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The Radeon 9800XT

It’s time for a new refresh from ATI. This time we take a peak at the new Radeon 9800XT.

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Introduction


It’s been more than a year now since ATI contacted me and invited me in for my first press event. At that time they had started to stir up the 3D video card arena by releasing the excellent Radeon 9700 Pro. Since then ATI has basically taken over the high-end (and some would argue are on the verge of taking over the mid-end to soon) segment with their Radeon 9800 and Radeon 9800 Pro cards. So what’s next?

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a press event here in Stockholm where I would get to see the next step in ATI’s road to supremacy – the Radeon 9800 XT and the Radeon 9600 XT.

Rubeena Hussein from ATI preparing the pressevent. Notice the small ShuttleX SFF computer that they use with the new Radeon 9800XT.


The Radeon 9600 XT



The Radeon 9800XT

As you noticed the step between the Radeon 9600 Pro and Radeon 9600 XT was a small evolutionary step. The same could be said about the step between the Radeon 9800 Pro and the Radeon 9800 XT. This is the high-end card. Lots of memory, lots of performance and unfortunately a high price.

Let’s take a look on what the Radeon 9800 XT can offer:

  Radeon 9800 Radeon 9800 Pro 1280 MB Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB Radeon 9800XT
Core speed 325 380 380 412
Memory speed 580 680 700 730
Memory 128 MB 128 MB 256 MB 256 MB

Once again we see an evolutionary step where the Radeon 9800XT is 4-8% faster when you look at clock speed and memory speed.

So except for the faster clock speeds, what is special with the XT?

Improved cooling
I can tell you that the card was heavy! That’s because 9800XT uses an improved copper based cooling solution that cools both the chip and the memory.

Compared to the high-end NVIDIA cards, the Radeon 9800XT still is a one-slot solution. What really impressed me was that during the presentation they did run the card inside a Shuttle XPC SFF (small form factor) computer with the stock power supply.

The fan also monitors the temperature and can change its speed accordingly.

The front of the Radeon 9800XT – the fan covers both the GPU and the memory.
The back of the Radeon 9800XT. The copper makes this card heavy!

Dynamic overclocking
This is an interesting feature. In a future Catalyst update, ATI will turn on the Overdrive functionality of the Radeon 9800XT, which will effectively make the chip overclock itself when it notices that the load on the chip has increased (ex. while you are playing a 3D game). NVIDIA has something similar as you can set up separate clockspeeds for 2D and 3D, but Overdrive seems to promise that the ASIC itself finds the best clockspeed at the moment depending on how warm the chip is, how hot it is in the case, etc.

It will be interesting to see how it works.

Shader performance
We all know by now that ATI is the king when it comes to shader performance. ATI continues to hammer In this fact. Just look at this slide:

Ouch …..

Ouch NVIDIA. You better come up with something fast because we have started to see what this difference can do in games.

With the 9800XT, ATI has continued to improve the Real Time Shading effects including introducing the support for Überlight. Überlight must be seen as it is real cool. They showed a small demo of a statue that was being lit by spotlights and how the shadow behind wasn’t uniform but varied and became more blurry in certain situations. It’s hard to explain but it looked real good.

The recommended price for the Radeon 9800XT here in Europe will be €499 plus VAT.


Benchmark


I had the opportunity to use a Radeon 9800XT for 2 days to run some quick benchmarks.

My System:

   
CPU XP2500+
Motherboard MSI nForce2
Memory 1024 PX2700 DDR
GPU 1 Radeon 9800 XT
GPU 2 Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB
GPU 3 BFG FX5900 Ultra

The drivers used for the NVIDA FX5900 Ultra were the 45.23 Detonators (the new 5x.xx Dets didn’t work for me), and for the Radeon cards I used Catalyst 3.7 drivers provided by ATI.

3DMark 2001 SE

1024×768 (noAA/Application AF) – Default / 4xAA/8xAF
 GPU
 3DMark
 
Radeon 9800XT 15828
Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB 14946
BFG 5900 Ultra 13234
1600×1200 4xAA/8xAF – Default / 4xAA/8xAF
Radeon 9800XT 7558
Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB 7692
BFG 5900 Ultra 7154

UT2k3 Antalus Botmatch

1280×960 – 4xAA/8xAF
 GPU
 fps
 
Radeon 9800XT 47,4
Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB 41,8
BFG 5900 Ultra 38
1600×1200 – 4xAA/8xAF
Radeon 9800XT 34,8
Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB 30,3
BFG 5900 Ultra 26,3

UT2k3 Asbestos Botmatch

1280×960 – 4xAA/8xAF
 GPU
 fps
 
Radeon 9800XT 74,3
Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB 70,0
BFG 5900 Ultra 67,4
1600×1200 – 4xAA/8xAF
Radeon 9800XT 59,2
Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB 47,7
BFG 5900 Ultra 48,5

Aquamark 3 – Vertex&Pixel Lightning

1024×768 – Quality 2 AA / 8xAF
 GPU
 Average FPS
 
Radeon 9800XT 43,5
Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB 41,7
BFG 5900 Ultra 37,6
1152×868 – Quality 2 AA / 8xAF
Radeon 9800XT 41,2
Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB 39,2
BFG 5900 Ultra 35,4

Q2 AA should be the same as 4xAA. While the ATI cards only can use up to Q3 (which thus should be 6xAA) the NVIDIA FX5900 Ultra can use up to Quality 4 AA which should be the same as 8xAA.

Aquamark 3 – Vertex&Pixel Lightning

1024×768 – Quality 3 AA / 8xAF
 GPU
 Average FPS
 
Radeon 9800XT 42,3
Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB 40,5
BFG 5900 Ultra 20,5
1152×868 – Quality 3 AA / 8xAF
Radeon 9800XT 39,6
Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB 37,0
BFG 5900 Ultra 17,3

Quality 3 AA should be the same as 6xAA on the ATI. I ‘think’ it is the same as 6XS AA on the FX5900 Ultra. Please bear that in mind when comparing the scores. Still, the FX5900 Ultra really gets creamed in the shader performance department when we increase the quality.

Aquamark 3 – Complex Multimaterial Shader

1024×768 – Quality 2 AA / 8xAF
 GPU
 Average FPS
 
Radeon 9800XT 34,6
Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB 32,9
BFG 5900 Ultra 31,7
1152×868 – Quality 2 AA / 8xAF
Radeon 9800XT 31,4
Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB 29,8
BFG 5900 Ultra 28,9

Aquamark 3 – Complex Multimaterial Shader

1024×768 – Quality 3 AA / 8xAF
 GPU
 Average FPS
 
Radeon 9800XT 32,4
Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB 30,6
BFG 5900 Ultra 16,0
1152×868 – Quality 3 AA / 8xAF
Radeon 9800XT 29,1
Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB 27,4
BFG 5900 Ultra 13,3

Aquamark 3 – Total Score

1024×768 – Quality 2 AA / 8xAF
 GPU
 Average FPS
 
Radeon 9800XT 35,2
Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB 33,5
BFG 5900 Ultra 31,5
1152×868 – Quality 2 AA / 8xAF
Radeon 9800XT 32,5
Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB 30,8
BFG 5900 Ultra 29,4

Aquamark 3 – Total Score

1024×768 – Quality 3 AA / 8xAF
 GPU
 Average FPS
 
Radeon 9800XT 31,7
Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB 31,6
BFG 5900 Ultra 17,2
1152×868 – Quality 3 AA / 8xAF
Radeon 9800XT 28,6
Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB 28,6
BFG 5900 Ultra 14,5


Half Life 2


Half Life 2 ….. yes. It’s true. Half Life 2 (or a voucher) will be bundled with all the XT ATI cards (or at least the ISV’s will have the opportunity to bundle the game – but who would be stupid enough not to?).


Conclusion


While there are improvements on both the Radeon 9600XT and the Radeon 9800XT, they weren’t exactly revolutionary products that we were shown. ATI still is building on the excellent foundation of the earlier cards, just improving a little with each refresh. That’s not a bad thing since the products they have right now are outstanding, but that also means that you need to think hard before upgrading if you already have a Radeon 9600 or a Radeon 9800.

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