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PowerColor RADEON X800 XL 512MB PCI-E
Sapphire RADEON X800 XL 512MB PCI-E

Based on ATI RADEON X800 XL

July 26, 2005










TABLE OF CONTENTS

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



Time takes it normal course, new products appear... only from NVIDIA, while the Canadian company is behind its schedule. But it's summer, the demand is at its lowest, all people think about holidays, not about new video cards. Besides, new models sometimes appear in the X800 camp.

We have already reviewed the new revision of RADEON X800 XL with 512MB of memory on board. We found out that only several games really benefited from such a large memory size. First of all it's DOOM III at the maximum quality mode. However, how many players will want to play this dark game from the very beginning with questionable visual quality gain?

In other respects, this memory size is a reserve for future as well as marketing. You cannot do without the latter. I mean, it was a marketing move to equip a middle end X800 XL with so much memory instead of the top X850. It's actually easy to explain, because raising the X850 costs would have led to no demand for such video cards.

So, today we are going to review two video cards based on X800 XL and equipped with 512 MB of memory. One of them is just a copy of the reference design, the other one is equipped with faster 1.6ns memory. Read our review to find out the consequences as well as all the details.

Now almost all articles will include video clips, which will be brief but more illustrious concerning new products. There will be three formats: the best quality (MPEG1), average and low quality (WMV). So,

Both manufacturers are well known to our readers. They are Sapphire and TUL (PowerColor trademark). We have reviewed their products many times, so there is no need to introduce them to our readers.



Video Cards



PowerColor RADEON X800 XL 512MB PCI-E
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: 210x100x16mm (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.




Sapphire RADEON X800 XL 512MB PCI-E
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: 190x100x33mm (the last figure is the maximum thickness of a video card).

PCB color: dark blue.

Output connectors: 2xDVI, S-Video.

VIVO: available (RAGE Theater)

TV-out: integrated into GPU.






PowerColor RADEON X800 XL 512MB PCI-E
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. 1.6ns memory access time, which corresponds to 625 (1250) MHz.




Sapphire RADEON X800 XL 512MB PCI-E
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
PowerColor RADEON X800 XL 512MB PCI-E
Reference card ATI RADEON X800 XL 512MB PCI-E






Sapphire RADEON X800 XL 512MB PCI-E








Comparison with the reference design, back view
PowerColor RADEON X800 XL 512MB PCI-E
Reference card ATI RADEON X800 XL 512MB PCI-E






Sapphire RADEON X800 XL 512MB PCI-E








You can see that both cards are full copies of the reference design. The Sapphire product has a blue PCB and for some reason it's equipped with a cooling system from the X850 series. However, let's review everything in detail.



Sapphire RADEON X800 XL 512MB PCI-E

It's totally incomprehensible why the company decided to use a bulky device from a senior line instead of the single-slot nice and quiet cooler, which we saw on the reference card. Especially as it's too noisy at startup (see the video clips, which links are published at the beginning of the article). I guess designers were concerned about the "cool looks" of the device instead of usability. Strange decision.

The cooling system consists of a turbine that drives the air through a copper heatsink on the GPU. The only advantage of this solution - it drives the hot air away from the system unit.









PowerColor RADEON X800 XL 512MB PCI-E

We have already come across such a design, used by PowerColor in this video card based on the X700 XT. The cooling system consists of two massive heatsinks on both sides of the PCB, connected with each other by heat pipes, filled with low-boiling liquid. Unlike its predecessor, the fan is now installed on the rear heatsink (however, the fan is not necessary in case of the X700 XT). Considering the dimensions and cooling surfaces, a low-rpm fan will be sufficient to avoid GPU overheating. That's why it's practically noiseless (you can see it in the video clip).

The fan is illuminated, so modding fans will be pleased. Besides, it's on the back side of the card, thus it will be on top in a system unit (instead of being traditionally hidden under the card, where all its attractions are blocked).















Note that these cards require external power supply due to increased power consumption (the increased number of memory chips), that's why they are equipped with a proper connector.

Both products are equipped with GPU R430 (it was initially called X800 PRO, then it was renamed to X800 XL).




Bundle

PowerColor RADEON X800 XL 512MB PCI-E
The box contains a user's manual, CD with drivers, CyberLink bundle (to support VIVO and create DVD-video), DVI-to-d-Sub adapters, external power cord, TV extension cord, game (quite old though), VIVO/HDTV adapter.


Sapphire RADEON X800 XL 512MB PCI-E
The card traditionally comes shipped with the following items: User's manual, CD with drivers, CD with utilities, several games (slightly outdated), TV extension cords, VIVO/HDTV and DVI-to-d-Sub adapters, external power cord.




Let's have a look at the boxes.

PowerColor RADEON X800 XL 512MB PCI-E

Stylish cardboard box. All components are neatly arranged into polyurethane sections. The card is firmly fixed to avoid deformations or damage in transit.




Sapphire RADEON X800 XL 512MB PCI-E

The box has a traditional for this company design - bright colors, glossy coating. There are plastic sections inside the box to accommodate the entire bundle. So there must be no dangling components.









Installation and Drivers

Testbed configurations:

  • Athlon 64 (754Socket) based computer:
    • CPU: AMD Athlon 64 3700+ (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

  • Athlon 64 (939Socket) based computer
    • CPU: AMD Athlon 4000+ (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

  • Operating system: Windows XP SP2 DirectX 9.0c
  • Monitors: ViewSonic P810 (21") and Mitsubishi Diamond Pro 2070sb (21").
  • ATI drivers 6.525 (CATALYST 5.5) NVIDIA drivers 71.89.

VSync is disabled.

Now about unpleasant issues, namely about overclocking. First of all it concerns the product from PowerColor. The card is equipped with so fast memory that it certainly raises the production costs. But the overclocking amounts just to 1080 MHz (with the standard frequency of 1250 MHz for 1.6ns!). Artifacts are noticeable at 1120 MHz even in 2D. You can see it well in the video clip. Sapphire product was overclocked to the same 1080 MHz. Both cores didn't endure even the 25 MHz gain, only 418 MHz didn't ruin processors' stability.

I ask the question one more time: how can you manufacture a chip by the new 0.11-micron process technology, reduce heat dissipation, but actually reach the limits of its capacities? +25 MHz is quite all right for all GPUs, but even this gain is impossible in this case. I can only guess about the yield of effective chips for this series.

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.

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

If you want to get the demo-benchmarks, which we use, contact me at my e-mail.

Overall performance



I have already mentioned the fact that there are only few games and modes where 512MB of memory are a real advantage. It's just a marketing move so far, only some hard core gamers may want to buy a video card "with room for growth".

Conclusions

So:

  1. PowerColor RADEON X800 XL 512MB PCI-E is an excellent card for its class, but I don't understand why install more expensive and faster memory, which YIELDS NOTHING. I have never met a product based on NVIDIA chips, where faster memory wouldn't yield benefits at least for overclockers. What concerns ATI, it's a norm. PowerColor X800XL 256MB was one of such cases. But if the product doesn't get more expensive due to 1.6ns memory, on the whole it will be quite good! First of all with its efficient and quiet cooling system. 2D quality in 1600x1200 at 85Hz is excellent!

  2. Sapphire RADEON X800 XL 512MB PCI-E - everything seems OK, it's very nice, but why equip this card with a noisy cooler, bulky at that... It's like a fly in the ointment. In other respects it's an excellent high-quality product, its 2D quality is on the level with its competitor.

What I want to say about the X800 XL 512MB in general is that its popularity will depend directly on its prices. If the latter is much more expensive than its 256MB counterparts, there will be no reason to buy the new models, because this memory capacity will become critical a tad later, when there may appear new products.

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





PowerColor RADEON X800 XL 512MB PCI-E gets the Original Design award (July).








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)





We express our thanks to
ATI-Russia
as well as to
Sapphire-Russia
for the provided video cards.



Andrey Vorobiev (anvakams@ixbt.com)

2005


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