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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  • ShadowVlican - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    well i hope i can buy the Xpress200.... ATi ain't real until i can buy their motherboards readily everywhere i go (like nVidia's NF4) Reply
  • Beenthere - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    It's no secret ATI has the ability to produce equal or better chipsets and GPUs than Nvidia - they have done this before. What ATI needs to do is get their sh*t together on the details and CUSTOMER SERVICE - Yeah, they've heard of it but evidently they don't know the MEANING OF IT ! Nvidia ain't much better, but ATI's so called Customer Support is a bad joke. Delivering what you promise is a VERY IMPORTANT CONSIDERATION when you are charging the enthusists market segment El PREMO PRICES for your hardware and you had better DELIVER THE GOODS. ATI has failed miserably and Nvidia ain't far behind despite the fact both companies have reaped fortunes from the consumer enthusiast market. Until both companies improve their CUSTOMER SUPPORT neither are getting any of our corporate dollars. Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Okay so the first good vendor (Asus or similar) to come out with a passively-cooled northbridge, the ALC-880"D" audio chip, a Southbridge with better USB performance, and the rest (it can even be a single GPU board so it's under or around $100 in price) gets my money. =P Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Okay that wasn't supposed to reply to your post. Interesting. Reply
  • Live - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Does ATI crossfire support NCQ hard drives or not? Have I understood it correctly in that it is not supported trough the 4 SATA ports from the Southbridge but you can get support from the 2 ports from the included Sil controller?

    I have read the http://www.anandtech.com/storage/showdoc.aspx?i=24...">What's in a name? SATA II Misconceptions
    But I still fail to get the facts straight. Does a SATA 2 controller, either from a SB or separate like the Sli, support all of the capabilities in the SATA 2 specs as long as the hard drive does so?

    Since I plan on going dual core next, no NCQ seems like a deal breaker to me.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    The SB450 Southbridge does not support NCQ. The ULi M1573, used on the retail Gigabyte Crossfire AMD and some upcoming retail boards, DOES support NCQ. The Silicon Image 3132 on the ATI Reference Board supports both NCQ and 3Gb SATA2 on the extra SATA ports.

    The just introduced ULi M1575 Southbridge, which can be used with the ATI Crossfire Northbridge (as soon as it hits the market) supports 3Gb SATA2, NCQ, PCIe Gigabit Ethernet, Azalia HD audio, and features competitive USB throughput. The ATI SB600 will also implement all these features.
    Reply
  • etriky - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Anyone have some links to shed some light on this quote.

    "There is a lot of discussion on the web these days claiming that you can minimize the impact of the 2T setting with certain options on Revision E AMD processors."

    I've done some searches and come up with nothing.

    Thanks.
    Reply
  • bigtoe36 - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    forcing a burst length of 8 and forcing burst2opt can bring back some of the lost performance going to 2T, both these features are on the crossfire reference board.

    Also, i mamaged to talk DFI into making a direct copy of the ATI reference that will run reference bios files, we should see this board in October. This board will be released along side the board already designed by Oskar...so you will have the choice of 2 CF boards from DFI.
    Reply
  • Palek - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    On page 1, 2nd paragraph the article says:
    "AMD had done a particularly excellent job targeting the enthusiast for the new chipset launch, but that realization seemed to come late in the chipset development process."
    I suspect that AMD should be ATI.
    On page 3, 1st paragraph:
    "AMD Crossfire" first, then "Crossfire AMD" later. "ATI Crossfire" or "ATI Crossfire AMD" may be less confusing.
    Also on page 3, in last paragraph "AMD Reference Board" is used twice, but the board is referred to earlier on in the article as the "ATI Crossfire AMD Reference Board". "AMD Reference Board" makes it sound like AMD made it.

    Question:
    How hot did the northbridge get during various phases of your testing? I think a lot of users would appreciate some info regarding operational temperatures. If the ATI chipset turns out to run a lot cooler than nForce4 chipsets, I will gladly forgive the USB speed problems and go with an easier to cool motherboard.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Corrected.

    See other comments for NB heat and cooling. My subjective observation is the ATI Northbridge is cooler during heavy OC than the nF4 under the same conditions. However, many of you push boards a lot further than I do so you can take that with a grain of salt. ATI designed this board for the enthusiast and extrene overclocking and temperature under stress was a definite design consideration.
    Reply

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