Summary: With its R520 graphics core and 256-bit memory interface, ATI's Radeon X1800 GTO is essentially a X1800 high-end graphics card in mainstream clothing. Up for review for today is PowerColor's expression of the X1800 GTO. We've gathered our usual round of benchmarks, including Far Cry and Oblivion HDR results, to see how the X1800 GTO compares to the GeForce 7600 GT, 7900 GT, Radeon X1800 XT 512MB, and X1600 XT. Even if you're not sure about the X1800 GTO, you won't want to miss our overclocking results with the card overclocked over 150MHz!
Although ATI’s had no problem competing closely with NVIDIA on the high-end of the 3D graphics market for the past six months, for whatever reason they haven’t had as much success capturing sales in the mainstream segment of the market over the same time period. In fact, some might argue that ATI’s mainstream lineup hasn’t been all that exciting since the Radeon 9500/9600 era a few years ago. Looking back over ATI’s last few mainstream releases, a case can certainly be made in favor of this argument for the most part. Let’s take a quick look down memory lane shall we?
Now in the X700’s defense, the GeForce 6600 was an extremely strong part. On the high-end, the 6600 GT delivered performance slightly greater than the high-end DX9 cards of the previous generation, including ATI’s excellent 9800 XT, while also boasting Shader Model 3.0 compliance and NVIDIA’s SLI technology. The vanilla GeForce 6600 shared all the key features found in the 6600 GT, only with lower clock speeds. In fact, the 6600 family was so successful that NVIDIA has gone on to sell over a million of these GPUs and never truly replaced them until the debut of the GeForce 7600 family just last month. Not since the GeForce4 Ti 4200 had one GPU dominated the mainstream market so well for so long.
In the summer of 2004, about a year after the 6600’s debut, ATI finally concocted a mainstream GPU to give the GeForce 6600 family some competition – the Radeon X800 GT and X800 GTO. While these cards were technically mainstream parts with price points in the sub-$200 range, they were actually based on higher-end R420/R430 and in some cases R480 GPUs that were normally used in $300+ Radeon X800 XL, X800 XT, and X850 cards and instead placed in roughly $150 X800 GTs and ~$180-$200 X800 GTOs.
Because they didn’t want to compromise on the margin of their retail graphics cards, ATI didn’t provide parts based these X800 GT/X800 GTO cards themselves, instead they relied on their board partners to take on the challenge. And take on the challenge they did, both the X800 GT and X800 GTO delivered better performance than the equivalent mainstream offerings from NVIDIA, but the market was a little confused by the plethora of options available: some board partners used the GT/GTO brand to sell hobbled cards, in some cases selling GT boards with a 128-bit memory interface when most users expected a 256-bit card.
In the X800 GT/GTO’s defense though, when properly configured they were awfully strong parts, as they were essentially based on higher-end DX9 GPUs. Those “in-the-know” so to speak quickly picked these cards up, as they delivered a good deal more performance than equivalently priced cards from NVIDIA.
With the X800 GT/GTO delivering such strong performance, many expected ATI’s follow-up mainstream card offering, the Radeon X1600 family, to deliver performance that was equal to, if not better than the X800 GT and GTO, however this didn’t turn out to be the case. Unlike the high-end origins of the X800 GT/GTO, which were literally based off the same GPU as the X800/X850 XT line, the X1600’s RV530 GPU was built from the ground up to be cheaper to produce, and hence didn’t have the high-end features found in the more expensive Radeon cards such as a 256-bit memory interface. As a result, sales of the cards were sluggish – some enthusiasts actually picked up X800 GTOs instead of the X1600 XT – others got newer mainstream cards from NVIDIA such as the GeForce 6800 GS, which delivered 6800 GT-like performance at a lower price point. To make a long story short, the X1600 was beginning to look like another repeat of the X700 for ATI, they were forced to drop prices on the X1600 in order to remain competitive with NVIDIA: in a matter of months the X1600 XT’s price went from an MSRP of $249 to $200, then $180, nowadays X1600 XT cards can be found for $150 or less! A new mainstream card offering was needed to stop the bleeding, and ATI needed it ASAP.
ATI’s solution? The Radeon X1800 GTO!
The most critical change comes to the X1800 GTO’s pixel shading units. Whereas the R520 GPU housed inside Radeon X1800 XT and X1800 XL cards ships with 16 pixel shaders, for the X1800 GTO four of the pixel shader units are disabled for a total of 12. In addition to disabling these pixel shaders, ATI also deactivates four texture units as well as four ROPs (down from 16 in the X1800 XT/XL) for the Radeon X1800 GTO. Fortunately, the vertex shaders carry over unchanged from the X1800 XT/XL at eight.
In terms of clock frequencies, the graphics core and memory on the X1800 GTO are both clocked at 500MHz, this is the same clock speed as the graphics core and memory on the X1800 XL.
Because of these changes, fill-rate of the X1800 GTO drops from 8,000 Mtexels/second on the X1800 XL to 6,000 Mtexels/second on the X1800 GTO. Since the X1800 GTO shares the same 256-bit external memory interface as the X1800 XL, memory bandwidth peaks at 32GB/sec. These figures compare pretty favorably in comparison to NVIDIA’s GeForce 7600 GT, which boasts a texel fill-rate of 6,720 Mtexels/sec and memory bandwidth of up to 22.4GB/sec.
PowerColor’s X1800 GTO
PowerColor’s Radeon X1800 GTO card is one of the first GTO boards to hit the market. It supports all the key features of the X1800 GTO we just mentioned, namely its clocked at 500/500 and sports the same 12 pixel shader architecture as ATI’s Radeon X1800 GTO, as well as being outfitted with 8 vertex shaders. PowerColor even equips their X1800 GTO board with ATI’s Rage Theater chip, providing video-in/video-out (VIVO) capability as well as dual DVI connectors.
Looking at the board itself, we see that ATI and their board partners have made a few changes to the final X1800 GTO board design since we first took a look at a pre-release reference GTO board from ATI last month. Whereas the original GTO reference card was based entirely on the X1800 XL board design, the PowerColor Radeon X1800 GTO board we’re taking a look at today has incorporated one key change: a slightly redesigned cooling unit.
The heatsink cooling the GPU itself is still copper-based and basically unchanged from the X1800 XL heatsink used previously, only now the duct sitting atop the copper heatsink has been redesigned to accommodate the new fan used to the cool the X1800 GTO’s GPU: whereas the original fan used on the X1800 XL and early X1800 GTO boards was small, it has now been swapped out with a much larger cooler.
With the larger fan in place on the PowerColor X1800 GTO, the fan no longer has to spin at the high RPMs that the previous fan required in order to cool the GPU. As a result, the PowerColor X1800 GTO board doesn’t generate as much noise as ATI’s X1800 XL cards did. This should make PowerColor’s Radeon X1800 GTO card more ideal for use in home theater PCs, or any application where noise is a concern for that matter.
Software and accessories
Rather than rely on a game bundle with their Radeon X1800 GTO card, PowerColor instead provides a DVD-ROM containing several CyberLink programs: PowerDirector (for video editing), MediaShow (photo slideshow), MusicMatch (MP3 ripping and playback), PowerBackup (Data backup), PowerDVD (DVD Movie Playback), PowerProducer (DVD authoring and burning), Power2Go (Data/music burning), and PowerDVD copy (one-step DVD copy). Also included with the card are two DVI adapters, a 6-pin PCI-E power adapter, S-Video and composite video cables, a component video cable, and VIVO cable. We should also note that PowerColor’s Radeon X1800 GTO doesn’t come with a lifetime warranty at this time. Earlier this year PowerColor announced their lifetime warranty program, but this only applies to their X1900 cards.
Pacific Fighters 4.04 (with Perfect landscape setting for ATI and NVIDIA)
Half-Life 2: Lost Coast – Direct3D
Battlefield 2 – Direct3D
Quake 4 – OpenGL
LOMAC – Direct D
Pacific Fighters – OpenGL
F.E.A.R. – Direct3D
Call of Duty 2 – Direct3D
Oblivion – Direct3D
Oblivion – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
Half-Life 2: Lost Coast – Direct3D
Radeon X1800 GTO core: With ATI’s R520 graphics core at the heart of the Radeon X1800 GTO, it’s no surprise to see that the card is a strong performer. The chip features all the enhancements first found in ATI’s Radeon X1800 XT, so you’ve got full support for 3.0 pixel and vertex shaders, floating-point HDR lighting with AA, ATI’s adaptive AA mode, and ATI’s more efficient memory subsystem, which includes 8 32-bit memory controllers to better handle high resolutions with AA/AF. All this adds up to a card that delivers pretty muscular performance for a sub-$250 price tag.
X1800 XT pricing: With the Radeon X1800 GTO officially carrying an MSRP of $250, the card is priced awfully close to the more fully-featured Radeon X1800 XT 256MB, which officially retails for just $50 more at $300. The Radeon X1800 XT runs at higher clock speeds than the X1800 GTO and features 16 pixel shading units instead of the 12 pixel shaders found on the GTO. In other words, for $50 more, you can get a much more powerful graphics card.