ATI launches x1000 family of graphics cards, sort of


Markham (ON) - ATI today announces its next-generation graphic chip technology, previously referred to as "R520". There is good news and bad news for people who have been waiting for the new cards: ATI has a technology and strategy that will challenge Nvidia. But, unfortunately only few of the X1000 models are available today. Some versions of the lineup will follow with at least one month delay.

Today is the day ATI and many graphics enthusiasts have been waiting for about four months. R520, which in fact is just the code-name for the high-end version of the new graphics chip series, finally has made it out the door and, according to ATI, will bring next-generation graphics capabilities to any user who is willing to spend between $80 and $550 for a new graphics card.

The expectation in the new product family are high; not just because the card is late, but mainly because Nvidia has raised the stakes terms of performance and features as well as how it is marketing its products. One of the most powerful weapons of Nvidia is its strategy to make new graphic cards available at launch date - and avoid the paper launches we were used to in the past.

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ATI's new X1000 series graphic cards

ATI was trying to follow, but as it appears now, only three out of seven announced cards will make it into stores on or around launch day. According to the company, lower end R5xx chips have been in production for several months, but a bug in the circuit design prevented engineers to bring clock speeds of R520 chips up into their target range. In the end, an apparently smallish bug was found a few weeks ago. Since then, ATI has been scrambling to push R520 chips into production at TSMC: "We have a lot of wafers in the line right now," said Rich Heye, ATI's vice president and general manager for the desktop products division in a conversation with TG Daily. A conservative estimate at this time is that the higher end chips X1600 XT, X1600 Pro and X1800 XT will be available by the end of November.

The chips that have been in production for months are likely to be available in volume in retail and etail within these days. The lineup includes the entry level models X1300 Pro, X1300 as well as X1800 XL, which will be the flagship for the time being.

All chips will be based on the same architecture that features a transistor count of 330 million, but seven different integrations will offer different core and memory clock speeds and different frame buffer sizes. To make the lineup even more confusing, there will be different models that are offered at the same price point.

For now, the entry-level model will be the Radeon X1300, which offers a core clock of 540 MHz and a memory clock of 500 MHz. Cards with 128 MByte memory will sell for $100, 256 MByte versions will change hands for $130. The family also includes a shared memory model (32 MByte/128 MByte "HyperMemory") for $80. The higher-end option at this time is the $450 X1800XL, which is a 2-slot card that runs on a 500 MHz core and 256 MByte 1 GHz memory.

Once complete, the X1000 family will also include the X1800 XT (625 MHz core/1.5 GHz memory) in 256 MByte and 512 MByte versions ($500 and $550, respectively), as well as the X1600 XT (590 MHz / 1.38 GHz) in 128 MByte and 256 MByte versions ($200 and $250, respectively). X1600 Pro cards (500 MHz/780 MHz) will have a stronger target at the mainstream with a $150 (128 MByte) and a $200 (256 MByte version). And this won't be the last word - as ATI reportedly already preps more models for early 2006.

While it is certainly true that - if available - ATI offers a top-to-bottom product line with its new graphics chip, one or the other customer interested in buying an x1000 card may scratch his head which x1000 may be the best deal of the bunch - especially, if several cards are offered at the same suggested retail prices. ATI spokespeople told us that the strategy to offer different cards at the same price was simply a reaction to customer demand. Typically, buyers go for cards with more memory, despite the fact more clock speed promises more performance. "I'd always buy the card with more clock speed," Heye told us. ATI officials told us that they consider the X1600 XT with 128 MByte frame buffer size to provide the most bang for the buck.