ATI Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition

Just as ATI's X800 XT PE ships, along comes the next board

Before getting bogged down with the benchmark numbers, I decided to spend a bit of time playing some games on the X850 XT PE to get a subjective opinion. Subjectively, this is one very fast graphics card - I can't say that it feels significantly faster than the X800 XT PE that I use every day, but it definitely feels smooth as silk at pretty much any resolution. Firing up Half-Life 2 shows you what Valve's masterpiece is supposed to look like, with sky high frame rates and image quality that leaves you drooling.

We slapped the X850 XT PE into our graphics card test rig which sports an Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition CPU running at 3.46GHz, an Intel 925XE motherboard running a 1066MHz FSB and 1GB of Crucial Ballistix DDR2 memory. Despite the lightning fast processor, it still appears that the X850 XT PE is CPU limited in some games.

ATI Radeon X850 XT PE - 3DMark03

Comparing the X850 XT PE to an X800 XT showed significant improvement when running both 3DMark03 and 3DMark05. Looking at opposite ends of the spectrum in 3DMark03 the new card definitely outperforms the old one - at 1,024 x 768 with no image quality settings the X850 turned in a score of 13,231 compared with 12,178 on the X800. Pushing the resolution up to 1,600 x 1,200 with 4x FSAA and 4x AF the X850 managed 5143 while the X800 could only muster 4392.

ATI Radeon X850 XT PE - 3DMark05

The gap was pretty wide running 3DMark05 - at 1,024 x 768 with no FSAA or AF the X850 produced a score of 6024 compared with 5172 on the X800. The gap wasn't quite so wide at 1600 x 1200 where the X850 scored 3452, while the X800 managed 2939.

ATI Radeon X850 XT PE - Doom 3

Of course a card like this is all about playing games, and firing up Doom3 showed that the X850 offers a welcome jump in frame rate. Taking a resolution of 1280 x 1024 with 4x FSAA and 8x AF as the sweet spot, the X850 produced a very respectable 54.5fps compared with 45.7fps on the X800. In fact, across the board there's a noticeable performance increase with the X850 XT, with the exception of Far Cry, but the X800 XT card was tested using an older patch version.

ATI Radeon X850 XT PE - Half-Life 2

But everyone knows that Half-Life 2 is the big game of the moment, and the game that everyone wants to play. If ever there was a game that deserved a hardware upgrade, it's Half-Life 2, but thankfully Valve has produced an engine that looks great even on a modest PC configuration. The beauty of this design is that when you do let Half-Life 2 loose on some serious hardware, the results are stunning. If you've got a card like this, your only limitation for playing Half-Life 2 will be your monitor - even running at 1600 x 1200 with 4x AF and 4x FSAA you're still getting 66fps!

So, is the Radeon X850 XT PE the fastest graphics card we've seen? Well, in the most case yes. In some of the tests the Gainward PowerPack! CoolFX Ultra/2600 TV-DVI-DVI edges ahead, but this is a highly tuned and overclocked card, complete with its own water cooling system. But as far as standard, air cooled 'slap it in a slot and go' graphics solutions go, the Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition is the fastest graphics solution that (a lot of) money can buy. Let's just hope that ATI can get enough units into the channel this time around.

Verdict

The Radeon X850 XT PE does exactly what ATI wants it to - it raises the bar on 3D graphics performance once more, without the need to resort to dual cards or custom motherboards. OK, so there aren't any new features on offer and the design takes a small step backwards with the dual slot form factor, but if you want the fastest graphics card around, without overclocking, this is it.

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