Summary: Yesterday at the Texas Gaming Festival, in Dallas, Texas, we watched ATI demonstrate their first consumer-level 512MB graphics card, the RADEON X850 XT 512MB HD. See what changes ATI has made to the 512MB board, what it looks like, as well as an indication of how it performs and when it will be available in this article!
UPDATE 2/28: Article has been updated with ATI's performance numbers for the X850 XT 512MB, X850 XT 256, and X850 XT PE in DOOM 3 Ultra quality mode, Half-Life 2, and Far Cry
In mid 2003, graphics card manufacturers began to incorporate 256MB into their high-end gaming cards. While initially only one or two games were capable of taking advantage of the extra memory, over time more demanding games were released; today there are numerous examples out there.
Now games are going to the next level, Epic’s next generation Unreal engine demonstration stunned everyone last year, but that was only a glimpse of what you’ll see in final games based on Unreal Engine 3. DOOM 3’s Ultra Quality mode runs everything at full resolution, with no compression, in a .plan file from last July, id’s Robert Duffy said “In Ultra quality, we load each texture; diffuse, specular, normal map at full resolution with no compression. In a typical DOOM 3 level, this can hover around a whopping 500MB of texture data. This will run on current hardware but obviously we cannot fit 500MB of texture data onto a 256MB card and the amount of texture data referenced in a give scene per frame ( 60 times a second ) can easily be 50MB+. This can cause some choppiness as a lot of memory bandwidth is being consumed. It does however look fantastic :-) and it is certainly playable on high end systems but due to the hitching that can occur we chose to require a 512MB Video card before setting this automatically.”
To address this, ATI has developed their 3Dc normal map compression technology, but they’ve also developed another solution: integrating 512MB of graphics memory into their latest graphics cards.
Yesterday at the Texas Gaming Festival in Dallas, Texas, ATI demonstrated their first generation of 512MB cards, the RADEON X850 XT 512MB HD. As its name implies, the X850 XT 512MB HD is based on ATI’s RADEON X850 XT VPU, which is clocked at 520MHz core/540MHz memory. ATI outfits the board with 512MB of GDDR3 memory, using the same 8Mx32 modules used on X850 XT cards today.
Since memory modules of the same density are used, ATI had to retune the R480’s memory controller to properly address the additional memory with a minimal performance impact, without this the added memory would have introduced additional latency, hampering performance. Physically, you’ll see the return of double-sided memory, as the 512MB X850 XT card has memory modules on both sides of the board’s PCB. Other than this change however, the X850 XT 512MB HD looks practically identical to previous X850 XT boards, right down to the same dual-slot cooling.
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Unfortunately, here comes the tricky part. While ATI has now officially demonstrated their 512MB technology, that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to go out and buy a 512MB X850 XT tomorrow. As of right now, ATI has no official plans to introduce a 512MB card to the public.
We put the words “official” in bold font because ATI hasn’t exactly nailed down their final plans for this board. You just may seem them produce a 512MB card, or they may not. Yesterday’s demonstration was considered a “technology preview” of what is to come (hint: think next generation product) and what ATI is capable of doing today. 512MB graphics cards are being shipped to game developers however, and will be used in the production of upcoming games, particularly those from Ubisoft and Valve Software.
If ATI doesn’t step up to the plate however, that doesn’t mean that one of their board partners won’t. Technically, Tier One board partners such as ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI, PowerColor, or Sapphire could take on the challenge of producing a 512MB card if they decide to do so, as the board design is pretty similar to existing X850 XT cards. So far no one has announced plans to produce such a card, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t happen at some point in the near future.
What’s our take on this? Obviously seeing 512MB on a graphics card is impressive, but we’d like to know more about the board’s performance.
The other potential downfall of a 512MB X850 XT card would be price. Already 256MB cards retail for $500, doubling the amount of memory would likely drive the price up to $600 or more. This is well outside the budget of most gamers, and with next generation cards right around the corner (remember, ATI has been pretty good at introducing new high-end products every 6-9 months), dropping $600 or more on a 512MB card may not make much sense to a lot of people.
But at the same time, the words “rational” and “value” don’t really apply to the hardcore enthusiast crowd. These guys always want the latest and greatest, and a 512MB X850 card would certainly earn you major bragging rights. This is where ATI or one of their board partners could step in, as a 512MB card could certainly boost their prestige among enthusiasts.
This is why we wouldn’t be surprised to see someone eventually produce a 512MB X850 card at some point in the near future; the opportunity is just too great to pass up. NVIDIA and Gainward certainly knew what was coming, pre-announcing a water-cooled GeForce 6800 Ultra with extreme clock speeds just days before ATI's public demonstration.
ATI has obviously done the research and testing on a 512MB card, so why not produce a limited edition run of say 500 cards. All of ATI’s Tier One partners produce other products besides video cards, so you could round the package out with other goodies such as a motherboard or consumer electronics device, or better yet, really jazz up the game bundle.
Regardless of what is or isn’t produced though, we’ll certainly be eager to report on whatever happens!
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