When ATI first unveiled the X850 GPU it was in some respects, quite amusing. The reason was that after all its finger pointing and bluster about nVidia’s top-of-the-line card being a two-slot solution, along comes ATI and does exactly the same thing. Oh the things that a company will do to gain that performance crown.
Now aside from our recent look at an X600 All-in-Wonder Pro, we haven’t seen a regular retail PCI Express card since the end of March, so it was about time. This is also the first board we’ve seen from Taiwainese vendor GeCube. And as first impressions go, this is all-in-all a very good one and I'm sure we'll be examining more of its cards in the near future.
The GeCube tackles the two slot X850 conundrum with aplomb and essentially produces the cooling solution that should have been there from the start. The chip is an X850 XT – a small step down from the Platinum Edition we first saw here with default clocks of 520MHz for the core and 540MHz for the GDDR3 memory chips. The benefit is that the card becomes that bit more affordable, and even better, a quick spin with ATI Tool saw the core reach 590MHz and 580MHz for the memory. Even dropping that considerably to ensure long-term stability, there was definitely plenty of headroom in our sample. It was from a retail box so it bodes well for the overclocking minded consumer. One things that puzzled me however was the feature list on the box that boasted of DirectX 9.0c support. This is misleading as while it will work in a system with DirectX 9.0c installed it doesn’t offer the single feature that differentiates DirectX 9.0c from 9.0b, namely Shader Model 3 support. Games that use this are still thin on the ground but it might be an issue in a year’s time or so. Either way, it shouldn’t be on the box.
As well as being ATI’s near flagship GPU, the card boasts plenty of connectivity. There are two DVI slots – perfect for dual-monitor goodness and a TV Out that supports no less than component, S-Video and composite. The former should give a great picture on large screen TVs and the GPU is capable of outputting HDTV resolutions – which is nice. There's also video-in compatibility thanks to the presence of a Rage Theater chip on the card so you can use the card for capture. Cyberlink’s PowerDVD 5 for DVD watching is included but only the 2-channel version, so you’ll have to cough up more cash for the full surround monty.
The big selling point of this card though is its single slot cooling solution. On the card itself is a sticker that says, ‘Heat-Pipe Inside’, which makes a pleasant change from Intel Inside. What GeCube has done is to attached a large copper heatsink with good thermal contact to the GPU with a Heat-Pipe and a line of radial fins to effectively draw away heat from the GPU. A standard large diameter fan blows cool air across the heatsink and out towards the back of the card. It’s not the quietest card we’ve come across but neither is it the noisiest and you can use something like PowerStrip to control the fan speed. The fan gets faster when the card gets under load but thanks to the performance of the card you should be too drawn into the game by then to notice.