Even if the graphics card market is ruled by the PCI-Express version, some partners such as MSI still haven't given up on the aging AGP slot. The latest addition to the MSI's AGP series is the HD 2600 PRO in both 256MB and 512MB versions, both of which are passively cooled. MSI was kind enough to send us the 256MB version. The only difference between this card and the 512MB version is memory size; the cooler and the clocks are identical.
ATI's HD 2600 Pro GPU, or less commonly known as RV630, is made in the 65nm manufacturing process which is the main prerequisite for this card to be passively cooled, since it produces less heat and doesn't need a large heatsink like, for example, Sapphire's HD 3850 Ultimate. The core of the MSI HD 2600 Pro works at reference clock of 600MHz, and it is identical to the clock on the PCI-Express version. The memory, on the other hand, is a different story. We would really like to see GDDR3 memory on this card, but MSI has decided to go for the GDDR2 memory, probably to keep the price of this card as low as possible. The memory works at a lower clock of 400MHz (800MHz effective), and the card has a 128-bit memory interface.
As with he rest of the HD 2000 series, this card also supports DirectX 10, Shader Model 4.0 and comes with Dual-Link DVI with HDTV/HDCP support. The only noticeable difference between the AGP and PCI-Express versions is the lack of Crossfire connector and the small Rialto bridge chip placed on the back of the card. The Rialto bridge is used to transfer PCIe instructions to AGP, and without it, a PCIe GPU wouldn't work on the AGP port. Yet another difference is the 4-pin floppy connector which can't be found on the PCI-Express version. The reason for this is simple, the AGP port can't supply enough power to power this card.
As we mentioned in the beginning, MSI has decided to go for a passive cooling solution which uses dual heatpipes to transfer the heat away from the core to the heatsink located on the back of the card. When talking about passively cooled cards it's always worth mentioning that you should assure good airflow inside the chassis when using such cards, as passive cooling solutions are in most cases less efficient than their active counterparts. We were very skeptical concerning the performance of this cooling solution, but MSI has managed to pleasantly surprise us. The main credit goes to the large heatsink, as well as the fact that the RV630Pro core doesn't heat up too much, thus making it a perfect candidate for passive cooling.
As this card comes without the temperature sensor on its core, we measured it using the temperature probes placed on the GPU block and on the heatsink fins on the back of the card. It was interesting to see that the temperature on the GPU block is the same as the one on the heatsink fins, which means that the heat is effectively transferred from the GPU to the heatsink.
Bear in mind temperatures are measured in an open case environment, and in a closed case good airflow is a must. Of course, the main advantage of a passive cooling solution is it's completely silent, so if you are a "noise-freak" a passive solution is made for you. The 56°C under load is a great result for a passively cooled card.
For this test, we decided to use an older system which we like to call "old faithful," based on Intel's 865PE socket 478 chipset paired with Intel's P4 Northwood processor working at 2800MHz. The reason for which we decided to pick this system is the fact that the AGP market is dying, and that those in search for the AGP card either want to make a nice HTPC out of their aging system or simply just want to refresh it a little. MSI HD 2600 Pro was compared to the PowerColor's X1950 Pro 256MB AGP, which works at 575MHz for the core and 690MHz (1380MHz effective) for 256MB of GDDR3 memory.
MSI 865PE Neo2-P Platinum Edition
Intel 865PE Chipset
Intel ICH5 Chipset
Intel P4 Northwood @ 2.8GHz
Stock Intel Cooler
Kingston PC3200 2x512MB Value Series
CL 3-3-3-8 @ 2.5V
MSI HD 2600 PRO 256MB (RX2600PRO-T2D256Z/D2) (supplied by MSI)
PowerColor X1950 Pro 256MB (supplied by PowerColor)
Fortron BlueStorm II 500W
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 80GB SATA (supplied by Seagate)
Arctic Fan Pro 2L TC 80mm
Revoltec Dark Blue 80mm Fan
The 3DMark testing clearly shows the advantage of the X1950 Pro card, which is normal if you consider the faster memory, more ROPs and 256-bit memory interface. That difference is noticeable in 3DMark 03 where the HD 2600 Pro has 3849 marks less, and in the 3DMark 06 where the difference is lower, 671 marks.
Games like F.E.A.R., pushed at maximum settings, really show the difference, as the HD 2600 Pro just doesn't have enough raw power to fight the battle with X1950 Pro, but it still gives playable FPS in realistic resolutions for this system.
World in Conflict at maximum details is just not made for this kind of system, so in order to get at least double digit results we had to put the game on medium settings. Even then, the cards, as well as the entire system, just didn't have what it takes to run this demanding game.
In Serious Sam 2 the difference rises as you set higher resolutions, which we can attributed to the difference in memory amount and memory interface, but MSI HD 2600 Pro handles Antialiasing and Anisotropic Filtering really well.
If you plan to use this card for an HTPC system, you will have no trouble watching HD video content. We tried playing a few HD movies and the CPU usage ranged from 30 to 50 per cent, which is understandable if you consider that this an ancient single core processor and playing HD content is only made possible thanks to the HD 2600 Pro card. The card handles Windows Vista and its Aero Glass without any problems.
The card is capable of running most games at reasonable resolutions, its cooling is effective and the temperatures are surprisingly low. It's a silent AGP card with a reasonable price and price is often what really matters in the upgrade market. We could mention the flaws, like DDR2 memory, only if we forget the price, which is currently €80,90, which is the main fact when you compare it to the X1950 Pro.
When compared to the X1950 we can talk about some performance issues, but these cards aren't in the same class or generation for that matter. Simple math comes into play: X1950 Pro will cost you €123.60, or €50 more, which is not a small price, especially if you are investing in the upgrade of an old system with AGP slot. For €50 less you'll get HD video capability and DX10 support.
Looking at the current situation on the AGP market, MSI's HD 2600 Pro card is a tempting offer, so we can easily recommend it. If you are considering on mild refresh of you AGP system, and don't want to invest (or should we say waste) your money on cards like the X1950 Pro, the passive MSI RX2600PRO-T2D256Z/D2 based on the HD 2600 Pro core is definitely a great choice.