Summary: Looking for a good X800 PRO card for Far Cry or DOOM 3? Gigabyte's GV-R80P25D X800 PRO is definitely worth a look. For added cooling, Gigabyte's card has a larger heatsink than early X800 PRO cards, covering the R420 core and the card's memory modules. Gigabyte even adds blue LED and a component video output, making the GV-R80P25D perfect for those of you with HDTVs. Read about the rest of this card's features, overclocking, and see how ATI's new CATALYST 4.7 drivers compare to GeForce 6800 GT. Is the X800 PRO able to overtake the 6800 GT? Find out inside!
NVIDIA, on the other hand, has maintained the advantage in more traditional raw performance metrics. NVIDIA’s GeForce FX 5900 Ultra held nearly a 600Mtexels/sec fill rate advantage over RADEON 9800 PRO, and provided up to 4.8GB/sec more peak memory bandwidth than ATI’s RADEON 9800 PRO 256MB, which shipped with slightly faster memory than the 128MB variant. NVIDIA’s follow-up card to the 5900 Ultra, the 5950 Ultra, boasted similar advantages over RADEON 9800 XT.
Today, ATI’s RADEON X800 series no longer pushes the edge of the technology curve, as ATI has elected to skip shader model 3.0 and instead focus on enhancing the gaming experience by opening up new screen resolutions with improved performance. In many cases ATI’s high-end X800 XT Platinum Edition provides double the performance of ATI’s previous flagship, with the X800 PRO following closely behind it at a lower price point. ATI has also provided a new temporal anti-aliasing mode and a new compression technology for normal maps, 3Dc. We highlighted all of these changes in our performance preview of these parts two months ago.
NVIDIA on the other hand has a large, 16-pipe, 222 million transistor behemoth in their NV40 core, which powers the GeForce 6800, 6800 GT, and 6800 Ultra. This has prevented them from scaling to the higher clock speeds found in ATI’s X800 lineup – whereas ATI’s X800 XT Platinum Edition is clocked at 520MHz core, GeForce 6800 Ultra churns along at a pedestrian 400MHz – and thus given ATI a considerable fill rate advantage.
As a result, the first wave of reviews have given the performance crown to the X800 XT Platinum Edition, although the GeForce 6800 Ultra isn’t far behind in most tests. The only area where ATI really falls behind is in OpenGL applications like Quake 3 and Call of Duty. At the $400 price point the GeForce 6800 GT typically runs ahead of the X800 PRO, but the kicker here for NVIDIA has been availability: GeForce 6800 GTs have only hit the market recently, whereas X800 PROs have been selling for well over a month now.
To illustrate this, we have Gigabyte’s RADEON X800 PRO card, the GV-R80P25D, before we’ve seen any of Gigabyte’s GeForce 6800 boards.
Initially this may not seem like much of a surprise, as the X800 PRO was always scheduled to ship ahead of GeForce 6800, but Gigabyte’s GV-R80P25D was one of the last boards to be announced. In fact Gigabyte’s PR for it is barely a month old today!
Gigabyte, in case you didn’t know, was actually the first manufacturer to incorporate the dual-GPU strategy now employed by the likes of ASUS and MSI, except in the case of Gigabyte, they went from solely supplying ATI cards, to supplying ATI and NVIDIA boards. Before signing on with ATI, Gigabyte was an NVIDIA board partner, so when they went dual-GPU last year, they were in a sense actually going back to NVIDIA while maintaining their ties with ATI at the same time.
Gigabyte used their new partnership with NVIDIA to produce the GV-N595U-GT, one of the few overclocked GeForce FX 5950 Ultra cards on the market. This made it one of the fastest 5950 Ultra boards in existence and launched Gigabyte’s “GT Edition” brand of overclocked graphics cards. Not bad for a company known for building quality motherboards, eh? Let’s see what they have in store for the X800 PRO!
Gigabyte’s GV-R80P25D X800 PRO card is based on ATI’s R420 graphics processor. As its R4xx designation implies, R420 is based on a brand new chip design, this isn’t simply a higher-clocked RADEON 9800 XT.
ATI starts with TSMC’s 0.13-micron manufacturing process with copper interconnects and low-k dielectric. It is the same process used for ATI’s mainstream offering, the RADEON 9600 XT. By shifting to a smaller process, ATI is able to stuff more transistors into a smaller area. This in turn allows ATI to incorporate more transistors, and thus more features into the chip, or you can use the smaller process to make your chip smaller. (This is somewhat akin to what ATI has done with the X300 but that’s another story.)
The end result is a graphics chip that’s cheaper to manufacture and consumes less power, and is less expensive to produce (assuming equal yields). For example, ATI boasts that their X800 PRO consumes less power than RADEON 9800 XT, despite its higher clock speed.
ATI has used the smaller 0.13-micron manufacturing process to cram more pixel pipelines into the X800 line. Whereas the RADEON 9800/9700 and RADEON 9800 XT were all 8-pixel pipeline chips, the X800s sport up to twice the number of pixel pipelines, with the X800 XT Platinum Editions featuring 16 pixel pipelines and the X800 PRO series with 12 pixel pipes. The jump from eight to twelve pipelines increases fill rate by 33% alone, this doesn’t even take into account the X800 PRO’s higher clock speeds, which we’ll get into later. High fill rates are crucial for ensuring good performance, especially at higher screen resolutions.
The pipelines are arranged in groups of four, with the X800 PRO having three quad pipes and the X800 XT Platinum Edition having four quad pipelines. Each group is completely independent of the other, so ATI disables the last quad group on X800 PRO boards, although a few hackers have found ways to get around it.
To further differentiate the X800 PRO series from the X800 XT Platinum Edition, ATI clocks both cards differently. X800 PRO’s R420 core operates at 475MHz while X800 XT Platinum Edition cores are clocked at 520MHz – the highest figure in the industry.
ATI’s specifications call for both boards to be equipped with 256MB of GDDR3 memory, although the speeds here are also different. The RADEON X800 PRO ships with 450MHz (900MHz effective) memory while the X800 XT Platinum Edition features 560MHz (1.12GHz effective) RAM.
One new feature ATI has launched with the X800 is called 3Dc. 3Dc is a new compression technology ATI has developed for use with normal maps. Normal maps take bump maps to the next level, as they can be used to add much more surface detail. Whereas bump maps were limited to bumpiness, normal maps can be used to add ridges, or peaks and valleys.
Normal maps are being used in an increasing number of game titles, so this feature will play an increasingly important role in the near future. Already Croteam has signed on for Serious Sam 2, along with Valve (Half-Life 2) Irrational Games (Tribes Vengeance), Firaxis (Pirates), Digital Extremes (DarkSector) and CryTek (Far Cry).
This means that Gigabyte's board is just as good as purchasing directly from ATI. In fact, it's a little better, as Gigabyte throws in a few goodies that ATI doesn't include with their retail cards. Inside the box you'll find S-Video and RCA cables, as well as a DVI adapter and power adapter. But that's not all, Gigabyte even goes the extra mile by bundling a component video output cable, which is a $20 accessory on ATI's website. This allows you to hook the GV-R80P25D right up to an HDTV!
Gigabyte also bundles the card with a copy of PowerDVD 5, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3: Ravenshield, 3D Album DE, and Spellforce: The Order of Dawn. A driver CD with Gigabyte's own V-Tuner 2 software for overclocking your GV-R80P25D is also included.
While the GV-R80P25D is based on ATI's reference board design, Gigabyte has one-upped the first wave of X800 PRO cards by going with a full-sized cooler. If you look closely at the GV-R80P25D's heatsink, you'll notice it's longer and wider than our ATI X800 PRO reference card. Whereas the memory modules on the GV-R80P25D are covered by the card's copper heatsink, on the ATI X800 PRO reference board, they're not. A thermal pad then rests between the memory module and heatsink on the GV-R80P25D.
This larger heatsink provides a little more cooling for the X800 PRO's R420 core than the first generation coolers provided. This is important for anyone concerned about cooling or overclocking their GV-R80P25D, although keep in mind that we've found that cards with the smaller coolers run just fine, including the X800 XT Platinum Editions. For added flair, Gigabyte even integrates a blue LED in the center of the GV-R80P25D's fan.
To service the video editing crowd, Gigabyte also produces a second RADEON X800 PRO SKU, the GV-R80P256V. This card is largely identical to the GV-R80P25D, with the addition of a Rage Theater chip to provide video input, and a VIVO adapter for connecting a VCR, camcorder, or other video device to your PC. You can actually see where the underside of the board has been silk-screened for the Rage Theater chip.
Lock On: Modern Air Combat (Mig-29 custom demo)
Call of Duty – OpenGL
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB - OpenGL
Lock On: Modern Air Combat – Direct3D
Unreal Tournament 2004
Splinter Cell – Direct3D
Tomb Raider – Direct3D
Halo – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
Call of Duty – OpenGL
We used Powerstrip to overclock the GV-R80P256D. As you can see, the board overclocked like a champ, delivering a boost of over 10% on the core and nearly 20% on the memory. We did noticed however, as we hit the higher clocks, diminishing performance returns. For instance, we’d boost the memory clock 10MHz, only to improve frame rate 1 fps.
Performance: Thanks to its 12-pipeline R420 core operating at 475MHz and with 256MB of 900MHz GDDR3 memory, the GV-R80P25D is a screamer. X800 PRO completely outshines previous DirectX 9 offerings, in some cases with Far Cry 1.2, by nearly a factor of two. This card was built for high performance gaming, just take a look at the benchmarks.
Not quite as fast as GeForce 6800 GT: We’re going to be honest folks, it is hard coming up with a cons list for the X800 PRO. The price/performance ratio is excellent. The X800 PRO delivers most of the performance of the more expensive X800 XT Platinum Edition, especially on slower processors (where both cards will be CPU-limited in most cases anyway), but at a lower $400 price point. It also doesn’t hurt that X800 PRO cards can be found more easily right now than X800 XT Platinum Editions at retail.