Review: Good bang for your buck
Today’s menu features GeCube Radeon HD 2900XT graphics card. We wanted to show the new HD 2600 and HD 2400, but those are still in the mail and they didn’t arrive by the press time. GeCube offers five flavors of HD 2600 cards and one HD2400PRO card.
After a long and tedious wait, not to mention the whining of followers, there arose a bunch of ATI cards mostly in the lower categories of the market. ATI is obviously trying to raise some dough by selling these cheap cards, and as their performances are quite similar to the nVidia counter-cards, it is up to you to choose which one you want.
Exact scores are coming soon. An interesting twist is that the prices of Radeon HD 2900XT 512MB dropped under €350. While browsing, we noticed that our test GeCube card can be bought for €333. Not bad if you take into account that the alternative in the same price range is GeForce 8800GTS 640MB. Nvidia is a bit cheaper, but so are the performances.
We’ll briefly review the main characteristics of this card, as we’ve written about it a lot, and you can find the first impressions we got when it arrived on May the 14th here.
The graphics processor, codename R600, is the largest one made so far and is made up of 700 million transistors per 420 mm². It has been produced in an 80 nm production process, but due to its size, it emits quite a lot of heat that needs to be effectively taken care of. We’re expecting first high end cards featuring a 65nm core earlier next year, approximately the same time we expect ATI to bounce of the ropes and get back into the leading graphics card manufacturer race.
HD 2900XT cooler is efficient, but quite noisy too. Switching from 2D to 3D is noticeable, the fan runs faster and louder.
A large passive block on the back of the card clearly shows that the card needs good cooling.
ATI now features DirectX hardware and Unified Shader architecture. It is interesting to note that R600 features the Tessellation Unit, which will be usable only with the next version of DirectX. This will enable subdivision of low polygon models, and turning them into high polygon models.
The exact process of Tessellation utilization is still unknown; we only know it will run trough shader API. GeCube HD 2900XT memory runs at 826MHz while the core speed is 743MHz. The reference speeds are 825MHz for memory and 740MHz core speed, but our measurements show a couple of MHz more.
Speaking of shaders, we know that ATIs shader speeds are identical to core speeds, meaning 740MHz. Utilization of Shaders is a good example of different approach to architecture between ATI and Nvidia. Unlike ATI, Nvidia shaders run at their own speeds, often much faster than core speeds. 8800GTX core runs at 675MHz while its shaders run at 1350MHz. Nvidia still has 128 stream processors while ATI has 320. Although it features less Shader units, Nvidias concept is still more successful and its performances are still better.
One of the things we’ve found in a box is a much talked about “The Black Box” voucher. For those that do not know what this means, it is a piece of paper with a product key that gives you access to Steam. The key will also enable you to play Half Life 2 – Episode Two, Team Fortress 2 and Portal as soon as they come out. There have been rumors that this voucher will be replaced by an orange one that was supposedly featuring codes for Half-Life 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode One, but that apparently didn’t happen. ATI still ships the original “The Black Box” version you see on the picture below.
Until these games see the light of day, Valve is inviting all Black Box voucher owners to free gaming of Day Of Defeat: Source. Of course, you have to log in to Steam.
The card runs on 500W quality PSU, we tried it, but we still opted to use our default testing PSU OCZ GameXStream 700W. For over-clocking, ATI suggests using 6pin and the other 8pin power connectors we don’t have, but we managed to increase the graphics chip and memory frequency with no trouble whatsoever. For those who want to push their card to the maximum, we recommend recently launched OCZ The New Silencer 750 CrossFire PSU, featuring 6/8pin PCI-E power connectors.
The box is quite large and it mentions The Black Box voucher. The main features of this card are clearly visible: Vista and Crossfire certified, DirectX 10, HD audio, HDMI (Video and Audio is possible thanks to DVI out), Shader model 4.0, VIVO, HDCP, UVD (Universal Video Decoder). Aaaah, R600s missing UVD again. GeCube made a mistake and ordered the boxes with UVD support banners.
Don’t forget, only RV630 and RV610 feature hardware implemented UVD acceleration logic. CPU burden with R600, HD2900XT will be similar to previous generation cards. Still, those who might buy these cards probably have an expensive and powerful CPU so they won’t notice any disadvantages.
The box packs a bunch of cables and connectors you might need in any situation. Among them you’ll find a DVI to HDMI bridge, which will enable you to stream audio and video directly from your computer to your TV using only one cable.