The Sapphire ATI X850 XT PCI-Express Graphics Card

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Impression

X850 XT bottom view

Based on the R480 chipset and featuring 256mb of GDDR 3 memory, the X850 XT is definitely no slouch when it comes to performance. The X850 XT we’ll cover today is an OEM version purchased online for $455 just this month. While not exactly a mainstream card, it is very reasonably priced in comparison to other X850XT and X850XT PE cards available.

HSF

The first thing that caught my eye when I got the card in my hands was the cooling solution. ATI seems to have seen the success of Arctic Cooling’s video card coolers and capitalized on their design. Using a copper heat sink and fins coupled with an extremely large fan enclosed within a plastic cover, ATI made cooling a priority for this card. I really like how ATI chose to cool all of the cards memory chips. I never understood why some companies slap a giant cooler on the GPU and totally ignore the memory! The advanced cooling solution, along with the refinement of the GPU should make this card a pretty decent overclocking alternative.

copper fins

The next thing that caught my eye was the overall size of this monster! Those of you looking to use this card in a SFF can forget it. As we mentioned before X850 is a dual slot card, with the cooling solution using the PCI slot directly below the card. Some people may be put off by the two slot card, but if you consider most aftermarket cooling solutions also take up a second slot, and that SLI takes up three slots, this should not be an issue. 

X850 XT rear

A very important point to remember before ordering this card is that your PSU must be at least 300W or higher.  All of the newer power supplies that meet ATX 2.01 specifications should include the 6-pin PCI Express connector already. Make sure to keep this in mind when shopping for your next card as an upgrade on your PSU might be in line also.

PCI-E power adapter

Something that really surprises me when looking over the X850 line of cards is how very little difference there actually is between the X850 XT and XT Platinum Edition. The XT clocks at 520/1080, and the PE is only slightly better at 540/1180. With the advanced cooling solution and design improvements focused on thermal issues, I would expect the X850 XT to easily clock to Platinum Edition levels, especially since both use the same heat sink and fan. While I stated that the X850 XT retails at newegg for $455, the lowest priced Platinum Edition is currently $599! Later we will overclock this card to X850XT PE speeds and see if the PE is worth the extra $150 or more.

While some people may not like the size of the cooling solution on this card, I was extremely impressed by its performance. Using the ATI Tool utility to customize both clock speeds and card cooling I was worried about the noise generated by the fan at higher RPM. The fan was audible, actually fairly loud above 60%, and at first this bothered me, but after thinking about it I actually came to rationalize the noise. First, the card will only run the fan that fast while the card is under intense load. Second, try as I might, I was unable to stress the card enough to get the fan spinning at 100%. Only during system boot up or by manually setting the fan to 100% in ATI Tool was I able to get the fan running at full speed.

As to the performance of the X850′s cooling solution, I was blown away. Having used several ATI cards in the past, and having both overclocked and modded those cards, I have become used to the little blast furnace known as an ATI video card. The X850 is definitely a break from that tradition. While running at stock speeds, the X850 XT barely broke 60C after numerous benchmarking cycles, and more impressively, the card dropped to idle temperatures less than 2 minutes after completing each benchmark. While I’m sure some people are going to grumble about the size and noise of the GPU cooler, I’m sure aftermarket companies like Zalman and Arctic Cooling will be grumbling even louder as there is really no good reason to replace the stock cooler on this card.

Lets see how this card stacks up against the XFX 6600GT in SLI mode, and how it performs while overclocked to Platinum Edition specs of 540/1180.

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