small ATI Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition Preview

Today we take a look at the lastest GPU product family from ATI, the R480, more specifically the ATI Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition. A PCI Express only card built on a aging 130nm process, does the card have what it takes to distance itself from the R420’s high end parts while outperforming NVIDIA’s high end PCI Express offerings? Come and take a closer look..

ati2 ATI Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition Preview

Introduction:

Looking back at the year that was, it can be said with no hesitation that 2004 was a monumental year in the computer industry. We’ve seen dozens of new technologies hit the market, changes in silicon processing technology, new core logic chipsets on both the Intel and AMD fronts, and of course a re-ignited war between NVIDIA and ATI on the computer graphics front. The sector that you’re probably most interested in (and the one that we’ll be talking about today) is of course the high end segment, where video cards can cost upwards of $ 500 and are a testament to the engineering prowess of the two graphic’s giant’s engineering departments. We’ve seen the NV40 and R420 emerge as two qualified GPU architectures, each with their respective advantages and faults. The only winner in the battle so far has been consumers like you, who finally (after 3 years) have worthwhile choices on both ends of the spectrum to chose from.

With that said, a common problem that we, as consumers faced was finding R420 and NV40 cards on store shelves in the immediate months after the two GPU families were launched. Low yields from Taiwanese fab plants and big demand from OEM’s left many enthusiasts high and dry looking for $ 400 video cards they simply could not buy. Eventually, around August for NVIDIA and July for ATI, their cards reached store shelves and were able to be bought at your local CompUSA or Best Buy store.

I mentioned earlier that new technologies hit the market in 2004, with one of the most significant being that of PCI Express. We’ve known that PCI Express was coming for over three years now, with the first chipsets to implement the new standard came from Intel in the middle of the year with the 925X and 915G platforms. Although there was no difference in performance between PCI Express and AGP cards, the industry-wide adoption of PCI Express led to some very significant announcements earlier this year, the announcements being that of Alienware’s Video Array and NVIDIA’s SLI technologies. Both essentially do the same thing, split the 16X PCI Express graphics lane into two, allowing you to put two graphics cards into one system.

So with PCI Express being the new uniform standard in the industry, we saw ATI’s R420 and NVIDIA’s NV40 parts once again go at it on the PCI Express front, with no clear winner of the two. It is important to note that we haven’t seen any retail GeForce 6800GT PCI Express cards shipping yet, while Radeon X800 XT PCI Express cards are already on store shelves.

So now that you have a little background information on some of the events that have happened this year in the industry, we can finally talk about the new GPU family that ATI has just announced today, ATI’s R480, coming in the form of the ATI Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition, ATI Radeon X850 XT, and the ATI Radeon X850 Pro. Just under seven months from when ATI first announced the Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition, the new R480 parts are essentially an upgrade of the technology we first saw with the R420 earlier this year, this time around with just marginally faster clock speeds.

Also new with the R480 is the PCI Express interface, with this being ATI’s first high end card that is solely running on PCI Express. Here are some of the card’s specifications so you can take a closer look at what is offered with the new graphics cards based on the R480.

Specifications:


GPU
ATI Radeon X850 XT PE
ATI Radeon X850 XT
ATI Radeon X850 Pro
ATI Radeon X800 XT

Processing Technology
130 nanometers
130 nanometers
130 nanometers
130 nanometers

GPU Speed
540MHz
520MHz
520MHz
500MHz

Memory
256MB
256MB
256MB
256MB

Memory Speed
590MHz
540MHz
540MHz
500MHz
Memory/Core Interface
256-bit
256-bit
256-bit
256-bit
Pixel Pipelines
16
16
12
16
Bus

PCI Express x16

PCI Express x16

PCI Express x16

PCI Express x16
Direct X 3D Hardware
Full Direct X 9 support
Full Direct X 9 support
Full Direct X 9 support
Full Direct X 9 support
Output Options
DVI / S-Video/ VGA
DVI / S-Video/ VGA
DVI / S-Video/ VGA
DVI / S-Video/ VGA
Maximum Resolution
2048×1536 @ 85Hz
2048×1536 @ 85Hz
2048×1536 @ 85Hz
2048×1536 @ 85Hz

As is customary in the graphics card industry, new GPU architectures are introduced in a 12-16 month cycle, with “speed bumps”, like the R480 coming every 6-8 months. Looking at the specifications of the three new R480 parts, we can see that in essence, the R480 parts listed above don’t have significantly faster clock speeds than the Radeon X800 XT, with only a 40MHz increase in GPU speed when going from the X800 XT to the X850 XT Platinum Edition.

Also important to note is the suggested retail prices of these new cards, the X850 XT Platinum Edition at $ 549, the X850 XT at $ 499, and the X850 Pro at $ 399. So let’s take a closer look at the card we are going to be looking at today, ATI’s new flagship R480 part, the Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition.