Sapphire Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition
An attractively priced powerhouse?
Review It's been just over a month since we took a good look at ATI's Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition reference board. To follow it up, we took a look at a retail version of the card. It's made by Sapphire, the company that actually manufactures ATI's reference boards and indeed boards for several other manufacturers too. It's no surprise, then, that the card looks identical to the reference design. As a dual-slot card, an external power connector is required but according to the spec sheet only a 300W power supply is needed. If you want to try overclocking, you'll need more than that but it's likely that any PC this monster card was placed into would have a meatier PSU anyway, writes Benny Har-Even.
The X850 XT PE, codenamed R480, is a 16-pixel pipeline and six-vertex pipeline VPU, backed up by 256MB of GDDR 3 memory. Unlike the recently released X800 XL, which has been shrunk to 110nm process, this part is still based on TSMC's 130nm technology. However, experience has enabled ATI and TSMC to optimise the process resulting in higher clock speeds. The core is running at a new high for ATI, 540MHz, while the memory is up to 590MHz or 1.18GHz effective. Making a welcome appearance on an ATI X8xx series board is dual DVI, no doubt to match Nvidia's 6800 Ultra cards. VIVO is also present and if you do pick up a full retail version of one of these Sapphire boards, you'll get a copy of the game Price of Persia: Sands of Time.
One point worth mentioning though is that at this stage the part is PCI Express only. It seems ATI doesn't have the bridge chip ready to move from native PCI Express to AGP, so those with AGP boards looking to upgrade their graphics card may find going the Nvidia route.
As the reference and retails cards are so similar you may wonder why we retested the card. Reference cards are the equivalent of the previews of taped up test cars you see caught by a long zoom lens in car magazines. They are often close to the final product but not necessarily exactly the same thing, and that applies to graphics cards too. There could be variations in the hardware spec and the driver software, and we will see this in action shortly.
Our test platform currently consists of an Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition running at 3.46GHz, with two 512MB sticks of Crucial Ballistix RAM running in an Intel 925XE chipset with a 1066MHz frontside bus.
Once we got going with the testing we soon noticed that while we were getting some seriously high numbers they were nevertheless falling short of what we achieved with the X850 XT PE reference card. For example, in 3DMark03 the reference board broke 13,000 but the Sapphire only reached 12,882. The pattern was repeated in 3DMark05.
Proof that nothing was awry with the hardware itself came with the scores in Unreal Tournament 2004 with the Sapphire exactly matching those of the reference board. In the rest of the game results however, the Sapphire once again consistently fell behind the reference card by consistently similar margins. The big surprise though was in Half-Life 2 at high resolutions, where the card was losing around 30fps to the reference board when anisotropic filtering was applied at both 1280 x 1024 and 1600 x 1200, far below what we would have expected.
There is a possible explanation for this unusual behaviour. While the reference board was tested with a special driver supplied by ATI, the Sapphire was tested with the official 4.12 release and this appears to be less aggressive than reference board driver. That said, the results at 1600 x 1200 in Half-Life 2 are clearly anomalous and hopefully ATI will sort this out with its next driver release. It's especially puzzling as the 4.12 drivers had a positive effect of performance when we tested the X800XL.
Despite this the card is still worthy of an award. At the other resolutions in Half-Life 2, the card is still faster than anything we've tested, save for the water cooled Gainward PowerPack CoolFX! GeForce 6800 card. However, that was a highly unusual card, requiring a lot of difficult installation. It will also set you back £590. So when you consider that the Sapphire is on sale in the same price bracket as a GeForce 6800 GT, there really is no contest. And while SLI may well spoil ATI's party, it's still early days for the much-hyped technology. It's also worth mentioning that even with the lower scores, the Sapphire X850 XT PE puts ATI on a more or less even keel with Nvidia in Doom 3, which is impressive considering that the Id title really does play to the GeForce 6800's strengths.
It may be disappointing that it's slower than the reference board and that there are some odd results at 1600 x 1200 in Half-Life 2, but there is still a lot to celebrate about this card. Hopefully the issues will be sorted out in the next driver release because these aside the Sapphire Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition is one very attractively priced, powerhouse of a graphics card.
|Sapphire Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition|
|More info||The Sapphire site|
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