Introduction, Specifications & The Card
NVIDIA's SLI technology (Scalable Link Interface), which allows two PCI Express GeForce 6800s or 6600s to work in tandem to increase performance, has been getting a ton of press these past few months. So much press that it has some PC enthusiasts wondering what ATi has been up to and what the Canadian-based graphics giant would do to counter the deluge of NVIDIA-related information circulating through the tech community. Well it turns out that the folks at ATi have actually been hard at work on a few new products. Today they're unveiling a whole new line of video cards in a wide range of price points. And although ATi isn't quite ready to release any details with regard to its multi-GPU strategy, the company's new flagship video card, the Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition, is one heck of a performer all on its own.
Today's announcement isn't all about the high end, however. ATi has a few affordably priced cards on the way, as well, that should make budget-conscious gamers extremely happy. In total, ATi is announcing five new cards ranging in price from $249 all the way up to $549. Three of the new additions are in the new X850 series of cards and two have been added to the X800 series. We'll discuss all of ATi's new X850 and X800 cards in more detail later in this article, but for now let's focus on the card that is generating all the fanfare for ATi today, the Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition, its newest PCI Express-enabled flagship...
At first glance, the new Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition looks much different than ATi's previous flagship card, the X800 XT, but upon closer inspection, the two are actually quite similar. The most obvious difference is the large, two-slot cooling apparatus used on the X850 XT. This new cooler is designed to draw air over the copper-finned heatsink that's mounted atop the GPU and expel it from the case. The fan used in the cooler is throttled according to the GPU's temperature and can potentially get loud. When it's initially powered up, the X850's fan spins at its maximum speed, at which point it is relatively noisy. It was the loudest part in our test system by far. However, after a few seconds the fan spins down and is barely audible. With our test system at idle, we could barely hear the X850. And we'd also like to note that through hours of gaming and benchmarking and through an extended overclocking session, our X850's fan never had to spin up to its maximum speed and remained relatively silent. The potential is there for some noise if GPU and system temperatures get out of hand, but in a well-ventilated case, we doubt the X850 will need to spin up considerably. The advantage of a design such as this is that much of the heat generated by the GPU is expelled from a system, which should help to keep case temperatures in check. The main disadvantage is that a dual-slot cooling solution blocks the use of a slot, and it may not fit in most small form factor systems.
Other differences over the X800 XT include a heat plate mounted to the RAM on the backside of the card, dual-DVI outputs, and higher core and memory clock speeds. The X850 XT Platinum Edition can be configured with a single DB15 analog monitor connector and a single DVI output, but most models will be equipped with dual-DVI. The X850 XT Platinum Edition's core is clocked at 540MHz, and its memory is clocked at 590MHz (1.18GHz). With the cooler removed from the X850, we compared the PCB layout to an X800 XT to see if we could spot any major changes but we didn't find any. The only difference we found was an extra capacitor mounted at the upper left corner of the board near the mounting bracket. The X850 XT Platinum Edition had three caps, whereas the X800 XT had only two.