Summary: With a 575MHz clock speed, 24 pixel shaders, 8 vertex shaders, and a $149 price tag, the Radeon X1650 XT has all the right specs on paper to do extremely well in the mainstream graphics market. But does this new GPU deliver the goods in real performance? Find out, as we test the Radeon X1650 XT against seven other cards ranging from the GeForce 6800 GT to the recently announced Radeon X1950 Pro and GeForce 7950 GS!
Once again ATI’s enlisting the services of a new GPU, in this case, its name is RV560, and once again the new GPU is built on TSMC’s 80-nm manufacturing process and has ATI’s CrossFire dual-GPU technology built into the graphics core. This means that every Radeon X1650 XT graphics card supports CrossFire out-of-the-box. There’s no need for proprietary CrossFire master graphics cards, and the much maligned CrossFire dongle isn’t necessary either.
The really sweet part about ATI’s Radeon X1650 XT though is its price. The card carries an MSRP of just $149. That puts it squarely in GeForce 7600 GT territory. Ever since it was first introduced in March, the GeForce 7600 GT has been an enormous hit for NVIDIA, and a thorn in the side of ATI. Its got 12 pixel shaders and 5 vertex shaders, and sports clock speeds similar to the Radeon X1600 XT, but our testing has shown that the GeForce 7600 GT delivers significantly more performance in today’s games.
Since the GeForce 7600 GT’s debut, ATI’s basically been forced to slash prices on their Radeon X1600 line. Originally the GPU was supposed to debut as high as $249, but those plans were quickly scuttled and the price was adjusted to $199. When the 7600 GT arrived the X1600 XT’s price was reduced to around $150, as the X1600 XT performed more similarly to NVIDIA’s 7600 GS than the 7600 GT.
Now ATI’s taking a real stab at dethroning the GeForce 7600 GT with their Radeon X1650 XT, and its RV560 GPU has all the right specs on paper to do just that.
RV560 is armed with 24 pixel shaders, and 8 vertex shading units. In comparison, this is twice the number of pixel shaders as the Radeon X1600’s RV530 GPU, which only contained 12 pixel shading units, and three additional vertex shaders than RV530. ATI also outfits RV560 with 8 texture address units and 8 render back-ends (ROPs), this is twice times the number of texture units and ROPs as the Radeon X1600, which was the achilles heel of that GPU, particularly with older titles that weren’t pixel shader heavy.
Like the Radeon X1600 XT, the Radeon X1650 XT’s RV560 GPU retains ATI’s ring-bus memory architecture. The GPU feature a 256-bit internal ring bus, with a 128-bit interface to the board’s memory.
In terms of clock speeds, the Radeon X1650 XT’s RV560 GPU runs at 574MHz, while the board’s memory runs at 675MHz (1350MHz effective). Both of these figures are a little slower than RV530, which ran at 590MHz core/690MHz memory.
ATI’s Radeon X1650 XT reference board bears a striking resemblance to the board design of its predecessor, the Radeon X1600 XT. Both cards use the same printed circuit board (PCB) and cooling, although if you look closer you’ll see that ATI has tweaked the power circuitry a little on the Radeon X1650 XT board.
Because both boards are so similar though, this should make the transition to the Radeon X1650 XT easier for ATI and their board partners who will be manufacturing X1650 XT cards.
As we just mentioned, ATI uses the same cooler that was first used on the Radeon X1300 Pro and Radeon X1600 XT reference boards for the Radeon X1650 XT. It’s a single-slot unit, with a ducted fan design and copper heatsink.
While the cooler has a small fan providing cooling, don’t let its small size fool you: it can push a lot of air and generate a lot of noise in the process – it’s that high-pitched fan noise that can be so annoying too. Fortunately since introducing the Radeon X1600 XT and X1300 Pro roughly a year ago, ATI has worked on the fan’s noise output so it runs quieter; with the Radeon X1650 XT the fan runs very quietly, in fact you’d be hard-pressed to hear it when running inside a case. The fan spins up to its max speed when you initially boot up the system, but after a few seconds it spins down to much lower levels,
Thanks to these changes, the fan runs circles around NVIDIA’s GeForce 7600 GT in the noise department, the noise issues with ATI’s GPUs appear to finally be gone. The cooler does a fairly decent job of keeping the graphics core cool too, we noted an idle GPU temperature of 47 degrees Celsius while load temps peaked to 68 degrees Celsius. Not bad for a single-slot cooler this small.
In terms of connectivity, ATI equips their Radeon X1650 XT cards with two dual-link DVI connections. Video buffs will be glad to hear that Built By ATI Radeon X1650 XT cards will also support HDCP. VIVO support isn’t offered though.
Keep in mind that this applies solely to ATI’s own Radeon X1650 XT graphics cards. ATI’s board partners may or may not support HDCP with their own X1650 XT cards, as this is still officially considered an optional feature. ATI’s standard configuration will also come with 256MB of memory and solely support PCI Express, but there’s nothing stopping an enterprising board manufacturer from adding an AGP Radeon X1650 XT card to their lineup, and/or including more memory.
Half-Life 2 Lost Coast
Again keep in mind that we’re testing the NVIDIA cards with the image quality setting at “High Quality” mode rather than the driver default setting of “Quality”. We’ve noted that the HQ setting significantly reduces the amount of texture shimmering in games such as Battlefield 2. This change does negatively impact NVIDIA’s performance, but it’s a tweak many NVIDIA users seem to be doing with their own cards so we’re doing it too.
3DMark 06 – Direct3D
Half-Life 2: Lost Coast – Direct3D
Quake 4 – OpenGL
Lock On: Modern Air Combat – Direct3D
F.E.A.R. – Direct3D
Oblivion – Direct3D
Oblivion – Direct3D
Call of Duty 2 – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
But as the GeForce 7600 GT continued to drop in price, it became tougher for ATI to compete on price with the Radeon X1800 GTO. Remember that its R520 GPU was originally intended for use in cards that were much more expensive, with the GTO sporting a 256-bit memory interface and the board using a more expensive PCB. It just isn’t as cost effective for ATI to sell the X1800 GTO for $150 or less. A new GPU was needed to really service the $150 market effectively.
This is where the Radeon X1650 XT comes in.
The X1650 XT is built on TSMC’s smaller 80-nm process and it’s outfitted with a narrower 128-bit memory interface, all this makes the GPU cheaper for ATI to produce.
In terms of performance, the Radeon X1650 XT ran neck-and-neck with the Radeon X1800 GTO despite its 128-bit memory interface, even though we were testing with 4xAA. Overall the Radeon X1800 GTO was a little faster than the X1650 XT in most of our benchmarks, but the X1650 XT’s new RV560 GPU kept it close for the most part. In comparison to the GeForce 7600 GT, the Radeon X1650 XT earns its fair share of wins and losses, but ultimately it wins more than it loses. The only games where the GeForce 7600 GT clearly came out ahead were in Quake 4 and Lock On: Modern Air Combat, while the Radeon X1650 XT clearly put up a stronger showing in Oblivion and to a less extent in Half-Life 2 Lost Coast, everywhere else the two cards really were neck-and-neck. Also keep in mind the plethora of factory overclocked GeForce 7600 GT cards which aren’t tested here. Hopefully ATI’s board partners will step up to the challenge and produce factory overclocked X1650 XT boards of their own, as our tests with the GPU indicate that it scales easily to higher clock speeds.
Because the 7600 GT and X1650 XT are so close to each other in performance (for the most part), the ultimate decision for many of you will likely come down to price and availability. Here ATI’s very competitive. The Radeon X1650 XT carries an MSRP of $149 and will hit store shelves the week of November 13th. That’s a little over two weeks from now.
Currently, the lowest listing on PriceGrabber for the GeForce 7600 GT is $125 (although its official MSRP is $150), so the 7600 GT is priced a little lower than the X1650 XT. This gives NVIDIA a little bit of an edge in the pricing department, which is an important distinction, but as wildly as prices tend to fluctuate in the graphics market lately, this could very well be something consumers in the market for a new graphics card will have to watch on a day-to-day basis for the best prices.
With its native CrossFire support and more powerful RV560 GPU though, the Radeon X1650 XT is a nice addition to the mainstream family from ATI. For those of you with Radeon X1800 GTOs, it doesn’t truly displace your card, but it does come close at times. And with its 24 pixel shaders and 8 vertex shaders, it has the potential to become an even better performer once more pixel shader-heavy titles hit the market. And who knows, ATI’s driver team may be able to squeeze a little more performance out of it as well. It’s certainly an interesting card that we’ll be keeping our eyes on in the months ahead.
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