PowerColor X800 Pro Video Card Review

Admin - 2007-01-16 10:42:47 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: Admin   
Reviewed on: July 14, 2004
Powercolor
Powercolor
Price: $399 +/-

Introduction

ATI and NVIDIA have been at it again with the GPU wars to see who can be the leader in video cards until the next generation of GPU's. ATI has been the leader ATI's Radeon 9800 line of video card has reigned the past couple of years as being one of the fastest, if not the fastest video card available to consumers. They're hoping to claim this title again with their new GPU called "R420" or better known as the Radeon X800 series. They have two high-end video cards made from the R420 core, the Radeon X800 Pro and the Radeon X800 XT. The Radeon X800 Pro has all of the features and benefits of the XT model except the XT supports 16 pixel pipelines and the Pro only supports 12. The XT model also has a slightly faster core and memory clock rates than its little brother.

One new feature on the X800 Pro and XT is a new compression technology called 3Dc. 3Dc is optimized to work with normal maps which allows fine per-pixel control over how light reflects from a textured surface. With up to 4:1 compression possible, this means game designers can include up to 4x the detail without changing the amount of graphics memory required and without impacting performance. In a nutshell, it's suppose to provide better looking graphics and faster performance without taking up any extra memory. Of course developers will have to include the new compression technology in their games for you to take advantage of the new feature on the X800 cards.

In our review today, we will be comparing the Powercolor Radeon X800 Pro to a Radeon 9800 XT video card. ATI says that the X800 Pro consumes much less power than the 9800 XT which also means it generates less heat. This means it's a friendlier video card to users who own a SFF (Small Form Factor) PC, where heat is usually a problem. The X800 Pro also has a smaller and lighter copper cooler on it than on the 9800 XT. From the specs and from the looks of things, the X800 Pro seems like it has a lot to offer in terms of functionality and performance but is it really worth the upgrade? Let's find out!



What's Included





When I opened the UPS box that contained the Radeon X800 Pro, I was expecting to see the normal retail type box that most ATI Radeon cards come in. Instead, I saw a black backpack with Powercolor's logo engraved on it. It probably took me five minutes to find all of the cables and the video card itself, because this bag has so many pockets! I found the cables stuffed away inside a mesh pocket within the backpack, the CD's inside a pocket, and the video card was found deep within the inside. The bag itself has tons of pockets to stuff your books in for school or to stuff cables in for LAN parties. With over 15 different pockets, it should make an excellent LAN party bag. This is the first video card that I have ever reviewed with packaging that is actually useful. You're paying $500 and some odd dollars for a video card, so you should expect nothing less. I think all higher end video cards should come with something similar like this.

 

In-Depth Look

First I'll start off with the software package, which wasn't all that much. Included in the software packaged was ATI drivers CD which usually includes outdated video drivers for the card. I always download the drivers from ATI's web site to insure that I'm using the latest drivers. You'll also receive a copy of CyberLink's DVD Suite. This is a nice suite of software, but it seems every video card these days includes this software. I bet I have five or six copies of this software lying around. Hitman Contracts was the gaming title included, which is a decent game I hear but I haven't had a chance to play it yet.



Once I opened the black box, I found the beautiful Radeon X800 Pro. When I first took it out of the box, I noticed that the card was very light weight compared to my Radeon 9800 XT. After inspecting the card you can easily see that the copper heatsink on the Radeon X800 Pro is much smaller than the Radeon 9800 XT.

Will this hinder the overclocking potential or cause heating problems in general? I would expect this not to be the case because the Radeon 9800 XT was right at the end of the ropes for the RV350 architecture (or RV360 is what the XT was called) and it needed all of the cooling it could get to be stable at the high clock speeds. The printed circuit board (PCB) is much less crowded on the X800 Pro than on the 9800XT. This goes to show how technology has improved over the last year or so.

From picture above you will see the two cards side-by-side. You'll notice that some capacitors have been moved around on the X800 Pro from where they were at on the 9800 XT. You'll also see that a lot of things have been removed from the PCB all together. On the back of the two cards it's much less obivous that anything has changed. The back copper plate on the Radeon 9800 XT covers the memory but on the X800 Pro there is no backplate. This is one of the reasons why the X800 Pro is lighter in weight.

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The X800 Pro supports 12 pixel pipelines, has a 475MHz core and a 900MHz memory clock speed. This really doesn't sound all that impressive when you look at the Radeon 9800 XT specs. The Radeon 9800 XT has a core clock speed of 412MHz and a memory clock of 730MHz. You do have to remember that the Radeon X800 Pro has GDDR3 memory and the Radeon 9800 XT does not. Once I got the copper heatsink off and thermal paste off the graphics processing unit (GPU) I could easily see the core of this card. If you can not read it from the picture, the core reads the following:
215RAACGA11F
GC0026.1
D422AA
Taiwan



There are a total of eight memory chips on the board, four on the front of the card and four on the back. The Samsung K4J55323Qf-GC20 GDDR3 memory used on the board is rated at 2ns and capable of 500MHz.



You have all of the connectors normally found on a Radeon based card which includes: VGA, Composite, and DVD-I (for LCD's). You could use the included DVI-i-to-VGA adapter and you would then be able to run dual VGA monitors for added desktop space or for gaming.

Test Suite & Setup

All of our tests were run at the highest possibly game settings unless otherwise noted. We believe that most users run with the highest possible settings that your video card is capable of, so why should our tests be done any different? The real world gaming tests were ran in 1024x768x32, 1280x1024, and 1600x1200 resolutions in 32-bit unless otherwise noted. We tested each resolution in each benchmark with Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering both on and off. Each benchmark was run a total of five times and the average frame rate or score was calculated from that. The table below describes the testing methods we use.

Resolution

Resolution Settings
1024x768x32 No AA/AF
1280x1024x32 No AA/AF
1600x1200x32 No AA/AF
1024x768x32 6x AA/8x AF
1280x1024x32 6x AA/8x AF
1600x1200x32 6x AA/8x AF

Below are the settings that we used when AA and AF were turned on and while they were turned off during our benchmarks.



 Below is the benchmarks/test that we used:

  • Gun Metal
  • X2
  • Battlefield: Vietnam
  • Splinter Cell
  • Far Cry
  • 3DMark03
  • Idle/Load Temperature Test
  • Image Quality

    Test Rig
    -Shuttle SN85G4 nForce3 150 XPC (Review)
    -Athlon 64 3200+
    -1GB Corsair TWINX1024-3200LLPro (Review)
    -Western Digital 10,000RPM SATA 74Gb Raptor Hard Drive
    -Windows XP Professional SP2 -DirectX 9.0c
    -Catalyst 4.6
     -Radeon X800 Pro
     -Radeon 9800 XT (Review)
  • Benchmark 3DC

    If you did not read the introdctuion of the review, let me again tell you what 3DC is. 3Dc is optimized to work with normal maps which allows fine per-pixel control over how light reflects from a textured surface. With up to 4:1 compression possible, this means game designers can include up to 4x the detail without changing the amount of graphics memory required and without impacting performance. In a nutshell, it's suppose to provide better looking graphics and faster performance without taking up any extra memory. Wether or not game developers choose to take advtange of the new technology by having it in their games, is a different story. 3DC could be something like "Trueform" which never found its way in to games.



    If you take a look at the image above you will see two screenshots, one with 3DC enabled and the other with it disabled. You probably cannot see any image quality difference between the two screenshots, because I know I had somewhat a hard time finding the differences. One thing you may notice right away is the increased frame rate when using 3DC turned on. We got nearly a 20 FPS increase with 3DC turned on, and without any image quality degration! However, ATI says 3DC will actually improve image quality too not just increase performance.



    If you take a look at the image above, you will see the same screenshots you saw in the earlier picture but in this picture I have pointed out some key differences between the two screenshots. As you can see the areas where I circled on the screenshot that has 3DC off, the rounded edges of the blocks seem to be "chopped" off than "round" like in the screenshot where 3DC was on.

    Benchmark: Far Cry

    Far Cry features immersive outdoor environments and challenging AI, set in a tropical environment which looks like sheer paradise. Only later you find out that it's not a paradise after all. The game has been known by many to bring even the most powerful system to a crawl, especially with everything maxed out and with AA/AF on. We ran Far Cry in 1024x768, 1280x1024, and 1600x1200 resolutions while having Anti-Aliasing & Anisotropic filtering both on & off. Each graph below represents one of the three resolutions that we tested the game in. Also note the "AA" beside the names of the cards. This represents that Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic Filter was turned on for the test. We set Anti-Aliasing to 4x and Anisotropic Filtering to 8x during these tests.

    I started playing Farcry in 1600x1200 and it was very playable if the scene was indoors (70 or so FPS average). However, once I stepped outside the frame rates dropped to 35 FPS. It did not seem all that laggy, due to the fact that the frame rate was not jumping around. The frame rate was consistent at 30-40 FPS, but still unplayable in my opinion. I had hoped that the X800 Pro would allow for a playable experience in 1600x1200 but this was not the case. I turned "OVERDRIVE" on which automatically clocked the card from 472MHz to 506MHz to see if that would make the game playable at 1600x1200. The mild overclocking only brought the frame rate up by 5-10 FPS, which still wasn't enough to satisfy me to play at this resolution. I guess its back to 1280x1024 or do some "real" overclocking on the card :)

     

    Benchmark: X2

    X2 is a first person space simulation designed for today’s game players and has out of this world graphics. The benchmark can really put a big load on just about any graphics card and that's why we have chosen to use this benchmark in our benchmark suite. We ran X2 in 1024x768, 1280x1024, and 1600x1200 resolutions while having Anti-Aliasing & Anisotropic filtering both on & off. Each graph below represents one of the three resolutions that we tested the game in. Also note the "AA" beside the names of the cards. This represents that Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic Filter was turned on for the test. We set Anti-Aliasing to 4x and Anisotropic Filtering to 8x during these tests.



    We achived about a 30% increase in speed over the Radeon 9800 XT while running the X2 benchmark. We noticed a increase in speed while Anti-Aliasing and Ansotropic Filtering was both on and off.

    Benchmark: Battlefield Vietnam

    Battlefield 1942 took the FPS genre to a whole new level. With the game’s detail, historical accuracy, vehicles, and focus on team play, it couldn’t get much better. Soon the great game would be followed up with two expansion packs and a modding community that rivals that of the ancient Half-Life. Mods like Desert Combat, Eve of Destruction, and Galactic Conquest took BF1942 to Operation Desert Storm, Vietnam, and even to a galaxy far, far away. Now EA and Digital Illusions take us to another battlefield, Vietnam. It’s not another expansion for BF1942, it’s a whole new game with several updates based on their experience with the ever-so-popular Battlefield 1942. We ran Battlefield Vietnam in 1024x768, 1280x960, and 1600x1200 resolutions while having Anti-Aliasing & Anisotropic filtering both on & off. Each graph below represents one of the three resolutions that we tested the game in. Also note the "AA" beside the names of the cards. This represents that Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic Filter was turned on for the test. We set Anti-Aliasing to 4x and Anisotropic Filtering to 8x during these tests. Instead of running a looped demo or a standard recorded demo, I made my own timed demo.

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    The X800 Pro totally blew the 9800 XT away in the Battlefield Vietnam benchmark! I think the graphs speaks for themselves, as the X800 Pro took a 60-70 frame rate lead in the 1024x768 test. It took a 30-40 FPS lead in the other resolutions, except the 1600x1200 non AA/AF test.

    Benchmark: Gunmetal

    The Gunmetal Benchmark incorporates functions like 2.0 Vertex Shaders and 1.1 Pixel Shaders and demands a high-end card for acceptable frame-rates with Anti-Aliasing & Anisotropic Filtering turned on. We ran Gunmetal in 1024x768, 1280x1024, and 1600x1200 resolutions while having Anti-Aliasing & Anisotropic filtering both on & off. Each graph below represents one of the three resolutions that we tested the game in. Also note the "AA" beside the names of the cards. This represents that Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic Filter was turned on for the test. We set Anti-Aliasing to 4x and Anisotropic Filtering to 8x during these tests.

    Benchmark: Splinter Cell

    In Splinter Cell you are Sam Fisher and you must defend and assist the U.S. military, both locally and from remote locations, until Suhadi's terror-driven policies can be subverted and the guerrilla faction eradicated. Splinter Cell was built from using the Unreal Engine and they have utilized every aspect of the engine to provide stunning graphics and details. We ran Splinter Cell in 1024x768, 1280x1024, and 1600x1200 resolutions while having Anti-Aliasing & Anisotropic filtering both on & off. Each graph below represents one of the three resolutions that we tested the game in. Also note the "AA" beside the names of the cards. This represents that Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic Filter was turned on for the test. We set Anti-Aliasing to 4x and Anisotropic Filtering to 8x during these tests. Instead of running a looped demo or a standard recorded demo, I made my own timed demo which covers both indoor and outdoor scenes.



    The X800 Pro did not impress us so much in the Splinter Cell test, but it still lead in all of the test and by 10-20 FPS in some. It should be noted that even though we had Anti-Aliasing turned on, Splinter Cell does not support it.

    Benchmark: 3DMark03

    For those of you that have no interest in seeing the 3DMark03 scores, then skip on over to the next benchmark. 3DMark03 does not have any affect on the outcome of this review. I've only decided to include this benchmark in the review because so many people request of it and because we are comparing two cards from the same manufacture. The test was run with all of the default settings in 3DMark03. Note: We had Texture and Mipmap details set to "High Quality" within the Display Properties under DirectX. For those of you that are interested in the "Low Quality" score on the X800 Pro it scored, 10,158.



    This test shows that the X800 Pro is about 35% faster than the 9800 XT, much like the rest of our tests have shown.

    Image Quality

    I really did not expect better image quality from the X800 Pro over the 9800 XT but I still ran an image quality test to verify this. The image quality test was taken using 3DMark03 for its consistent nature of snapping the screenshot. I tested both the X800 Pro and the 9800 XT with Anti-Aliasing on 4x and Anisotropic Filtering on 8x. I also conducted another tested but with Anti-Aliasing on 6x and Anisotropic Filtering on 8x. You can see from the two images below (click to enlarge) that there is not any noticeable image quality difference between the two cards.

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    Idle/Load Temperature Test



    Overclocking

    Overclocking on our card was pretty much non-existent. I was only able to achieve an overclocking a few MHz faster than the Overdrive feature overclocks the card at. I think this is partly because of the small power supply unit that is installed in this Shuttle SFF PC. I currently have a DVD-RW and two hard drives (one of which is a 10,000 rpm sata drive) installed in this Shuttle. While not overclocking the CPU nor the GPU the 12v rail reads 11.61 and the 5v rail reads 4.08. Obviously, this is not very good at all and is certainty not optimal for overclocking. I will be adding a second power supply to supply power directly to the hard drives and to the video card, to see if that makes any difference. However, because I was pressed for time when writing this review I will have to update the review at a later time with my results.

    Conclusion

    Is the Radeon X800 Pro worth upgrading to right now? Probably not. What about when Doom 3, Half-life 2, and Tribes Vengeance hits store shelves? You better believe you'll need this card! If you're the kind of person that wants all of the eye candy that you can get out of a game, then you're going to need a beefy video card and that's just what the Powercolor X800 Pro is! It's a very expensive video card but it is over $100 cheaper than it's bigger brother, the Radeon X800 XT. If you bought Radeon X800 Pro VIVO (Not the card that we reviewed here), you always have the option to mod it in to an XT card which will cost you nothing but a little bit of time to do. Just be warned that this WILL void your warranty and even though ATI says the mod works they did say that it will severely hinder the lifespan of the video card.

    If you have the money to burn, then I would probably throw another hundred bucks in and get the XT version that supports 16 pipelines and has the faster clock speeds. The Limited Edition Powercolor Radeon X800 XT comes with the backpack, CS: Condition Zero, Hitman: Contracts, and also a free coupon for Half-Life 2! The extras alone are probably worth nearly $200 bucks.

    The new 3DC compression is a nice added feature, whether or not game developers will take advantage of it is a different story. The packaging that Powercolor used was top notch! It is a "special edition" version, so if you are looking to buy this Powercolor Radeon X800 Pro and want the cool bag, be sure to read the description to insure that you are getting the special limited edition version. While we have seen some better software packages, at least the software that was included was not demo's. The bottom line is that this is an expensive video card that's worth upgrading to if you have a Radeon 9800 or slower card, run 1280x1024 or high resolution, and want all of the eye candy. I highly recommend the Powercolor Radeon X800 Pro if you're wanting every ounce of performance that you can get out of your gaming experience.

    Pros


    Cons