The Sapphire HD 2600 XT Ultimate Edition isn't the first liquid-cooled graphics card in the world, but it may be uniquely suited for home theater use because of its silent operation and multichannel 5.1 audio ports on board. Sure, other companies such as Asus and BFG with their NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTX water-cooled cards came first with this quiet cooling idea, but Sapphire takes it a step further. How can a lowly graphics card make a difference in a home theater, anyway?

Most of the time, the fan on the graphics card is the loudest noisemaker inside a PC case, so when you eliminate that fan and remove the heat from that fiery ATI HD 2600 XT processor with cool, cool water, it not only cools off the card and lowers the noise level, it reduces heat all over the inside of the case as well, so you don't need such noisy fans elsewhere in there. In a home theater, a bunch of loud fan noise is the last thing you want to have competing with the quiet scenes in your movies and TV shows.

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It's a plus having that multichannel 5.1 audio in close proximity, too, because when you're outputting video via these dual-link DVI ports, you can plug them into an HDMI adapter with audio ports, and then connect the audio to that, too. Then you're able to move both audio and video from PC to screen with just one HDMI cable. Too bad there's no HDMI output on the card itself, eliminating the need for any HDMI adapter at all. Damn. Rest assured, though, it won't be long until HDMI ports are commonplace on graphics cards.

Another advantage for home theater aficionados is the on-board ATI Avivo HD Video and Display Technology, and that has a built-in hardware UVD (Unified Video Decoder) that speeds up Blu-ray and HD DVD decoding. This works in a similar way to NVIDIA's PureVideo HD, taking the decoding burden off the processor and letting the graphics card do all that heavy lifting, giving you smooth Blu-ray and HD DVD playback. It's another step toward that convergence of PCs and TVs in the home theater that we've been waiting for for the past, oh, decade or so.

So you'll have to wait a little longer for this quiet but powerful card; expect it ship in July, but there's no word on price just yet.

Sapphire introduces the silent HD 2600 XT Ultimate Edition [Slash Gear]