One key ingredient in producing a high-end video card is to make sure it looks different than the standard fare. Unitech does this right off the bat by taking the basic ATI reference design and enhancing it in many ways. Although the Unitech board dimensions are exactly the same as a Radeon 8500 128-MB card, the green PCB of the ATI retail cards is replaced with a jet-black PCB for the Optimus 8500 eXP. Also gone is the standard ATI heatsink-fan, which has been upgraded to a far more substantial HSF. This HSF unit is silver in color and has a circular design with cylindrical heatsink rods protruding from the outer edges.
The Optimus 8500 eXP needs the extra cooling due to its 300 MHz default core speed, and our review board featured 128-MB of Hynix 3.3 ns DDR memory clocked at 275 MHz. The memory is the only part of the Optimus 8500 eXP that is standard fare, and this was actually intended to include designer RAMSINKS and be clocked at a similar 300 MHz. We don't know the entire story here, but adding heatsinks to the memory (and designer sinks no less) would have really been the cherry on the top. Still, the overall card design and effect is quite good and is accentuated by a Unitech branded cooling fan and a gold colored backplate for the VGA, DVI and S-Video/VIVO ports.
In terms of included extras, the Unitech Optimus 8500 eXP features S-Video and composite cables, as well as DVI to VGA, and S-Video to composite adapters and a VIVO breakout cable with composite in/out and S-Video in. Along with the standard driver CD, Unitech also includes a nifty game, application and movie bundle. Giants and Serious Sam: The First Encounter comprise the bundled games, and MovieXone provides the required video editing side of the equation. An unexpected treat is the presence of a full-length DVD movie (Star Wars: The Phantom Menace) which not only gives you an opportunity to test out the DVD playback of the Optimus 8500 eXP, but saves Star Wars fans from actually forking over any more money for a sub-standard prequel.
The included drivers are quite good, and Unitech has also included a customized version of the Rage3D Tweak utility. This installs seamlessly along with the Unitech drivers and provides all the standard options in a more user-friendly way. Unfortunately, this customized version is not compatible with newer ATI drivers, and even the Unitech site points to the ATI site for driver updates. It looks as if these "special drivers" were a one-time deal and users will have to rely on ATI reference drivers and the freely-downloadable Rage3D Tweak program in the future. This points to one of the few issues we had with the Optimus 8500 eXP, namely a less-than adequate level of card and driver support.
One of the more interesting features of the Optimus 8500 eXP is its VIVO options. This card uses the ATI Rage Theatre for video output and also features VIVO (Video in and Video out) for connection to external video sources such as a camcorder or digital camera. The ATI retail line really has no middle ground between the standard and All-in-Wonder cards, and this Radeon 8500 VIVO certainly provides that. You do lose out on a few potential AiW extras such as cable TV and Firewire input, but the lower price will certainly attract those looking to edit and store basic home video or stills. The Optimus 8500 eXP also competes quite well against many low-cost NVIDIA VIVO solutions, which are not targeted at the same market as the high-end ATI All-in-Wonder products.