||VisionTek Xtasy 9800 PRO Review
June 25, 2003 Chris Angelini
Summary: VisionTek, well known for their GeForce line of video cards, is now under new management and reppin' cards based on ATI's RADEON line. Based on the RADEON 9800 PRO, the Xtasy 9800 PRO is the flagship of VisionTek's new lineup. Chris puts this card under the microscope in our usual battery of benchmarks. See how it compares to ATI's RADEON 9800 PRO card in this review!
| Introduction||Page:: ( 1 / 15 )|
“Kick’n gaming performance
Illest bro on da block. The Xtasy 9800 Pro, reppin ATI’s RADEON 9800 Pro VPU with 128MB DDR memory be kickn the crap outta demanding applications. Bring’n the heat through 8 pipelines, front’n 3 billion pixels per second! If that ain’t ‘nuff for ya, try 4 parallel geo-metry engines kick’n 380 million polygons per second. The 9800 Pro reps 128-bit, 64-bit, and 32-bit floating-point color formats. Hi-res 32-bit, 3D gaming up to 2048x1536 means that when ‘demanding applications’ comes out to play…the 9800 Pro be kick’n the crap outta that motha…be cry’n like a little girl.”
The above paragraph comes straight from the back of VisionTek’s Xtasy 9800 Pro 128MB AGP card, and is perhaps one of the funniest product descriptions I’ve ever read. In fact, I was “cry’n like a little girl” myself. VisionTek, it seems, has adopted a sassy new image that ranges from employing hip street lingo to poking fun at its competitor’s gaffes.
The company as we now know it was acquired at the end of 2002 when Visiontek, LLC ceased to exist. At the time, VisionTek peddled video cards based on NVIDIA’s entire product lineup. Though not known for extraordinary innovation or tremendous value, VisionTek could be counted on for retail products delivering performance inline with NVIDIA’s own reference designs, ahead of the competition and for a fair price. Then, in December of 2002, it was announced that VisionTek would be making a switch from selling GeForce-related products to exclusively marketing ATI’s RADEON family under the Xtasy brand name. A complete lineup of cards has consequently emerged covering every market from the mainstream RADEON 9100 PCI with 64MB to the top-end 9800 Pro with 256MB of memory.
Standard 128MB Fare
Given the complexity of modern day accelerators (consider that the R350 core is comprised of more than 100 million transistors), it isn’t surprising that most add-in board partners have been forced to forsake the once-popular practice of rearranging components for enhanced performance. Instead, many have fallen upon value adding by bundling games, developing custom tweak utilities and even innovating unconventional cooling solutions. VisionTek has taken a more simplistic route with its Xtasy 9800 Pro card, though. But even while its 128MB solution is a replica of ATI’s own reference design, VisionTek has its ways of standing out. After all, in its own words, the 9800 Pro offers the “freak’n sickest visual effects,” yo.
SIDEBAR: VisionTek’s Xtasy 9800 Pro product page
| The Xtasy 9800 Pro 128MB AGP||Page:: ( 2 / 15 )|
The Xtasy 9800 Pro, as mentioned, is a reference design that comes complete with ATI’s logo on the heat sink fan. But that’s beside the point because we already know that the reference card is fast, supported by the established CATALYST driver team, and void of the compatibility issues we experienced back when the 9700 Pro was ATI’s flagship.
To recap, the card is based on the ATI R350 Visual Processing Unit clocked at 380MHz. It is, of course, fully compliant with DirectX 9, and it sports a couple of features not found on its predecessor, RADEON 9700 Pro. The first is called an F-buffer, a FIFO buffer within the chip’s core that theoretically enables fragment shader programs of unlimited length. We’ve yet to see a game that utilizes the DirectX 9 feature set, so it remains to be seen what, if any, effect the F-buffer has in real-world apps, especially since massive shader programs have an adverse effect on performance. Additionally, R350 has an enhanced memory controller and Z cache said to augment stencil buffer performance. The cumulative result is a marked improvement in especially intensive situations, such as anti-aliasing at high resolutions.
|<% print_image("01"); %>||<% print_image("02"); %>|
The Xtasy comes equipped with 128MB of DDR memory clocked at 340MHz, or 680MHz effective, for a theoretical bandwidth ceiling of 21.7GB per second. VisionTek also offers a 256MB version of the card that utilizes DDR2 memory at 700MHz effective, delivering 22.4GB per second. Keep in mind, though, that the 256MB card costs roughly $100 more than the 128MB variant. Dual 400MHz DACs come standard, as does a 165MHz TMDS transmitter; the combined efforts of which enable support for a pair of standard CRT monitors or one CRT and one digital LCD.
Though it might be tempting to favor one manufacturer over another when it comes to overclocking potential, cards based on ATI’s reference design are identical and any variation in overclocking should be taken with a grain of salt. With that said, the Xtasy card that we tested was stable with a 430MHz core and 365MHz (730MHz effective) memory clock. The resulting performance gains are quite impressive.
VisionTek doesn’t include a tweak utility in its packaging, making it necessary to download one of the free apps available online. Rage3D.com, for instance, offers one of the most useful called Rage3D Tweak. It’s also important to note that even while some of ATI’s other graphics cores are locked from overclocking, the RADEON 9800 Pro family can be manipulated quite easily.
Because VisionTek has taken a minimalist route with its Xtasy 9800 Pro, there aren’t any bundled software perks to speak of. The card does include S-video and composite cables for TV-out support. It also comes with the DVI adapter necessary to connect two CRT displays and an easy to follow installation guide. But VisionTek’s proudest accomplishment is a transparent, plastic box that showcases its card within. It may seem trite to most, but for a company such as VisionTek with a strong retail presence, presentation is imperative.
SIDEBAR: The rumors are already flying about ATI’s next generation processor, said to be called ‘Loki.’
| System Setup||Page:: ( 3 / 15 )|
Pentium 4 2.8CGHz
Intel D875PBZ 875P Motherboard
512MB DDR400 Memory
VisionTek Xtasy 9800 Pro 128MB (Catalyst 3.4)
ATI RADEON 9700 Pro 128MB Reference (Catalyst 3.4)
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900 Ultra 256MB Reference (Detonator 44.03)
120GB Seagate Serial ATA 7200RPM HDD
Silicon Image Reference Serial ATA Controller Card
Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 1
Desktop resolution 1024x768, 32-bit color, 75Hz refresh
All power saving options were turned off, as were the Automatic Update and System Restore services. Graphics options under the ‘Performance’ tab were all disabled for maximum performance.
Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo
3D Mark 2003 v.330
Quake III: Arena version 1.17 ‘Demo001’ demo/custom demo (for AA/AF scores)
Serious Sam: The Second Encounter, Elephant Atrium demo
SIDEBAR: The back of VisionTek’s box wants to know: “Ever have two monitors at one time?”
| 3D Mark 2003 v.330||Page:: ( 4 / 15 )|
3D Mark 2003 – DirectX 9
Controversial as it may be, 3D Mark 2003 is our only indicator of DirectX 9 performance, and that’s the way it will remain until actual games start appearing. Now, more than ever, take these results with a grain of salt, knowing that they are subject to manipulation by outside sources. At the same time, this may very well be the chips fall when these advanced features are finally utilized.
The RADEON 9800 Pro prevails undisputedly in 3D Mark 2003 followed by the 9700 Pro and NVIDIA’s GeForce FX 5900 Ultra. The performance discrepancy between the competing cards shrinks as the resolution increase, but the pecking order doesn’t change.
SIDEBAR: There are a total of three Intersil ISL6522 Buck and Synchronous Rectifier Pulse-Width Modulator Controllers. It sounds like something you may use to kill aliens in Half Life 2, doesn’t it? Guess we’ll have to wait and see!
| 3D Mark 2003 Frame Rates||Page:: ( 5 / 15 )|
3DMark03 – Wings of Fury
3DMark03 – Battle of Proxycon
3DMark03 – Troll’s Lair
3DMark03 – Mother Nature
SIDEBAR: More comical verbiage from the Xtasy 9800 Pro packaging: ATI’s programmable SMARTSHADER 2.1 makes lighting and texture effects look even mo’ real.
| Serious Sam SE||Page:: ( 6 / 15 )|
Serious Sam SE (Elephant Atrium) – OpenGL
At 800x600, the Xtasy 9800 Pro is hardly faster than its predecessor. And even at 1600x1200, a more taxing resolution, the 9800 Pro is less than five percent faster than the RADEON 9700 Pro. On the other hand, the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra seems to be highly optimized for Serious Sam, especially since it is 10 percent faster than the RADEON 9800 Pro at 800x600 and only five percent faster at 1600x1200, a resolution that would normally expose performance differences between competing graphics chipsets.
SIDEBAR: A DIP switch on the surface of the 9800 Pro allows you to select between NTSC and PAL output.
| Quake III: Arena||Page:: ( 7 / 15 )|
Quake III v.1.17 Demo001 – OpenGL
SIDEBAR: The Xtasy 9800 Pro 128MB includes an adapter so that you can choose between S-video and composite output through the TV-out port.
| Comanche 4||Page:: ( 8 / 15 )|
Comanche 4 – DirectX 8
Comanche 4 is unable to paint a clear picture of graphics performance, at least without anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering disabled. All three cards, even the overclocked Xtasy, perform similarly.
SIDEBAR: Beyond graphics cards, VisionTek also sells compact flash, MMC memory, cell phone memory and system memory.
| Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo||Page:: ( 9 / 15 )|
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby – DirectX 8
Unreal Tournament 2003 Botmatch – DirectX 8
The Xtasy 9800 Pro reigns in the 800x600 and 1024x768 tests, but succumbs to the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra at the high resolutions. Nevertheless, all three cards are fully capable of delivering playable frame rates right through 1600x1200.
SIDEBAR: Want to work at VisionTek? There is currently a job opening for a Junior Art Director; see here.
| 4x Anti-Aliasing||Page:: ( 10 / 15 )|
Quake III – High Quality
SIDEBAR: VisionTek also has a line of USB 2.0 drives reportedly capable of transferring at 480Mbps, the maximum throughput allowed by the USB 2.0 specification. Check them out here.
| 8x Anisotropic Filtering||Page:: ( 11 / 15 )|
Quake III – High Quality
SIDEBAR: Does your cell phone need memory? VisionTek has that too – up to 128MB worth!
| 4x Anti-Aliasing and 8x Anisotropic Filtering||Page:: ( 12 / 15 )|
Quake III – High Quality
SIDEBAR: ATI’s upcoming integrated chipset will provide support for the Pentium 4 – ATI should claim the integrated performance title with it.
| Unreal Tournament 4x Anti-Aliasing, 8x Anisotropic Filtering||Page:: ( 13 / 15 )|
Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo Flyby
Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo Botmatch
SIDEBAR: If you already have an R300 or R350-based card, check out the DX9 demos ATI has posted here.
| Ballistics Report||Page:: ( 14 / 15 )|
Performance: As a standard, reference RADEON 9800 Pro 128MB, VisionTek’s Xtasy is an outstanding performer. ATI’s domination over the enthusiast 3D market may be under fire from NVIDIA’s flagship, but the truth of the matter is that both cards are fast…
Price:…yet, the RADEON 9800 can be found for nearly $100 less than the 256MB GeForce FX 5900 Ultra. Of course, a 128MB GeForce FX 5900 would also be a valid alternative, though as Brandon demonstrated in his MSI GeForce FX 5900-TD128 piece, the vanilla version is most often slower than the RADEON 9800 Pro, and still costs more.
Feature Set: The Xtasy 9800 Pro 128MB may be a reference board, but ATI has taken great care to ensure that the standard 9800 Pro card is ready to accept multiple display configurations and robust driver support (not to mention an active driver team that interacts with users).
Simplicity: Some enthusiasts like to joke that their equipment is bigger than any of their friends’. But then there are those who appreciate a more compact, versatile package. The Xtasy 9800 Pro may not be adorned with golden highlights, massive cooling pipes or vibrant LEDs; it instead sports a single-slot design with a relatively quiet fan. It even fits in Shuttle’s XPC line.
Online availability: If you’re a fan of hunting for deals online and buying off of Pricewatch.com, you’ll be disappointed to know that VisionTek cards are sold through a limited number of venues, all of which are listed on VisionTek’s home page.
Relative pricing: While the VsionTek card is priced aggressively, there are several other online sources selling competing RADEON 9800 Pro cards for significantly less money.
SIDEBAR: In the words of Jakub, Marcus is a banana.
| Final Verdict||Page:: ( 15 / 15 )|
Let us know!