Hardware Review:
Sapphire X1650

  By Shamus   May 1, 2008   70 comments

Sure, there are lots of hardware reviews out there. The usual practice is to have a smart and knowledgeable person review some gadget or device in detail. But I think we need a fresh perspective. We need the perspective of someone who knows nothing about hardware and is confused by new technology. We need in-depth analysis from a guy who knows just enough to not stick his screwdriver (a butterknife, actually) into his power supply and wiggle it around. We need a hardware review from a software engineer.

To that end, I bring you a review of my recently acquired graphics card…

According to the box, the Sapphire X1650 is a graphics card from either “ATI” or “Radeon” or maybe “Malaysia”. I’m upgrading my graphics card from the old NVidia 6200 to the X1650. At first I was worried because 1650 is a lower number than 6200, which would seem to suggest that the 1650 will have weaker megabytes or smaller gigahertz. But the “X” in front of the name is like a multiplier, and it means “more better”.

Unboxing the X1650

This is the box. I don’t know why it has a picture of a dead alien on it.
This is the box. I don’t know why it has a picture of a dead alien on it.

The box is more complex than it seems, because inside of the box pictured above was another box. It was brown and had very tricky flaps. The inner box didn’t really open and close so much as unfold. I couldn’t figure out how to fold it back up again so I threw it away.

The X1650

This is the X1650.  It’s very advanced and red.
This is the X1650. It’s very advanced and red.

I got the AGP version of the card. AGP stands for “A Good Plug”, because it will plug into my motherboard, unlike the other kinds of graphics cards which don’t. I don’t even know why they make those ones. I like the fan, because it looks like the turbine on a jet, and jets are fast.

Installation

Installation was a snap. I just took the cover off the thing and plugged the whatzit into the slotty bit on the motherboard. There were several little wires and nobbly bits in the box along with the graphics card. I didn’t know what to do with them so I put them back in the box and pretended I didn’t have them.

I don’t know what these are for.  The one looks like some of the cables already inside of my computer, except this one doesn’t shock me when I lick the contacts.
I don’t know what these are for. The one looks like some of the cables already inside of my computer, except this one doesn’t shock me when I lick the contacts.

Software

I’m happy to report that the X1650 driver / software installer is following the industry standard guidelines for sucking in every way possible. It began with a needlessly elaborate graphics splash screen that launched a chain of subsequent installers. Each one ran without explaining what it was or why I might want it. I just had to sit there and hit “next” or “finished” every couple of minutes. That is, I was obliged to participate without being offered any information or choices.

I think there were five installers in all. While I got the needed drivers, I also got a bunch of crap I didn’t want. (I can now right-click on the desktop and access all sorts of esoteric performance options. It’s like cluttering up your car steering wheel with buttons to regulate the fuel mixture and air intake. Why are these here where I might accidentally use them?)

It took longer to run the installer than it did to find my plus-ended screwdriver, and that’s like ten minutes.

Rationalizing My PurchaseBenchmarking

A side-by-side comparison of the NVidia 6200 and the ATI X1650.
A side-by-side comparison of the NVidia 6200 and the ATI X1650.

As you can hopefully see from the screenshot above, the X1650 is totally better and not a waste of my money. Benchmarking performance in Deus Ex reveals that while the 6200 is “ultra mega fast”, the X1650 is “super extra ultra mega fast”. While in both cases the frame rate was maxed out, it was nice to know that the X1650 was in there, spinning that cool fan it has and being so awesome and red.

2020201070 comments? This post wasn't even all that interesting.


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  1. Vegedus says:

    I’d say something about the “benchmarking” being a bit unfair, but it was too entertaining to nag at.

  2. Jeremiah says:

    Best. Review. Ever. Seriously, I was cracking up the entire time. Actually, I’m still giggling over “plus-ended screwdriver.”

    And I don’t know what Vegedus is talking about. I can TOTALLY see the difference in the benchmarking. You made the right choice.

    From now on, I’m not buying hardware unless it has that extra X!

  3. Strangeite says:

    Excellent review.

    I do want to let you know what those extra little wires and nobbly bits are for. You see, every geek worth their salt has a container filled with various wires, connectors, pins, adaptors and dohickies. The wife is informed that the parts are necessary in order to keep the various technological devices around the house functioning. If you didn’t have the box, how would you plug a power supply into the standard outlet of Abkhazia?

    My container has grown in size and is now housed in an old washing machine box. My friends are impressed. My wife’s friends give her a shoulder to cry on.

  4. apocriva says:

    I wish that didn’t sound so … like real life. :(

  5. Martin says:

    You should look near the back of the card, if a video card comes with it’s own powercord splitter, it’s probably there because it wants an extra source of power. There’s probably an empty plug near the back.

  6. SomeDude says:

    Wow. You even got the benchmark screen shot to line up from 2, theoretically, different loads.
    Must be a nice card.

  7. Marcel Beaudoin says:

    It’s funny ’cause it’s true.

    My upgrading of my computer (New CPU, mobo, graphics card, RAM and Power supply) went much the same way. Luckily, my mobo supplier provided pretty step-by-step pictograms of what goes where.

  8. Dave says:

    Yep – you’ll definitely run your vintage games even super-faster. I bet Tropico would really blaze on that rig.

  9. asterismW says:

    Dude, I can’t believe you didn’t say anything about the dual-link DVI port, the twelve pixel shader processors, the Ultra-Threaded Shader Engine or the 128-bit 4-channel DDR/DDR2/GDDR3 memory interface.

    No, seriously, it was absolutely brilliant. :)

  10. Maddy says:

    You forgot to mention what the contacts tasted like!

  11. Richard says:

    Now the million-dollar question: how and why did you choose the X1650? What differentiated it?

  12. Shinjin says:

    Thanks – I wish more reviews were like this :)

    (Ooh – I get to see what my new Wavatar looks like)

  13. Nilus says:

    Wasn’t there an article a few years back about someone buying 4 “different” video cards(either ATI or nVidia) and basically despite almost a 200 dollar price difference between the cheapest and most expensive they were essential the exact same video card.

    Personally I long ago gave up caring about all this PC hardware crap. My current way of picking out a new piece of PC hardware consist of what is on sale at Frys the week I have money to burn.

  14. Richard:
    Well, duh! Clearly, it had an “X”, and was red and cool-looking.
    I know I’m sold.

  15. Blackbird71 says:

    Heh, so true, so true.

    @Strangeite

    I’ve got a complete set of drawers for my doohickey collection. My wife doesn’t mind too much, because every once in a while I actually find a use for something in that stash that lets her do something cool.

    My grandfather had a basement and garage full of his dohickeys. It’s a family tradition. :)

  16. Eltanin says:

    +pounds his desk while his shoulders shake with laughter and tears leak from his eyes+

    Oh the joy and the pain of it all.

  17. Scott says:

    Best review I have ever read about anything, ever.

  18. Ian says:

    That was quite possibly the best video card review I’ve ever read. That almost makes me want to go back to my old system (my current one isn’t A Good Port compliant and I wouldn’t be able to use this fancy red card in it!).

  19. Rick C says:

    I got a new video card last year that needed extra power, in the form of one of those adapters. Actually, the adapter was a Y because it could take *2* power connectors from the PSU.

    It turns out that when they say you need a 350W PSU for the card, they meant it. The machine would crash because the 375W PSU couldn’t feed the card and the CPU at the same time. :)

  20. Rubes says:

    Brilliant. Just brilliant. Can’t really think of anything more than that.

  21. Sharpie says:

    Brilliant.

    That is all.

  22. Chilango2 says:

    Oh wow, you got the same exact card that I did about half a year ago.

    The cord is an extra power slot, I suspect your card is not working properly if you don’t have thta plugged in. Find the end of the power connections from your power unit and plug it into there.

    It is a pretty nice card and allows you to play quasi modern games (before it, I had a ATI 9250 that was starting to not be able to play 2 year old games..), but it seems to be a bit unstable, or maybe I installed it wrong, I don’t know. I definitely have stability problems with it, and weird graphical glitches where the screen will turn funny color and then freeze. Some games are more forgiving than others: Jade Empire worked perfectly, but Oblivion did not.

  23. Marc says:

    Hilarious.

    I was getting funny looks from everyone

  24. Deoxy says:

    Very funny.

    Now with Added Bonus Funny(TM) because it’s true… which is pretty sad, actually (once the funny has worn off, which, luckily, takes a while).

  25. sandrinnad says:

    best. review. ever.

    completely worth all the funny looks I’m getting :D

    and what’s up with those weird inner boxes that never come apart and then never go back together?

  26. Derple says:

    Ok, I hate when people post way off topic in comments, but I have no idea where else to send this.

    I think all the links to the pictures in your DM of the Rings series are broken. None of the pictures for the comic are showing up anymore.

  27. Davesnot says:

    That is quite possibly the best hardware review I’ve ever red.. er.. read… All it was missing was the 11 out of 13 smiley faces (-2 for the inner box)..

    Maybe I’ll grab one for my kids new (er.. my old) computer.. it has A Good Plug in it too.

  28. Dan says:

    To paraphrase Return of the Living Dead: “Send more hardware reviews.”

  29. Craig says:

    As not only a mac user, but one with a macbook, I have to think back to being a kid putting more memory in my imac in order to get an idea for this. So.. not used… to putting doohickeys in my computer…

  30. Thad says:

    I’m not sure if the maxed out “fame rate” is a typo or not, considering the X factor!!!

  31. Maxime Thériault says:

    Hahaha, this review was awesome! I laughed the whole way through.

  32. scragar says:

    I’ve had a similar experience when I was building my current computer, I spend 2 days deciding on what card to buy for best performance and compatability, only to have the thing look no different to what my system did before with a 5 year old card. Even the visual effects of compiz don’t appear any smoother or more distinct, the only thing that appears to change, was the fact that my windows XP partition for gaming decided it wouldn’t boot with the new graphics card and I had to reinstall it(although this may also have been because I changed everything about the computer, going from single core to dual core, 32 bit to 64 bit…). The games I play are all over 2 years old(what can I say, I like retro, modern games appear to abandon quality for graphics and little bugs with a fixed story, think about it. tetris didn’t need a story or great graphics and that is considered to be one of the greatest games of all time).

  33. ngthagg says:

    That installation process sounds a lot like a jRPG, actually. Needlessly elaborate graphics? Long stretches where the only input required is pressing a button? Little to no explanation as to what the hell is actually going on?

    Yep, that’s a jRPG.

  34. Kameron says:

    So, uh, why was this posted in the Movies category?

    Great review, otherwise. I recently bought Starcraft (Battle Chest) and Deus Ex after reading your recent posts. Loving Starcraft; meh on Deus Ex so far. Probably because I’m having a hard time deciding between playing as a sniper or pure stealth.

  35. Luke Maciak says:

    Can’t… Stop… Laughing… LOL!!!11ONE!

  36. Froody says:

    It’s funny because it’s true… it’s kinda sad that it’s true, though.

  37. Oleyo says:

    Hillarious, perfect end of a hectic day :)

    This line killed me: “I put them back in the box and pretended I didn’t have them.”

  38. Jeff says:

    I think you need a disclaimer, Shamus, about if you actually do know what the cables are for, or you’ll end up with unsolicited advice, like mine.

    The power cable is necessary for the newer high end cards, as they do require quite a bit of power. The boxy top right adapter should be for digital displays, and the upper left set looks to be AV cable adapters. No clue ’bout the yellow adapter.

    Oh, the thing about Sapphire is that it’s not built by ATi but by a related company. You’ll see a “Built by ATi” logo if it was, that one probably says “Powered by ATi”, iirc. Personally I’ve always shelled out the extra fifty bucks to get something directly from ATi, but now they’ve been bought out by AMD…

  39. journeyman says:

    Strangeite: “…and here’s where I keep my assorted lengths of wires.”

    Shamus, you need moar pylons to test that effectively.

  40. Ian says:

    scragar: Yeah, the problem was your CPU, not the graphics card. Windows doesn’t have any problems with you swapping CPUs or graphics cards (I’ve done it before) but right when you go from having a uniprocessor system to having an SMP system (i.e. going from single to dual core) it feels a bit feverish.

    Speaking of which, make sure your Linux installation is running an SMP kernel if it isn’t already! No sense having two cores if one of them is asleep. :)

  41. Bruce says:

    I wonder what me new Wavatar looks like? Oh there it is.

    If only all reviews told the truth like yours. LOL!!

  42. Shamus says:

    For everyone who is worried about the extra power cable: Yes, I got that hooked up just fine. I had enough loose plugs that I didn’t need the splitter.

    And I know to always shut down Windows before licking the contacts.

  43. Zerotime says:

    The best thing I can say about the ancient X1650 Pro I bought for my PC back in December 2006 was that it let me play Splinter Cell: Double Agent.

    …wait, that’s not a plus.

  44. Kanthalion says:

    Slightly disappointed, I first read the post on my phone, so I was hoping when I got home to see the “benchmark” as a video when I got home.

    Edit: Why does my wavatar look the same?

  45. Lanthanide says:

    Actually I didn’t think this was funny at all. Like shooting fish in a barrel. Lots of other people seem to find it funny though, so I guess props to you.

  46. ArchZeal says:

    Craig, I am so with you on the iMac upgrade reference. Being a mac user (= luddite with pretensions of creativity) from before the second coming of Jobs almighty, I didn’t buy my own domestic mac until Sir Jonathan of Ive had made it look pretty. If you think the day-release-from-McDonalds salepeople in PC shops know nothing about selling graphics cards, imagine how hard it is to make them sell you a Mac. And then imagine leaving them with an original Bondi Blue iMac to upgrade before you collect it. Eight days later and they were still stalling rather than installing. In the end I stuck in the memory myself (= reducing the machine to its constituent molecules in order to access the port). But hey, it worked.

    By the way, what’s a graphics card?

    For the 1981 version of trying to get sense out of sales techies check out this sketch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZutcPUd_AVQ

  47. DGM says:

    Perhaps you should revisit your analysis of Oblivion’s graphics, now that you’re packing more graphics hardware, if you want to rationalize benchmark. ;)

  48. Rustybadger says:

    Shamus, I have a whole BOX of peripherals and cards I’m willing to send you in exchange for reviews of every one. That was seriously the best hardware review I have read in forever.

    Thank you.

  49. ArchU says:

    That alien on the box is dead sexy…or is that sexy dead? I want to buy such a card just for the alluring fantasy image. Does anybody know if the electrical contacts taste any good?

  50. Justin says:

    “Plus-ended screwdriver” is the tip (har har) of the iceberg for reasons I come back here.

    Incidentally, at least you weren’t trying to install your new drivers with Windows Vista. I like it, and its pretty, but double-approving everything gets old. I realize it’s trying to keep me from wrecking my machine, but still…

  51. journeyman says:

    Justin: I think it’s trying to keep you from wrecking your machine is because it wants to do it for you. You wouldn’t want to do a half-arsed job of buggering your computer when Vista can do it completely, would you?

  52. Mephane says:

    Had to suppress the chuckle.

    “This is the X1650. It’s very advanced and red.” <– Best picture description ever.

    This review is so hilarious. If it weren’t just for entertainment, I’d point out that the card’s potential would obviously only shine on games that are not already totally maxed out in image quality and framerate with your old card, but require more processing speed and memory. But since the review was just for fun reading, I will leave you totally clueless about why you actually have bought the thing.

    P.S.: Red is faster. Millions of Orcs cannot err.

    P.P.S.: The alien is not dead. She* is raising her head and lifting the arm, as you can see. She just woke up from sweet dreams of homicide or the like. Alien girls love sleeping on white cuboids.

    *It is totally obvious that this alien is female. Car magazines always have these almost-naked girls on the cover, too, so this must be the equivalent in computer hardware.

  53. Greg says:

    I’m curious as to whether Shamus lined up two screenshots from different games of starcraft or if since he already knew it was going to be exactly the same he just took one and drew a white line down the middle.

  54. Noumenon says:

    To me the source of the funny is the tension between whether Shamus is really stupid or just writing that way. I laughed when I was sure he was joking, when he talked about licking the contacts.

  55. Cthulhu says:

    Wow, it worked without the weird little cords? When I got my new card, it made this horrible shrieking noise until I figured out how to hook them all up correctly. (Apparently my fan can’t get enough electricity to run properly if the little cord isn’t hooked up to something.) The instructions- or at least the ones in English- said simply “power dongle must be connect for card to work”. So apparently it’s called a power dongle, for whatever that’s worth.

  56. kmc says:

    fantastic! i read this review and immediately sent it to my coworkers (software _and_ hardware engineers), and everybody loved it. wouldn’t you know, that afternoon, we got in the rest of the parts for our new lab computers and started putting them together. there were jokes aplenty about putting cables back in the box and plus-ended screwdrivers. made our day!

  57. Gary says:

    Blast Shamus, why couldn’t you have done this review LAST week :D
    It just so happens that I bought an x1650 on Friday of last week and am still waiting for it to come in the mail. Now, granted it has about twice the RAM of my previous card, so i expect I will see more difference than you did, but I’m not looking forward to all the little “extras”.

    I absolutely despise!!! with a capitol !!! useless extra programs. Things that load in my taskbar annoy me. If I wanted something in my taskbar, I’d put something there. I don’t. All the extra stuff does in my experience is slow down the computer and make me wish for a faster system.

    Maybe that is they ploy. Bog down the processors enough that we upgrade our cards. Because the newest driver updates ALWAYS seem to have an additional taskbar button. So your card probably works good when you get it, but as time goes on they want you to upgrade to a new one, so they sneak in an update which slows you down and makes you tink your previous card is subpar.

    grrrr..

  58. Jeremiah says:

    You need to buy more hardware so we can get more awesome reviews like this.

    Also: If you don’t shutdown Windows before licking the contacts, they taste better!

  59. KMJX says:

    Now i’m really looking forward to my upcoming upgrade to a shiny new PC.
    Somehow i can’t see why i even bother worrying about postponing said upgrade yet another year into the future.

    I hope 10 years will at least make it feel like something has changed.
    Somehow i still have some doubts about that….

  60. guy says:

    are you sure that was a graphics card comparison, and not blu-ray vs. traditional? in all seriousness, that’s what it reminds me of. “you can see the difference” NO I CAN’T. same with every graphics card update ever, except that made the trial of 9000000 particles, AKA universe at war, less sllooowwww.

  61. Viktor says:

    Every time I upgrade, it ends up like this.
    http://xkcd.com/349/

  62. Gavriel says:

    So you are implying that X1650 has better overall image quality? This is not true, look at the shiny yellow thing on that… thing right over the er…well, ok, forget it. I do believe this was an excellent review but your opinion is wrongfully biased in favor of ATi. You like red, that’s it.
    I’d recommend to try some good benchmark like 3D Mark and than you will know what games will run well on your rig. Hopefully. I mean you can’t expect much with a red card.

  63. Bizarre says:

    ATi drivers.

    ATi drivers…

    *curls into foetal position and sobs*

    Seriously though. ATi have the most annoying, unwieldy, user-unfriendly software on the planet. I normally avoid them like the plague but the only AGP card we could find for our old computer was an ATi.

  64. lplimac says:

    Two things.
    1) This card runs hotter than the card you most likely replaced it with. I had one overheat. Just make sure you have excellent ventilation and you should be fine.

    2) Go to ATI and download the latest drivers before you install the card, unpack the file and when you do install the card use that, not the disc provided with the card. That way you won’t load all the bloat that the CD has.

    I got this card to play Oblivion with and it was stellar with that game (at least till it overheated :p ). It’s a good card.

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