Summary: With RADEON X800 XT Platinum Edition still impossible to find at retail, ATI has decided to turn to a pair of alternative high-end and mainstream solutions to compete with NVIDIA's GeForce 6 family. Their codenames? R480 and R430! These new chips boast all the features of previous X800 offerings, only now with even more performance in the case of RADEON X850 XT PE (R480) and price/performance for R430. See how they compare to NVIDIA's offerings in this article!
The initial wave of cards was originally slated to hit retail at the end of May (May 21st to be exact), but that date quickly slipped back to June. The first batch of these PE cards turned out to be just that, a token release of cards that were quickly gobbled up by enthusiasts, more often than not with hefty price premiums. Even e-tailers that were well known for their competitive pricing were quick to slap an additional $30 or $40 to the price of the X800 XT PE cards they had available.
Shortly after the first trickle of cards went out, rumors began to fly that the X800 XT PE SKU was a limited edition product, much like the Extreme Edition GeForce 6800 Ultra cards some of NVIDIA’s board partners were releasing. ATI was quick to reassure the media that these rumors weren’t true, and that yields were good on all of their X800 products, including the flagship X800 XT Platinum Edition. Of course, by now we all know how this story played out. Supply problems continued to plague the X800 XT PE, while ATI’s less expensive (and less equipped) RADEON X800 PRO was forced to carry the torch against NVIDIA’s GeForce 6800 cards.
Eventually ATI announced a second 16-pipeline SKU for the PCI Express market only, the X800 XT, only to turn around a few months later and release an AGP version as well because the X800 XT PE was still in short supply. This was a good move in our opinion, as we’d asked for an AGP X800 XT card as early as June, but even these cards have been hard to find at retail. Clearly ATI needed an answer, and today they’ve found not one, but two different chips to lay their hopes on, internally codenamed R430 and R480.
Both of these chips are ATI’s Fall ’04 refresh parts. As a result, this means that they’re based on the same technology found in RADEON X800, including shader model 2.0b support, 16 and 12 pixel pipeline configurations, and a 256-bit wide memory interface supporting GDDR3 memory. Just as ATI replaced the RADEON 9800 PRO with the RADEON 9800 XT around this time last year, ATI is now refreshing their X800 lineup for 2005. The changes ATI have implemented on these parts are meant to increase production while at the same time beefing up performance. And if ATI has their way, the first cards should hit retail just in time for Christmas.
As its R4xx codename implies, R480 isn’t ATI’s next generation graphics product. Instead, R480 relies on the same underlying features as the original RADEON X800 family. This includes ATI’s SMARTSHADER HD shaders (marketing speak for shader model 2.0b), a 16-pixel pipline architecture on “XT” parts while the “PRO” line gets 12 pixel pipes, 6 vertex pipelines, SMOOTHVISION HD with temporal AA support, 3Dc, and of course, the 256-bit memory interface that is responsible for keeping the graphics core fed with data.
R430 is nothing more than the R420/R423 core found in RADEON X800 shrunk down to TSMC’s 0.11-micron manufacturing process. 0.11-micron doesn’t feature all the high tech goodies of 0.13-micron such as low-k, instead 0.11-micron is used to allow ATI to yield more chips per silicon wafer. This in turn lowers manufacturing costs, assuming good yields. To help ensure that this occurs, ATI has toned down the clock speeds on R430 to 400MHz.
Two SKUs are based on R430 technology: the RADEON X800 XL and the RADEON X800. The X800 XL features a 16-pixel pipeline architecture running at 400MHz with 256MB of memory operating at 500MHz (1.0GHz effective). The RADEON X800 also sports a 400MHz graphics core, only the number of pixel pipelines have been reduced down to 12. Running alongside the X800’s graphics core is 128MB of memory running at 350MHz (700MHz effective).
While the reduced clocks may come somewhat as a disappointment, the price tag on R430 won’t. The X800 XL will retail for $349, while the X800 will sell for $249. In addition, neither card requires an external power connection.
In our opinion, this isn’t a big deal, as most enthusiasts leave the slot empty anyway for improved airflow. The large cooler is a ducted design that draws in air from within your system case, then ejects it out the back of your system. This means that the X850 XT PE’s cooler helps to keep your case cool, as hot air is removed from your chassis. The cooler is composed of multiple pieces, including a copper heatsink which sits atop the graphics core, keeping it cool. An aluminum heat spreader cools the card’s memory modules.
Like previous ATI high-end offerings, the card’s fan operates dynamically, with RPMs varying based on temperature. When the board begins to heat up, the RPMs crank up. When the core is cool, the RPMs are toned down. At full tilt (which occurs during boot up) the fan is a little loud, but this only last for a few seconds. During extended gaming sessions we never saw the fan leave its intermediate setting, which is quite easy on the ears.
Besides the dual-slot cooling, another trait the RADEON X850 Platinum Edition shares with GeForce 6800 Ultra is dual DVI capability. The addition of dual DVIs as standard is a feature that many flat panel users have been asking for, so it’s nice to see ATI address this. Dual DVIs will be standard on the RADEON X850 XT PE and RADEON X850 XT, the X850 PRO and X800 XL/X800 will rely on the more traditional DVI/VGA configuration we’ve grown accustomed to seeing on cards today. Additionally, all retail Built by ATI RADEON X850 cards will feature VIVO support, including the X850 PRO.
Enhanced OVERDRIVE support
Starting with CATALYST 4.12, ATI will be providing even more overclocking options in OVERDRIVE. Not only will you be able to manually adjust core and memory clock speeds, ATI will also provide an automated overclocking utility that will automatically overclock your card’s graphics core and memory until it reaches the maximum stable setting.
Lock On: Modern Air Combat (Mig-29 custom demo)
Tomb Raider – Direct3D
Lock On: Modern Air Combat – Direct3D
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB - OpenGL
Halo – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
DOOM 3 – OpenGL
DOOM 3 – OpenGL
Half-Life 2 – Direct3D
Splinter Cell – Direct3D
Like RADEON 9800 XT last year, ATI’s RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition is merely a refresh product – don’t expect this card to deliver double the performance of today’s RADEON X800 XT AGP and X800 XT Platinum Edition cards. Instead, with its 20MHz core frequency increase and 30MHz bump in memory speed, the X850 XT PE delivers between 5-10% more performance than its predecessor.
The main highlight of this card won’t be its performance, but hopefully for ATI, its availability. ATI feels that the optimizations they’ve made to the R480 graphics core will allow them to produce plenty of X850 cards, and we’re not just talking X850 PRO’s either. In fact, the first boards ATI plans to ship will be the X850 Platinum Edition cards, which should begin hitting shelves next week priced at $550. The X850 XT and X850 PRO will follow shortly thereafter priced at $500 and $400 respectively. Then, in the late December/early January timeframe the first RADEON X800 and RADEON X800 XL cards should hit retail.
Keep in mind that these are ATI’s plans for PCI Express only. AGP cards won’t follow until Q1 of next year, with the vanilla X800s likely being released first and the high-end cards shortly afterwards. We’re particularly excited about the potential for the X800 XL and X800. With their 256-bit memory interface, and 16 pipeline architecture in the case of the X800 XL, they have everything it takes to grab the mainstream market by storm. ATI will also be dropping prices on X800 PRO, as it assumes its position between the X800 and X800 XL in ATI’s 2005 lineup (the X800 XT and X800 XT PE will slowly fade away).
Now the question everyone is asking is will ATI be able to deliver this time? We certainly hope so, as the RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition delivers scorching performance. But at the same time, we’re reserving praise until we see boards hit retail.
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