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ATI Radeon X850XT-Platinum Edition, ATI Radeon X850XT-Platinum Edition: ATI's fastest video card makes its way into our labs. Does the performance increase justify the upgrade?
Date: March 14, 2005
Manufacturer:
Written By:
Price:

When both ATI and NVIDIA released their latest VPU/GPU chipsets last Summer, it marked a drastic improvement over their previous chipsets in terms of image quality and performance. The X800 Platinum Edition was ATI's flagship card upon release, but it was plagued by shortage problems for the end user (as was, and still is the case for NVIDIA's 6800 Ultra). Most high-end chipsets went directly to OEMs and system manufacturers, and compounded with the fact that there wasn't a whole lot of memory that met the X800 Platinum's specifications, all this left very little in the hands of those looking to pick one up off the store shelves.

With the (X850XT-PE here on out in the review), ATI hopes to correct the problem of scarcity and hope to make the card (as well as 3rd party cards) more readily available than before. The X850XT-PE is what we would classify as a "refresh", rather than a new product as the VPU itself shares an identical featureset as the X800 series.

Specifications

" Over 160 million transistors
" Up to sixteen parallel pixel pipelines
" Six parallel vertex processing engines
" 256-bit quad-channel GDDR3 memory interface
" PCI Express® x16 lane native support

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The ATI X850XT-Platinum Edition

The ATI Radeon X850XT-PE is a "standard" sized card (for the most part... more on that later), and should have no problems fitting into full height systems. The ATI Radeon X850 VPU is a native PCIE processor; therefore the card is currently only available in PCI Express form, so AGP board owners will need to look elsewhere.

The VPU is clocked at 540MHz and the memory is clocked at 590MHz. The X850XT-PE features 16 pixel pipelines with hardware support for DirectX 9B and Shader Model 2.0.

Along with the card, ATI bundles a power dongle which draws power from one Molex source and adapts it for the 6-pin PCI Express connection on the card. The other end of the dongle can be used for any other item such as a fan, hard drive or optical drive. If you have a meager PSU, we do suggest leaving this spare connection unused. There are also some video cables (S-Vid, composite, and video-in), as well as a manual, driver CD and two DVI-to-VGA adapters.

The big (literally) change from the X800XT-PE to the X850XT-PE visually is the new two slot cooler. The size of the cooler will pretty much rule out the use of the card in most Small Form Factor PCs with the x16 PCIe slot near the edge of the motherboard. As a two slot solution, if you have cards normally placed next to the graphics card, they will likely have to move to make room for the X850XT-PE.

While we can moan about the cooler, the design is in fact quite intelligent. Rather than drawing air from outside the case in the rear and sucking it into the case (thus causing turbulence and disrupting the wind tunnel design of ATX), the X850XT-PE's cooler draws air from within the case and blows it out the back. It can be argued that air outside the case is cooler, but that typically isn't true as your case and PSU fans blow warm air out there to begin with.

Noise is not really an issue, depending how you look at it. A silent solution it is not, and when powering on the PC with the X850XT-PE installed, the bundled cooler is easily the loudest fan in the computer (assuming you have "normal" fans and not a bunch of Vantec Tornados) during POST. About 5 seconds later though, the fan slows down and is actually one of the quieter solutions we've used. The ASUS AX800XT, which has a smaller cooler, is actually louder than the X850XT-PE's cooling setup. The fan did not really spin up that much either when it was under load, but we do use a well designed case that has adequate airflow. Assuming your cooling design is sound, the X850XT-PE's noise should not be an issue (unless you're looking for a completely silent solution).

We should point out that the memory on the side of the VPU is kept cool by this setup, but the rear of the card simply uses a heatplate which got very warm during testing.

For your input and output options, moving from left to right is the first DVI connection, followed by the video-in, and the second DVI connection. CRT users need not worry as mentioned earlier, two DVI adapters are included. Just above these connections is the grill plate used by the cooler to exhaust the warm air.

Test Setup

Soltek SL-K8T890Pro-939: Athlon 64 3500+, 2 x 512MB Corsair XMS3200 ProSeries DDR2 (2-2-2-5), ATI Radeon X850XT-PE, 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA, Windows XP w/SP1, Catalyst 5.2.

We'll be using FRAPS to record framerates in all our tests, playing the game as anybody would (trying to stay alive), firing weapons, dodging attacks and so on. Unlike our past video game tests, all benchmarks will be done with the audio "on", as we're trying to illustrate real gaming experiences, and I doubt any of our readers mute the audio during gameplay. We will also provide some numbers from "traditional"

Test Software will be:

Doom 3 v1.1 - Making good use of the BFG, rocket launcher and plasma gun (the most graphically intense weapons), we'll be killing demons on the Enpro.

Far Cry v1.3 - Another graphically intense shooter, we'll be fighting baddies in the Rebellion level.

Unreal Tournament 2004 v3355- We'll be playing some bot deathmatch (31 bots in all) on the Compressed map.

Half-Life 2 - This game needs no introduction, as anyone who picked up a $500 video card in the last 6 months probably did so for this. We'll be playing the D3_C17_12 map (Follow Freeman).

The driver settings were manually configured for AntiAliasing and Anisotropic Filtering (on or off), and set to "Quality". All games were set to their highest allowable game settings. Unless otherwise stated, all games will be played at 1280x1024 and 1600x1200. The comparison hardware will be the ASUS Extreme AX800XT.

Doom 3

Cards - Resolution - AA/AF
Min
Max
Ave.
X850XT-PE 1280x1024 No AA/AF
48
63
60.22
X850XT-PE 1280x1024 4AA/8AF
28
63
55.86
X850XT-PE 1600x1200 No AA/AF
32
63
57.33
AX800XT 1600x1200 No AA/AF
27
63
56.93

Doom 3 was very playable with both the ATI X850XT-PE and the ASUS AX800XT. At 1280x1024 and AA/AF disabled, the X850XT-PE provided the smoothest gaming experience. The X850XT-PE rarely dropped below 50fps at this resolution, and only did so on a few occasions once we increased the resolution and AA/AF.

1280 No AA/AF
1280 4AA/8AF

AntiAliasing has little effect in Doom 3. We found that the game is too dark as it is to appreciate any improvements with this option enabled. There are improvements in the railing and the floor panels, but considering that most of the game is spent surviving, it isn't a requirement for gameplay.

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