Summary: While PCI Express offers double the theoretical bandwidth of AGP, in practice today's applications just aren't designed to take advantage of the new interface. With this in mind, ATI has announced their first AGP products in over six months, including the X850 XT Platinum Edition AGP. The card boasts all the key features of the PCI-E card, only it supports the proven AGP interface. Read all the details on this new card in today's article!
The release of the RADEON X800 and X800 XL in particular were of significant importance, as both cards hit price points that ATI had overlooked with their initial R420 (X800 family) launch back in April. With 16 pipelines, a 400MHz core clock speed and 256MB of 500MHz GDDR3 memory, the X800 XL not only filled a gap in ATI’s product lineup at the important $300 price point, it did so with very compelling performance. The X800 XL’s closest direct competitor, NVIDIA’s GeForce 6800, ships with lower clock speeds and with fewer pipelines. It’s actually better equipped to take on NVIDIA’s more expensive GeForce 6800 GT. Meanwhile, ATI’s RADEON X800 was the first card to bring 12 pixel pipelines and a 256-bit memory interface to the sub-$300 video card market.
Of course, you can’t forget the RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition. Sitting at the top of ATI’s lineup, the X850 XT Platinum boasts a 540MHz clock frequency, the highest in the industry, and 256MB of 590MHz GDDR3 SDRAM, another industry high. The X850 XT PE card is built around ATI’s newer R480 core which is still built on TSMC’s 0.13-micron manufacturing process with low-k dielectric and copper interconnects, only it has been respun for higher clock speeds. To improve power consumption, R480 incorporates much of the same dynamic clock gating technology that is found in ATI’s mobile graphics products. If you recall, this allows ATI to turn off portions of the chip that aren’t being used, say for instance when you’re running 2D applications such as reading this webpage. This addition significantly reduces thermal output.
Retail availability problems plagued ATI on the high-end for most of 2004, and these products were no exception: none of the five products ATI announced on December 1st hit the retail market in time for Christmas; instead the first cards went to system builders such as Dell. Some even speculated that ATI deliberately pre-announced the cards to hurt NVIDIA’s holiday sales.
Another shortcoming of both R430 and R480 was their interface: both cards only supported PCI Express. With millions of existing AGP systems on the market, ATI was essentially ignoring this segment.
Until now that is…
NVIDIA scored a big win however when they announced the GeForce 6600 GT AGP. Their HSI chip allowed them to bring a high performance card to the $200 AGP market months before ATI, who were only able to counter by lowering the price on the RADEON 9800 PRO to $200. Without bridging technology of their own, they had no other choice.
Fortunately for ATI, this is no longer the case. Their Rialto bridging technology converts PCI Express signals to AGP, just like NVIDIA’s HSI, only Rialto boasts one key feature, it does all this passively. NVIDIA’s HSI chip generates a considerable amount of heat, requiring a large aluminum heatsink for proper cooling.
ATI’s AGP-based RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition is a little different than the others though, as it’s a native AGP solution. Unlike ATI’s 0.11-micron parts, RV410 (X700 series) and R430 (X800/X800 XL), ATI produces native PCI Express and AGP variants of their R480 graphics core. As a result, the board design of the RADEON X850 XT PE AGP is pretty similar to the PCI Express version:
As you can see in the pictures above, both boards look nearly identical. Power circuitry on both is almost the same, with the AGP card requiring a few more capacitors than the PCI Express board. Of course, you’ll also notice the Molex power connector used on the AGP X850 XT PE card. ATI also uses the same two-slot cooler to keep the graphics core cool on both cards.
Unfortunately, one feature that doesn’t make its way to the AGP variant of the X850 XT Platinum Edition is dual DVI. Apparently for whatever reason ATI has decided to leave this feature exclusively for PCI Express cards. VIVO however is still present. ATI also ships the board with component video cables (for HDTV users) and a VIVO cable.
Lock On: Modern Air Combat (Mig-29 custom demo)
Lock On: Modern Air Combat – Direct3D
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB - OpenGL
Pacific Fighters - OpenGL
Far Cry – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
DOOM 3 – OpenGL
Half-Life 2 – Direct3D
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory – Direct3D
Well for starters ATI just lowered the price on the X850 XT PE AGP, the board now carries a $499.99 MSRP. Already Sapphire’s card can be found for that price at Newegg.
R480 cards like the X850 XT PE also have a little more headroom for overclocking. ATI even encourages this with their latest OVERDRIVE 3 and 4 releases, which provide clock speed adjustments in 1MHz increments as well as testing your overclocked settings.
The best news though is that ATI believes that the improvements they’ve incorporated into R480 should allow them to produce these graphics cores more easily. This means that the X850 line shouldn’t see the availability problems that plagued R420.
Supplies of these VPUs were always spotty, with X800 XT cards somewhat available at retail one month, then completely absent the next. Retailers took advantage of the situation by tacking on incredible markups, aggravating the situation even further. With multiple board partners shipping R480 cards with various feature sets in greater bulk, competition will hopefully settle in, driving retail prices down. NVIDIA enthusiasts enjoy this now with the GeForce 6800 GT and 6600 GT, often these cards can be found priced below MSRP. R480 could potentially make this possible for ATI fans as well.
With the AGP X850 XT Platinum Edition in full production now, those of you who missed out on the initial X800 launch with an immediate need to upgrade your existing system may want to give this card serious consideration. ATI’s recent price drop only sweetens the deal. The really exciting AGP part in the ATI lineup however is the RADEON X800 XL AGP. You’ll see more on this card very soon…
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