The Competition

ATI has been very aggressive as of late, and we have been quite happy with what we have seen so far. After their circuit design setback with the X1800 last year, ATI really turned things around and offered the X1900 lineup in rather quick succession. Before today, the X1900 was clearly the king of the hill in all things graphics. With the new RD580 chipset from ATI offering 2x x16 PCI Express slots, Crossfire is looking better than ever as well. The comparison at the high end is very exciting: it's never been a better time to be a graphics enthusiast with tons of excess money.

At the same time, the midrange is heating up as well. With prices on the X1600 looking good, the new pressure on NVIDIA from ATI's upcoming X1800 GTO (which we unfortunately don't have), and solid products like the 6800 GS and 7800 GT already out there, the 7600 GT is a welcome addition in price/performance.

So we can get a good idea of what we will be working with, we are providing tables comparing the features of the high end cards and mid range cards we will be testing from NVIDIA and ATI. CrossFire and SLI will be looked at as well.

NVIDIA Graphics Card Specifications
  Vert Pipes Pixel Pipes Raster Pipes Core Clock Mem Clock Mem Size (MB) Mem Bus (bits) Price
GeForce 7900 GTX 8 24 16 650 800 512 256 ~$500+
GeForce 7900 GT 8 24 16 450 660 256 256 ~$325
GeForce 7800 GTX 512 8 24 16 550 850 512 256 $600+
GeForce 7800 GTX 8 24 16 430 600 256 256 $450
GeForce 7800 GT 8 20 16 400 500 256 256 $300
GeForce 7600 GT 5 12 8 560 700 256 128 ~$200
GeForce 6800 GS 5 12 8 425 500 256 256 $180


ATI Graphics Card Specifications
  Vert Pipes Pixel Pipes Raster Pipes Core Clock Mem Clock Mem Size (MB) Mem Bus (bits) Price
Radeon X1900 XTX 8 48 16 650 775 512 256 $600+
Radeon X1900 XT 8 48 16 625 725 512 256 $500
Radeon X1600 XT 5 12 4 590 690 256 128 $150


We will also be including SLI and CrossFire setups for these cards in all cases but for the X1600 XT. Unfortunately, during testing one of our X1600 cards decided to roll over and die (such is the price of working with engineering samples and prerelease products). The other card we would love to have included is the X1800 GTO which has 12 pixel pipes and is clocked similarly to the X1800 XL. As we mentioned previously, ATI didn't get a card to us for testing.

For our comparison, we have decided to test all applications with 4xAA and 8xAF in all tests but Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. For Splinter Cell we are testing with SM3.0 options enabled and AA disabled as the game doesn't allow both to be set while playing. With all of this power available, our opinion is that AA is worth enabling in just about any situation. The visual quality benefit, even at high resolutions, is well worth it.

NVIDIA's Die Shrink: The 7900 and 7600 The Test and Power
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  • DigitalFreak - Thursday, March 9, 2006 - link

    I saw that as well. Any comments, Derek? Reply
  • DerekWilson - Thursday, March 9, 2006 - link

    I did not see any texture shimmering during testing, but I will make sure to look very closely druing our follow up testing.

    Thanks,
    Derek Wilson
    Reply
  • jmke - Thursday, March 9, 2006 - link

    just dropped by to say that you did a great job here, plenty of info, good benchmarks, nice "load/idle" tests. not many people here know how stresfull benchmarking against the clock can be. keep up the good work. Looking forward to the follow-up! Reply
  • Spinne - Thursday, March 9, 2006 - link

    I think it's safe to say that atleast for now, there is no clear winner with a slight advantage to ATI. From the bechmarks, it seems that the 7900GTX performs on par with the X1900XT with the X1900XTX a few fps higher (not a huge diff IMO). The future will therefore be decided by the drivers and the games. The drivers are still pretty young and I bet we'll see performance improvements in the future as both sets of drivers mature. The article says, ATI has the more comprehensive graphics solution (sorta like the R420 vs/s the NV40 situation in reverse?), so if code developers decide to take advantage of the greater functionality offered by ATI (most coders will probably aim for the lowest common denominator to increase sales, while a few may have 'ATI only' type features) then that may tilt the balance in ATI's favor. What's more important is the longevity of the R580 & G71 families. With VISTA set to appear towards the end of the year, how long can ATI and NVIDIA push these DX9 parts? I'm sure both companies will have a new family ready for VISTA, though the new family may just be a more refined version of the R580 and G71 architectures (much as the R420 was based off the R300 family). In terms of raw power, I think we're already VISTA games ready.
    The real question is, what does DX10 bring to the table from the perspective of the end user? There were certain features unique to DX9 that a DX8 part just could not render. Are there things that a DX10 card will be able to do that a DX9 card just can't do? As I understand it, the main difference between DX9 and 10 is that DX10 will unify Pixel Shaders and Vertex shaders, but I don't see how this will let a DX10 card render something that a DX9 card can't. Can anyone clarify?
    Lastly, one great benefit of Crossfire and SLI will be that I can buy a high end X1900XT for gaming right now and then add a low end card or a HD accelerator card (like the MPEG accelerator cards a few yyears ago) when it is clear if HDCP support will be necessary to play HD content and when I can afford to add a HDCP compliant monitor.
    Reply
  • yacoub - Friday, March 10, 2006 - link

    quote:

    The future will therefore be decided by the drivers and the games.


    And price, bro, and price. Two cards at the same performance level from two different companies = great time for a price war. Especially when one has the die shrink advantage as an incentive to drop the price to squeeze out the other's profits.
    Reply
  • bob661 - Thursday, March 9, 2006 - link

    I only buy based on games I play anyways but it's good to see them close in performance. Reply
  • DerekWilson - Thursday, March 9, 2006 - link

    The major difference that DX9 parts will "just not be able to do" is vertex generation and "geometry shading" in hardware. Currently a vertex shader program can only manipulate existing data, while in the future it will be possible to adaptively create or destroy vertecies.

    Programmatically, the transition from DX9 to DX10 will be one of the largest we have seen in a while. Or so we have been told. Some form of the DX10 SDK (not sure if it was a beta or not) was recently released, so I may look into that for more details if people are interested.
    Reply
  • feraltoad - Friday, March 10, 2006 - link

    I too would be very interested to learn more about DX10. I have looked online but I haven't really seen anything beyond the unification u mentioned.

    Also Unreal 2007 does look ungodly, and I didn't even think to wonder if it was DX9 or 10 like the other poster. Will it be comparable to games that will run on 8.1 hardware sans DX9 effects? That engine will make them big bux when they license it out. Sidenote-I read they were running demos of it with a quad SLI setup to showcase the game. I wonder what it will need to run it at full tilt?

    BTW Derek I think you do a very good job at AT, I always find your articles full of good common sense advice. When U did a review on the 3000+ budget gaming platform I jumped on the A64 bandwagon (I had to get an AsrockDual tho, instead of an NF4 cuz I wanted to keep my AGP 6600gt, and that's sad now considering the 7900 gt performance/price in sli compared to a 7900gtx.) and I've been really happy with my 3000+ at 2250 it runs noticeably better than my XP2400M oc'd 2.2) I'm just one example of someone you & AT have made more satisfied with their PC experience. So don't let disparaging comments get you down. You thorough committment to accuracy of your work shows how you accept criticism with grace and correct mistakes swiftly. I think the only thing "slipping" around here are peoples' manners.
    Reply
  • Spinne - Thursday, March 9, 2006 - link

    Yes, please do! So if you can actually generate vertices, the impact would be that you'd be able to do stuff like the character's hair flying apart in a light breeze without having to create the hair as a high poly model, right? What about the Unreal3 engine? Is it a DX9 or DX10 engine? Reply
  • Rock Hydra - Thursday, March 9, 2006 - link

    I didn't read all of that, but I'm glad it's close becasue the consumer becomes the real winner. Reply

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