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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  • stromgald - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Is it just me or is there a molex connector and small fan on the reference board . . . and what exactly are they for? It looks like the north and southbridge are under the silver ATI heatsink and the black heatsink with lots of fins. I'm not sure what's under the fan and what the molex connector would be for. Reply
  • stromgald - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Well, I suspect its for the crossfire graphics, but I'd like some confirmation. The passive heatsinks are good, but that itty bitty fan looks noisy. It suggests that whatever's under that fan gets hotter than either the north or south bridge, then again its just a refernece board. Reply
  • Palek - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Actually, the silver heatsink is more likely cooling MOSFETs/voltage regulators, while the black heatsink/fan combo is probably for the N/B and the passive black heatsink for the S/B. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    On the article board photo:

    The silver heatsink is cooling MOSFETs, the black with fan cools the Northbridge (the small fan is really very quiet), the short heatsink cools the southbridge. I also have another board with all passive heatsinks. On both boards the NB gets warm dutring extreme OC, but I did not experience any throttling or shutdown issues.

    The 4-pin Molex is to power the Crossfire PCIe x16 slots.
    Reply
  • michal1980 - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    looks good, but where is it? ati must ethier be getting close to releaseing something, or
    tired of not really being talked about
    Reply
  • aGreenAgent - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    It's called a reference board for evaluation purposes :)

    Board manufacturers get to clone this for their own boards, I do believe.
    Reply
  • ariafrost - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    This looks to be one sweet chipset, hope it hits retail really soon. Reply
  • flexy - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    i have to say that this is nice and interesting we finally have a contender in the NF4 dominated high-end mobo sector. No there's something else than always "dfi NF4" - this is nice. Competition is a good thing so are choices.

    I dont know, however, if it is interesting for me, eg. i am preyy ok with my dfi lanpartu....but...

    Question: So...i got a X850 - and ('scuse me, i am kinda shocked !) i would need a DIFFERENT card for crossfire ("X850XT Master") because the "normal" X850XT would not work in crossfire (dual) mode????

    (Not that i am interested in CF or SLI, i am just not a fan of dual gfx-card solutions. But this just caught my attention.

    Regarding USB:

    Well that's a shame...but then you can always get a USB pci (oe even pci-ex) card for a few bucks if you want fast and perfect USB 2.0 etc..... this is a bit bad - but then NOT a reason not to get this board. I can get a USB2.0

    Btw. a USB2.0 pci-card (got a free slot, i hope so ? :) card at newegg is $5.89 + $4 s/h.....if you seriously think lack of stellar USB performance is a major downside of this board....well :)
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    quote:

    Question: So...i got a X850 - and ('scuse me, i am kinda shocked !) i would need a DIFFERENT card for crossfire ("X850XT Master") because the "normal" X850XT would not work in crossfire (dual) mode????


    You need two cards for Crossfire to work. One card is a Master card, and the other card is a slave card. I believe there are three Crossfire cards:

    X850 XT Crossfire: $349
    X800 256MB Crossfire: $299
    X800 128MB Crossfire: $199

    Note that I'm not positive on the prices, but the original MSRPs for R4xx Crossfire have all dropped substantially. The X850 XT CF can be used with any X850 series card, the X800 cards are the same, but you would want to get the version with the same amount of RAM as your existing GPU.

    Now, here's where things are a bit tricky. At present, let's say you don't have an ATI R4xx card. If you want Crossfire for such a platform, you need to buy a regular card as well as a Crossfire card, and the CF card needs to be in the primary slot. As Wes (or Derek?) stated, you can upgrade in stages if you want by purchasing the CF card first. To my knowledge, you cannot use two CF cards together - I could be wrong on this, but I think you want one card to *not* have the compositing chip and DMS port.

    Hope that answers your question.
    Reply
  • anandtechrocks - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    I agree, this board looks amazing! Might be time to sell the DFI NF4 Ultra-D. I really like how the voltages are in decimal increments instead of the precentages like in my Ultra-D. Reply

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