Summary: Well known for their OTES GeForce4 and GeForce FX cards, earlier this month, ABIT announced that they would begin manufacturing cards based on ATI's RADEON VPUs. Their first ATI-based graphics card is based on the RADEON 9800 XT core, ATI's flagship. This high-end card is designed to fit the needs of the most hardcore gamer, but does ABIT pull it off? Find out as we explore its performance against cards ranging from the 9800 PRO 128MB and 256MB all the way up to the 5950 Ultra in our usual battery of benchmarks including Lock On: Modern Air Combat!
In the past four months, weíve seen a lot of action in the 3D graphics market, and weíre not talking about ATI and NVIDIAís latest graphics products either. For the first time in several years, itís actually the third-party board manufacturers that are stealing all the headlines.
It all started at Computex 2003, held in September due to last summerís outbreak of SARS. At the show Gigabyte told us that going forward theyíd be manufacturing graphics products with NVIDIA and ATI graphics chips inside; previously ATI was their sole graphics supplier (after theyíd defected from NVIDIA the year before). ASUS followed shortly thereafter, announcing their RADEON 9800 XT and 9600 XT products on ATIís launch day, and following that announcement up with several follow-on products based on ATIís RADEON 9200 and SE lines, earlier this month they even released a 256MB RADEON 9800 PRO card.
These announcements were big news for the industry, which had been locked in exclusives and other manufacturing deals for years. ATI had their group of partners, and NVIDIA had theirs, there was no mixing between them, each player stuck with the same team for better or worse.
Now ABIT is the latest card manufacturer to announce that they will be partnering with ATI.
ABIT, like ASUS and Gigabyte, is probably best known for its motherboards, but theyíve actually been in the graphics business for a few years now, with their first products dating back to NVIDIAís GeForce 256 GPU. Theyíve really made a name for themselves in graphics in the past 16 months however, with the launch of their GeForce4 Ti 4200 OTES line.
OTES brought heat pipe cooling to the graphics card well before NVIDIA made it famous (or should we say infamous) with GeForce FX 5800 Ultra. In fact, when we talked with NVIDIA about FX Flowís design prior to GeForce FX 5800 Ultraís launch, it was referred to as OTES 2 in origin.
Not only did ABITís OTES board sport exotic cooling, ABIT also juiced up the core and memory clock frequencies. We were so enamored with ABITís GeForce4 Ti 4200 OTES that we awarded it our Editorís Choice Award. Since then OTES has basically put ABIT on the map in the graphics world in much the same way their SoftMenu BIOS has made them legendary among motherboard manufacturers.
This sounds like the perfect solution for spicing up the ATI add-in card market doesnít it? Letís see!
SIDEBAR: Normally weíd put the product link here, but ABIT hasnít dedicated a page on their site to the RADEON 9800 XT yet.
ABITís ATI announcement at CES earlier this month came at quite an unusual time. Normally in the graphics industry, product announcements coincide with the debut of the graphics chip. For example, ASUS waited for ATI before announcing its lineup of RADEON XT cards. ABIT on the other hand, announced their partnership with ATI right in the middle of a product cycle. This makes things more difficult for ABIT, as they have less time to get their product(s) based on that chip designed, manufactured, marketed, and distributed before ATI releases its next generation part. Remember, the graphics industry operates on a strict 6-month product cycle.
In addition, ABIT missed the important holiday shopping season. The month of January is historically very slow in the PC market, corporations and consumers have spent all their money. ABIT needed to get their product to market as quickly as possible before ATI released their next generation parts and the fanfare of the ABIT announcement faded. Therefore ABIT has decided to go with ATIís reference board for their initial RADEON 9800 XT venture.
By now youíre probably pretty familiar with ATIís RADEON 9800 XT VPU. Its 412MHz R360 graphics core boasts a true eight pixel pipeline architecture and is paired with a 256-bit DDR memory interface, with the memory subsystem operating at 365MHz (730MHz effective). These figures add up to 23.4GB/sec of peak memory bandwidth and up to 3.3Mtexels/sec peak fill rate. This allows you to crank up the screen resolution and turn on all the eye candy features (including anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering) without suffering through a virtual slideshow in regards to performance.
Unlike their GeForce4 Ti 4200 OTES card, ABIT sticks to these specifications to the letter. None of the boardís components deviate in the slightest from ATIís reference clock speeds. This means that ABITís RADEON 9800 XT card should perform just like every other RADEON 9800 XT card out on the market.
Before we move on, we would like to clarify ABITís relationship with NVIDIA. One of the rumors floating around was that ABIT had ceased its working relationship with NVIDIA, including their line of nForce/nForce2 motherboards such as the popular NF7 series.
In order to dispel this rumor, ABIT issued a press release shortly after announcing its graphics partnership with ATI reaffirming its support for NVIDIA core-logic, including nForce3. ABIT plans to announce follow-on products based on NVIDIAís system processors in the coming weeks.
SIDEBAR: ABITís motto is Built for gamers, by gamers.
As we just stated, ABITís initial RADEON 9800 XT offering is based entirely on ATIís reference design, right down to the copper cooling unit. This is a pretty popular strategy for board manufacturers to employ Ė stick with the reference design for your first generation graphics card in order to bring the product to market more quickly. Often these boards are made directly by ATI themselves (via PC Partner/Sapphire) and then sold to the board partner. This allows the board partner to cash in on the new product announcement as soon as it's available.
While some of you may be disappointed with the fact that ABIT is relying on ATIís reference design, donít be. ATI has incorporated a number of improvements in the 9800 XT. The power circuitry has been completely overhauled with an emphasis on reliable operation at higher clock speeds and to take more heat.
The cooler itself is composed entirely of copper, a first for an ATI graphics card. The heatsink takes up an enormous amount of real estate in order to increase surface area and thus pull more heat off the graphics core. A large fan collects nearby air which is then passed through a duct before exiting out the sides of the card. And while the fan is large, it spins at lower RPMs than most fans; making up for the lower rotational speed by having longer fins.
In operation the fan is surprisingly quiet, and like GeForce FX, it operates dynamically. As the graphics coreís temperature increases, the fan cranks up the RPMs (two modes are available). Itís all totally invisible to the end user -- we wouldnít be surprised if some card owners didnít even realize it. The fan is located offset of the graphics core for longevity (heat rising up from the graphics core can potentially shorten the life of the fanís ball bearings) and to increase the effectiveness of the ducting system.
All ABIT does is slap their sticker on the cardís fan and duct, box it all up, and sell it to the consumer. We have a very strong suspicion that this card was produced in the same factory as our Built By ATI RADEON 9800 XT card we received last year.
ABITís RADEON 9800 XT comes with everything youíd expect from a typical graphics card. Youíve got the obligatory DVI adapter, power adapter cable, and S-Video and composite cables. The soft stuff included with the card is also standard fare. ABIT bundles a copy of PowerDVD 5 along with the driver CD, and, of course, a redeemable coupon for a free copy of Half-Life 2 (once itís released).
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Performance: While the RADEON 9800 XT is a derivative of the RADEON 9800, which is a derivative of the RADEON 9700, ATI still delivers cutting-edge performance with its latest graphics core. By steadily incorporating improvements and cranking up the clock speeds, theyíve been able to stay ahead of the curve. As a result, you can play todayís games at high resolutions, 1280x1024 and up in many cases, you can also turn on all the eye candy features including AA and AF. Just take a look at the performance results.
Price: As the high-end card in the fleet, donít expect ABITís RADEON 9800 XT to come cheap. Official MSRP for the 9800 XT is $500, although you can usually find boards for a little lower online.
SIDEBAR: What do you think of ABITís first ATI graphics card? Would you be interested in seeing an OTES RADEON 9800 XT? Speak up in the news comments!
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