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HOW TO: Tell an ATI 5xxx Reference card from non-reference

post #1 of 67
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Overclock.net User
What is a reference-design card?
When a GPU vendor like ATI or nVidia creates a new graphics processor, they need to create hardware to test it on, even if they themselves are only selling the processors to the graphics card vendors, and not building cards themselves. So, they build a reference design, both for internal testing, and as a guideline for graphics card manufacturers to follow if they wish, making it less expensive to produce first-generation graphics cards based on the new GPU (graphics card vendors can choose to skip R&D and its associated costs if they wish, and just build boards off the reference design).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Overclock.net User
Why would I want a reference-design ATI card over a non-reference one?
Reference-design ATI 5xxx cards have circuitry that allows for tweaking the voltages. If you are an overclocker, this is key in getting higher overclocks (although as always, your mileage may vary). With the exception of some ASUS cards, non-reference-design Radeon 5xxx cards lack this circuitry, as it raises the price of the card. For this reason, a non-reference design card will almost always have limited overclocking potential compared to a reference design.

If you're picky about quality control, the reference cards are usually over-engineered a bit, with the intention of building a quality, stable platform for the GPU to ensure no issues during the testing process. So, a reference-design model gives you some assurance as far as quality control.

Finally, if you are a water-cooler, or wish to purchase aftermarket air-cooling gear for your card, you'll find that much of that gear (water blocks, Prolimatech or Thermalright heatsinks, etc.) is designed for the reference design cards, and may not be compatible with a non-reference design.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Overclock.net User
How do I tell a reference-design Radeon 5xxx card from a non-reference design?
I've seen a lot of people asking "Is this card I'm looking at a reference design?" I've also seen a number of responses that say "I think so" when a card is not. To that end, I'll impart, to the best of my knowledge, what makes a reference card.

Note: ATI did NOT release a reference design for the Radeon 5830, so there are no reference cards. Some 5830 cards, however, have been built on the 5870 reference design, and if so, should be relatively easy to spot due to card length and power connector location, as shown below.

First off, most reference design 5850, 5870, and (possibly, I've now seen a number of 5970s that don't) 5970 cards carry an "AMD" name and logo above the PCIe slot connector, as shown on the 5870 below. Non-reference cards will never have the logo. The reference PCB is usually black on the 5xxx series, as it was red on the 4xxx series.



To the best of my knowledge, all reference ATI 5770-and-higher cards all use the AMD/ATI "Phoenix" cooling shroud, referred to by many as the "Batmobile" cooler. This shroud has a front-mounted squirrel-cage type fan as shown above. If the card you are looking at has a mid-mounted fan, it is unlikely to be a reference design; double-check by looking for that "AMD" logo. Note that reference 5750 cards use the "egg-style" cooler, shown below. I've also noted that some reference 5750/5770 cards do not appear to have the AMD logo, but do appear to have the black PCB.



Reference Radeon 5870 cards have their PCIe power connectors on TOP of the card, NOT the leading edge towards the front of the case. This is only true of the 5870 cards; 5850 and 5770 reference cards have them on the front edge, inside the top port of the Phoenix shroud.

Reference design 5870:



Non-reference (note both the power connector location and the mid-mounted fan):



If I find more definitive info or get corrections from others, I will let you all know. Meanwhile, as far as I can tell, ALL current 5870 Eyefinity-6 editions are reference designs, since it is a relatively new card. If you want to be sure and you have the cash, you can go with one of those.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Overclock.net User
Oh no! I got a non-reference design card! Is that bad?
If you do not plan to overclock or use aftermarket cooling, this is unlikely to be an issue. A non-reference design card (providing it is not defective) should perform the same as a reference design if they both have the same GPU core/memory clocks.

UPDATE 5/13/10 -- It has come to my attention that XFX is selling non-reference ATI 5770 cards that look very much like a reference design. They appear to have the Phoenix-shroud cooler, as well as the squirrel cage fan. However, they only have one Crossfire connector, rather than the two found on a reference-design card. While there probably aren't many of you that wish to run three 5770 cards in TriFire mode, there might be those of you who wish to buy a reference 5770 for voltage adjustment --and these cards do not have the necessary voltage regulation circuitry. Note the picture below, which shows both the (old) reference design, and the (new) non-reference one.



The number of reference-design cards in production is getting smaller, unfortunately. Diamond is one of the last companies I know that consistently sells reference design cards across most of the 5xxx product line. I can't say anything one way or another about their customer service, but if you want a reference card, and you want it brand-new, they are one of the few remaining choices, unless you have the cash for a 5870 Eyefinity-6, or the cash AND the space in your case for a 5970.
Edited by LoneWolf15 - 6/7/10 at 2:31pm
    
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post #2 of 67
Those two pictures of the power connectors look like they're in the same spot to me, just with different plastic surrounding them.
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post #3 of 67
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post #4 of 67
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by hometoast View Post
Those two pictures of the power connectors look like they're in the same spot to me, just with different plastic surrounding them.
My bad, I used the wrong Vapor-X picture. Looking for another picture.

FIXED.
Edited by LoneWolf15 - 4/5/10 at 10:42am
    
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post #5 of 67
So, is there any diference in performance from the reference from the non referenced?
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post #6 of 67
Quote:
Originally Posted by age_ruler1 View Post
So, is there any diference in performance from the reference from the non referenced?
No difference.
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post #7 of 67
I see, thank you =)
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post #8 of 67
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Quote:
Originally Posted by age_ruler1 View Post
So, is there any diference in performance from the reference from the non referenced?
At stock speeds, no. They should behave the same.

The big difference with reference cards is if you're an overclocker. Reference cards allow GPU voltage adjustments that most non-reference designs do not. For this reason, most non-reference cards cannot be overclocked as high because the voltage cannot be raised.

I say most because (while I haven't played with one) it appears the ASUS non-reference designs still allow voltage adjustments. Their cards have a different design than others; it appears they are listening to the enthusiast crowd.
    
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post #9 of 67
Ahhh i see.. glad i have referenced version.. thus I don't over clock XD
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post #10 of 67
Also notice the position of the fan.
For reference, it's usually near the end. (5770, 5850, 5870 & 5970)
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