iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






ATI RADEON X850 XT AGP 256MB Represented by
HIS RADEON X850 XT Platinum AGP IceQ II 256MB

May 4, 2005


  1. Introduction
  2. Video cards' features
  3. Testbed configurations, benchmarks
  4. Test results
  5. Conclusions

The topic of our today's article will be the new line of ATI products, intended for the AGP segment.

As you may already know, a new graphics processor R420 was announced last year in early May (that is almost a year ago), it started a whole new RADEON X800 line, which includes three motherboards: X800 PRO, X800 XT, X800 XT PE. The last two motherboards are equipped with GPUs with 16 pixel pipelines, while the first one has 12. We have already written much about this series, there is nothing new, you can read about everything in our articles.

But when Intel announced the new technology, which implied upgrading the system interface to PCI-Express, and started to promote it, Canadian ATI switched completely to manufacturing chips for video cards with the new interface. It did so with such ardour that it forgot a lot of products with the AGP interface.

As is well known, the expansion of the PCI-E segment was very slow at first. It was so despondent that this sector failed to go above 10% by the end of 2004 (ATI had been expecting 40-50% according to the summer forecasts). Marketing plans from Toronto were obviously wrong. In order to somehow remedy the situation, it was decided to continue the production of RADEON 9800 PRO as well as to accelerate the PCI-E-to-AGP project to shorten the time for the bridge launch, known as RIALTO.

In the long run they got it right, we have already reviewed such cards based on RADEON X800 XL with this bridge (there have been recently two articles on this topic).

It should be noted that the competing NVIDIA was more far-seeing and released the HSI bridge even before the announcement of PCI-E technologies. That's why the americans had no troubles to release video cards on the new promising chips with two interfaces: PCI-E and AGP. Thus, GeForce 6600/6600GT won great popularity in middle-end, offering the best price/performance ratio.

Let's return to ATI. With the release of new AGP solutions with the RIALTO bridge that should fill the gap in the $250-$350 price range, there have been also launched X850 cards based on GPU R481, that is RADEON X850 (PRO/XT). It's essentially the same R420, but the improved manufacturing technology allows increased CPU clocks without a negative effect on the yield of effective dies.

Let's have a closer look: when the R420 was out, the first cards to crowd the shelves were RADEON X800 PRO, that is 12-pipeline cards (let's speak of pipelines as applied to video cards instead of GPU for the sake of simplicity). But 16-pipeline X800XT/PE cards were nowhere to be seen. The Canadian company obviously had great problems with the low yield of effective dies, capable of activating all 16 pipelines and operating at 520 MHz. That's why the X800XT was launched, which used chips with all 16 effective pipelines that failed 520 MHz tests.

But even that didn't help to avoid the huge deficit of the X800 XT. The situation started to get better only by the end of 2004, when the process technology was optimized (the R420 is manufactured by the 0.13 micron low-k process technology).

That's the reason of a seemingly strange decision to equip cheaper video cards with the RIALTO bridge and to equip more expensive cards with the chip natively supporting the AGP interface. I repeat that an entire group of accelerators has entered the AGP video cards market now:

  1. RADEON X800 (12 pixel pipelines, 6 vertex pipelines, 400/700 MHz), 0.11 micron process technology, native PCI-E interface, equipped with the RIALTO bridge
  2. RADEON X800 XL (16 pixel pipelines, 6 vertex pipelines, 400/990 MHz), 0.11 micron process technology, native PCI-E interface, equipped with the RIALTO bridge
  3. RADEON X850 PRO (12 pixel pipelines, 6 vertex pipelines, 500/1000 MHz), 0.13 micron low-k process technology, native AGP interface
  4. RADEON X850 XT (16 pixel pipelines, 6 vertex pipelines, 520/1080 MHz), 0.13 micron low-k process technology, native AGP interface
  5. RADEON X850 XT PE (16 pixel pipelines, 6 vertex pipelines, 540/1180 MHz), 0.13 micron low-k process technology, native AGP interface

We can see that only the first two products are equipped with the bridge, the other three have the native AGP interface. Besides, the first two chips are manufactured by the 0.11 micron process technology. Conclusion: in order not to design a new 0.11-micron chip with the AGP interface (it's very expensive!), it's cheaper to release a card with the RIALTO bridge, so that the $250-$350 price segment is covered.

And the 0.13 micron low-k process technology had been already used in the R420, which had the same AGP interface. That's why the process technology was improved and optimized to easily produce 540Mhz and 520MHz chips. That is R481 is R420 with increased clocks. Considering these clocks, RADEON X850 XT is obviously almost on a par with RADEON X800 XT PE.

So, the old cards based on the R420, which was very expensive due to the low yield of effective dies, are leaving the market, because they cannot be any cheaper and the manufacturing of these chips is nearly discontinued. They will be replaced with almost the same video cards based on the R481, but at lower costs, so the price may be changing significantly even now (we can already see X850 XT AGP at $490-540 offered by various retailers).

That's why there is no need in describing the technical innovations of the X850: the predecessors of these cards offered the same features. I guess, the exterior of the X850 XT cards will not differ from the previous X800 XT.

Now what concerns the video cards from HIS under review. As you know, ATI manufactures all High-End cards of the latest generation on its own (it orders them on the selected plants), its partners buy entirely ready video cards instead of chips. That's why they are all the same! They differ only in some components, cooling systems in particular.

HIS traditionally manufactures two card types: an entirely reference card, bought from ATI, and the product with a proprietary cooling system from Arctic Cooling, which is certainly of a special interest. But even that's not the most important thing! What's the most important is that the IceQ II Turbo series guarantees raised frequencies via a proprietary utility! Remember Gainward and its Golden Sample series. In fact HIS offers a similar functionality in video cards based on ATI chips.

Video Cards

HIS RADEON X850 XT AGP IceQ II Turbo 256MB HIS RADEON X850 XT Platinum AGP IceQ II 256MB
Interface: AGP 2x/4x/8x

Frequencies (chip/memory — physical (memory — effective):

  • HIS RADEON X850 XT AGP IceQ II Turbo 256MB - 520/540 (1080) MHz (nominal - 520/540 (1080) MHz)
  • HIS RADEON X850 XT Platinum AGP IceQ II 256MB - 540/590 (1180) MHz (nominal - 540/590 (1180) MHz)

Memory bus width: 256bit

Number of vertex pipelines: 6

Number of pixel pipelines: 16

Dimensions: 190x100x16mm (the last figure is the maximum thickness of a video card).

PCB color: red.

Output connectors: d-Sub, DVI, S-Video.

VIVO: available (RAGE Theater)

TV-out: integrated into GPU.

HIS RADEON X850 XT AGP IceQ II Turbo 256MB HIS RADEON X850 XT Platinum AGP IceQ II 256MB
The cards have 256 MB GDDR3 SDRAM allocated in 8 chips on the front and the back sides of the PCB.

Samsung (GDDR3) memory chips. 1.6ns memory access time, which corresponds to 625 (1250) MHz.

Comparison with the reference design, front view
HIS RADEON X850 XT AGP IceQ II Turbo 256MB HIS RADEON X850 XT Platinum AGP IceQ II 256MB Reference card ATI RADEON X850 XT AGP

Reference card ATI RADEON X800 XT AGP

Comparison with the reference design, back view
HIS RADEON X850 XT AGP IceQ II Turbo 256MB HIS RADEON X850 XT Platinum AGP IceQ II 256MB Reference card ATI RADEON X850 XT AGP

Reference card ATI RADEON X800 XT AGP

I think I shouldn't even draw your attention that the product from HIS is the same reference card (even the P/N from ATI is almost the same).

But there are some PCB layout differences from the previous X800 XT cards. Engineers reworked the PCB before they launched the X850XT. There are no fundamental differences, they just changed the power supply units, the layout of output circuits, etc.

Both cards have VIVO, where VideoIn is based on RAGE Theater.

Besides, all the X850 products usually have two DVI jacks, regular monitors with d-Sub can be connected via the corresponding adapters that come shipped with the bundle. But in this case the cards are equipped with a couple of jacks: d-Sub + DVI.

Let's review the cooling systems.

HIS RADEON X850 XT AGP IceQ II Turbo 256MB HIS RADEON X850 XT Platinum AGP IceQ II 256MB

A proprietary Arctic Cooling device. In fact you can buy such a cooler separately, they are available on sale. But the HIS implementation has a peculiarity: plastic transparent housing is covered with paint, which is luminous in ultraviolet. By the way, I can say without false modesty that this advice was given to designers by yours truly.

So, the cooler consists of a copper base, which is pressed to processor core and memory chips (via thermal spacers), soldered to a finned heatsink. A plastic air duct (housing) goes right above the heatsink. There is a turbine at one end that pumps the air in, and a bell at the other end, through which hot air is blown away from the PC case. It's clear that the air passes through the heatsink and cools it.

This device is unique in its low noise (turbine configuration is well though-out) and very good cooling efficiency. Rotational speed — from 2500 to 6000.

You can watch a video and estimate the startup noise of the system unit at this link (1.3MB, AVI DivX 5.1). You can also compare it to the background noise without the video card (740KB, AVI DivX 5.1).

Efficiency and quiet operation come at a cost. That cost is the thick cooling system, when the second slot after AGP is blocked.


HIS RADEON X850 XT Platinum AGP IceQ II 256MB HIS RADEON X850 XT AGP IceQ II Turbo 256MB
User's guide, CD with drivers, FlatOut (game), a proprietary utility iTurbo (only for the X850 XT so far!), PowerDVD, DVI-to-d-Sub, HDTV, VIVO adapters, an external power cable.


HIS RADEON X850 XT AGP IceQ II Turbo 256MB HIS RADEON X850 XT Platinum AGP IceQ II 256MB

Both cards have identical packages, the boxes differ only by labels and writings. These products are packaged in boxes made of thick white cardboard inside bright covers. The box has a window, through which you can see the card. The stickers specify frequencies that you can obtain using the iTurbo utility.

Installation and Drivers

Testbed configurations:

  • Athlon 64 (939Socket) based computer
    • CPU: AMD Athlon 4000+ (2400MHz) (L2=1024K)
    • Motherboard: ASUS A8N SLI Deluxe based on NVIDIA nForce4 SLI
    • RAM: 1 GB DDR SDRAM 400MHz
    • HDD: WD Caviar SE WD1600JD 160GB SATA

  • Athlon 64 (754Socket) based computer:
    • CPU: AMD Athlon 64 3700+ (2400MHz) (L2=1024K)
    • Motherboard: ASUS K8V SE Deluxe based on VIA K8T800
    • RAM: 1 GB DDR SDRAM PC3200
    • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 80GB SATA

  • GeForce 6800 Ultra (ASUS V9999 Ultra, AGP, 256MB GDDR3, 425/1100 MHz)
  • GeForce 6800 GT (Gainward Powerpack Ultra/2400 GS, AGP, 256MB GDDR3, 350/1000 MHz)
  • Operating system: Windows XP SP2 DirectX 9.0c
  • Monitors: ViewSonic P810 (21") and Mitsubishi Diamond Pro 2070sb (21").
  • ATI drivers 6.552 (CATALYST 5.4); NVIDIA drivers 71.89 WHQL.

VSync is disabled.

One of the most important features of the Turbo series is a bundled proprietary utility iTurbo (by the way, its author is well known in the 3D-graphics community :). Like ExperTool from Gainward, this program (see the first screenshot) allows to raise operating frequencies of the card at one button press (see the second screenshot). Thus, the manufacturer guarantees operation of the above mentioned cards within the frequency range specified on the box stickers (see above). That is when you buy HIS RADEON X850 XT AGP IceQ II Turbo 256MB, you actually get a Platinum version :).

That's why remember to install iTurbo, if you buy one of such cards. In this case your video card will work a tad faster :).

Test results: performance comparison

We used the following test applications:

  • Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness v.49 (Core Design/Eldos Software) — DirectX 9.0, Paris5_4 demo. The tests were conducted with the quality set to maximum, only Depth of Fields PS20 was disabled.

  • Half-Life2 (Valve/Sierra) — DirectX 9.0, demo (ixbt01, ixbt02, ixbt03 The tests were carried out with maximum quality, option -dxlevel 90, presets for video card types are removed from dxsupport.cfg.

  • FarCry 1.3 (Crytek/UbiSoft), DirectX 9.0, multitexturing, 3 demos from Research, Pier, Regulator levels (-DEVMODE startup option), Very High test settings.

  • DOOM III (id Software/Activision) — OpenGL, multitexturing, test settings — High Quality (ANIS8x), demo ixbt1 (33MB!). We have a sample batch file to start the game automatically with increased speed and reduced jerking (precaching) d3auto.rar. (DO NOT BE AFRAID of the black screen after the first menu, that's how it should be! It will last 5-10 seconds and then the demo should start)

  • 3DMark05 (FutureMark) — DirectX 9.0, multitexturing, test settings — trilinear,

  • The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay (Starbreeze/Vivendi) — OpenGL, multitexturing, test settings — maximum texture quality, Shader 2.0, demo 44 and demo ducche.

    I wish to thank Rinat Dosayev (AKA 4uckall) and Alexei Ostrovski (AKA Ducce), who have created a demo for this game. I also want to thank Alexei Berillo AKA Somebody Else for his help

Game tests that heavily load pixel shaders 2.0.

TR:AoD, Paris5_4 DEMO

Test results: TRAOD

This test loads shader units. Chips that can calculate more efficiently are victorious here. That's obviously a hobby-horse of ATI. Besides, GPU operating frequencies play a just as important role here. That's why the X850XT victory (both cards) is quite expectable.

Game tests that heavily load vertex shaders, mixed pixel shaders 1.1 and 2.0, active multitexturing.

FarCry, Research

Test results: FarCry Research

FarCry, Regulator

Test results: FarCry Regulator

FarCry, Pier

Test results: FarCry Pier

This test is like a salad of technologies: heavily loaded shaders (many of them are Version 1.1), an immensely loaded vertex unit (sometimes scenes may contain up to 200000 polygons), and various texturing operations (they require an optimal pipeline with texture caches). That's why it's impossible to predict a victory of this or that manufacturer: it all depends on multiple factors. We can see that all the three tests (in totally different scenes) brought forward the products from HIS (ATI). What's played the major role in this victory? In my opinion, the main contribution was made by fine-tuned and optimized drivers, especially for Version 1.3, which actively uses long shaders (2.0b), and a larger calculating capacity of vertex and pixel shaders due to higher clocks.

Game tests that heavily load both vertex shaders and pixel shaders 2.0

Half-Life2: ixbt01 demo

Test results: Half-Life2, ixbt01

Half-Life2: ixbt02 demo

Test results: Half-Life2, ixbt02

Half-Life2: ixbt03 demo

Test results: Half-Life2, ixbt03

This game has been the hobby-horse of the Canadian company from the very beginning, because the developer had tightly cooperated with ATI long before the game was released. That's why you needn't be a genius to guess that ATI video cards will outperform their competitors. But it should be noted that NVIDIA's programmers were very productive and the performance difference has dropped manifold recently (though ATI's products are still in the lead). Of course, these optimizations were not the only source of victory, some contribution was made by more powerful shader units in the X850 series cards.

Game tests that heavily load pixel pipelines with texturing, active operations of the stencil buffer and shader units


Test results: DOOM III

Chronicles of Riddick, demo 44

Test results: Chronicles of Riddick, demo 44

Chronicles of Riddick, demo ducche

Test results: Chronicles of Riddick, demo ducche

These tests are grouped together both due to the same API - OpenGL and to their high demands to an accelerator: complex multitexturing. DOOM III is critical to the stencil buffer performance. That's all fine-tuned in NVIDIA. The hobby-horse of its products is a long and well thought-out pipeline, offering much more efficient texturing than ATI's products due to good caching. That's why we can see a partial defeat of the X850 series in CR and a traditional fiasco in DOOM III (to do justice to these cards, DOOM III for NVIDIA is like HL2 for ATI in terms of tight cooperation with developers). But we can see that the X850XT fairs rather well against the 6800GT (I mean DOOM III).

Synthetic tests that heavily load shader units

3DMark05: MARKS

Test results: 3DMark05 MARKS

If this test loads shader units, the result is obvious (I have already mentioned above, that in this case the X850 series occupies better positions to be victorious). But we should take into account again that many groups of programmers are busy with fine-tuning drivers for this test, so the alignment of forces may change with the new driver versions as well as with the new test version.


  1. HIS RADEON X850 XT AGP IceQ II Turbo 256MB — considering Turbo mode, this card almost catches up with the X850 XT PE flagship. It has a tad lower price, so we can recommend this product to all 3D enthusiasts, also taking into account the quiet cooling system. This video card also offers very high quality, the 2D picture at 1600x1200@85Hz is excellent.

  2. HIS RADEON X850 XT Platinum AGP IceQ II 256MB is a product for overclocking enthusiasts, who need the very best accelerator with overclocking capacities at that. I can say the same about the quality of the card as I said in the previous case. 570/1225MHz overclocking. It's actually the fastest accelerator among single-card solutions for the AGP segment.

In conclusion I want to publish a video clip (2.6MB, AVI DivX 5.1), where one of the reviewed video cards is installed into a modded computer.

You can find more detailed comparisons of various video cards in our 3Digest.

According to the results of this review, HIS RADEON X850 XT AGP IceQ II Turbo 256MB and
HIS RADEON X850 XT Platinum AGP IceQ II 256MB
get the Original Design awards (April).

Theoretical materials and reviews of video cards, which concern functional properties of the GPU ATI RADEON X800 (R420)/X850 (R480)/X700 (RV410) and NVIDIA GeForce 6800 (NV40/45)/6600 (NV43)

Andrey Vorobiev (anvakams@ixbt.com)


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