Its that time again, product refresh season and today’s new and improved product is the Radeon X850 XTPE from ATI. The X850 is entering the market at an interesting time, over the past few months the two fastest 3d cards have been the 6800 Ultra and X800 XTPE. Performance of both was first class and the choice of what was better for you really came down to what games you played. If you were a Doom3 fan you were likely to want the 6800 series GPU, for many DirectX based games the Radeon was the better choice though in both cases the differences in performance were recently only a few percent. The cards were further equally matched by the lack of shader model 3 titles available. Shader Model 3 is the 6800’s only differentiating feature from a display quality point of view. Considering how long these cards have been on the market for, with Nvidia shouting the values of Shader model 3 from the rooftops, only one game has so far implemented this technology…and with very little difference over the same engine running shader model 2. Add to this the minimal retail availability of both gpu’s and you’ll find many people who sat the last round out. The X850 product will most likely interest them, and those waiting on backordered X800’s.
Will the refresh product from ATI show a noticeable performance difference over the 6800 Ultra and make it an essential purchase?
X850 XTPE background
The X850 is an evolution of the R423 (X800) gpu and is a native PCI-Express part. As it is based on the R423 the same feature set such as Shader Model 2, geometry instancing and 3Dc support is present. Where the product differs is in 2 main areas. Firstly the X850 has a new cooling/thermal management design which aims to cool the GPU and memory more efficiently than the X800 Cooler/design. Secondly the X850 GPU is manufactured on a now refined .13 micron process allowing for further increased core speeds. On the pipeline front we have 16 pixel pipelines with 6 vertex pipelines. These combined with a core speed of 540mhz and memory of 590mhz give us what should be a very fast product.
As you can see from the above picture the X850 is a “well built” beast. Most noticeable is the new fan/heatsink design. The design is quite a surprise to us, dual slot cooling isn’t something that we’d have thought about on a Radeon around a year ago but thinking about it now its probably surprising that ATI have managed to keep single slot cooling as long as they have. Now that the move has been made its likely that all high end cards will now feature the dual slot solution and become the norm for both ATI and Nvidia. Those of you looking closely at the card will see that the heatsink is cooling both the core and the memory on the card. Moving on from the fan design for now we can see that the card requires external power which is provided through the standard 6-pin power adapter (pictured below).
On the X800 Pci express part only the 2 left side connectors were required for the boards to operate. We tested the X850 under these conditions and were presented with a “please attach the external power connector” message. This message was no longer shown when 5 of the six pins were receiving power (the bottom middle being the one not required for normal operation).
As you will see from the picture below its time to rejoice. ATI have finally decided to use Dual DVI on a reference design card. This is a feature we have been asking for over the last 2 years or so and its great to finally have it. Hopefully the 3rd party board makers will use this design in their boards. (NOTE: Previous Radeons did have the ability to use dual DVI, and was an option for all aib partners. To our knowledge only HIS and GEcube provided Dual DVI 9600 series cards, and only Asus provided X800 series cards with dual dvi).
On the rear of the card the design is pretty standard however we see 2 significant features, the first is the rage theatre chip which powers the cards video features (and is the same used in previous Radeon models). The second is the passive cooling of the memory.
Also coming soon to a PC near you…
Before we look at the performance of the X850 XT PE its worth noting that its not the only product ATI are launching today. The second product that will be hitting the shelves soon is the X800 XL. The X800 XL is also a refreshed R423 part however is based on a .11 micron manufacturing process. Performance is aimed to be between the X800 XT and Pro and 6800 Ultra and GT. Because of its lower price point ATI believe that XL customers will be the same people who saw great value and performance in the 9500 series. The board will retail at around $349 and features 16 pixel pipelines as with the X800 XTPE. Clocks are going to be set at 400mhz core and 500mhz (1000mhz ddr) memory. Soon we will have a full review of the product however for now here’s how ATI believe it will score compared to other products, and an image of what its going to look like…
Next: Test System
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