||PowerColor AMD Radeon HD 2900 Pro Review
October 26, 2007 Brandon Sandman Bell
Summary: Does the idea of a $250 Radeon HD 2900 XT card in disguise sound appealing to you? PowerColor's Radeon HD 2900 Pro card is just that. It is based on the same R600 GPU used in the 2900 XT. The end result is pretty impressive, particularly once the card is overclocked. Find out why in today's review!
| PowerColor AMD Radeon HD 2900 Pro Review||Page:: ( 1 / 15 )|
Late last month, AMD quietly unveiled the Radeon HD 2900 Pro to the public. This GPU release was important for ATI because it finally gave them a very attractive solution for the $200-$300 market. Previously this segment was basically served by the Radeon X1950 XTX, which as we all know is previous generation technology and not very compelling in light of the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB, which generally runs faster and of course supports DirectX 10.
For all intents and purposes, AMD basically had a huge hole in their lineup between the $150 Radeon HD 2600 XT and the $400 Radeon HD 2900 XT 512MB. The Radeon HD 2900 Pro fills this hole with three different SKUs: a $250 Radeon HD 2900 Pro 512MB (like the card we’re reviewing today), and two 1GB Radeon HD 2900 Pro SKUs with GDDR4 memory. What really makes the Radeon HD 2900 Pro so compelling in our eyes though isn’t just the price – what really excites us is the R600 GPU inside the Radeon HD 2900 Pro.
If you recall, R600 is the exact same GPU found in the Radeon HD 2900 XT. On paper, R600 is a technological tour de force. The chip sports 320 stream processors for handling pixel, vertex, and geometry shading duties and R600 boasts the world’s first 512-bit memory interface, feeding the R600 GPU with up to 105.6GB/sec of memory bandwidth in the Radeon HD 2900 XT. In comparison, that’s nearly twice the number of stream processors and almost 20GB/sec more bandwidth than the GeForce 8800 GTX.
With such a heavy emphasis on shading, R600 is a very forward-looking architecture, but with just 16 texture units and ROPs, it boasts a texture fill-rate similar to the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB. R600 has also been criticized for the performance hit it takes when AA is enabled. This is due to its use of shader-based AA (color resolve is handled by the shaders in most cases).
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All this techno babble is moot though if the GPU can perform well in games, and here the 2900 XT has proved to be a worthy competitor to the GeForce 8800 GTS. Lately though its biggest problem has been driver performance with newer games, particularly in DirectX 10: their DX10 driver just hasn’t been performing well. We talked with AMD about this recently and they said that up to this point the focus of their DX10 driver has been stability, now that they’ve got that nailed down they’ve finally begun to optimize the DX10 driver for performance, starting with the release of Catalyst 7.10 earlier this month. In the words of AMD’s Terry Makedon: “Initially the DX10 driver was based on stability (as everything in Catalyst land usually is). Now that there is a fairly large sample of DX10 games, we have the opportunity to look at performance and see what could be done across the board. There are issues under DX10 with constant buffer handling so we dealt with those and we noticed that this helps games that are more CPU limited than others.”
What is exciting about this is the Catalyst 7.10 improvements we’ve seen are just the beginning, once AMD begins to optimize for individual applications in theory we should see even more performance improvements for R6xx GPUs.
The Radeon HD 2900 Pro
This brings us to today’s review of the PowerColor Radeon HD 2900 Pro. With its R600 GPU, you may wonder how it stacks up in comparison to the Radeon HD 2900 XT. It turns out, the card compares very well! The following chart summarizes the key features found in the Radeon HD 2900 Pro, and how it compares to the Radeon HD 2900 XT.
|Radeon HD 2900 Comparison|
|Card||# of Stream Processors||Memory Interface||Clock Speeds||Configuration||Price|
|Radeon HD 2900 XT||320||512-bit||742MHz core/1650MHz GDDR4 Memory||512MB DVI+DVI+VIVO, 9.5" PCB||$399|
|Radeon HD 2900 Pro 512MB||320||512-bit||600MHz core/800MHz GDDR3 Memory||512MB DVI+DVI+VIVO, 9.5" PCB||$249|
|Radeon HD 2900 Pro 1GB||320||512-bit||600MHz core/800MHz GDDR4 Memory||1GB DVI+DVI+VIVO, 9.5" PCB||$299|
|Radeon HD 2900 Pro 1GB||320||512-bit||600MHz core/800MHz GDDR4 Memory||1GB DVI+DVI+VIVO, 12.4" PCB||$299|
As you can see, the 2900 Pro has all the key features found in the Radeon HD 2900 XT. None of the GPU’s shading units have been deactivated, and it still boasts a 512-bit memory interface. The only difference lies in the clock speeds and price. And as you’ll see on the next page, retail Radeon HD 2900 Pro cards looks practically identical to the 2900 XT…
Editor’s Note: AMD has also announced a Radeon HD 2900 GT SKU which also uses the R600 GPU, only it has 240 stream processors and a 256-bit memory interface with 256MB of memory. Like the 2900 Pro it runs at 600MHz core/800MHz memory. We will post benchmarks of this card shortly…
| Radeon HD 2900 Pro Board Analysis||Page:: ( 2 / 15 )|
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Besides sharing the same GPU, the Radeon HD 2900 Pro and 2900 XT share one other feature in common: they’re both based on the exact same reference board design and cooling. In fact, if we peeled off the “PowerColor” and “HD 2900 Pro” stickers on the top of our PowerColor Radeon HD 2900 Pro card, you’d be hard-pressed to spot any differences between the PowerColor card and our reference Radeon HD 2900 XT card AMD sent us several months ago. All of the core pieces of the 2900 XT board design carry over to the 2900 Pro 512MB, you’ll even notice the 8-pin PCIe 2.0 power connector is used.
Because the basic board design of both cards is so similar, this makes it very easy for AMD’s board partners to produce the 2900 Pro cards: all you have to do is recycle your existing components already used for the 2900 XT. This is important, because the Radeon HD 2900 Pro is a limited edition release (only PowerColor/TUL, Sapphire, HIS, and ITC will be selling 2900 Pro cards), in fact it’s rumored that the board will reach end of life status at the end of October and production will at that point come to an end. With this in mind it’s obviously not worth the time and expense for AMD’s board partners to come up with a new board design and cooling for such a limited product. Instead it’s more important to get it to shelves as quickly (and affordably) as possible, hence the use of the 2900 XT’s board design and cooling.
Why release such a limited part now?
This is a question we’ve received numerous times since the 2900 Pro was announced last month. The answer is simple: this is basically the equivalent of a clearance sale on R600 from AMD. This is essentially a way for AMD to clear some inventory of excess R600 chips before their upcoming RV670 GPU debuts later this year.
If you look at ATI’s history you’ll recall they did this two years ago with the X800 GT and X800 GTO where a mixture of excess R480/430/423/420 GPUs were released by ATI’s board partners just months ahead of the release of the R520 GPU that was ultimately found in the Radeon X1800 XT. We’re basically seeing a repeat of the same situation now with RV670’s introduction expected shortly.
RV670 is rumored to be based largely on R600, only it’s built on TSMC’s smaller 55-nm manufacturing process. All 320 stream processors will carry over intact and clock speeds are expected to be similar to the 2900 Pro – 600MHz core/900MHz memory – only it will utilize a narrower 256-bit memory interface. Leaked images of RV670 show a card with single-slot cooling and it’s expected to support PCIe 2.0.
GDDR3 vs GDDR4
As we outlined in the table on the previous page, AMD will be offering 2900 Pro SKUs with GDDR3 and GDDR4 memory. The GDDR4 cards will ship with 1GB of memory, whereas the GDDR3 boards are limited to 512MB, which sells for $50 less. Personally we think most of the gamers in our audience should opt for the 512MB board, not only because it’s cheaper, but also because we haven’t seen any apps that take advantage of the additional 512MB of memory. Back in August we reviewed Diamond’s 1GB Radeon HD 2900 XT card and found it performed largely identical to the 512MB 2900 XT card. Since then newer games have come out like BioShock and World In Conflict, but they don’t seem to take advantage of the additional memory either.
On top of that, another reason why we prefer the 512MB card 2900 Pro over the 1GB variant is latency; up to this point ATI has used GDDR4 modules with higher latencies than GDD3, so it’s possible that 2900 Pro 1GB cards may run slower than 512MB boards.
PowerColor bundle and Accessories
PowerColor includes all the basic hardware accessories you’ll need to get your 2900 Pro card up and running. Inside the box you’ll find two DVI adapters as well as the HDMI adapter you’ll need to hook the card up to an HDTV. Remember that the R600 chip can carry audio over HDMI as well, so a passthrough cable isn’t necessary. PowerColor also includes two power adapters, a component video cable, CrossFire cable, and a VIVO (video-in/video-out) cable. Software bundled with the card includes the driver CD, as well as a DVD-ROM with various programs from CyberLink, including PowerDirector, MediaShow, MusicMatch, PowerDVD, PowerProducer, Power2Go, and trial versions of PowerBackup and PowerDVD Copy.
| Test Systems||Page:: ( 3 / 15 )|
Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6800
EVGA nForce 680i SLI motherboard
2GB Corsair TWIN2X2048-6400C4
ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT
ATI Radeon X1950 Pro
ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT 512MB
PowerColor Radeon HD 2900 Pro 512MB
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTX
NVIDIA GeForce 8600 GTS
NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GT
300GB Western Digital Caviar SE
Windows Vista 64-bit
Company of Heroes 1.71 (running DX9)
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Call of Duty 4 Demo
Half-Life 2 Episode Two
Lost Planet DX9
World in Conflict
Unreal Tournament 3 Demo
| F.E.A.R. Performance||Page:: ( 4 / 15 )|
|FEAR Performance 1600x1200x32|
|Card||Min FPS||Max FPS|
|GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB||33||145|
|GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB||31||134|
|GeForce 8600 GTS||18||82|
|GeForce 7900 GT||20||80|
|Radeon HD 2900 Pro 512MB||17||104|
|Radeon HD 2900 XT 512MB||21||133|
|Radeon HD 2600 XT||6||43|
|Radeon X1950 Pro||19||85|
|GeForce 8800 GTX||49||215|
| Company Of Heroes||Page:: ( 5 / 15 )|
|Company of Heroes 1600x1200x32|
|Card||Min FPS||Max FPS|
|GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB||41.7||177.1|
|GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB||35.2||167|
|GeForce 8600 GTS||15.1||80.5|
|GeForce 7900 GT||15.4||77|
|Radeon HD 2900 Pro 512MB||12.7||116.8|
|Radeon HD 2900 XT 512MB||13.6||152|
|Radeon HD 2600 XT||13.2||45|
|Radeon X1950 Pro||19.3||98.8|
|GeForce 8800 GTX||55.3||264.1|
| Oblivion||Page:: ( 6 / 15 )|
|Oblivion Performance 1600x1200x32|
|Card||Min FPS||Max FPS|
|GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB||30||43|
|GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB||28||40|
|GeForce 8600 GTS||14||22|
|Radeon HD 2900 Pro 512MB||23||35|
|Radeon HD 2900 XT 512MB||28||42|
|Radeon HD 2600 XT||10||17|
|Radeon X1950 Pro||16||24|
|GeForce 8800 GTX||39||55|
| World In Conflict||Page:: ( 7 / 15 )|
|World In Conflict 1600x1200x32|
|Card||Min FPS||Max FPS|
|GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB||15||49|
|GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB||6||41|
|GeForce 8600 GTS||3||23|
|GeForce 7900 GT||5||24|
|Radeon HD 2900 Pro 512MB||12||36|
|Radeon HD 2900 XT 512MB||14||42|
|Radeon HD 2600 XT||2||15|
|Radeon X1950 Pro||2||21|
|GeForce 8800 GTX||24||78|
| HL2 Episode 2||Page:: ( 8 / 15 )|
| Unreal Tournament 3||Page:: ( 9 / 15 )|
| Enemy Territory: Quake Wars||Page:: ( 10 / 15 )|
| Lost Planet||Page:: ( 11 / 15 )|
| Call Of Duty 4||Page:: ( 12 / 15 )|
|Call of Duty 4 Performance 1600x1200x32|
|Card||Min FPS||Max FPS|
|GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB||35||71|
|GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB||28||67|
|GeForce 8600 GTS||16||33|
|GeForce 7900 GT||12||22|
|Radeon HD 2900 Pro 512MB||25||46|
|Radeon HD 2900 XT 512MB||29||53|
|Radeon HD 2600 XT||8||15|
|Radeon X1950 Pro||15||26|
|GeForce 8800 GTX||43||97|
| Overclocking and Power Consumption||Page:: ( 13 / 15 )|
| Ballistics Report||Page:: ( 14 / 15 )|
R600 Graphics Core: Other than slower clock speeds, AMD has made no compromises to the R600 GPU found in the Radeon HD 2900 Pro. All 320 stream processors carry over intact, as well as the 512-bit memory interface. The only difference between the R600 chip used in the 2900 Pro is clock speeds – the graphics core is clocked at 600MHz versus 742MHz in the 2900 XT. As we just showed you, with a little bit of overclocking, this difference can be easily made up.
Performance: When the GeForce 8600 GTS and Radeon HD 2600 XT were released, a lot of enthusiasts were disappointed with their performance – neither GPU did a very good job of displacing the Radeon X1950 Pro. With the exception of DX10, the 1950 Pro really was the better card. PowerColor’s Radeon HD 2900 Pro put up very nice performance scores for a $250 graphics card. In stock form, it’s certainly not a GeForce 8800 GTS killer in terms of performance, but we don’t think enthusiasts will be disappointed with its performance.
512MB of GDDR3 Memory: As we mentioned previously, GDDR4 modules tend to run with higher latencies than GDDR3 modules, so we actually prefer PowerColor’s use of 512MB GDDR3 modules on their board, as a result the card runs faster than the GDDR4 variant. Until apps are available that require 1GB of graphics memory, save your money and opt for a 512MB card instead.
Price: With an MSRP of $250, the Radeon HD 2900 Pro is an excellent value. You’re getting a card that delivers performance rivaling the more expensive GeForce 8800 GTS and Radeon HD 2900 XT for considerably less money.
Overclocking: In stock 2900 XT form, R600 has proven to be a tremendous overclocker, often scaling to speeds well in excess of 800MHz. And since the Radeon 2900 Pro uses the exact same R600 GPU found in the Radeon HD 2900 XT, the Radeon HD 2900 Pro has lots of headroom for overclocking. After all, it’s technically an underclocked 2900 XT.
We managed to squeeze an additional 180MHz on the graphics core, and 110MHz on the memory out of our PowerColor board and as a result the overclocked 2900 Pro actually ran faster than our stock 2900 XT.
Interestingly enough, we were able to achieve this OC without having to use a PCIe 2.0 8-pin power connector. We simply plugged in two six-pin PCIe connectors as an experiment and it worked flawlessly.
2900 XT Cooling/Power consumption: While it does a good job of combating heat, the cooler AMD employs on the Radeon HD 2900 XT, and now the Radeon HD 2900 Pro generates more noise than the GeForce 8800 GTS/GTX cooler. It certainly isn’t a noisy beast like the X1900 XT was, but it certainly isn’t quiet either. And of course, since it shares the same R600 GPU as the 2900 XT, it goes without saying that the 2900 Pro consumes a lot of power, considerably more than the 8800 GTS.
Limited Availability/Longevity: With the release of AMD’s upcoming RV670 GPU right around the corner, the Radeon HD 2900 Pro has an awfully short shelf life. The GPU was just announced at the end of September, so it will basically be launched and retired in less than two months if the rumors of RV670 being introduced in November are true. Even the X800 GT/GTO had longer lifetimes.
In addition, AMD has selected a limited number of board partners for this release, so you won’t find a plethora of cards selling on store shelves. Newegg for instance, sold out of their allocation of Sapphire 2900 Pro 512MB cards in a matter of just a few days, despite the fact that they were selling them for $265, $15 more than MSRP.
If you want to spend $250 or less on your next graphics upgrade and don’t want to wait a month for RV670 or G92 you better act quick if you plan on picking up a 2900 Pro, as they tend to sell out quickly.
| Final Verdict||Page:: ( 15 / 15 )|
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