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ATI RADEON X800 XL: Closer Look

The card we received for our tests was an engineering sample, so there’s no talking about accessories: we’ve got a card in an antistatic bag. Here it is:


The PCB of this card is a perfect replica of the RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition (see our article called ATI RADEON X850 Platinum Edition: Good Things Go Better for details). You can count the differences in the design of these two cards by the fingers of one hand: the RADEON X800 XL has one D-Sub and one DVI-I output rather than two DVI-I connectors as the RADEON X850 XT PE has. Then, the X800 XL doesn’t have an additional power connector and a Rage Theater chip that provides the VIVO functionality. So, the use of 0.11-micron tech process made it possible for ATI to create a relatively inexpensive PCI Express card that doesn’t require external power and feeds only on the 75 watts catered by the PCI Express slot. We also see the same small and flat cooler here as on the RADEON X800 XT Platinum Edition – it was previously criticized for low efficiency (for more details see our article called ATI RADEON X800: R420 Totally Exposed).

Here, however, there’s no ground for criticism since this graphics card dissipates less heat than the RADEON X800 XT Platinum Edition, so this simple and compact cooling system should be quite sufficient. Moreover, unlike the cooler from the GeForce 6800 GT, ATI’s reference cooler is almost perfectly silent most of the time due to its low-speed 70mm fan. The memory chips are not cooled, though. Among top-end graphics cards from ATI it is only the RADEON X850 XT and XT Platinum Edition that cool their memory. The GDDR3 chips we see here come from Samsung and have an access time of 2.0 nanoseconds, i.e. they are rated for 500 (1000DDR) MHz frequency. This is exactly the frequency the memory of this card is actually clocked at.

The most interesting thing – the die of the ATI R430 graphics processor – is hidden under the cooler. We dismounted it to make the next snapshot:

The new core looks different from the older one: it’s smaller thanks to the thinner tech process and its total area has dwindled, and there has appeared the PCI Express logo on the chip. The surface of the die is mirror-like rather than matte as before. Judging by the marking, this sample of the R430 was made on the 46-th week (the middle of November) of the last year. In full accordance with its specification, the RADEON X800 XL GPU works at 400MHz frequency.

Noise, Overclocking, 2D Quality

Cooling systems ATI Technologies deploys on its products are deservedly considered among the quietest, although maybe not among the most efficient ones. The RADEON X800 XL comes with such a cooler, and it is really very quiet. In fact you could only hear a soft whisper of the fan during the first few seconds on turning the computer on. After that the fan would reduce its speed and increase it only when the GPU temperature was above some certain threshold value. Unfortunately, the fan on our sample of the card produced a quiet but quite audible clicking, quite untypical for reference coolers from ATI. We must have had a defective cooler, as we hadn’t heard this sound before with any of RADEON X800-based cards we’d tested in our labs.

The supposition about the low overclockability of the new core due to the lack of low-k technology came true as the GPU could only speed up to 445MHz. At 450MHz GPU, the image in 3DMark would be all artifacts. The maximum memory frequency was 550 (1100DDR) MHz – quite satisfactory for 2.0ns chips.

The quality of 2D image as outputted by this card was beyond criticism: like the overwhelming majority of modern graphics cards, the RADEON X800 XL produced a sharp picture in all resolutions, up to 1800x1440@75Hz.

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