Summary: With last week's introduction of the Radeon X1900 GT by ATI and their board partners, the $300 price segment is one of the hottest sectors of the graphics market right now, with three GPUs vying for supremacy at this price point: the Radeon X1800 XT, GeForce 7900 GT, and now the Radeon X1900 GT. Join us as we explore the performance of these GPUs as well as ATI's Radeon X1900 XT in today's review!
Last week ATI “officially” unveiled their Radeon X1900 GT GPU to the public. We put the word officially in quotes because the X1900 GT actually hit some retailers shelves before ATI’s official announcement last Monday; some eyewitness reports spotted it on Best Buy’s shelves a week earlier, with Built By ATI Radeon X1900 GT 256MB cards selling for around $350. With ATI successfully hard launching the Radeon X1900 XT/XTX, their Xpress 3200 chipset, and now the Radeon X1900 GT all this year, it appears ATI’s taken the criticism towards availability to heart. These new products couldn’t have come at a more critical time for ATI, as NVIDIA certainly isn’t letting up either.
As its name implies, the Radeon X1900 GT is meant to take on NVIDIA’s current GeForce 7900 GT GPU, which has become an extremely popular seller in the short time it has been out on the market. The GeForce 7900 GT has proven popular with enthusiasts due to its excellent price/performance ratio; unlike the GeForce 7800 GT, which had some of its pixel and vertex shaders reduced, the GeForce 7900 GT runs with the full feature set found in NVIDIA’s flagship GeForce 7900 GTX, only it runs at slower clock speeds. Some enthusiasts have found the GeForce 7900 GT to be an excellent overclocker as well, pushing speeds well in excess of 600MHz, and of course it also doesn’t hurt that the GeForce 7900 GT fits in a single-slot package and generates very little heat.
But how does the X1900 GT stack up against the Radeon X1800 XT and GeForce 7900 GT? That’s what we’re here today to find out!
Fortunately, the vertex shaders carry over unchanged from the more senior X1900 cards, as the Radeon X1900 GT sports 8 vertex shading units; ATI also makes no changes to the X1900 GT’s memory controller, as it’s outfitted with the same programmable 256-bit memory interface with eight 32-bit memory controllers that was first introduced in the Radeon X1800 XT late last year. Clock speeds are down from the Radeon X1900 XT and XTX though as the X1900 GT’s graphics core is clocked at 575MHz, that’s 50MHz lower than the Radeon X1900 XT and 75MHz shy of the X1900 XTX’s 650MHz core clock speed, while the X1900 GT’s memory is clocked at 600MHz (1.2GHz effective). In comparison, the X1900 XT’s memory runs at 725MHz.
The Sapphire X1900 GT card
At first glance, Sapphire’s Radeon X1900 GT card looks like a clone of ATI’s Radeon X1800 XL, the X1900 GT uses the same board design and similar cooling, but actually one key change has been made that makes the board easier to live with on a day-to-day basis: it generates less noise than the Radeon X1800 XL did.
ATI uses the same heatsink/fan unit as the Radeon X1800 XL – if you peel the Sapphire X1900 GT sticker off you can literally see Ruby underneath – only the card’s fan has been tweaked to run at lower RPMs overall. The card’s fan still runs at roughly 2500 RPMs in 2D mode, just like the Radeon X1800 XL, but ATI has raised the temperature thresholds at which the fan spins up, and even when it does spin up, the RPMs aren’t as high: whereas the fan on X1800 XL could crank up to full tilt after even light gaming sessions, we never saw the fan on the X1900 GT crank up to full speed, even when overclocking and/or during extended usage in games. It was only when we manually adjusted the RPMs that we were reminded of the Radeon X1800 XL; if we didn’t have both cards in-house for testing our ears would’ve sworn we were using two different coolers, it really is a remarkable difference between both cards.
The only other difference between the X1800 XL’s board design and the X1900 GT is the additional power circuitry used on the X1900 GT card. Everywhere else the two cards are the same. Sapphire’s X1900 GT is equipped with two dual-link DVI connectors, just like the Radeon X1800 XL, as well as ATI’s Rage Theater chip, providing video-in/video-out functionality (VIVO).
Sapphire also continues to provide their Sapphire Select software bundle with their Radeon X1900 GT card. With Sapphire Select, you have the option to choose from one of four games: Tony Hawk’s Undergound 2, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30, and Richard Burns Rally. You can try all four games for up to one hour, at that point you’ll then pick one game to be unlocked for the full version. The other three games can then be purchased at a discount if you’d like (on higher-end X1900 cards Sapphire allows you to unlock two games).
In addition to the Sapphire Select DVD, Sapphire also includes a copy of CyberLink PowerDVD 6 2-channel edition, and PowerDirector 4DE. Hardware accessories included with the card are a 6-pin PCI-E power connector, two DVI adapters, S-Video and composite video cables, a component video cable, and VIVO cable.
Pacific Fighters 4.04 (with Perfect landscape setting for ATI and NVIDIA)
Battlefield 2 – Direct3D
Quake 4 – OpenGL
LOMAC – Direct D
Pacific Fighters – OpenGL
F.E.A.R. – Direct3D
Call of Duty 2 – Direct3D
Oblivion – Direct3D
Oblivion – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
36 pixel shaders: At the heart of the Radeon X1900 GT lies ATI’s R580 graphics core, one of the most powerful GPUs on the market today. The R580 GPU inside the X1900 GT has had some of its features pared down – the X1900 GT sports fewer pixel shaders and texture units – but it’s still a very forward-looking design with 36 pixel shader processors, the most inside any GPU outside of an X1900 XT or XTX, as well as ATI’s ultra-threaded dispatch processor and branch unit for handling dynamic flow control. ATI also equips R580 with a programmable memory controller featuring 8 32-bit controllers, allowing the memory subsystem to simultaneously serve memory read/write requests than previous designs.
Radeon X1800 XT: The Radeon X1800 XT currently delivers better performance for a lower price tag, making it a better value for playing today’s latest games. Even in F.E.A.R. a title that the X1900 architecture has shined in previously, the X1800 XT outperforms the X1900 GT by up to 24% at 1600x1200 (where the X1800 XT has the widest advantage). It’s possible that the X1900 GT’s 36 pixel shader architecture will give it the advantage in upcoming shader model 3.0 titles like Unreal Tournament 2007, but for now that remains to be seen.