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ATI X800 XL 512MB

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Our most recent graphics review took a look at ATI HyperMemory and nVidia TurboCache, technologies designed to reduce the amount of onboard graphics memory to an absolute minimum in order to save costs. ATI has now taken things very much the other way with the release of this card, featuring an amazing 512MB of memory. It’s not the first one released, with 512MB versions of the GeForce 6800 Ultra currently available. However, one XFX 512MB card we found at Overclockers is going for over £587, which can’t be finding too many customers. In terms of realistically priced product then, this is a first and ATI has said that it's gunning for around £282 for boards from its partners.



It seems that every couple of years the amounts of onboard memory doubles. Every time this happens those who’ve been into their graphics for a while will stop and reminisce about how they remember when graphics cards had 'x' amount of RAM on board. Well, my first PC graphics card had only 1MB of graphics on board – there, I’ve got that out of the way. And as a recent survey from game developer Valve showed, most gamers are still using older graphics technology, with 64MB of graphics. If that’s good enough for them, why would anyone want 512MB of memory on their graphics card? As games get ever more realistic and the worlds get ever bigger, the textures and geometry information required inevitably increase. While compression technologies such as S3TC and 3Dc are effective there’s no substitute in terms of performance and quality for a larger, speedily accessible local frame buffer. However, the issue is whether any current games will benefit from having 512MB of RAM. We first heard that the next generation of cards would feature up to 512MB of RAM when we met up with Activision before the launch of Doom 3. We were told that its ‘Ultra High’ setting was designed with 512MB cards in mind. Would this provide a clear demonstration of why 512MB on your graphics card is so desirable?

Other than the fact that this is a 512MB card, it's very nearly identical to the 256MB card in terms of specifications. It’s a R430, 0.11 micron process card offering 16 pixel pipelines, six vertex shaders, at clock speeds of 398/492MHz for core clock and memory respectively. It’s also got twin DVI connectors, for dual digital panel loveliness. However, bolting the extra memory onto the card clearly required more power so ATI has had to fit an extra connector to accommodate this. Other changes include a larger heatsink that covers both the GPU and the memory. However, we’ve already seen that board partners will produce different cards. Sapphire has shown us a version that’s actually a two-slot solution that allegedly comes equipped with plenty of overclocking overhead, while GeCube has announced a card that sticks to a single slot. Other than that, it’s the same deal.

So how does the 512MB card stack up against its 256MB sibling? We ran our normal suite of tests, plus Doom 3 at ‘Ultra-High’ settings and got some interesting results. Unfortunately our 256MB card gave up the ghost just as things were getting interesting, so we don’t gave any results on the 256Mb card with filtering activated. Even so we can get a clear picture of whether the 512MB card is worth it.

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