iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Interview with Sapphire Technology

On the peak of this summer, Sapphire Technology Russia, together with ATI Technologies, held the partners meeting event in Imperial Park Hotel near Moscow, which also provided for a nice day out for media representatives.

The event was not dated to a certain product release, so we'll pass by companies' presentations. Of interesting novelties we must note the following though:

  • Toxic X1900 XTX - based on the top-end GPU and featuring increased clock rates and more efficient cooling, this product was already reviewed and received the Original Design award (for its liquid cooling system);
  • Radeon X1900 GT - based on ATI's new middle-end GPU, this card had also been reviewed;

  • Radeon X1600 XT Ultimate - based on ATI's middle-end GPU and heatpiped cooler, this is a new product in the "Ultimate" noiseless series, but this model features a fan on the back side;

  • Radeon X1600 HDMI - based on Radeon X1600 Pro GPU, this low-profile solution is the first mass-produced card with a HDMI interface and HDCP support;

  • Pure CrossFire Advantage PC-A9RD580Adv - this motherboard based on ATI Xpress 3200 chipset is a lot cheaper than the top PC-A9RD580 on the same core logic ($130 vs. $210).

Representatives of ATI demonstrated capabilities of their today's top GPUs as physics accelerators handling collisions of tens thousands objects in games. In the future they will enable to use one of the two CrossFire cards for physics modelling. By the way, they brought good news for ATI CrossFire users. The latest Catalyst 6.6 supports CrossFire interconnection via PCI Express for Radeon X1900 GT based cards.

But the most interesting for us was the opportunity to interview Sapphire top managers. We got a chance to speak with KD Au, CEO, Rex Tsang, Sr. Vice President of Sales & Marketing, and Adrian Thompson, Vice President of Marketing. We didn't separate answers by person, since all interviewees supplemented each other.


iXBT.com: Hello, could you please tell us about Sapphire company, its principles and activities.

Sapphire: Sapphire is the major partner of ATI, we have been working with this company long before it moved to fabless production. Now we produce only ATI graphics cards. The production takes place at the fabs of PCPartner, one of Asia's largest concerns. Our primary business idea is to cooperate with ATI and offer the widest product line 100% certified by this company. Our entire ideology is based on the progressive advancement and thorough preparation of all new products without paper announcements. We invest huge funds to participate in specialized committees for interfaces and technologies standardization. For example, since we took direct participation in approval of HDMI interface standards for HDCP-enabled cards, we could not only announce such products, but actually started shipping them to the market earlier than any other brand. At the same time, we do not try to attract anyone with gaudy actions and do not provoke drastic sales booms followed by inevitable recessions.

iXBT.com: Perhaps, close cooperation with ATI was very useful for a start-up, but today "Sapphire" is a popular brand. Have you considered working not only with ATI, but also producing, say, graphics cards on NVIDIA GPUs or motherboards on Intel chipsets?

Sapphire: You are correct, "Sapphire" is a brand and our loyal partners are actually interested in prospects of manufacturing non-ATI products. The answer is that we constantly consider different variants, and our current exclusive partnership with ATI indicates that, according to our vision, this company is the most prospective partner able to maintain every required working condition. And we expect no changes in present and the near future. We are always open to communication, but make decisions only after considering all pros and contras. At the same time, we are looking for new business opportunities. Not long ago we launched production of multimedia solutions, including MP3 players. Obviously, we do not partner with ATI on this one, and we believe multimedia products could be one of the most prospective at the moment.

iXBT.com: The majority of Sapphire graphics cards repeat ATI reference design. Why don't you add something proprietary? Say, cooling of Õ1900 cards is far from ideal and there is positive example of HIS (Hightech Information System) cooperating with Arctic Cooling to be able to install their coolers onto graphics cards.

Sapphire: There are several reasons to it. First, such implementations are easy with yield of hundreds of cards. But this changes dramatically when you produce hundreds of thousands of them. Again, we aim at high-quality volume production, not small quantities which are easier to market. Second, speaking of Arctic Cooling, their solutions are not perfect at the moment. The efficiency gain is low comparing to reference coolers, and the scrap rate is high. Their coolers are not even certified for ATI graphics cards by the way.

iXBT.com: Besides cards based on ATI reference design, Sapphire produces "Toxic", "Ultimate", "Advantage" series. While it's clear about the applicability of budget "Advantage" series, we would like to know why there's so few boards in other two series? Why don't you produce "Toxic" cards (alongside the reference) on each new ATI GPU except for the cheapest?

Sapphire: It's a matter of market positioning. Currently we use "Toxic" brand for extremely performing (and expensive) products where even the slight gain provided by overclocking is important. This series means "elite" and stimulates to purchase or at least to dream of such an accelerator. If we begin to produce overclocked middle-end products, the brand will dilute.


iXBT.com: And what about the "Ultimate" series? Noiseless solutions are in extreme demand now. They achieved long-anticipated progress in CPU production, and we can use relatively quiet coolers. This makes a top graphics card the noisiest PC element.

Sapphire: You are absolutely right about the necessity of quiet home PC solutions. Unfortunately, modern technologies still do not allow to use passive cooling even on middle-end cards. However, we will continue to do our research and look for technological ways of solving this issue.

iXBT.com: Why not attract buyers with customized PCB color? For example, white color used on expensive motherboards looks very beneficial.

Sapphire: The problem is that it's very hard to achieve even spreading of white varnish. We have actually considered this, but at the moment it will be unjustified. Theoretically we could produce graphics cards on white PCBs, but they will cost $50 more. If you are still willing to buy them, please email us :). Speaking of other customized colors, it's theoretically possible, we just need a good idea. Fluorescent boards maybe? Make your suggestions, we'll hear you out.

iXBT.com: And how can you explain box design and advertising based on images of strange aliens and other obscure and sometimes ugly creatures? Wouldn't it be better to use something more fair?

Sapphire: The only meaning of such design is to create a well-remembered image, so you can pick out a box with a Sapphire card among all other. Judging by your question, we succeeded, and that's it. These "aliens" have no other meaning. In fact, great majority of our customers love our creative.

iXBT.com: Please tell us about Sapphire motherboard manufacture. What are its primary objectives?

Sapphire: Essentially, the motherboard manufacture depends directly on the respective ATI policy. Given ATI actively develops chipset production, we will make and sell more boards. They are interesting enough for system builders, and we are not going to organize any aggressive marketing activities. It's not Sapphire style.

iXBT.com: And who designs and actually produces your motherboards?

Sapphire: In matters of design we are working closely with ATI. Ready solutions are manufactured by PCPartner.

iXBT.com: Well, thank you for your time and for answering our questions. Good luck!

Left to right: Adrian Thompson, KD Au, Rex Tsang


Serguei Pikalov (peek@ixbt.com)
Pavel Sokolov (pavel@ixbt.com)
August 2, 2006.

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