I purchased a Sapphire ATi Radeon x800 Pro Graphics card about 11 months ago from eBuyer for about £270, although it is a lot cheaper now. Compared to my previous card, the Radeon 9700 Pro, this card provided amazing 3D quality, life-like water reflections, and the ability to run 3D applications and games at full resolution without a visible compromise of speed. You can get the Sapphire x800 Pro version for about £220-250 depending on where you buy it, there is also a 'VIVO' version, which means 'Video In, Video Out' and comes with a Video-in port which enables the user to connect up a digital camcorder or other video source for capture by the x800. The VIVO version is about £10-20 more expensive than the standard version.
I will list some basic specifications, and an explanation of each specification as some readers do not understand the meaning of the jargon:
[Interface]: AGP 8x
The Sapphire Radeon x800 Pro connects by AGP interface at a speed of 8x, with 4x supported. AGP is the common interface for most graphics cards, and the AGP slot on your motherboard is where the graphics card will be seated. Newer graphics cards and motherboards are moving to the PCI-express standard, providing an interface speed of 16x. If you want to buy a PCI-express graphics card, ensure your motherboard supports PCI-express. However, the x800 Pro does not use PCI-express but rather uses AGP, which is supported by the majority of motherboards today, so there is no worry about that.
[Memory]: 256mb GDDR3
Video-Memory is used by graphics cards to store textures and the like that are in use, so the graphics processor can access these textures quickly. The higher the video-memory in the graphics card, the less you will notice 'texture thrashing', which is the significant slow-down you will experience when entering a new area on a game. 256mb is one of the highest that is used on video-cards currently, with 512mb cards in development. The memory on the x800 Pro is large enough to accomodate the latest games released.
[Clock Speeds]: Core - 900, Mem - 475 MHz
Higher clock speeds enable better performance, it is as simple as that. The clock speeds can be changed with the use of software, some of which is provided with the Sapphire version of the x800 Pro. This is called overclocking, and causes the device to produce more heat, which can cause it to become unstable, and possibly crash. The higher you deviate from the factory-set clock speeds, the more unstable the card becomes. There are attachments that you can buy such as the ATi Silencer, which is a quiet fan that cools the graphics card down more, enabling further overclocking. The clock speeds of the Radeon x800 are high, enabling games to be run at high resolution without a noticeable drop in frame rate [a low frame rate causes the game to become stuttery and laggy. A high frame rate will make the game smooth]. Also, this enables settings such as AntiAliasing [removal of jagged edges from 3D objects] and Anisotropic Filtering [improving of quality and clarity of objects, especially at a distance] to be enabled without sacrificing too much frame rate.
[Ports]: Analog-out, Digital-out, TV-out
The ports are the plugs on the back of the graphics card, that you plug your monitor or TV into. The Analog-out uses the standard VGA socket that most monitors use, and the digital-out uses a DVI socket that some monitors and some TFT monitors use. The TV-Out uses a S-video-like connection that is compatible with many TV's.
[Software] ATi Drivers and Control Panel, Sapphire Redline, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
The Sapphire version of the x800 Pro comes with the software listed above. The two games show off the capabilities of the graphics card, and Sapphire Redline is an overclocking and tweaking utility that can be used to change many aspects of the card. The ATi drivers and control panels are situated in the "Display Options" advanced tab, and can be used to control many features, from basics such as the resolution and refresh rate, to advanced such as AGP speed and fast writes.
The x800 Pro is smaller than I expected. Many high-end cards such as some nVidia ones have huge fans or heatsinks that accomodate 2 expansion slots of the case, taking up a lot of room. This is not a problem with the x800 pro, as it is small, but powerful.
Installation is very easy, and requires the user to have a spare 4-pin large molex-style connector to provide the x800 Pro with additional power. To make this easier, a cable splitter is provided, that splits 1 molex connector into two, incase you do not have any spare connectors. Apart from that, all that is required of the user is that they plug the card into the AGP socket, press down the locking latch, and screw the card into place.
Watching DVD's and movies with the x800 Pro is enhanced with use of hardware acceleration. DVD's and movies can make use of the video card to enhance quality and smoothness of the image to the screen.
My personal experience with the x800 pro is that it performs well on every and any game that is currently out, and you will be able to run them at high settings with no compromise on speed. For games that are a couple of years old, you will be able to run them at perhaps maximum settings with no speed compromise. Many people also recommend the 'Omega Drivers' - a modified ATi driver set for Radeon Cards which supposedly improves performance and enables a better control over the graphics card, with inbuilt features such as overclocking.
Another program I would recommend is ATiTool, which enables you to control the fan speed of the x800, monitor temperatures and overclock the card to its potential while keeping an eye on the temperatures.
I have also noticed an increase in render times within 3D applications, such as Bryce or Poser, which would benefit from the increased graphics hardware acceleration.
Overall, the x800 pro provides superb quality at a price that, for a high-end card, will not drain your pocket. I would highly recommend this card to a potential buyer of high-end graphics cards. There is also an x800 XT with AGP support, which is more expensive, but provides even more quality. Most other high-end cards are now of the PCI-express interface, which is a problem for people that do not have brand-new motherboards. For this reason, I would highly recommend the x800 Pro, which is a high-end superb card which uses the common AGP interface.