The New ATI Lineup

All told, ATI is launching 5 new products based on two new cores this fall: 3 cards in a new 2 slot line dubbed X850 (based on R480), and 2 cards rounding out the lower end of the X800 line (built on the R430 core). Upon seeing the full list of new cards offered, we were very interested to see just how the performance numbers would fall out. From the MSRPs ATI gave us, the targets are quite apparent. Here's a quick rundown of exactly what we're looking at.

ATI R480/R430 Product Lineup
Radeon X850 XT PE
Radeon X850 XT
Radeon X850 Pro*
Radeon X800 XL
Radeon X800
*Radeon X850 Pro clock speeds are not yet final

This time around, ATI thinks we are ready for a new ultra high end price point. The inclusion of the X850 XT Platinum Edition at $549 is a real product this time around, as opposed to the previous X800 XT PE as a kind of ATI sanctioned overclocked version of the X800 XT.

With the extra 20MHz over the X800 XT PE core, and the effective memory clock boost of 60MHz, the new X850 XT PE will put in a top showing across the board. Actually being available this time around means that we have a significantly faster card available to anyone who wants it. If we consider the former top of the line to be the more available X800 XT (with 500/1GHz clocks), then we are looking at maximum theoretical performance gains of 8% (40MHz core clock increase) for processing intensive games. Of course, the increase in memory clock will help push that ceiling up in some cases (especially when we start looking at bandwidth intensive high resolutions with AA and AF enabled).

Currently the X850 XT PE doesn't have any formal competition from NVIDIA in the form of a sanctioned part. It may have been possible to find a 6800 Ultra Extreme on the market if one looked hard enough and had the money to spend, but at this point the top of the line NVIDIA product we can put up against the ATI's line will be the 6800 Ultra. That may change if NVIDIA decides to bring out something new, but we still haven't heard what they have in store for us. Only time will tell, but for now we can expect the X850 XT PE to perform (and cost) head and shoulders above anything NVIDIA has on the table.

In terms of power consumption the X850 XT PE breaks new records for single card power consumption as it drew more power than its predecessor as well as NVIDIA's GeForce 6800 Ultra:

Peak System Power Consumption

The X850 XT looks to be almost the same product the X800 XT PE was. The only difference is a slight drop in memory clock (an effective 40MHz). We can expect roughly the same performance we saw from the older, impossible to find, part. We never saw anything but an AGP version of the X800 XT PE in our labs. In any case, the tiny difference in memory clock isn't going to make much of a difference in the performance of this new part and the older one, and probably just adds a tiny bit of headroom. ATI is hinting at the fact that they may have a new version of their overdrive software (with a little more user control) coming down the pipe. Maybe even this part, with its huge cooling solution and PCI Express power, will have a little room to fly. We'll have to wait until we get a shipping card in our labs to determine that though. From the NVIDIA side, the GeForce 6800 Ultra is the current competitor to the X850 XT, and we will be putting this part to the test in our benchmarks to see how it stacks up.

The X850 Pro looks to be a filler part. The difference between the XT and the Pro will be the 12 pixel pipelines, and the fact that the Pro will come in a DVI + analog configuration rather than the dual DVI setup of the two higher end models. The current X800 Pro has its clocks set at 475/900. The new X850 Pro will bump the performance of this up a bit (as well as add about $100 to what current X800 Pros are going for). The NVIDIA GeForce 6800 GT could  have some heavy competition from this part if ATI got some performance out of it, but the older X800 Pro wasn't always able to keep up with the 6800 GT either. This higher clocked part just might have what it takes if ATI can put a little more power into it before it's clock speeds are officially set in stone. But that's one of the things we'll have to wait to find out.

The new X800 cards won't be available until January, and we don't have any actual samples in our labs yet. ATI only sent their flagship X850 XT Platinum Edition out to reviewers, but since all of the X850 and X800 cards use clock variations on shipping GPUs we could look at the performance of all of ATI's launches today using other cards clocked to lower (or sometimes higher) speeds.

The X800 XL and X800 cards are supposed to fall within the current X800 line in performance. ATI lists the X800 between the X800 SE and X800 Pro, and the X800 XL just above the X800 Pro. Unfortunately, we haven't located any 12-pipe NVIDIA GeForce 6800 PCI Express solutions, so we can't round out the comparisons on the low end as much as we'd like.

The X800 XL will be a cheap way to get the benefits of 16 pixel pipe parallelism, even if overall bandwidth is reduced by core clock speed. This makes it more appealing than some slightly higher clocked 12-pipe cards in many ways. There is some trade off though: since all the X800 series cards have 6 vertex pipelines, higher clock speed does directly translate to better geometry performance. This will be a fun part to watch in the benchmarks.

At the lower end today, we have the X800. This is just a 12 pixel pipe part with lower core and memory clocks than the current X800 Pro. This should leave us with very similar performance characteristics to the current X800 Pro, just at what ATI is calling a $250 price point. We haven't seen the 8 pipe X800 SE selling at that price on the AGP side. With the X700 line pushing up against 250 from below, this could be very good for the midrange consumer.

Index Lightning Fast, and CPU Bound
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  • WSquared - Wednesday, December 1, 2004 - link

    The article says: "Unfortunately, we haven't located any 12-pipe NVIDIA GeForce 6800 PCI Express solutions...

    There's one in the UK here:
    Look for the "OcUK GeForce 6800 GTo 256MB"
    It's a strange 12 pipe card clocked at 350/900. I'm sure it could be down-clocked if required for benchmarks.
  • archcommus87 - Wednesday, December 1, 2004 - link

    Yeah, if frickin' nForce 4 boards with PCI-E would finally come out...

    Man it's taking so long.
  • Avalon - Wednesday, December 1, 2004 - link

    Keep an eye on the x800 XL. That's the interesting card of the bunch. At a $349 suggested MSRP (you know we'll shortly see deals for $300 for the card), this is a great card. It outperforms the x800 and x850 pro, costs less, and runs on a 16 pipeline architecture. If it has room to overclock, some noticeable performance gains should be there. It sounds like an awesome alternative to the 6800GT for those that are $50 short.
  • skunkbuster - Wednesday, December 1, 2004 - link

    why can't ati makde -decent- openGL drivers? they ~still~ suck when it comes to open gl games/software

  • MadAd - Wednesday, December 1, 2004 - link

    Anand, will you or someone at AT sometime soon please either include 1920x1200 in normal reviews, or, could you do a one off set of benchmarks with all the dx9 cards at your disposal, at 1920x1200 please?
  • LoneWolf15 - Wednesday, December 1, 2004 - link

    #6, the Video Processing Unit is for encode AND decode. This is well documented. From NVidia's website:

    "Adaptable Programmable Video Processor

    Video Decoding
    A key element of modern-day video processing, MPEG-2 is the basis for such functions as DVD playback. Through advanced technology functions such as motion compensation and inverse discrete cosine transformation (IDCT), the GeForce 6 Series GPUs handle MPEG-2 decoding very efficiently, offloading the CPU of the heavy lifting involved in video playback. The result is smooth, high-quality video and reduced power usage.

    Another important factor is that the GeForce 6 Series GPUs are completely programmable and can handle formats such as WMV9 and MPEG-4. The NVIDIA motion compensation engine can provide decompression acceleration for a variety of video formats including WMV9, MPEG-4, H.264, and DiVX. As with motion compensation for MPEG-2, the NVIDIA video engine can perform most of the computation-intensive work, leaving the easiest work to the CPU.

    Video Encoding
    The GeForce 6 Series GPUs are also capable of hardware video encode acceleration. Traditionally, video encoding is a difficult and time consuming process. The GeForce 6 Series GPUs include a motion estimation engine. Using state-of-the-art technologies, the motion estimation engine delivers higher-quality video at the same or lower bit rate, as well as lower CPU utilization for improved system performance."
  • Momental - Wednesday, December 1, 2004 - link

    Part of me sees this as a brilliant marketing and test strategy for ATi. Yup. The availability of their high-end cards have been all but non-existent and who's to say this wasn't intentional? Maybe they wanted to throw out some product to see how well it sold and in which flavor (AGP or PCI-e)?

    Now they know and this is why we'll have no problem getting our hands on these "refreshed" cards in the next 6 to 10 weeks, if not sooner.

    I'm suggesting that they merely offered cards like the X800XT PE as a "test drive" to see how well it performed and how quickly it left shelves. My hope is that they don't cripple the X800XL card, which looks to be the "sweet spot" here, because they know it performs better and costs less than the X850Pro!!

    In a short while, we'll all see how their new naming convention makes perfect sense as they cull out the "older" cards and make the newer refreshed ones their "top shelf" vodkas. ;)
  • Noli - Wednesday, December 1, 2004 - link

    The X800 XL gives you 16 pipes for $350 on a 0.11 micron chip. With such a small fan (must be cool?) and low core/mem, *if* it overclocks well it could be a blinder and out-do 6800GT for value just below the top of the range cards. I'll be keen to see how it does. Big if though for the moment...
  • archcommus87 - Wednesday, December 1, 2004 - link

    I couldn't agree more about naming the products! How can they make something so simple so difficult? Maybe someone more in touch with them like Anand themselves could give them a piece of their mind.

    Here's how it should be done. Each new type of card can be a new hundreds series, i.e. 100s, 200s, 300s, etc. Then the specific products can be within there. For example, low end 110, middle 150, high 190. And then if they marginally increase the clocks of the best card, make it the 195. Simple!

    And I couldn't agree more on prices, too. I remember when the top of the line was $300 (never remember it being less than that). Now if you want the best you're talking almost $600. And for the best CPU? Over $1,000. Absurd. I'd never more than:

    $200 for a CPU
    $150 for a motherboard
    $300, MAYBE $350 for a video card
    $150-$200 for memory
    $150 for hard drive
  • bigpow - Wednesday, December 1, 2004 - link

    I'd like to see the 6800 in the comparison

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