For the past year and a half ATI have had a tough time competing with Nvidia at the high end of the graphics card market. Products such as the 2900 and 3800 series struggled to perform at levels comparable to the GeForce 8800, 9800 and GTX 280 however ATI did eventually work out a good pricing structure which made them attractive to consumers.
More recently the launch of the 4800 series did two things. Firstly ATI had a card which performed at a similar level to the second fastest GTX, the 260. Secondly both the 4850 and 4870 were priced very aggressively which is tempting to those looking at a great price/performance ratio.
So what of a product to compete with the GTX 280? Well that is why we are here today, in the last day or so ATI supplied us with an early sample of the R700 giving us the opportunity to see how it compares to cards which are already on the market.
We should however state that ATI have placed some limitations on what we can and cannot say about the R700 at this time and therefore a full outline of the card and performance analysis will be published at a later date.
The R700 is reminiscent of the reference design 3870 X2 although it has gone through a slight makeover with the PCB, cooler and DVIs now black. The cooler is a two slot model with a fan which runs at approximately 1500rpm at idle (expect this to be lower at launch). The fan blows air over two blocks of copper which draw heat from the GPUs and the air is then exhausted out of the case.
The back features two retention brackets which hold the GPU blocks in place and there is also a large cover which acts as a heatsink for the memory that is installed on this side of the card. In terms of memory we have 1 GB of GDDR5 on each side of the card and each RV770 GPU has access to its own gigabyte. It is also possible to see the single CrossFire connector on the top right of the card which tells us we can add a second Radeon to our configuration for additional performance. The two most likely candidates would be a second R700 or a 4870.
There are two power sockets on the R700, just as there were on the older X2 model, meaning we need a PSU with at least one six pin and one eight pin plug to power the card. Outputs on the reference model come in the form of two dual-link DVIs as well as TV-out.
All 4800 series features such as HDCP, AvivoHD, DirectX 10.1, PCI-Express 2.0 and HDMI with 7.1 channel audio are all present on this card. Essentially take two 4870 1 GB cards, combine them onto one PCB and you have the R700 engineering sample.