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It’s been just over a month since we took a good look at a reference board based on ATI’s latest blockbuster card, the Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition. To follow that up, we grabbed a fleeting opportunity to take a look at a retail version of the card. Not surprisingly this is Sapphire branded, as it is this company that actually manufactures the reference boards for ATI and indeed for several other board manufacturers too. It’s also not a surprise therefore, 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 300Watt power supply is required. 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.
Just to recap briefly, the X850 XT PE, codenamed R480, is a 16 pixel-pipeline and six vertex pipeline VPU, backed up by 256MB of GDDR3 memory. Unlike the recent X800 XL, which has been shrunk to 0.11 Micron process, this part is still based on TSMC 0.13 Micron process. However, experience has enabled ATI and TSMC to optimise the process enabling higher clock speeds to be achieved. The core is running at a new high for ATI of 540MHz, while the memory is up to 590MHz or 1.18GHz effective. Making a welcome appearance on an ATI X8** 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, in the box 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 as though ATI doesn’t have the bridge chip ready to move from native PCI Express to AGP, so those with AGP boards looking to simply upgrade their graphics card may find going the nVidia route the only choice as AGP 6800 Ultra’s are readily available. Conversely however, 6800 Ultra for PCI Express seem to be something of a rare beast, with all the online retailers I looked at showing no stock at all or stating long-lead times.
As the cards are so similar you may wonder what the need is to even retest the card. The reason is that 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 the same applies to graphics cards. 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, and two 512MB sticks of Crucial Ballistix RAM running in an Intel 925XE chipset with a 1,066 front side bus. To test we ran our recently introduced set of streamlined 3D benchmarks. These consist of six tests, with game tests for OpenGL from the recent blockbuster Doom 3, while the demanding Far Cry and the ubiquitous Half-Life 2 represent DirectX titles. We also run a slight older but still popular title in the form of Unreal Tournament 2004, while synthetic tests are conducted by the industry standard 3DMark03 and 3DMark05.