Summary: With street prices on Radeon X1800 XT cards now approaching the $500 mark, X1800 XT cards are quickly becoming popular among gamers and enthusiasts. The X1800 XT provides excellent performance, shader model 3.0, and now CrossFire support. Today we're taking a look at MSI's X1800 XT board, the RX1800XT-VT2D512E. See what separates this card from ATI in this review!
The tale in some ways actually begins over a year ago, with the debut of shader model 3.0 in NVIDIAís GeForce 6 lineup. After trailing ATI early-on in the days of DX9, NVIDIA gambled big and jumped from the first generation of shader model 2.0 DX9 shaders straight to shader model 3.0, which, among other things added support for longer, more complex shader programs, as well as features designed to make writing 3.0 shaders easier such as dynamic branching/looping. ATI on the other hand played it more conservative, opting instead to adopt shader model 2.0b for their Radeon X800 series of graphics products.
ATI argued all along that shader model 3.0ís requirement of 32-bit precision didnít become feasible for them until they move to 90-nanometer. Their argument was that producing a high-end shader model 3.0 part on TSMCís existing 130-nm manufacturing process would be too costly, the die would be massive and selling it even at high-end $400+ price points wouldnít be practical. Basically they didnít want to compromise on their margins. At that time, TSMCís smaller 110-nm process was used solely in value graphics products, no one at the time had a clue the clock speeds 110-nm would ultimately prove capable of achieving with high-end parts containing 200 million transistors or more. This wasnít proven until NVIDIAís GeForce 7800 GTX debut in June of 2005 over one year later.
ATIís decision to wait for 90-nm probably wouldnít have been a bad one if they could have stuck to their initial goals for the X1800, namely those being very high clock speeds (700MHz or more has been reported) with a launch date around the early summer time frame of 2005 Ė right in line with NVIDIAís GeForce 7800 GTX introduction. After all, the X1800 contains a whopping 320 million transistors (roughly 18 million more than GeForce 7800 GTX despite containing fewer pixel pipelines), a 300+ million transistor chip built on TSMCís larger 0.13-micron process probably would have been costly for ATI to manufacture. In addition, ATIís X800 line performed well in comparison to GeForce 6800, in fact ATI took the performance crown from NVIDIA at the beginning of this year with their Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition, only SLI and ATIís nagging supply issues kept the X850 line from being more successful.
On launch day for the Radeon X1800 XT, the card showed signs of promise, but it was by no means a slam-dunk product. The Radeon X1800 XT 512MB was able to outperform the GeForce 7800 GTX in Direct3D titles, but OpenGL applications like Doom 3 and IL-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles favored NVIDIAís 7800 GTX. When you factored in the boardís price and availability, the general consensus was that the GeForce 7800 GTX came away as the better value.
Availability is improving on the X1800 XT and as a result, prices on retail boards are falling quickly. In addition, newer drivers from ATI have improved the X1800ís performance considerably Ė the X1800 XT now outpaces the GeForce 7800 GTX 256MB in both Direct3D and OpenGL applications.
With all this in mind, lets take a look at MSIís Radeon X1800 XT board, the RX1800 XT VT2D512E.
For the Radeon X1800 XT 512MB, MSI plays it more conservatively, sticking completely with ATIís reference board design, right down to the cardís dual-slot copper cooling. MSI most likely opted to stick with ATIís reference design in order to bring their card to market as quickly as possible. Their RX1800XT-VT2D512E is one of the first Radeon X1800 XT 512MB boards on the market.
In addition to the reference board design, MSI sticks with ATIís reference clock speeds on the RX1800 XT VT2D512E. This means that the graphics core on the card runs at 625MHz, while the boardís memory is clocked at 750MHz (1.5GHz effective). As a result, the board performs just like the Built By ATI Radeon X1800 XT 512MB we previewed a few months ago. In fact, we wouldnít be surprised if MSIís board was built on the same production line as the ATI card. Graphics card manufacturers frequently do this on their first generation boards to hit retail as quickly as possible, theyíll then follow these first-gen boards up with second generation cards that are often outfitted with more unique features, such as custom cooling. It does after all, take time to adequately test and then manufacture a custom solution.
Basically, this means that you shouldnít be concerned that the MSI card isnít ďBuilt By ATIĒ. Its got all the same features and functionality as the ATI card, including two dual-link DVI connectors, making it perfect for hooking up two high-end Apple 30Ē Cinema displays (in comparison, GeForce 7800 GTX only has one dual-link DVI connecotr). ATI OVERDRIVE support is provided as well.
Software and accessories
Where the MSI RX1800XT-VT2D512E goes beyond ATIís own Radeon X1800 XT card is in the software bundle. MSI includes a copy of the game Colin McRae Rally 05, which is by far the best rally-racing game on the PC right now, if not the most entertaining PC racing game in general. MSI actually goes beyond the basics, not only providing the a copy of the game on DVD-ROM, but also the retail box and full manual. Most game bundles just come with the installation disc(s), skipping the packaging and the gameís manual to save space.
IL-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles
Half-Life 2 Ė Direct3D
Battlefield 2 Ė Direct3D
Quake 4 Ė OpenGL
IL-2: FB Ė OpenGL
F.E.A.R. Ė Direct3D
Call of Duty 2 Ė Direct3D
Radeon X1800 XT core: At the heart of MSIís RX1800XT-VT2D512E is ATIís Radeon X1800 XT graphics core. The Radeon X1800 XT is ATIís first shader model 3.0 part, sporting 16 pixel pipelines and eight vertex units, and runs at 625MHz, the highest clock speed in the industry. Radeon X1800 also boasts improved anti-aliasing thanks to ATIís new adaptive anti-aliasing mode, which uses supersampling to improve AA quality. The X1800 is also the only GPU on the market that supports high dynamic range lighting (HDR) with AA. With NVIDIAís GeForce line, you have to turn AA off if you intend to use HDR.
First-gen reference design: Enthusiasts looking for something different than ATIís reference design are bound to be disappointed with the RX1800XT VT2D512E, as itís an exact replica of ATIís own Radeon X1800 XT 512MB card. We wouldnít be surprised though if MSI was cooking up something special for a prospective second-gen card, as theyíve definitely done it in the past.