output cable and an S-Video to composite output cable. All video-out options work via the two DVI outputs and the S-Video output on the rear panel of the card. The card itself doesn't require any more power than it draws from the PCI Express slot, so no special power cables are needed.

On the subject of the sales pack, it's pleasing to be able to point out that Sapphire, like the Zotac cards we've recently tested, are now shipping with more eco-friendly packaging. The small, sensible packaging matches the size of the hardware inside, rather that the garish, wasteful packaging that has been the norm for some time, and is still used by some vendors. If you want to make a small environmental statement when purchasing your computer hardware, then Sapphire is a good choice.

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