by Alexey Stepin
03/29/2005 | 09:39 AM
10 months have already passed since the official launch of the RADEON X800 graphics processor. There haven’t appeared any new graphics architectures since then, however they released quite a few new modifications of the RADEON X800 based on R430 and R480 for the performance-mainstream and high-end markets.
Tul Corp. didn’t stay aside the new graphics accelerators announcements. So today we would like to introduce to you two new solutions currently selling under PowerColor brand name.
Just a few days ago we published a review of the RADEON X800 XL, a graphics card based on ATI’s new R430 graphics processor. Compact, quiet, cool and rather inexpensive, the newcomer proved to be quite fast in our tests.
The appealing price/performance ratio will surely make the RADEON X800 XL popular in the market. Today we will discuss an off-the-shelf R430-based product, the PowerColor X800 XL, which has certain specific traits that distinguish it from other versions of the RADEON X800 XL. Besides the X800 XL model, people at PowerColor were kind to offer us their PowerColor X850 XT graphics card that belongs to a higher product class. We’ll cover it in this review, too.
We received the device in its retail package, with an accompanying leaflet with a detailed list of the product’s technical characteristics. The design of the package has remained the same since the PowerColor X700 PRO and PowerColor X600 XT – the only things different are the central picture and the color of the insertions to the left and right of it. Inside the external colorful package made of thin cardboard there is a more robust, smaller box. Its contents are:
The video-editing tools included into the software bundle should come in handy as this graphics card is equipped with a Rage Theater chip and supports the video-input/output functionality. The two adapters for attaching analog monitors don’t look superfluous, either, because the PowerColor X800 XL, unlike the reference card, has two DVI-I outputs. The accessories are quite sufficient for a product of this category. The user manual is comprehensible enough, but it doesn’t describe the installation procedure.
What’s the main difference between the PowerColor X800 XL and the classical ATI RADEON X800 XL is the additional power connector installed on the former card. We don’t actually know why they have decided to put it here – graphics cards on the ATI R430 chip are doing quite well without additional powering, being quite satisfied with those 75 watts of juice they can receive through the PCI Express slot.
The snapshots show that this device uses the reference PCB design. But unlike many other implementations of the RADEON X800 XL, PowerColor’s card carries two DVI-I connectors, an ATI Rage Theater chip implementing video-In and video-Out functions (VIVO), and a six-pin power connector, typical for high-powered graphics cards with the PCI Express interface. The queer-looking cooling system deserves a closer inspection – the huge aluminum heatsink covers almost the entire surface of the card.
The concept of this system is similar to the standard cooler of the GeForce 6800 GT: a fan with vertical blades is sucking air in through the opening in the casing and is running it then through the grid of thin ribs. However, the ribs here are not a single entity with the sole, but are glued to the sole with thermal glue. This heatsink should thus have a lower efficiency due to the relatively high thermal resistance where the ribs are fastened to the sole, but this is hardly important considering the low heat dissipation of the R430 chip. The graphics core on the hotter GeForce 6800 GT graphics card is cooled with an all-aluminum heatsink, by the way.
The cooler’s sole touches the memory chips as well as the GPU, but there’s no thermal interface between the memory and the heatsink. Putty-colored thick thermal paste is only applied to the spot where there’s contact with the graphics core. The memory chips on the back side of the PCB are not cooled at all.
The ADDA fan has a diameter of 50 millimeters and feeds on 0.35amp current. Considering the voltage of 12V, this can hardly be quiet. The whole design of this cooler is dubious, but we’ll talk about it shortly.
The frequencies of the PowerColor X800 XL are standard: 400MHz GPU and 490 (980DDR) MHz graphics memory.
Alas, our apprehensions about the noise parameters of the cooler employed by PowerColor were not misplaced: having installed the card into the system and turned it on, we heard something not unlike the noise from a household vacuum-cleaner. The most terrible thing, the PowerColor X800 XL doesn’t behave like the RADEON X850 XT which slows its fan down a few seconds after the start but keeps the fan speed constant irrespective of the load or video mode. It makes your being near the computer quite an uncomfortable experience. Searching in our memories we could only recall one, even louder, cooler – the one they used to install on the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra! We don’t think the manufacturer did mean such a loud noise – some error in the graphics card’s BIOS must have been the reason for the non-operational control over the fan speed. We didn’t find a BIOS update on the PowerColor website, though. They will probably release it soon.
Like with the reference RADEON X800 XL, overclocking is not rewarding. The graphics processor is only stable at 435MHz at best. That’s the trade-off for the 0.11-micron tech process without low-k dielectrics. The memory did better in our overclocking tests; it worked at 1160MHz, which is an achievement for 2.0ns chips.
The quality of the image the graphics card produced in 2D applications was excellent in all resolutions supported by our monitor.
As we said above, we got a sample of the top-end model, the PowerColor X850 XT, along with the PowerColor X800 XL. We invite you to learn more about this card.
It is the package that contributes the most to the initial impression from a product. The box of the PowerColor X850 XT doesn’t seem to differ from the packages of other products from this manufacturer: a picture in the center with color inserts on the sides, and the same carbon-fiber-like texture.
On a closer inspection you can see some differences: the box is made of thicker cardboard than usual. Then, there’s a window in its center through which you can see a paper insertion with a picture inside the other, smaller box, made of transparent plastic. We liked this type of packaging much more – the plastic box protects the device better during transportation.
The box opens up easily. Extracting the paper insert with the picture, we found a kind of tray the card was resting on, in its antistatic bag. Various accessories were lying at the sides. Here’s a list of what was in the package:
As you see, we’ve got the same accessories here as with the PowerColor X800 XL, except the different game. Pacific Fighters is an advanced flight simulator from the creators of the legendary IL-2 Sturmovik: Aces in the Sky game we use as one of our benchmarks. That’s a real treat for the buyers of the PowerColor X850 XT. As for the user manual, it is standard and is the same as you would have got with the PowerColor X800 XL.
The PowerColor X850 XT doesn’t differ from the reference ATI RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition (for more details about this solution read our article called ATI RADEON X850 Platinum Edition: Good Things Go Better); we’ve got the same PCB and dual-slot cooling system here.
The only difference is that there’s a colorful sticker on the casing of the heatsink. Otherwise, the cards are fully identical. The dual-slot cooler from ATI Technologies promises high cooling efficiency at a relatively low noise, while the Rage Theater chip gives you the opportunity to input and output video signal, capturing it and editing it with the enclosed video-processing tools.
Like the original ATI RADEON X800 XT Platinum Edition, the PowerColor X850 XT carries 1.6ns memory from Samsung. It means the memory is capable to work at 600 (1200DDR) MHz), but it is actually clocked at 540 (1080DDR) MHz frequency which is the standard for the RADEON X850 XT. The graphics processor works at 520MHz, which is standard, too. Let’s try to overclock the PowerColor X850 XT to the frequencies of the Platinum Edition? It looks like nothing could prevent us from actually doing it.
Using the standard cooler, the PowerColor card is as loud as the reference RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition. The fan works at its full speed the first few seconds after you start up the computer, reminding the notorious GeForce FX 5800 Ultra. But about five seconds after the start, the card reduces the speed of the fan – the noise doesn’t vanish completely, but becomes much quieter. The graphics card never increased the speed of its fan back to the full during our tests, so the PowerColor X850 XT remained practically inaudible against the noise from other system components.
As for overclocking, we did manage to speed this card up to the level of the RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition and even higher: the maximum stable frequencies of the PowerColor card were 560MHz GPU and 630 (1260DDR) MHz memory. At higher frequencies the card would produce various visual artifacts in 3DMark03.
We can say nothing bad about the quality of the 2D image produced by the card – it was crystal-sharp in all resolutions up to 1800x1440@75Hz. Unfortunately, our test monitors don’t support higher resolutions at pretty high refresh rate. Then, this graphics card is equipped with two DVI-I outputs and is thus intended to work with two LCD displays attached via the digital interface in which case there’s no such problem as 2D quality at all. We think there’s a high probability that the purchaser of such an expensive graphics card also owns or is going to buy soon a high-quality LCD monitor with a diagonal of 17” or 19”. The next section of this review is all about the speed characteristics of the two graphics cards from PowerColor.
We performed our tests on a testbed configured like follows:
Since there is no PCI Express version of the GeForce 6800 in the market, we tested it on another testbed configured as follows (the results on the graphs and in the tables are marked with *):
For the comparison’s sake we included the following cards into this review:
PCI Express hardware:
The Catalyst A.I. option was set to “Standard”, and the Mipmap Detail Level option to “Quality”. We enabled the ForceWare optimizations save for the Anisotropic mip filter optimization, using the Quality mode. We disabled VSync in the drivers for all the participating cards.
We turned on full-screen anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering from the game’s own menu. Otherwise we forced the necessary mode from the driver. The maximum graphics quality settings were selected in each game, the same for graphics cards on ATI’s and NVIDIA’s GPUs. We used the GeForce 6600 GT SLI configuration in the Multi-GPU Rendering mode which enables the multi-GPU mode in games for which this mode is not officially supported by ForceWare.
First-Person 3D Shooters:
Third Person 3D Shooters:
Our tests have proved it repeatedly that Doom III runs best on graphics cards with NVIDIAGeForce 6 GPUs due to ideal OpenGL driver and special technologies for fast drawing of Z/Stencil shadows. The same was once again proven today: the overclocked PowerColor X850 XT managed to reach just the level of the far more widely spread GeForce 6800. The faster NVIDIA GeForce 6800 graphics cards are unrivalled by their competitors based on RADEON from ATI Technologies in this game.
There’s a different situation with enabled anisotropic filtering and full-screen anti-aliasing: the GeForce 6800 and GeForce 6600 GT SLI are losing their ground (the latter is greatly impeded by the small amount of graphics memory) due to the much higher load on the graphics subsystem, and the cards from PowerColor look much better than they did in the “pure speed” mode. For example, the PowerColor X850 XT is no worse than the GeForce 6600 GT SLI and, at the increased frequencies, almost overtakes the GeForce 6800 GT. The PowerColor X800 XL is quite successfully competing with the GeForce 6800.
In this deathmatch scene the limiting influence of the central processor is less noticeable than in single player mode, so both graphics cards from PowerColor produce playable frame rates in all the resolutions. But again, cards on NVIDIA GeForce 6 chips are still maintaining the lead.
When the “eye candy” mode is activated, graphics cards on GPUs from ATI Technologies almost match their NVIDIA counterparts. The PowerColor X800 XL looks good against the 6800, while the overclocked PowerColor X850 XT is as fast as the NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra.
Due to an annoying problem with NVIDIA’s driver, the peak performance of all NV4x-based cards with the PCI Express interface is much lower than the peak performance of ATI’s GPUs. So, it wouldn’t be correct to make comparisons here.
The same goes for the “eye candy” mode. Note also that the cards on ATI GPUs have a frame rate of about 80fps, and it’s only in 1600x1200 that the PowerColor X800 XL falls behind the senior model.
The aforementioned problem with NVIDIA’s PCI Express cards persists on the Metallurgy map, too. The PowerColor X850 XT delivers the performance of ATI’s topmost offering. The PowerColor X800 XL has a fine speed here, too, but is about 10% slower than the more expensive card because of the much lower frequency of the graphics core and memory.
The overclocked PowerColor X850 XT equals the X850 XT Platinum Edition in this test.
This game can make a good use of the shadows-rendering-oriented peculiarities of NVIDIA GeForce graphics architecture, and GeForce 6 graphics cards run it at excellent speed. The devices based on ATI’s chips, on the contrary, halt at the barrier of 52 frames per second. The overclocked PowerColor X850 XT can almost catch up with the GeForce 6800 GT in the highest resolution, which can hardly be called a remarkable achievement.
We enable full-screen anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering to see how the PowerColor duo is trying to bridge the gap towards the NVIDIA cards. Nevertheless, the performance of the overclocked PowerColor X850 XT is similar to that of the GeForce 6800 GT in high resolutions, and the results shown by GeForce 6800 Ultra in higher resolutions are definitely a way beyond what ATI RADEON can offer.
The pair of PowerColor cards is unrivalled by NVIDIA’s hardware in Far Cry. There are too many complex, math1ematics-heavy pixel shaders here that the architecture of ATI’s chips is so effective with.
When we enable full-screen anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering, the PowerColor X800 XL finds itself capable of challenging the much more expensive GeForce 6800 Ultra which is its turn cannot achieve the bar set by the PowerColor X850 XT.
The game runs smoothly on the PowerColor cards: the performance of the PowerColor X800 XL is on the same level with the topmost device from NVIDIA in all resolutions. The overclocked PowerColor X850 XT is an unrivalled leader here.
The “eye candy” mode brings no changes. The PowerColor X850 XT is confidently on top, while the PowerColor X800 XL with its lower operational frequencies is no worse than the GeForce 6800 Ultra.
Both PowerColor cards reached the maximum possible result of 140fps in all resolutions having left competitors behind.
It’s almost the same in the “eye candy” mode. The PowerColor X850 XT is still among the leaders, while the PowerColor X800 XL falls back somewhat, but anyway has half again as much speed as the GeForce 6800 Ultra has.
The problem with NVIDIA’s PCI Express hardware shows up in Half-Life 2, too. In 1600x1200, however, we can see that the PowerColor X800 XL has almost the same frame rate as the much more expensive GeForce 6800 Ultra.
Our turning on full-screen anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering doesn’t change the situation in this test. There’s water on this map, and ATI’s cards are better at drawing water in this game.
The d3_c17_12 map once again proves that this game is ATI’s domain: all cards with ATI’s GPUs have excellent speeds here, outperforming considerably even the fastest representatives of the NVIDIA camp. It’s only in 1600x1200 that the performance of the PowerColor X800 XL sinks to the level of the GeForce 6800 Ultra.
The PowerColor X850 XT leaves the GeForce 6800 Ultra behind in the “eye candy” mode, too. The PowerColor X800 XL also shows its best, once again outperforming the more expensive competitor from NVIDIA. Once again, you should keep in mind the above-mentioned problem with the performance of NVIDIA’s PCI Express graphics cards when analyzing the results of Half-Life 2.
The numerous visual effects of this game are created with pixel shaders, so it runs faster in the systems equipped with ATI RADEON X800-series based graphics cards. PowerColor X850 XT and X800 XL are both as fast as the GeForce 6800 Ultra and even outperform it!
High clock rates are what is important in Price of Persia, according to our previous tests and research. The PowerColor X850 XT is on top here whereas the PowerColor X800 XL delivers the performance of the GeForce 6800 GT.
IL-2 uses the OpenGL API and prefers NVIDIA GeForce based graphics cards. The PowerColor devices aren’t very sparkling in this test – the overclocked PowerColor X850 XT is only contending with the GeForce 6800 here.
It’s practically the same in the “eye candy” mode, but the GeForce 6800 slows down to the speed of the PowerColor X800 XL.
The PowerColor X850 XT and X800XL cards are again slower than NVIDIA’s ones (the GeForce 6600 GT SLI configuration refused to run this game).
When the anisotropic filtering and full-screen anti-aliasing are enabled in the “eye candy” mode, the performance of RADEON X8 and GeForce 68xx based solutions have got more or less the same, save for the GeForce 6800, which has fallen behind the rest of the cards because of its slow memory.
The graphics cards from PowerColor have excellent speeds in Colin McRae Rally 2005, because this auto simulator abounds in complex pixel shaders. Even at its default frequencies the PowerColor X800 XL easily outperforms the GeForce 6800 Ultra, not mentioning less powerful NVIDIA GeForce 6. As for the PowerColor X850 XT, its slightly faster than the RADEON X800 XT at the default frequencies and is a little ahead of the RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition at the overclocked frequencies.
The PowerColor cards on RADEON X800XL and X850 XT look even more advantageous in the “eye candy” mode thanks to their advanced memory controller and the technologies for an efficient use of the available memory bandwidth.
Like in many other real-time strategy games, the performance of top-end graphics cards in Dawn of War is limited by the central processor. At least, it’s true for the low resolutions. In 1600x1200, however, we can see that the PowerColor X800 XL has a better result than the GeForce 6800 Ultra, while the overclocked PowerColor X850 XT is the absolute champion, leaving even the RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition behind.
When we enabled FSAA and anisotropic filtering, NVIDIA’s cards suddenly made up for their earlier losses: the GeForce 6800 GT overtook the PowerColor X800 XL, and the GeForce 6800 Ultra did the same with the PowerColor X850 XT, save for 1600x1200 where these two top-end graphics cards equal each other.
The PowerColor X850 XT is slower than the GeForce 6800 Ultra at the default frequencies, but goes neck and neck with the GeForce 6800 GT. The PowerColor X800 XL easily leaves the GeForce 6800 behind due to its faster memory and 16 pixel pipelines.
In the “eye candy” mode the PowerColor X850 XT outperforms the GeForce 6800 GT at the increased frequencies, getting close to the GeForce 6800 Ultra. The PowerColor X800 XL easily beats the GeForce 6800 again.
This benchmark doesn’t suit for comparing the RADEON X850 XT against the NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra/GT because of the problems the PCI Express platform and NVIDIA 66.xx driver series have with each other. Meanwhile, the GeForce 6800 AGP works normally, but the PowerColor X800 XL is 360 points ahead of it.
Being a rather simple benchmark, without complex pixel shaders, Aquamark3 usually runs faster on NVIDIA’s cards equipped with NV4x processors, but we’ve got a different situation today: the PowerColor X850 XT outperforms the GeForce 6800 Ultra, while the PowerColor X800 XL is ahead of the GeForce 6800 GT. The gaps are negligible, though, from 2 to 4 frames per second. The exception is the SLI configuration of two GeForce 6600 GT which delivers the best performance in the “pure speed” mode.
The PowerColor X850 XT has a heftier advantage over the GeForce 6800 Ultra in the “eye candy” mode – up to 15% in high resolutions. The PowerColor X800 XL is 5-7% behind the senior model, but that’s enough to beat the GeForce 6800 Ultra.
The PowerColor X800 XL isn’t far behind the GeForce 6800 GT in the overall score. The gap between the GeForce 6800 Ultra and the PowerColor X850 XT is even smaller – only 140 points. Overclocking helps the latter to reach for the 13,000 points mark, but it’s the GeForce 6600 GT SLI configuration that’s capable of overcoming it.
PowerColor’s hardware is inferior to the GeForce 6800 GT and 6800 Ultra in the first test. It’s only at the increased frequencies that the PowerColor X800 XL can fight with the GeForce 6800 AGP.
The PowerColor cards feel much more confident with enabled full-screen anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering: the PowerColor X800 XL is on the same level with the GeForce 6800 GT, while the PowerColor X850 XT overtakes the GeForce 6800 Ultra.
The second test (and the third one, too) prefers graphics cards from NVIDIA: the PowerColor X800 XL is about 10% slower than the GeForce 6800 GT here. The PowerColor X850 XT is slightly slower than the GeForce 6800 Ultra, but its overclocked variant overtakes the GeForce 6600 GT SLI in 1600x1200 resolution.
The PowerColor X800 XL is slower than the NVIDIA GeForce 6800 GT in the “eye candy” mode, but the gap is diminishing in higher resolutions. The overclocked PowerColor X850 XT climbs on the very top in high resolutions, too.
The third test produced almost the same picture of performance as the second one: the PowerColor X800 XL is about 7-10% slower than the GeForce 6800 GT. The PowerColor X850 XT falls short of the result of the GeForce 6800 Ultra, but its overclocked version is again as fast as the GeForce 6600 GT SLI in 1600x1200.
Here, it’s like in the second test, but the PowerColor X850 XT looks better. It’s 5fps faster than the GeForce 6800 Ultra, the maximum frame rate being 27fps.
The fourth test is saturated with complex pixel shaders, and the PowerColor X800 XL and PowerColor X850 XT show their best in it. They are only inferior to the SLI configuration of two GeForce 6600 GT. The overclocked PowerColor X850 is, however, on top again.
The GeForce 6600 GT SLI feels the lack of graphics memory (one of the disadvantages of this multi-GPU technology is that the memory amount is not doubled), and the PowerColor X800 XL is faster than it as soon as 1280x1024 resolution. The new product from PowerColor is only slower than its senior mate, the PowerColor X850 XT, which is an unrivalled leader in this test, especially at the increased frequencies. On the whole, the results of the cards from PowerColor in 3DMark03 seem to be correct, as three tests out of four 3DMark03 tests run better on graphics cards of the NV4x architecture.
The new 3DMark is better balanced than the older one – it uses the capabilities of DirectX 9.0c more widely, including Shader Model 2.0b and 3.0. The PowerColor X800 XL scores more than 5,000 points here which is an impressive performance for a $299 solution. The PowerColor X850 XT shows itself a tremendous fighter, too. When overclocked, it is the absolute winner of this test, with a remarkable result of 6,420 points.
The first test testifies to the quality of the new solution from ATI: the PowerColor X800 XL is successfully challenging the two GeForce 6600 GT united into a SLI configuration. The senior model from PowerColor has the best result, again.
The PowerColor cards show their best in the “eye candy” mode: none of NVIDIA’s cards can rival them in this test.
The second test is more favorable towards NVIDIA’s solutions, but the PowerColor X800 XL is no worse than the GeForce 6800 GT here. The GeForce 6600 GT SLI is still slower than the overclocked PowerColor X850 XT.
The highly efficient memory subsystem helps the PowerColor cards to take the top places in the “eye candy” mode of the second test.
The third test is the most difficult of all, focusing on extremely complex and long pixel shaders. The PowerColor X800 XL is no worse than the GeForce 6800 GT here, although the latter works in the Shader Model 3.0 mode. The two graphics processors clocked at 500MHz couldn’t help the GeForce 6600 GT SLI configuration to take the top place which is occupied by the overclocked PowerColor X850 XT.
The two PowerColors are at least no worse in the “eye candy” mode than the GeForce 6800 GT. That’s a nice result, considering that it comes at low noise and heat dissipation. 3DMark05 makes a wider use of the DirectX 9.0 functions. Particularly, it abounds in complex pixel shaders. That’s why PowerColor’s X800 XL and X850 XT show themselves as quite fast graphics cards in this test suite.
The two graphics cards from PowerColor this review is dedicated to differ between themselves of course, despite their coming from the same manufacturer. The PowerColor X800 XL delivers excellent performance in some games and can offer tough competition to the NVIDIA GeForce 6800 GT, but the strange cooling system installed by PowerColor spoiled the product too much. It is really too noisy. If it is not a defect – the card cannot control the speed of its fan – then we don’t know who’s going to buy such a loud graphics card. If this is really a defect, and if this defect is solved soon, the PowerColor X800 XL has a chance to become popular in its $300 category. The good points about this product are the rich accessories, VIVO functionality, and two DVI outputs (untypical for a RADEON X800 XL, by the way).
This graphics card will hardly suit to overclockers, since all R430-based cards have a poor overclockability due to the specifics of the manufacturing process employed. Even with the efficient and noisy cooler we couldn’t increase the GPU clock rate above 435MHz. That’s why the additional power connector looks unnecessary – the PowerColor X800 XL could have done quite well without it.
PowerColor X800 XL
The other tested graphics card from PowerColor, the PowerColor X850 XT, left a better impression due to its highest performance and quiet operation. The latter thing is achieved with the help of the new dual-slot cooling system developed at ATI Technologies.
This graphics card can be recommended to all people who want the best performance money can buy. Unlike the PowerColor X800 XL, the senior model is good at overclocking. When overclocked, it surpasses even the RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition and is the performance leader in an overwhelming majority of modern games, especially with enabled full-screen anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering. So, if you’ve got half a thousand US dollars and want to get the maximum possible performance and good overclocking opportunities for this money, you should certainly consider the PowerColor X850 XT.
PowerColor X850 XT