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ATI Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition

Getting back to the X850 XT PE, the board that ATI sent over couldn’t look more different to the old X800 XT PE. When ATI launched the X800 XT PE it made a huge issue of the fact that its board was a single slot solution while nVidia’s was a dual slot board. To be fair to ATI, producing a high-performance, next-generation graphics card that maintained a single slot form factor, and kept the power draw the same as the outgoing model was quite an achievement. And when you consider the increased uptake of small form factor systems, the X800 XT PE gave gamers the option of building their high-end machine in a small box; something that wasn’t possible with the nVidia GeForce 6800 Ultra.

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So, it comes with a distinct sense of irony that the X850 XT Platinum Edition is a two slot solution. Of course it’s obvious that by significantly increasing the clock speeds, ATI needed to also improve the cooling and this is why the X850 XT PE is a larger beast than its predecessor. The VPU and memory is topped with a copper and aluminium heatsink, while a large fan draws the hot air away from the card and out of the PC, pumping the air through the grille in the second backing plate.

Being a PCI Express board, there’s a six pin power socket that provides the card with juice straight from the power supply. Of more interest are the dual DVI ports, so you can run two TFT monitors with crisp, clear digital signals. Being a reference board, ATI has also thrown in ViVo functionality, but there was no cable supplied with the card.

Before getting bogged down with the benchmark numbers, I decided to spend a bit of time playing some games on the X850 XT PE to get a subjective opinion. Subjectively, this is one very fast graphics card – I can’t say that it feels significantly faster than the X800 XT PE that I use every day, but it definitely feels smooth as silk at pretty much any resolution. Firing up Half-Life 2 shows you what Valve’s masterpiece is supposed to look like, with sky high frame rates and image quality that leaves you drooling.

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We slapped the X850 XT PE into our graphics card test rig which sports an Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition CPU running at 3.46GHz, an Intel 925XE motherboard running a 1066MHz FSB and 1GB of Crucial Ballistix DDR2 memory. Despite the lightning fast processor, it still appears that the X850 XT PE is CPU limited in some games.

Comparing the X850 XT PE to an X800 XT showed significant improvement when running both 3DMark03 and 3DMark05. Looking at opposite ends of the spectrum in 3DMark03 the new card definitely outperforms the old one - at 1,024 x 768 with no image quality settings the X850 turned in a score of 13231 compared with 12178 on the X800. Pushing the resolution up to 1,600 x 1,200 with 4x FSAA and 4x AF the X850 managed 5143 while the X800 could only muster 4392.

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