ATI Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition
Just as ATI's X800 XT PE ships, along comes the next board
Review Way back in May I looked at the ATI Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition graphics card. This was ATI's next generation graphics solution, and it took graphics performance to the next level. However, even though the X800 XT PE was a great card, it soon became apparent that no one could buy one. As the days, weeks and months ticked by, finding a retail X800 XT PE didn't become any easier and many potential buyers settled for X800 Pro cards instead, writes Riyad Emeran.
However, as we roll into December, stock of X800 XT Platinum Edition cards is finally starting to arrive. So this seems like a strange time for ATI to be superseding its high-end graphics solution. Yep, that's right, even though it's only just becoming available in the retail channel, the X800 XT PE has been usurped by ATI's latest and greatest graphics solution, the Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition.
The Radeon X850 XT PE - or R480 as it was codenamed before today - is the fastest graphics card ever created by ATI. To be fair, there aren't many differences between the X850 XT PE and the X800 XT PE, but the clock speeds have been given a boost. Despite the fact that we're only just seeing X800 XT PE cards hitting the shelves, it doesn't come as much of a surprise to see ATI rolling out a new, super-fast card. After all the exposure that Nvidia has been getting with its SLI dual-graphics card solution, ATI needed to hit back with something of its own, and the X850 does a pretty good job.
Just like the X800, the X850 comes in three different flavours. Top of the tree is the X850 XT PE that I'm looking at here, but there will also be an X850 XT and an X850 Pro.
Starting with the X850 XT PE, you get a VPU with 16 pixel pipelines, six vertex pipelines and support for 256MB of GDDR 3 memory. The core is running at a blisteringly fast 540MHz, while the memory is speeding along at 590MHz - that's 1.18GHz effective.
The X850 XT shares the same 16 pixel pipelines, six vertex pipelines and 256MB of GDDR 3 RAM, but the core and memory speeds are slightly less extreme. The XT core runs at 520MHz (exactly the same frequency that the X800 XT PE ran at), while the memory ticks along at 540MHz - 1.08GHz effective.
Finally, there's the X850 Pro which has to make do with only 12 pixel pipelines, but shares the rest of the specifications of the X850 XT. ATI is quoting estimated US pricing of $549 for the X850 XT PE, $499 for the X850 XT and $399 for the X850 Pro, but how these prices will equate to the UK market remains to be seen.
As with the X800 chipset, there is no Shader Model 3.0 support, but as yet this hasn't proved to be a major issue. There will no doubt be more games appearing that support Shader Model 3.0, but we could be onto the next generation of graphics hardware by then.
Getting back to the X850 XT PE, the board that ATI sent over couldn't look more different to the old X800 XT PE. When ATI launched the X800 XT PE it made a huge issue of the fact that its board was a single slot solution while Nvidia's was a dual -slot board. To be fair to ATI, producing a high-performance, next-generation graphics card that maintained a single slot form factor, and kept the power draw the same as the outgoing model was quite an achievement. And when you consider the increased uptake of small form factor systems, the X800 XT PE gave gamers the option of building their high-end machine in a small box; something that wasn't possible with the Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra.
So, it comes with a distinct sense of irony that the X850 XT Platinum Edition is a two-slot solution. Of course it's obvious that by significantly increasing the clock speeds, ATI needed to also improve the cooling and this is why the X850 XT PE is a larger beast than its predecessor. The VPU and memory is topped with a copper and aluminium heatsink, while a large fan draws the hot air away from the card and out of the PC, pumping the air through the grille in the second backing plate.
Being a PCI Express board, there's a six-pin power socket that provides the card with juice straight from the power supply. Of more interest are the dual DVI ports, so you can run two TFT monitors with crisp, clear digital signals. Being a reference board, ATI has also thrown in ViVo functionality, but there was no cable supplied with the card.