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ATI Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition review: ATI Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition


The X850 XT PE replaces the Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition at the top of the ATI heap. The X850 XT Platinum Edition displayed a notable performance edge over Nvidia's GeForce 6800 Ultra cards (such as PNY's Verto card) on most of our tests.

8.0

ATI Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition

Pricing Not Available

The Good

Top-of-the-line 3D performance; dual DVI ports support two digital LCD monitors; excellent driver software.

The Bad

The card's too large to fit in some PC cases.

The Bottom Line

ATI's Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition is one of the fastest solutions out there that doesn't require to you to buy a pair of video cards.
ATI Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition
When we last left ATI's and Nvidia's highest-end graphics cards, ATI's Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition beat out PNY's Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra-based Verto card in two important areas. First, of course, is performance: the Radeon X800 XT provided superior performance in DirectX 9.0-based PC games. Secondly, as a single-slot card that worked with most standard 350-watt PC power supplies, ATI's card was much easier to install than the Nvidia-based card, which took up two slots and required, by some estimates, up to a 480-watt power unit. The 3D performance picture has since gotten more complex due to Nvidia's dual-graphics-card SLI technology, an innovation that ATI has yet to answer. Without an SLI graphics product, ATI's new $550 Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition is the company's most powerful card to date. If you're not ready to scrap your current single-card PC for an SLI machine but you have some money to throw at a high-end card, the Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition (PE) is your best option--if you can find it for a reasonable price.

The new card is also physically larger than the X800 XT, and it's the first Radeon card to take up the space of two expansion slots, because of its expanded cooling fan. By occupying more real estate inside your PC, the X850 XT Platinum Edition loses one of its major advantages over the GeForce 6800 Ultra. The power requirements remain a realistic 350 watts, but the card's still a hassle to install if your system already has a full complement of PCI expansion cards.

The X850 XT Platinum Edition's features essentially mirror those of the X800 XT Platinum Edition. The card fully supports all of the DirectX 9.0 bells and whistles, including support for Pixel Shader 2.0 (or SmartShader HD in ATI marketing-speak), a 3D-programming feature that adds realistic detail to surfaces such as wood, cloth, and water. Nvidia made a big deal about its cards' support for the more advanced Shader 3.0 and the ensuing potential performance improvements, but in fact little gaming support has materialized for the technology so far. (Far Cry, with the most recent patch, and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory are the most well-known titles.) At this point, the X850 XT Platinum Edition's lack of support for Shader 3.0 is really just one less check box on the feature comparison--most of today's games look as good and run as fast (or faster) on ATI's hardware as they do on Nvidia's.

In fact, the Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition upheld ATI's slight performance edge over the GeForce 6800 Ultra in two of CNET Labs' three 3D gaming tests. The X850 XT Platinum Edition turned in 91.9 frames per second (fps) on our 1,024x768-resolution Far Cry test, compared to 83.5fps for the 6800 Ultra. At the same resolution, the X850 XT Platinum Edition clocked 100.9fps in our Half-Life 2 benchmark, compared to 91.6fps for the 6800 Ultra. (Interestingly, at 1,600x1,200 resolution, both cards turned in identical 60.1fps results in Half-Life 2.)

Nvidia cards have typically performed best on Doom 3, and that hasn't changed here, where the X850 achieved 68.7fps at 1,024x768 compared to 81.4fps for the 6800 Ultra. With scores this high, both cards deliver imminently playable frame rates, so only those of you prone to compare frame rates will notice the performance difference. We favor ATI due to its slightly faster performance in DirectX 9.0-based games, such as Far Cry and Half-Life 2, which are currently more prevalent than OpenGL-based games, such as Doom 3.

Gamers out to tweak every bit of performance possible from their cards will have a field day using ATI's Catalyst Control Center to configure the driver software. Not only can you get immediate feedback on how changing your settings will affect performance and image quality, you can also use the drivers' Overdrive feature to gain a few extra frames per second by overclocking the X850 XT Platinum Edition. As always with overclocking, we advise an incremental approach in the interest of preserving your hardware.

The ATI Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition comes with a pair of DVI ports, which allow for dual-screen LCD gaming. There's also an S-Video port for output to a TV or a DVD player. As you'd expect, DVD playback on the card looks stellar. General image quality on both LCD and VGA monitors (using a DVI-to-VGA adapter) impressed us with crisp, clear rendering.

Although ATI has said that its recommended price for the X850 XT Platinum Edition is $550, it's worth noting how exceedingly rare it is to find the card available for that price. ATI doesn't sell it directly, and retailers have hard time keeping it in stock. ATI blames the lack of supply on increased demand. Whatever the reason, the laws of the market have had a nasty effect on the card's price, so while you can find it for less, don't be surprised if you see it going for $600 and $700. We encourage you to shop around.

Half-Life 2 custom demo (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,200 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,280x1,024 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,024x768 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra
60.1 
78.2 
91.6 

Doom 3 custom demo (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,200 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,280x1,024 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,024x768 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra
41.2 
56 
81.4 

Far Cry custom demo (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,200 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,280x1,024 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,024x768 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra
47.2 
63.1 
83.5 

ATI driver used: Catalyst 5.2 (WHQL)
Nvidia driver used: ForceWare 71.84 (WHQL)

Find out more about how we test graphics cards.

Graphics card test bed
Intel 3.46GHz P4 Extreme Edition CPU; 1,024MB Kingston Technology HyperX DDR2 memory running at 533MHz; Intel D925XCV motherboard; Intel 925X chipset; Maxtor 250GB 7B250S0 SATA hard drive; Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2.

8.0

ATI Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 9