Final Words

With the introduction of ATI Crossfire, everyone found that Crossfire X850 is roughly equivalent in graphics performance to two NVIDIA 6800 Ultra cards in SLI mode. Of course, the NVIDIA 7800GTX is a more recent card that performs better than any current ATI video card. That conclusion will likely be tested again within the next two weeks when ATI X1800 is introduced to compete with the 7800GTX and the resulting new rounds of ATI X1800 testing.  All of this is much as expected. However, the focus on Crossfire should not detract from the fact that ATI has arguably produced the best AMD enthusiast board that we have ever seen.

The ATI Crossfire AMD has every option a serious overclocker could wish for. This extends from CPU voltages that will even excite water cooling and phase-change enthusiasts, to memory voltages that will give an overclock voltage reserve to the most demanding OCZ VX and Mushkin Redline memory. In between are voltage adjustments for the chipset, HT Link, PCIe 1.2, and PCIe 1.8. Add a CPU clock frequency adjustment range of 200 to 500, PCIe from 100 to 200, a slew of memory settings from DDR200 to DDR500, and every memory tweak known to exist and you have an incredibly serious board for the overclocker and computer hobbyist.

The only real problem with this kind of board is that it sometimes is confusing and intimidating for those who don't eat, sleep, and breathe computers.  Boards that can be tweaked to squeeze the most out of every kind of memory and every AMD CPU can be a beast for the uninitiated to control. ATI even thought of them with an "Auto Overclock" feature that allows the intimidated or frustrated to dial in an overclock %, up to 15%, and have the board handle all the details. Purists will scoff at this feature, but it wasn't designed for them anyway; it works quite well, and it allows new enthusiasts a cushion for the learning curve.

Of course, every adjustment option that you can think of would still be meaningless if they didn't deliver on performance, and the ATI Crossfire does this in spades. The ATI Crossfire AMD chipset reached the highest stock multiplier overclock ever with our standard 4000+ CPU, at 23%. It was also close to the highest clock frequency overclock at 1:1 memory that we have ever achieved at a 315 (DDR630) setting. While we have not concentrated on the quality of the components in this review, those in the know will be pleased with the 6-layer construction, components, design, and execution that allowed these incredible results. The ATI Crossfire AMD was designed for rock solid overclocking and long-term stability at extraordinary performance levels. That shows in performance, stability, and temperature control.

The ATI Crossfire AMD is not the perfect enthusiast board, but it is very close. We are frankly disappointed in the mediocre USB performance. ATI tells us that will be corrected with SB600 in about 6 months, but the correction will likely come much sooner with the ULi M1675 Southbridge that features decent USB and full SATA2 support. There is, however, little else to complain about from a performance standpoint. IDE, SATA, and Ethernet performance are exemplary, and some of the Reference Boards in the ATI series even came with integrated graphics just to prove that you don't have to compromise board performance just to have an integrated graphics option. The boards even pioneer Azalia High-Definition audio to AMD users with very low CPU utilization with the HD audio codecs.

In the end, the ATI Crossfire AMD is without a doubt the best enthusiast-oriented Reference Board that we have ever seen - with performance to match. Unfortunately, that does not mean that the retail boards that you will see with this chipset will be similarly endowed. Our advice to manufacturers is that this is one Reference Board worth copying. A manufacturer who faithfully copies this Reference Board and delivers the same performance as the Reference Board will have a winner on their hands.

Some manufacturers like DFI have committed to deliver a board as good or better than the ATI Crossfire AMD Reference. Others like Abit, Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, ECS, and Jetway will likely deliver exciting ATI Crossfire boards loaded with enthusiast features that may well match the ATI Crossfire AMD Reference performance.

In case the message is not crystal clear, it doesn't matter whether you want ATI Crossfire or not when you are considering buying an ATI chipset motherboard. Crossfire is slated for mainstream pricing, so it is definitely worthwhile to consider an ATI Crossfire AMD motherboard to drive your nVidia 7800GTX or 6800 Ultra or ATI X850 or the upcoming ATI X1800. They will all perform very well with any Athlon 64 processor on the ATI Crossfire AMD motherboard.

Yes, ATI Crossfire AMD is the first ATI motherboard to support dual-GPU graphics. However, the most important feature is the enthusiast level board supporting that option. NVIDIA captured the AMD market by catering to the AMD Enthusiast. The ATI Crossfire AMD is the first serious challenge to NVIDIA's dominance with the AMD Enthusiast. The bang may be late, but the message is clear - ATI is definitely for real in the AMD chipset market. In fact, they are clearing aiming for "Best-in-Class".

Audio Performance
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  • n00b1e - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Great article, but how about benchmarking real apps on the overclocked settings and comparing the result to the non-overclocked ones instead of just comparing the highest attainable memory/bus speed overclocks? Reply
  • Quanticles - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Another bought review...

    "The ATI Crossfire AMD has every option a serious overclocker could wish for."

    How about the option to use a CRT? I like to use 1600x1200 at 85 Hz.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    A 7800GTX or X1800 can easily do 1600x1200 at 85 Hz - and probably outperform X850XT Crossfire. It's all a matter of perspective.

    In addition, Derek has already said the next gen (X1800), due out in less than 2 weeks, does not have this limitation in Crossfire mode. That's why he did not recommend Crossfire X850/X800 and said to wait a short while. THAT Crossfire solution will also work on this board.
    Reply
  • ChronoReverse - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Red Herring. We're talking about the motherboard and how wellit can overclock the cpu). The graphics card is irrelevant (and the limitation on the xfire cards themselves not the motherboard). Reply
  • Myrandex - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    2nd page:
    The various ATI Radeon Xpress 200 north bridges can also be combined with ULi south bridges. The current ULi 1573 provides all the features of the ATI BS450 except integrated Gigabit Ethernet.

    should be SB450
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    I have spoken witrh ATI and several mfgs this morning to update board availability. Between today and the 2nd week of October we should see RETAIL Crossfire motherboards appear from DFI, Gigabyte, ECS, MSI, Asus and a few others. RETAIL availability means you will be able to buy them at New Egg or other e'tailers at that time.

    X850XT Master Cards are expected to be for sale RETAIL tomorrow, September 28th, with X800 Master Cards several weeks away.

    I have a Gigabyte Crossfire AMD in my hands as I write this. It is the release Vewrsion 1.0 board and I received the release BIOS this morning.
    Reply
  • eastvillager - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    "yeah, we know our usb performance sucks on SB400, we're fixing it in SB450"

    "Yeah, we know our usb performance sucks on SB450, we're fixing it in SB600"

    prediction:

    "Yeah, we still don't have USB 2.0 working properly on SB600, wait till SB700, when USB 3.0 comes out and we'll be ok."

    Kind of hard to understand how they can do just about everything else on the mobo correctly, but continually screw up USB 2.0. USB 2.0 is a commodity at this point, it is just suppose to work, with no worries, etc.

    I use USB 2.0 on a daily basis, it really isn't an area I'm willing to slack on.
    Reply
  • Leper Messiah - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Hm. I'm getting a new mobo soon (as in the next 2 weeks). Is this a paper launch, or will we see single slot solutions out there soon? nVidia has set a precedent with the instant availiblity and massive volume (relatively, I mean they're selling below MSRP for a reason) of their 7800 series. It could be more damaging than delaying the R520 if they don't have it and this mobo out STAT.


    Would be kinda funny though...for years I've run nVidia chipsets and ATi graphics. Looks like it might get reversed...
    Reply
  • allnighter - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Agreed. Not that I'm referring to AT's conclusions being questionable in any way, shape or manner, I know they say what they see, but it's pretty much obvious that ever manufacturer/vendor simply handpicks any given piece of hardware that is sent to AT for review, since they all know that AT is pretty much the most trusted site. Although I appreciate early previews we get here, I'm a much bigger fan of reviews of retail products. That's about what you'll be able to buy, right away or in just a couple of weeks. Many of these reference pieces are on steroids and simply never materialize in real world performance.
    Other than that - a very good write up, as usuall.
    Reply
  • TehSloth - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Well mates, this sure does look nifty, but remember what happened to the RS480, which also received Anand's accolades as the best overclocking reference board ever, they couldn't release it right. The Gigabyte board that they talk about in the article was never actually released, and I have a long chain of correspondence with them as it got pushed back more and more. MSI, ECS, and Jetway were the only manufacturers that delivered, and they disabled all the OCing options. Psshhhah! Reply

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