Summary: There were quite a few interesting graphics cards to see at Computex this year: ASUS had a heatpipe-based PCI Express X800 XT Platinum Edition to talk about with dual DVI connectors and even ships with a webcam, while MSI has come up with an all-copper cooling solution for their GeForce 6800 that also features dynamic overclocking technology. Brandon goes over all the hottest GeForce and RADEON cards he saw while he was in Taiwan in the second part of his Computex graphics article. See all the details inside!
More ATI notes
While we were under the impression ABIT was going to continue manufacturing both NVIDIA graphics cards (in addition to their recent ATI announcement), ABIT didn’t have any NVIDIA products on display at their Computex booth; this includes the PCI Express GeForce PCX line as well as the GeForce 6800 series. Apparently ABIT plans to focus on ATI, at least for the immediate future.
ABIT is pretty proud of this cooler too, referring to it as their unique “Die Casting Cooling System”. The base of the unit boasts a greater surface area than some of the more traditional ATI heatsinks, while the top of the fan is designed to draw cool air in, keeping the X600 VPU cool. This air then passes out the sides of the heatsink, ABIT provides 20 venting holes for this purpose. Finally, 2 fan-mounted blue LEDs are integrated into the fan to create an eye-catching halo effect.
ABIT plans to produce three X600 models: one 256MB X600 XT card, a 128MB X600 XT board, and a 128MB X600 PRO card.
ASUS: Dual manufacturing continues
ASUS plans to continue providing ATI and NVIDIA solutions to its users going into the summer, although the most exciting news for ASUS is on the ATI front. For their PCI Express X800 XT Platinum board, ASUS plans to implement a heat pipe-based cooling solution, making them the first board manufacturer we’re aware of to go this route. In addition, the card will stand out even more with its LED behind the cooling fan.
But ASUS isn’t leaving special features to the PCI Express users only, as their AGP-based RADEON X800 XT and PRO boards both sport heatsinks that are unique to ASUS. Unlike the ATI reference design ATI and most of its board partners are using, ASUS’ heatsink is a little larger, not only cooling the graphics core, but also its surrounding memory, just like the old RADEON 9800 XT. ATI’s reference design doesn’t touch the memory modules.
ASUS will also be bundling their high-end boards with their GameFace Live technology, which has been revised to support more simultaneous users (up to eight players are now supported) as well as a wide variety of applications. For instance, in your GameFace window you can see when you receive new email. ATI has also enhanced its Video Security technology this year, and to boost its acceptance among users, ASUS will begin bundling a 300K webcam with all of their X800 XT and PRO boards, regardless of interface. To keep the price of their X800 PRO more competitive with other board manufacturers, ASUS will provide two X800 PRO SKUs: one with video input, the AX800 PRO/TVD (256MB) and one without, the AX800 PRO/TD (256MB).
VIVO continues at mainstream
For the mainstream segment, ASUS plans to differentiate themselves from other board manufacturers by providing video input capability on their X600 XT board, the Extreme AX600 XT. The board will also rely on a custom cooling solution with the cooling fan located offset of the graphics core for enhanced cooling performance. At the center of the fan, ASUS has integrated a blue LED.
Just below the V9999 Ultra Deluxe is ASUS’ V9999 Gamer Edition. This board sports all the features of the Ultra Deluxe card, only it’s based on NVIDIA’s GeForce 6800 GPU. Additionally, ASUS omits the dual DVI connections for the more traditional DVI/VGA configuration.
At the bottom of ASUS’ GeForce 6800 line is the V9999/TD/128. Like the V9999 Gamer Edition, the V9999/TD/128 is based on NVIDIA’s GeForce 6800 GPU. The only difference is memory configuration: the Gamer Edition is equipped with 256MB of memory whereas the V9999/TD/128 is outfitted with 128MB of memory.
All of ASUS’ newest cards will ship with a newer game bundle for 2004. Deus Ex: Invisible War as well as Counter Strike: Condition Zero are now part of the standard game bundle from ASUS.
While Chaintech is probably best known for their high-end Zenith motherboards, they’ve also brought the Zenith/Apogee formula to their graphics cards as well. Currently NVIDIA’s board partners must purchase their high-end 6800 Ultra and GT cards directly from NVIDIA, so Chaintech is no different than the other board manufacturers on these lines.
One aspect that did stand out was Chaintech’s mockup GeForce 6800 GT card: it was outfitted with dual DVI connections! This was surprising, as NVIDIA’s reference 6800 GT card relied on the more traditional DVI/VGA combination for video output. Even the 6800 GT card in Chaintech’s VGA brochure sported dual DVI, so Chaintech’s 6800 GT card could be unique in this aspect among first generation 6800 GT cards. Chaintech’s base 6800 card is also NVIDIA reference-based, which is a bit of a surprise as most board manufacturers have implemented their own cooling designs for their GeForce 6800 cards.
Besides the 6800 boards, Chaintech also had their Personal Cinema FX 5700 and GeForce PCX cards on display in their booth. We’ll be providing a review of NVIDIA’s latest Personal Cinema solution in the coming weeks.
In addition to NVIDIA, Chaintech has also decided to partner with S3 and XGI. Chaintech will be providing 128MB and 256MB versions of the DeltaChrome S8 and 128MB and 256MB Volari V8 variants. On the low end of the market, Chaintech provides Volari V3 cards.
Like ASUS, Gigabyte plans to continue their status as a dual graphics provider, with cards based on ATI and NVIDIA graphics on display in their booth. Prior to the show we were under the impression that Gigabyte was closer to NVIDIA than ATI, as Gigabyte announced their 6800 boards on launch day whereas their X800 cards weren’t officially announced until the week before Computex, but you couldn’t see a preference for either vendor at Gigabyte’s Computex booth.
Gigabyte is in the same position as other board manufacturers – they’re forced to rely on reference designs for their first generation GeForce 6800 and RADEON X800 boards. Gigabyte has two RADEON X800 XT Platinum SKUs planned, one based on the AGP interface and a second PCI Express X800 XT Platinum. Both boards will provide identical feature sets with the sole difference being the interface. Gigabyte has the same strategy planned for X800 PRO, although four SKUs are planned as Gigabyte will be offering PCI Express and AGP PRO boards with and without video input capability (all XT Platinum cards will offer video-in).
For X600, Gigabyte plans to offer the RX60X128V, which is based on the RADEON X600 XT and ships with video input support, while their PRO card, the GV-RX60P128D won’t provide video-in. Currently, Gigabyte has no plans for an X300 board, relying on the X300 SE instead with their GV-RX30S128D.
On the NVIDIA side of Gigabyte’s lineup, the entire 6800 series is available. Gigabyte’s GeForce 6800 card will ship with a transparent fan enclosure, revealing an all-copper heatsink and heat pipe underneath.
This could turn out to be a pretty nice cooling solution, as NVIDIA’s reference heatsink and heat pipe for the 6800 line are composed of aluminum, even on the high-end Ultra card. Gigabyte’s marketing material pictures a GV-N68U256D GeForce 6800 Ultra card with the transparent all-copper cooling as well, so it’s possible they may adapt the cooler for their Ultra line in the near future. Their 6800 GT card is based on the two-slot aluminum-based reference design we tested in our 6800 GT article.
The big news from Gigabyte is their new V-Tuner 2 software for overclocking. All next generation Gigabyte cards from ATI and NVIDIA will ship with V-Tuner 2, as well as a new game bundle: Spellforce, Rainbow Six 3: Ravenshield, and Counter Strike: Condition Zero.
T.O.P Tech gets an update
We’ve truly fallen in love with MSI’s T.O.P. Tech cooling solutions, which are designed to provide optimal cooling performance without sacrificing too much performance in the process. The real beauty of T.O.P Tech though is noise level – MSI has got buildng quiet cards down to a fine art. In our GeForce FX 5900 XT roundup earlier this year, we found their FX5900XT-TD28 board operated quieter than any other 5900 XT board we tested.
Adjustable fan speeds on Copper Ultra range from 2800 RPM (which dishes out 30 decibels) to 4,000 RPMs (39 decibels). This is a handy feature for those of you who may want to keep the card quiet for normal desktop operations, then crank up the RPMs once you’re ready to overclock. Unfortunately, this dynamic cooling technology is hardware-based only, MSI doesn’t provide a software solution to accomplish this task, so you will need quick and easy access to the inside of your case if you plan to use this feature frequently.
MSI claims their all-copper cooling unit outperforms NVIDIA’s reference design by 10 degrees Celsius on the core at the 4,000 RPM setting and 40 degrees Celsius on the memory.
In addition to RPM adjustment, MSI will also provide dynamic overclocking capability with their 6800 board. When enabled, MSI’s dynamic overclocking technology will automatically overclock your graphics card anywhere from 6-10%, depending on temperature and load. The hardcore crowd will probably shun this technology, but this takes the guessing work out of overclocking for inexperienced users.
Keep in mind that everything we just mentioned applies to NVIDIA’s GeForce 6800 card only, for the 6800 Ultra and GT, MSI must buy their boards direct from NVIDIA, just like all the other card manufacturers. Therefore, MSI’s early GeForce 6800 Ultra boards will be based on NVIDIA’s reference designs, although MSI would like to implement this technology onto their 6800 Ultra card in the near future, so be on the lookout for MSI’s second generation 6800 Ultra card if these features interest you.
On the ATI side, MSI plans to stick with ATI’s reference design for now. X600 cards will get traditional T.O.P. Tech coolers to ensure quiet operation, although the first generation X600 boards won’t have video input capabilities. MSI will be providing video input on their X800 XT and PRO boards however.
Powercolor has revised its product packaging for the latest generation of RADEON graphics cards. The new look goes along with their parent companies new name, TUL (Technology Unlimited) and is designed to reflect the company’s emphasis on becoming the world’s leading graphics provider.
The X800 cards themselves are reference designs, Powercolor hasn’t deviated from ATI’s specs one iota. Again, as we’ve said before, this is to be expected, as ATI is keeping tight control over the X800 PRO and X800 XT lines, selling the complete cards directly to their board partners, who then package the card and sell it to the consumer.
For X600 PRO and X600 XT, Powercolor, like other board manufacturers, is given more leeway. Both of Powercolor’s X600 boards feature a large aluminum heatsink, which cools the graphics core and its memory. Placed on top of the heatsink is a decorative cover, with flames shooting from the top and sides. Enthusiasts should like
The big news at Sapphire’s booth is their new Toxic line. The Toxic boards are intended to serve the hardcore enthusiast market, going one level beyond their regular X800 PRO and X800 XT cards, this is the same market ATI targeted with its Zalman-based ULTIMATE line of silent RADEON 9x00 cards, which were popular among enthusiasts.
Sapphire tops the package off with their APE (Automated Performance Enhancer) software. Since ATI won’t allow its board partners to overclock their boards from the factory, Sapphire provides APE as an option for its users to overclock their Toxic board. APE will automatically overclock your board’s graphics core and memory to clock speeds Sapphire has pre-qualified for use on their Toxic line. Sapphire hasn’t decided on the final clock speeds, but the ranges we were given were quite surprising, especially on the memory side. We’d rather not repeat them as quite frankly, we’d be surprised if Sapphire is able to provide the frequencies they’re targeting and still get good yields on Toxic cards.
Besides the new cooler and blue PCB, Sapphire’s Toxic boards will also ship with an external LED display. This display will provide hardware monitoring information and can be mounted on the front of your case. In order to provide this capability, Sapphire had to add an external Thermistor to the Toxic board, i.e. the temperature setting displayed by the LED doesn’t come from the X800’s onboard thermal diode.
Despite all these changes, Sapphire says that their Toxic boards will still be compatible with ATI’s OVERDRIVE dynamic overclocking software, as well as their own Redline overclocking utility. The card will be bundled with full retail versions of Splinter Cell: Pandorra Tomorrow and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.
We have a strong belief that 2004 will go down as one of the most significant years in the history of 3D graphics. This isn’t just because of the PCI Express transition either; all indications are that both ATI and NVIDIA will be significantly upping the ante in the desktop, mobile, and integrated segments. Even Intel has put together a very respectable integrated graphics solution with their upcoming desktop chipset.
This is all in preparation for next generation software titles and Microsoft’s upcoming operating system, codenamed Longhorn. Hardware vendors are getting their products in place, so the market will be ready when these titles hit retail. Those of you with GeForce4’s that held out when the first generation of DX9 hardware was released will want to upgrade, in fact, we have a strong feeling that many gamers with RADEON 9800 PROs and GeForce FX 5900s will be tempted to upgrade this year as well.
Because of this, it’s a bit frustrating to see the delays surrounding ATI’s RADEON X800 XT, and from NVIDIA, GeForce 6800 Ultra and 6800 GT. The sooner these boards hit shelves the sooner board competition can set in. Once this occurs, prices will fall, and manufacturers will come up with their second generation of boards, which tend to offer more features: right now everyone is forced to rely on reference designs at the high-end of the market.
Fortunately, GeForce 6800 and RADEON X800 PRO cards are now hitting retail. Considering the attractive pricing of these cards and their performance in comparison to previous graphics architectures, they make for compelling upgrades. Board manufacturers are also coming up with some unique solutions here -- MSI’s Copper Ultra cooling is a perfect example of this. It’s also great to see board manufacturers updating their game bundles. Sure, there are a few too many board partners picking up Counterstrike: Condition Zero for our taste, but this is a positive development nonetheless. 2004 also marks the first full year of the dual graphics manufacturers.
Because of all of these factors, the video card market has never been more exciting. Hopefully the cards will flood the retail channel soon, as this summer promises to be an exciting one for the PC gamer!
|© Copyright 2003 FS Media, Inc.|