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ATI X800

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While Lars was in Switzerland attending nVidia’s launch of the GeForce 6800 range of graphics cards, I was in Toronto with ATI learning about its new X800 range of graphics solutions.

Now, there’s always been pretty heavy rivalry between ATI and nVidia, but this time around it seemed a lot more tangible. With both companies launching completely new parts at roughly the same time, it’s understandable that there was a lot of pressure going around in both camps.

By the time ATI was getting into the swing of things in Toronto, nVidia had officially launched the GeForce 6800 and speculation over which chipset would be the fastest began to rise to fever pitch.

Early rumours about the R420 (the codename for the X800) expected the high-end part to launch with 12 pixel pipelines, while pre-launch rumours about the NV40 (the codename for the GeForce 6800) hinted that the high-end part would have 16 pixel pipelines. When the GeForce 6800 Ultra actually appeared it did in fact boast 16 pipelines, making the expected 12 pipeline high-end part from ATI seem a little shaky. However, when ATI announced the Radeon X800 XT in Toronto, it did turn out to be a 16 pixel pipeline part, putting it on level ground with the GeForce 6800 Ultra.

But the similarity between the ATI and nVidia specs didn’t end there, because ATI also announced that the Radeon X800 Pro would be a 12 pixel pipeline solution, just like the nVidia GeForce 6800 part.

Let’s cover the basics first. The X800 range of cards won’t all be launching at the same time. So, today sees the launch of the X800 Pro, while if you want an X800 XT Platinum Edition (as ATI is now calling it) you’re going to have to wait until the 21st May.

As well as the 12 Pixel pipelines the X800 Pro also sports six vertex pipelines, 256MB of GDDR3 memory running at 900MHz, a 256bit memory interface, and a core VPU speed of 475MHz.

The X800 XT Platinum Edition on the other hand backs up its 16 pixel pipelines with 6 vertex pipelines, 256MB of GDDR3 memory running at 1.12GHz, a 256bit memory interface and a 520MHz core VPU speed.

As far as price goes, ATI has announced an SRP of $399 for the Pro and $499 for the XT part. Going out on a limb, I’d imagine that this will equate to British pricing of £299 and £399 respectively, although this is pure speculation.

Looking at the clock speeds on both the cards, you can see that ATI has really pushed the boat out, especially with the XT flavour. But amazingly, despite the higher clock speeds, ATI has managed to keep the power consumption to a minimum. Even the X800 XT card draws less power than the Radeon 9800XT.

The impressive low power consumption is achieved by the implementation of low-k dielectric technology. The low-k technology was first introduced on the Radeon 9600XT last year which showed off its low power consumption by not needing any external power. The problem with chip manufacture is that as the die process shrinks, the chances of interference and cross-talk between circuits becomes more likely. The traditional method of overcoming this interference is to push more power through the circuits, which will ensure efficient transistor switching. Unfortunately, more power also means more heat and you’re left with a cooling issue as well. But low-k dielectric technology improves the insulation between the circuits, thus allowing efficient transistor switching, without the need for excessive power, and consequently without the extra heat.

Funny as it sounds, but it could be the low power consumption that makes the X800 a success. When you consider that the nVidia 6800 Ultra draws a massive amount of power, it’s not really an option in a small form factor system. But the Radeon X800 XT will happily sit in a small form factor box, and still push big frame numbers in all the latest games. Add to this that the Radeon X800 family of cards are all single-slot solutions, and it’s clear that anyone wanting cutting edge performance in a small system case is likely to go down the ATI route.

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