PowerColor AMD Radeon HD 2900 Pro Review
Late last month, AMD quietly unveiled the Radeon HD 2900 Pro to the public. This GPU release was important for ATI because it finally gave them a very attractive solution for the $200-$300 market. Previously this segment was basically served by the Radeon X1950 XTX, which as we all know is previous generation technology and not very compelling in light of the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB, which generally runs faster and of course supports DirectX 10.
For all intents and purposes, AMD basically had a huge hole in their lineup between the $150 Radeon HD 2600 XT and the $400 Radeon HD 2900 XT 512MB. The Radeon HD 2900 Pro fills this hole with three different SKUs: a $250 Radeon HD 2900 Pro 512MB (like the card we’re reviewing today), and two 1GB Radeon HD 2900 Pro SKUs with GDDR4 memory. What really makes the Radeon HD 2900 Pro so compelling in our eyes though isn’t just the price – what really excites us is the R600 GPU inside the Radeon HD 2900 Pro.
If you recall, R600 is the exact same GPU found in the Radeon HD 2900 XT. On paper, R600 is a technological tour de force. The chip sports 320 stream processors for handling pixel, vertex, and geometry shading duties and R600 boasts the world’s first 512-bit memory interface, feeding the R600 GPU with up to 105.6GB/sec of memory bandwidth in the Radeon HD 2900 XT. In comparison, that’s nearly twice the number of stream processors and almost 20GB/sec more bandwidth than the GeForce 8800 GTX.
With such a heavy emphasis on shading, R600 is a very forward-looking architecture, but with just 16 texture units and ROPs, it boasts a texture fill-rate similar to the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB. R600 has also been criticized for the performance hit it takes when AA is enabled. This is due to its use of shader-based AA (color resolve is handled by the shaders in most cases).
All this techno babble is moot though if the GPU can perform well in games, and here the 2900 XT has proved to be a worthy competitor to the GeForce 8800 GTS. Lately though its biggest problem has been driver performance with newer games, particularly in DirectX 10: their DX10 driver just hasn’t been performing well. We talked with AMD about this recently and they said that up to this point the focus of their DX10 driver has been stability, now that they’ve got that nailed down they’ve finally begun to optimize the DX10 driver for performance, starting with the release of Catalyst 7.10 earlier this month. In the words of AMD’s Terry Makedon: “Initially the DX10 driver was based on stability (as everything in Catalyst land usually is). Now that there is a fairly large sample of DX10 games, we have the opportunity to look at performance and see what could be done across the board. There are issues under DX10 with constant buffer handling so we dealt with those and we noticed that this helps games that are more CPU limited than others.”
What is exciting about this is the Catalyst 7.10 improvements we’ve seen are just the beginning, once AMD begins to optimize for individual applications in theory we should see even more performance improvements for R6xx GPUs.
The Radeon HD 2900 Pro
This brings us to today’s review of the PowerColor Radeon HD 2900 Pro. With its R600 GPU, you may wonder how it stacks up in comparison to the Radeon HD 2900 XT. It turns out, the card compares very well! The following chart summarizes the key features found in the Radeon HD 2900 Pro, and how it compares to the Radeon HD 2900 XT.
|Radeon HD 2900 Comparison|
|Card||# of Stream Processors||Memory Interface||Clock Speeds||Configuration||Price|
|Radeon HD 2900 XT||320||512-bit||742MHz core/1650MHz GDDR4 Memory||512MB DVI+DVI+VIVO, 9.5" PCB||$399|
|Radeon HD 2900 Pro 512MB||320||512-bit||600MHz core/800MHz GDDR3 Memory||512MB DVI+DVI+VIVO, 9.5" PCB||$249|
|Radeon HD 2900 Pro 1GB||320||512-bit||600MHz core/800MHz GDDR4 Memory||1GB DVI+DVI+VIVO, 9.5" PCB||$299|
|Radeon HD 2900 Pro 1GB||320||512-bit||600MHz core/800MHz GDDR4 Memory||1GB DVI+DVI+VIVO, 12.4" PCB||$299|
As you can see, the 2900 Pro has all the key features found in the Radeon HD 2900 XT. None of the GPU’s shading units have been deactivated, and it still boasts a 512-bit memory interface. The only difference lies in the clock speeds and price. And as you’ll see on the next page, retail Radeon HD 2900 Pro cards looks practically identical to the 2900 XT…
AMD has also announced a Radeon HD 2900 GT SKU which also uses the R600 GPU, only it has 240 stream processors and a 256-bit memory interface with 256MB of memory. Like the 2900 Pro it runs at 600MHz core/800MHz memory. We will post benchmarks of this card shortly…