While new graphics products steal all the headlines, one aspect of the 3D graphics market that is often overlooked are the exclusive deals both ATI and NVIDIA have signed with their board partners. In the past, these agreements have locked board manufacturers like ASUS with one company. Just like John Elway will always be a Denver Bronco (that’s an American pro football team for our overseas readers), board manufacturers have traditionally built graphics cards based on graphics processors from one manufacturer or another.
Orange PCB for the ASUS RADEON 9800 XT card
ASUS V9950 Ultra (bottom) ASUS 9800 XT (middle) and ATI 9800 XT (top)
The V9950 Ultra is much longer than the RADEON 9800 XT
It hasn’t always been like this however. Before NVIDIA was the number one graphics supplier, chip manufacturers like 3dfx, S3, and Rendition (among others) all supplied board manufacturers with their products. It wasn’t uncommon for a board manufacturer to have an S3-based product at the low-end, NVIDIA for the mainstream, and 3dfx Voodoo at the extreme high-end. Those days slowly went away as the 3D graphics market consolidated, 3dfx acquired STB while S3 purchased Diamond Multimedia. Micron Technology bought Rendition, but ultimately nothing ever came from this deal. Slowly but surely, exclusives became the norm.
Today we can report that those days appear to be coming to an end. ASUS, one of NVIDIA’s oldest board partners, will now produce ATI cards alongside its existing line of NVIDIA-based cards. Gigabyte will be producing cards from both chip manufacturers as well. In fact, ASUS has already gone into production on its first RADEON product: the ASUS RADEON 9800 XT!
Lengths are the same here
Dual fans for cooling
Profile shot of the trio of cards
The RADEON 9800 XT card
Single slot cooling on both cards
A closer look at the cooler
As you can see, ASUS has come up with its own unique cooling solution for its RADEON 9800 XT card, which features dual fans and a copper heatsink, this is similar to the cooling setup ASUS implemented on its GeForce FX 5900 Ultra-based V9950 Ultra. We haven’t spent enough time with our card to come to any definite conclusions on its performance, but we can report that noise levels aren’t extraordinary.
Besides the new cooling, the other feature that will likely catch your attention is ASUS’ video input support; this is the only RADEON 9800 XT card that we’re aware of with this feature. Previously this capability was limited solely to ATI’s pricier ALL-IN-WONDER line.
ASUS' 9800 XT board
The bottom of the card
The soft stuff
NVIDIA enthusiasts have enjoyed ASUS’ Smart Doctor software, the latest version shipping with the ASUS RADEON 9800 XT acts as a hardware monitoring utility with dynamic overclocking. It will be interesting to see how this compares to ATI’s own OVERDRIVE software, which will eventually offer some of the same features.
RADEON 9800 xT packaging
Inside lies the RADEON 9800 XT
Extensive list of goodies in the box
Other ASUS software included in the package is ASUS GameFace, ASUS Digital VCR II, and ASUS VideoSecurity II. Game titles include Gun Metal, Battle Engine Aquila, and a 6-in-1 CD of game demos. Half-Life 2 is listed prominently as another free title that comes with the card, but we’re not sure how ASUS plans to distribute the game, as it isn’t finished yet. We’ll have to get back with you on that one.
Finally, ASUS rounds the package out with a copy of ASUS DVD XP, Cyberlink PowerDirector Pro 2.55 and Media Show SE 2.0, as well as copies of Cool 3D SE 3.0, and Photo Express SE 4.0 both from Ulead.
The games and VIVO module
A closer look at the VIVO modul
With so much in the ASUS RADEON 9800 XT package, other 9800 XT card manufacturers are going to be hard-pressed to compete with ASUS. Traditionally ASUS’ board partners have stuck with ATI’s reference design with little or no software bundle other than the obligatory DVD player and maybe a game demo or two. Sapphire’s Ultimate line is the only exception to this. In fact, it’s quite possible that ASUS has put together a better RADEON 9800 XT card and package than ATI!
Be sure to keep an eye out for the final review. We should know a little bit more once ATI releases its CATALYST 3.8 drivers next week.
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Are you happy to see exclusives going away in the 3D graphics market? What do you think of ASUS’ RADEON 9800 XT card so far, does it look promising or has ASUS missed something you’d like to see them address? Chat about all this and more in the news comments!