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R600: Finally DX10 Hardware from ATI
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"It's about time," is my first reaction. Six months of dragging this out has lost a lot of face with your consumers and with guys like myself. While we can only hope that ATI would come up with an alternative to GeForce 8800 and now 8600, the reality is that some markets get lopsided. Nvidia was first to market and now has a strong head start. Even some ATI fanboys have changed their tune with such a long dry spell.

Personally, I like all of the advanced hardware inside of R600. I am very happy with the implementation of the AVIVO hardware with its audio controller, embedded HDCP key and new HDMI adapter. I have always been a fan of the memory ring. It is advanced. A threaded design with 512-bits in each direction is a memory solution that can deliver some serious bandwidth. The organization of some of the units could have been done a little better. In particular, the number or texture units could have been higher and more importantly, why not build a purely scalar design? Not that it is imperative, but why not? Other than those two items, it should have been faster, more powerful and here a long time ago (wait, I said that last one already **hint, hint **).

Based on the 80-nm process, one can conclude that this is the product we should have had the first time we were told R600 was coming. That being said, it does not put it past speculation that a faster card is coming soon at 65 nm. The only issue there is that Nvidia could have another card available with improved hardware before this next set is here.

Source: Sapphire Technologies - The HD2900XT Toxic is water cooled.

For now, if you were waiting for R600, it is a good thing you did. There are some really nice advances incorporated into the HD 2900XT and the Vista performance of the 1 GB GDDR4 cards have made it the choice of boutique system builders (I just wish we had them in house). At $400 for the version we have in the lab, it is a good price as it has more to offer than the GeForce 8800GTS. The sweet spot is still the 320 MB version of the 8800 GTS but that could change as other versions of the R600 family emerge. Until then, if you were sitting on the fence, you can either keep riding or finally spend you money on something. Versions like the Sapphire HD2900XT Toxic will come factory overclocked with a stand-alone water cooling solution.

Overall, HD2900XT is more forward looking than GeForce 8800 and it should be; it took an extra six months getting it to market. If you are leaning towards longevity of a card, R600 looks more attractive with a dedicated tessellator, programmable filters, high-clock speeds and crazy amounts of bandwidth. It is a hot and a little loud. It is hot enough that a warning label might soon accompany cards and systems. We can only hope that it will become more cool and quiet as more cards hit the market.

Final Thoughts

We are going to look a little more into the power consumption of the cards as we found some interesting behaviors within GeForce 8800GTX and R600. To wet your appetite, here are a few of the findings. For starters, R600 drew less overall system power than GeForce 8800GTX in the game tests. I personally want to try more applications and settings to see why this happened.

  No Cards - ATI HD2900XT HD2900XT CF
Boot 163 243 287
Boot 2   311 455
OS Idle   296 421
OS Idle 2   250 428
3DM06 HDR1 - GT3   358 549
3DM06 HDR2 - GT4   343 527
  No Cards - Nvidia 8800GTX 8800GTX SLI
Boot 164 254 292
Boot 2   266 296
OS Idle   217 230
OS Idle 2   227 233
3DM06 HDR1 - GT3   343 569
3DM06 HDR2 - GT4   347 519

There is a lot to discuss regarding R600 vs. G80/84/86. Does internal bandwidth affect the performance of Nvidia's texture units? "Does the five-scalar VLIW hinder performance because there is only one SIMD per block of ALUs? No, it should not, but this and many other questions are being answered through testing and conversations with the manufacturers. Our AVIVO testing needs an update and we need more cards to compare HD 2900 to. We will definitely have more on these subjects over the coming weeks.

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