iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail







May 25, 2005


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

The time of 512MB video cards has come. It's only the first steps so far. Remember 2003, when the first RADEON 9800 PRO with 256MB cards were launched in a small quantity, while all High-End cards used to have 128MB maximum at that time. Of course, it was a purely marketing move, our tests proved that overpaying for 256MB was a waste of money at that time. However, the ball started rolling, and later on all new High-End models were equipped with a quarter of gigabyte (only junior High-End models still used only 128MB of memory). This marketing move soon spread to Middle-End and even Low-End sectors, so that even relatively weak accelerators got their 256MB of memory.

We have tested this issue a lot of times. Purchasing such very expensive cards is almost always not justified, when these cards just start to appear. That's because games are developed for the memory installed in most middle end accelerators. That's why very few projects require extra memory.

Now it's turn for 256MB to become the minimum memory capacity in old products or low end representatives of the latest generation. As I have already mentioned above, it's time to try a new video memory capacity - 512MB. However, the fastest GDDR3 memory is very expensive so far, and the doubled memory size (as well as the number of memory chips, e.g. 1.6ns access time), will result in the huge rise of prime costs for such cards as the X850 (these cards use such memory), which are quite expensive even in their present state. So no one will want to pay $700-750 for a 512MB X850 XT PE instead of $500-520.

But the gradual introduction of such memory capacity is required by marketing and other factors. That was why it was decided to use 512MB of memory in the X800 XL (almost Middle-End) instead of the X850 XT. 2.0ns memory was sufficient for this card, it didn't require 1.6ns memory. Besides, the price rise would not have such a negative effect on the demand, because it wouldn't exceed the reasonable limit (if you can call $500 a reasonable price for an accelerator today). While the recommended retail price for the regular X800 XL is $300 (real prices are already going down to this mark), the recommended price for the X800 XL 512MB will be within 400-410 USD (it may initially reach the X850 XT level - $490 - because the card is new and the retailers are greedy).

Should you really overpay $100 for 512MB of onboard video memory instead of just 256MB? We are going to investigate this issue today. We shall also speculate who will be interested in such a product today.

Video card

Interface: PCI-Express x16

Frequencies (chip/memory — physical (memory — effective): 400/495 (990) MHz (nominal - 400/495 (990) 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: 2xDVI, S-Video.

VIVO: available (RAGE Theater)

TV-out: integrated into GPU.

The video card has 512 MB of GDDR3 SDRAM allocated in sixteen 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.

Comparison with the reference design, front view
Reference card ATI RADEON X800 XL

Comparison with the reference design, back view
Reference card ATI RADEON X800 XL

The new card obviously differs from its predecessor only by the doubled number of memory chips, the rest is actually the same. As the PCB layout provided for an external (additional) power connector from the very beginning, there were no problems with that: due to the increased memory power consumption, designers had to roll back to the 6-pin power connector, which had been removed from the X800 XL, so such cards consume more than 75W.

The card has VIVO, where VideoIn is based on RAGE Theater.

We should also mention that the card is equipped with a couple of DVI connectors.

There is no point in describing the cooling system, because it consists in the same reference cooler, which we have seen many times in cards like the X800 XL. You can just look into our reviews. I can tell you that there are no problems with the noise, the cooler is very quiet.

As it's a reference card, we cannot possibly describe the bundle and its package: it's a prerogative of production-line cards from ATI partners.

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

  • RADEON X800 XL (ASUS EX800XL, PCI-E, 256MB GDDR3, 400/990 MHz)
  • GeForce 6800 GT (ASUS EN6800GT, PCI-E, 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 6.525 (CATALYST 5.4); NVIDIA drivers 71.89 WHQL.

VSync is disabled.

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 were 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 requires much from shader performance, but we can see that 512MB of memory has a positive effect on performance: the new card considerably outperformed its predecessor at 1024x768, though it never reached the X850XT level. Shader unit performance is dominating at higher resolutions, so both X800 XL cards are almost on a par. Note its advantage over the 6800GT (the X800 XL 512MB may have the same price as the 6800GT 256MB).

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

These tests illustrate that FarCry does not at all need 512MB of memory: the X800 XL 512MB is no different from its 256MB counterpart in performance, and the new card is certainly outperformed by the X850XT (which is on the contrary close to this card in price). The only good news is the advantage over the 6800GT (but the same applies to the cheaper X800 XL 256MB).

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

These tests just confirm the previous conclusions. This game does not need 512MB of memory in a video card either, the performance hasn't grown one iota despite the abundance of textures. 256MB is enough for the operation of modern AA (MSAA) methods. The X850 XT demonstrated a greater advantage (but the performance is so limited by CPU that it's hard to speak of a real advantage). The only consolation to the X800 XL 512MB is that it's again no worse than the 6800GT :)

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

DOOM III High mode

Test results: DOOM III

DOOM III Ultra High mode

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

Note that we included DOOM III with Ultra-High quality settings into this group of tests. These settings rule out compressed textures (and the textures have higher details), so the total texture volume exceeds 256MB (even when the game was just released, the developers warned that this mode would be available only with 512MB cards without losing performance to transferring data via the bus). This very test demonstrates strong advantage of the X800 XL 512MB over its 256MB counterpart. It even managed to reach the X850XT performance level! The 6800GT is faster anyway, but video cards from California are always faster in this group of tests, we have discussed that many times.

The doubled memory capacity of the X800 XL had absolutely no effect in other tests. We can only see the 11% gain at 1600x1200 in one of the CR tests.

Synthetic tests that heavily load shader units

3DMark05: MARKS

Test results: 3DMark05 MARKS

Like the first test, it's also critical to the execution speed of shader instructions. But you can see that the X800 XL 512MB is a tad faster than its counterpart with less memory under an additional AA+AF load. The difference is not so large though to analyze the reasons.


ATI RADEON X800 XL 512MB PCI-E is a high quality product. But it's rather ambiguous for these days. However, I have already mentioned in the beginning of the article that all first video cards with doubled memory capacity had a similar fate. Something has to be the first. So this model has become a pioneer. In fact, only DOOM III in Ultra-High mode demonstrated advantages of the new model. As well as TR:AoD. This card faired on a par with the 256MB model in all the other tests. Indeed, in many cases the X800 XL 512MB outperforms the 6800GT, but the same can be said about the X800 XL 256MB, which is much cheaper. That's why it's hard to make a cold evaluation of the new product. Let's see what other tests and new games will show. One thing is clear: if you buy an expensive LCD monitor with the maximum resolution of 1600x1200, you will surely want to play games in this resolution and probably to buy a video card with extra capacities as a reserve for future upgrades (there need be no doubt that 512MB will be a must in future!). In this case the X800 XL 512MB may be just your choice, because the X850 XT or the 6800 Ultra with the same memory capacity will have unaffordable prices. Time will show...

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

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)

May 25, 2005.

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