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HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GTO PCI-E 256MB
HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GT PCI-E 256MB
HIS IceQ II RADEON X700 AGP 128MB

October 31, 2005








TABLE OF CONTENTS

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



Even though ATI officially unveiled the new series - RADEON X1xxx, they will appear on sale a tad later and we still have an occasion to speak about older products.

Firstly, it's a notorious RADEON X800GT/GTO. Essentially, it's a X850 card, but with fewer pipelines and lower frequencies. The core is the same - R480. Secondly, an attempt to win the way to the withering but still large market of AGP video cards for the RADEON 9800 replacement - X700 in various modifications. We already wrote about the latter, you can read the articles listed at the end of this review. But today we are still going to review another X700 AGP variant from HIS.

So, meet X800GT/GTO. What is it? And what's it for? In my opinion, the latter would have hardly been redesigned to the X800GT/GTO to drop its price, but for the successful NVIDIA steps to launch a line of new cards, which damped the ardour of users and potential buyers to the former Hi-End from ATI - RADEON X850 XT.

Even my first X800GT review contained a lot of unpleasant things about the Canadian company trying to sell the same product for the second time. Think about it. We have RADEON X800 (R430), 12 pixel pipelines and 400/700 MHz frequencies. Then the R480 is launched (former X850 XT): cut down to 8 pipelines, but operating at 475/990 MHz. Even an inexperienced reader may think that the cards will demonstrate similar performance.

But the X800GT price is much lower than for the X800. The latter card is discontinued. Why? The R480 was manufactured (the past tense is justified) by the 0.13 micron process technology. And the R430 (RADEON X800 core) - by 0.11 micron. The latter seems more promising, it must have a higher frequency potential. But the die is a failure. Well, because the core frequencies in the X800 and the X800XL do not exceed 400 MHz (the chips often cannot operate at 430 MHz).

We know well that it's the R480 that can work at 500 MHz and even at 540 MHz. The R423-R480 transition is marked by a streamlined process technology, plummeted yield of effective chips, and much more R480 chips available than R423, even though they are identical in terms of 3D features.

And here our version, previously running in a single rut, forks. As there are various opinions as to why launch the X800GT and kill the X800, but keep the X800XL.

Opinion One. X850XT sales dropped. Even though the price drop has been announced, this process takes much time to reach retail sales. Considering the stock of these cards, chances for the new prices to reach the consumer unchanged are minimal. The stock of R480 is substantial. To proceed manufacturing X850 XT based on these chips and sell these cards at low prices means the following: firstly, setting up the partners, who bought the same cards at higher prices from the Canadians; secondly, as I have already written above, retailers will hardly be optimistic about this decision, considering that they need to sell their stock of cards bought at much higher prices.

So the only option to bargain off R480 (the longer are they in warehouses, the lower are chances to get any profit) is to lock normal 16-pipeline chips to 8 pipelines (X800GT) or to 12 pipelines (X800GTO). To reduce frequencies relative to the X850 XT and offer these expensive cards as middle-end accelerators below $200. And to discontinue the X800 based on R430 to keep it out of the way, since all R430 cards can work with 16 pipelines and thus can be used in X800 XL.

The Canadian company will bear the expenses of dropping selling prices for the new X850XT cards in the form of X800GT/GTO. Partners will not suffer, that's why they were so enthusiastic about unveiling the new products (though they are not essentially new).

These expenses boiled over into ATI losing 100 million dollars for the last quarter. Of course, the losses from dethroning X850 XT into X800 GT/GTO are not that large, but they still contribute to this sum. But if the R480 cards had been left in warehouses, there would have been less losses now and much more of them in the next quarter.

Opinion Two. X850 XT popularity dropped considerably, so there is no point in manufacturing them in the same volumes as before. Drop prices? They already did that, but it was of little help for the above mentioned reasons. The Canadians started losing popularity in general, as NVIDIA offered its new products in summer, while ATI didn't. You cannot stick to old products for a long time - the interest in them abates. So it should be whipped up: there are plenty of R480 chips anyway, there is no reason to use them all for X850 XT cards - launch a supposedly new product at an attractive price, reduce frequencies so that it does not interfere with other products, but make a present to overclockers: they know well the R480 potential. Any announcement automatically whips up interest to the company. When everyone finds out that there is nothing new there but prices and cut-down cores, the X1xxx will appear.

Anyway, everybody knows that the X800GT/GTO cards are short-life products: they will be manufactured until the company runs out of R480. The cards will disappear, as soon as the stock is depleted.

So, the initial card is X850 XT (16/6 pipelines, 520/1080 MHz). What we get is X800GT (8/6 pipelines, 475/990 MHz. And X800GTO (12/6 pipelines, 400/990 MHz).

Both products can be potentially unlocked to 16/6 pipelines. But in reality, the X800GT does not allow it (hardware lock inside the core), the X800GTO offers 50/50 chances... It depends. In order to sweeten the pill of locked chips, the Canadian company made an anecdotic move: "Buy tampax! The company offers a bonus: each tenth has a Christmas cracker inside!". In our case it's each second chip (not each tenth), and an unlock potential instead of a cracker. That is half of the GTO cards possess sterling R480 chips with all 16/6 pipelines, they are locked to 12 pipelines in BIOS. Flashing another version will obviously solve the problem. An attractive issue for overclockers!

There appeared X800GTO2 cards in limited quantities, all these cards are locked via BIOS. If we flash a normal BIOS version from the X850 XT, we'll get a sterling X850 XT. That is, these cards are the same GTO model, but we know for sure that they can be unlocked. There were only few of them (the carrot thing must be limited, or it'll stop working), so we can actually forget about them.

Now about HIS. It's a small Hong Kong company with a small plant in China, which manufactures video cards below Hi-End. As is well known, all powerful and expensive accelerators are sold by ATI as ready made cards. HIS just buys them, equips them with coolers from Arctic Cooling, which have become HIS' trademark in the IceQ series.

Video Cards



HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GTO PCI-E 256MB
Interface: PCI-Express x16

Frequencies (chip/memory — physical (memory — effective):: 400/495 (990) MHz (iTurbo sets them to 500/500 (1000) MHz)

Memory bus width: 256bit

Number of vertex pipelines: 6

Number of pixel pipelines: 12

Dimensions: 190x100x31mm (the last figure is the maximum thickness of a video card).

PCB color: red.

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

VIVO: not available

TV-out: integrated into GPU.




HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GT PCI-E 256MB
Interface: PCI-Express x16

Frequencies (chip/memory — physical (memory — effective):: 475/495 (990) MHz (iTurbo sets them to 500/500 (1000) MHz)

Memory bus width: 256bit

Number of vertex pipelines: 6

Number of pixel pipelines: 8

Dimensions: 190x100x32mm (the last figure is the maximum thickness of a video card).

PCB color: red.

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

VIVO: not available

TV-out: integrated into GPU.




HIS IceQ II RADEON X700 AGP 128MB
Interface: AGP 2x/4x/8x

Frequencies (chip/memory — physical (memory — effective):: 400/350 (700) MHz

Memory bus width: 128bit

Number of vertex pipelines: 4

Number of pixel pipelines: 8

Dimensions: 170x100x32mm (the last value is the maximum thickness of a video card including a cooler).

PCB color: red.

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

VIVO: not available

TV-out: integrated into GPU.






HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GTO PCI-E 256MB
The video card has 256 MB of GDDR3 SDRAM allocated in eight chips on the front and back sides of the PCB.

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




HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GT PCI-E 256MB
The video card has 256 MB of GDDR3 SDRAM allocated in eight chips on the front and back sides of the PCB.

Samsung (GDDR3) memory chips. 2.0ns memory access time, which corresponds to 500 (1000) MHz.




HIS IceQ II RADEON X700 AGP 128MB
The video card has 128 MB of GDDR3 SDRAM allocated in eight chips on the front side of the PCB.

Samsung (GDDR3) memory chips. 2.0ns memory access time, which corresponds to 500 (1000) MHz.






Comparison with the reference design, front view
HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GTO PCI-E 256MB
Reference card ATI RADEON X850 XT
HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GT PCI-E 256MB
HIS IceQ II RADEON X700 AGP 128MB
Reference card ATI RADEON X700


Comparison with the reference design, back view
HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GTO PCI-E 256MB
Reference card ATI RADEON X850 XT
HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GT PCI-E 256MB
HIS IceQ II RADEON X700 AGP 128MB
Reference card ATI RADEON X700


The X800GT/GTO cards are clearly based on the same PCB and are expectedly copies of the X850 in terms of PCB. The only difference is the lack of elements of a power unit, responsible for external power supply (the cards do not need it). Considering that nobody manufactured the X850 on its own, we can assume that HIS can now produce these cards using its own capacities and ATI just provides its chips. 1.6ns memory used in GTO cards (2.0ns would have sufficed) hints at the fact that HIS got ready cards from ATI, not just chips.

The company would have hardly removed the external power supply unit, so these cards seem to be manufactured specially for GT/GTO. And they were equipped with memory, which was in stock at that moment. So I cannot guarantee that all GTO cards will come with such memory.

What concerns the X700 AGP, its PCB was enlarged to accommodate a power unit (it requires external power supply) and RIALTO bridge.




Let's review the cooling systems.

HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GTO PCI-E 256MB; HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GT PCI-E 256MB

A proprietary Arctic Cooling device. You can actually buy such a cooler separately, these coolers are available on sale. But the HIS implementation has a peculiarity: transparent plastic 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).

Of course, the efficiency and quietness come at a cost. That cost is the thick cooling system, when the second slot after PCI-E is blocked.













HIS IceQ II RADEON X700 AGP 128MB

The first thing you see on this card is that the air duct housing on the cooler is luminous in ultra-violet rays. But that's not all. If you don't have ultra-violet illumination inside your PC case, you may have another light source: LEDs on the fan.

In fact it's a well-known and very popular cooling system from Arctic Cooling. It's a first-generation cooler, we could see it on such cards as RADEON 9800/9800PRO. But the second revision of the device, used in RADEON X800 and GeForce 6800, is too large for such PCB, so it's reasonable to equip the X700 with a previous modification of the cooler, more compact.

Besides, we already mentioned many times that it's as quiet as Arctic Cooling II. And HIS tried to make the product very attractive with illumination and air duct covered with paint luminous under ultra-violet rays.

All memory chips are under heatsinks - good news for overclockers.


















Graphics processors:

HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GTO PCI-E 256MB




HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GT PCI-E 256MB




HIS IceQ II RADEON X700 AGP 128MB




Interestingly, designation on the GTO chip means X800 (though it's based on R430). And GT card is based on the previously manufactured X800SE, which is also locked on the hardware level to 8 pipelines (the chances are that 16 pipelines are initially unavailable due to defects).

A very important point! Cards based on X800GTO/GY come shipped with the iTurbo utility, which raises operating frequencies of both cards to 500/1000 MHz at a single click! Manufacturer guarantees such frequencies!

Note that not a single video card from those we review today is equipped with two DVI connectors. All of them offer d-Sub and DVI. You can also see that none of the cards is equipped with RAGE Theater, so there is no VIVO support.

Bundle

HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GTO PCI-E 256MB; HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GT PCI-E 256MB
User's manual, CD with drivers, games (one is on a CD, the other is a network game - there is a coupon for it), proprietary utility iTurbo, DVI-to-d-Sub, HDTV, SVideo-to-RCA adapters.


HIS IceQ II RADEON X700 AGP 128MB
User's manual, CD with drivers, DVI-to-d-Sub, HDTV, SVideo-to-RCA adapters, external power cable.




Packages.

HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GTO PCI-E 256MB

Both cards have identical boxes, they differ only in labels and inscriptions (X800GT/GTO boxes run that the cards support VIVO - that's wrong).




HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GT PCI-E 256MB

These products are packaged in boxes made of thick white cardboard inside bright covers. The stickers specify frequencies that you can obtain using the iTurbo utility.




HIS IceQ II RADEON X700 AGP 128MB

The box has a window, through which you can see the card.






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 (CAS (tCL)=2.5; RAS to CAS delay (tRCD)=3; Row Precharge (tRP)=3; tRAS=6)
    • 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 (CAS (tCL)=2.5; RAS to CAS delay (tRCD)=3; Row Precharge (tRP)=3; tRAS=6)
    • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 80GB SATA

  • Operating system: Windows XP SP2 DirectX 9.0c
  • Monitors: ViewSonic P810 (21") and Mitsubishi Diamond Pro 2070sb (21").
  • ATI Drivers 6.553 for AGP video cards (CATALYST 5.6); NVIDIA drivers 71.89 WHQL.
  • ATI Drivers 6.571 for PCI-E video cards (CATALYST 5.9); NVIDIA drivers 81.84.

VSync is disabled.

A few words on overclocking. Here are the frequencies we managed to get:

  • HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GTO PCI-E 256MB: 550/1280 MHz
  • HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GT PCI-E 256MB: 545/1170 MHz
  • HIS IceQ II RADEON X700 AGP 128MB: 478/1150 MHz

Speaking of unlocking pipelines: neither X800GTO nor X800GT are amenable to such operation, it was useless to flash BIOS with 16 pipelines. The chips are locked on the hardware level.

Test results: performance comparison

We used the following test applications:

  • 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 1.33 (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,

  • F.E.A.R. (Multiplayer beta) (Monolith/Sierra) — DirectX 9.0, multitexturing, Maximum test settings, Soft shadows.

  • Splinter Cell Chaos of Theory v.1.04 (Ubisoft) — DirectX 9.0, multitexturing, maximum test settings, shaders 3.0 (for NVIDIA cards)/shaders 2.0 (for ATI cards); HDR OFF!

  • The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay 1.10 (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 Ducche), who have created a demo for this game. I also want to thank Alexei Berillo AKA Somebody Else for his help



Summary performance diagrams for PCI-Express video cards

Summary performance diagrams for AGP video cards



Conclusions

  1. HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GTO PCI-E 256MB actually replaced the X800, as it operates at the same frequencies and its architecture is completely identical to that of the X800. We already wrote that the latter card was good even at its previous price, but now we can get the same card at a lower price - great news. Add the excellent overclocking potential, guaranteed 500/1000 MHz operating frequencies - it's just a hit for $180! And don't forget about the excellent cooling system. The card expectedly demonstrates excellent operating stability and 2D quality up to 1600x1200@100Hz.

  2. HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GT PCI-E 256MB at $170 competes well with its competitors in the same price range. That's at standard frequencies. If we overclock the card to guaranteed 500/1000 MHz, the results will be excellent! Besides, the Arctic Cooling device provides overclockers with excellent chances to overclock the card even further. The operating stability is up to the mark, the 2D quality is the same as in the previous case.

  3. HIS IceQ II RADEON X700 AGP 128MB for $120 competes well with cards in the same price range, though not as brilliantly as the previous cards. The card has no iTurbo mode, so you'll have to use GDDR3 potential manually (using 2.0ns memory at 700 MHz is sacrilege! :). The card is equipped with memory heatsinks and an excellent cooler from Arctic Cooling, so the card can be overclocked to the level of the X700 XT or even higher. Operating stability and 2D quality are also all right!


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








HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GTO PCI-E 256MB and HIS IceQ II RADEON X800 GT PCI-E 256MB get the Original Design award (October).








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)

October 31, 2005.



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