Summary: Do you like the performance of the GeForce 6800 GT, but its $400 price tag is a bit too much to swallow? Perhaps ATI's RADEON X800 XL is for you then! It features a 16-pixel pipeline architecture, just like the 6800 GT, only it runs 50MHz faster and also has 1.0GHz memory. But the part you'll really love is the price...How does $300 sound? See how it compares to the 6800, 6800 GT, RADEON X800 PRO/XT as well as overclocking in this article!
Meanwhile, in the mainstream segment, NVIDIA’s GeForce 6600 GT has already earned a popular following among enthusiasts, even though it’s only been on the market a couple of months. ATI and NVIDIA have both implemented 8 pipeline parts which are paired to a 128-bit memory interface, but ATI has been unable to supply the market with their top mainstream entrant, the X700 XT. Instead they’ve been forced to rely on slower X700 PRO cards. The X700 PRO is a good card, in testing we’ve found it delivers performance capable of challenging the RADEON 9800 XT in some cases, dusting the RADEON 9800 PRO in the process, but just doesn’t have the clocks to compete with the GeForce 6600 GT.
This has put ATI in a bind that they’ve had a difficult time escaping from, as they haven’t been able to solve their problems with X700 XT, and their answer to the GeForce 6800 GT, the RADEON X800 XT, has also had its fair share of supply problems. ATI needed to come up with an answer, and they needed it quickly if they wanted to maintain they market share gains they grabbed from NVIDIA in the first half of 2004.
ATI’s solution is two-pronged: R430 and R480.
We discussed ATI’s R480 chip (RADEON X850 XT/RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition) a few weeks ago, so we won’t rehash it again, today we’re here to examine ATI’s solution for the mainstream segment, R430.
R430 is born
ATI’s R430 chip is based on the exact same technology found in today’s RADEON X800 line. ATI has simply tweaked the production method, using TSMC’s smaller 0.11-micron manufacturing process rather than the 0.13-micron process used on today’s R420 chips like the X800 PRO. By moving to a smaller process, ATI is able to get more chips per silicon wafer, effectively reducing their production costs. As a result, ATI then passes these savings on to the consumer, as the baseline R430 card, RADEON X800, will be priced at only $200, making it the first 12-pipeline graphics card to hit the $200 price point. (Originally ATI planned to sell the RADEON X800 for $249). The RADEON X800 features a 400MHz graphics core with 350MHz memory (700MHz effective). Just above it lies the RADEON X800 XL. The X800 XL features a 16-pixel pipeline architecture, just like the RADEON X800 XT/X850 XT Platinum Edition lines, with the graphics core running at 400MHz.
Before we go further, it’s important to note that 0.11-micron is TSMC’s value/mainstream manufacturing process, it doesn’t provide performance-enhancing extras such as low-k dielectric. As a result, both of ATI’s R430 cards, the RADEON X800 and RADEON X800 XL are clocked at 400MHz. This pales in comparison to the 500MHz+ clocks of ATI’s high-end 0.13-micron parts, but remember, ATI’s X700 XT, which was also produced on TSMC’s 0.11-micron process, was apparently never able to yield well at the 475MHz clock frequency ATI was shooting for -- and it was only an 8 pipeline part.
With a core clock frequency of 400MHz, the RADEON X800 XL runs 50MHz faster than the GeForce 6800 GT, and sports the same 500MHz (1.0GHz effective) GDDR3 memory, giving the X800 XL a fill rate advantage and the same memory bandwidth figure of 32GB/sec. Of course, NVIDIA would argue that they have the advantage of SLI capability as well as shader model 3.0, but ATI counters by offering the RADEON X800 XL for $100 less than the GeForce 6800 GT, with an MSRP of only $300. And don’t forget that ATI has demonstrated equal footing against NVIDIA with shader model 2.0b in Far Cry.
Familiar board design
Besides the price cut, one additional change ATI has made since the original R480/R430 announcement is the reference cooler used: it’s the same cooler ATI used previously on their RADEON X800 cards! Therefore, if you’ve seen an R423 card (especially one based on the X800 PRO), R430 should look pretty familiar to you.
Taking a look at the X800 XL next to an RADEON X800 XT PCI-E, you’ll see both board designs are practically identical. Like the PCI Express X800 PRO, X800 XL doesn’t require an external power connection, the PCI-E interface supplies all the power the card needs. ATI made a few minor changes with the X800 XL’s power circuitry, but the changes are nothing major.
In operation, the RADEON X800 XL runs quietly and due to its 400MHz clock speed, it doesn’t generate a lot of heat. Because of this, we’re actually a little surprised ATI decided to go with the more expensive copper setup on their final X800 XL boards. Our guess is that ATI will stick with the original aluminum heatsink/fan unit ATI depicted a few weeks ago for the vanilla RADEON X800, but perhaps they’ll surprise us? We’ll see.
In any case, the X800 XL would run great inside a small form factor system, or any other application where space/heat is an issue. Hopefully ATI’s multimedia unit is taking a serious look at this card. Could you imagine how sweet an ALL-IN-WONDER X800 XL would be inside a SFF box?!
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
Unreal Tournament 2004
Half-Life 2 – Direct3D
DOOM 3 – OpenGL
By pairing the RADEON X800 XL with the same 500MHz memory used on the now discontinued RADEON X800 XT, ATI ensured its potential for success.
In terms of performance, the RADEON X800 XL clocks in about 10% behind the RADEON X800 XT, which was more than enough to outpace the GeForce 6800 GT in our testing with Half-Life 2, while the cards were running neck-and-neck in Far Cry. NVIDIA continues to hold the crown in OpenGL performance, outpacing the X800 cards in DOOM 3 and Call of Duty.
But the real kicker going for the RADEON X800 XL is price. At $300, nothing else from NVIDIA comes close to offering the kind of performance ATI is delivering at that price point. The GeForce 6800 is now in dire need of a replacement or price cut, as the RADEON X800 XL clearly delivers more bang for the buck.
Now the question is, what happens to the RADEON X800 SE and RADEON X800 PRO? Previously ATI planned to stick the X800 PRO between the X800 XL and X800 at $300, now we guess ATI will have to price it at $250 (as of last night, ATI still hadn't determined revised pricing on either card). The RADEON X800 SE was going to be the bridge between the RADEON X700 family and the X800 line, but with the RADEON X800 priced at $200, we see no room for the RADEON X800 SE.
Of course, the RADEON X800 and X800 XL are PCI Express only parts at the moment, AGP variants won’t arrive until late January 2005 at the very earliest. That gives ATI more room to move RADEON X800 SE cards, as well as X800 PRO boards. Until AGP variants of the X800 and X800 XL arrive we wouldn’t be surprised if ATI and their board partners held firm on AGP pricing for the X800 SE and X800 PRO. We imagine quite a few retailers would get upset as well if prices were slashed on these boards overnight.
That means you’ll have to be patient for just a little more time if the RADEON X800 XL appeals to you, as the first PCI-E cards won’t arrive until early January. ATI is shipping cards to their board partners now, so it’s possible a few cards may arrive before then, but it would only be a trickle. Of course, also keep in mind ATI’s production issues they’ve faced with X700 XT and X800 XT/X800 XT PE. ATI has not had a stellar track record as of late when it comes to delivering products. When you factor this in with the X800 XL’s brand new (and untested) 0.11-micron R430 core, you never know what might happen.
In any case, ATI’s RADEON X800 XL is poised to retake the mainstream segment by storm, and all indications are that ATI has a real winner on their hands here: NVIDIA’s GeForce 6800 and 6800 GT have just been outclassed by the RADEON X800 XL. It will be interesting to see how NVIDIA responds…
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