The Newcomers

As we briefly mentioned, there are three new products to talk about today – the Radeon 9800 XT, the Radeon 9600 XT and then NVIDIA’s NV38.

The XT line of Radeon 9x00 cards is specifically targeted at the very high end of the gaming market. With AMD and their Athlon 64 FX, Intel and the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, it’s not too surprising to see even more companies going this direction. With an ultra-premium part like the Radeon 9800 XT the profit margins are high and more importantly, the PR opportunities are huge – claiming the title of world’s fastest desktop GPU never hurts.

The effort required to produce a part like the Radeon 9800 XT is much lower than a serious redesign. When making any kind of chip (CPU, GPU, chipset, etc…) the design team is usually given a cutoff point where they cannot make any more changes to the design, and that is the design that will go into production. However, it is very rare that manufacturers get things right on the first try. Process improvements and optimizing of critical paths within a microprocessor are both time intensive tasks that require a good deal of experience.

Once ATI’s engineers had more experience with the R350 core and more time with it they began to see where the limitations of the GPU’s clock speed existed; remember that your processor can only run as fast as its slowest speed path so it makes a great deal of sense to change the layout and optimize the use of transistors, etc… to speed up the slow paths within your GPU. This oversimplified process is what ATI and their foundry engineers have been working on and the results are encompassed in the R360 – the core of the Radeon 9800 XT.

The Radeon 9800 XT is able to run at a slightly higher core frequency of 412MHz, quite impressive for ATI’s 0.15-micron chip (yes, this is the same process that the original R300 was based on). Keep in mind that the Radeon 9800 Pro ran at 380MHz and you’ll see that this 8% increase in clock speed is beginning to reach the limits of what ATI can do at 0.15-micron.

The Radeon 9800 XT does receive a boost in memory speed as well, now boasting a 365MHz DDR memory clock (730MHz effective) – an increase of 7% over the original Radeon 9800 Pro and an increase of 4% over the 256MB 9800 Pro. ATI was much more proud of their core clock improvements as we will begin to crave faster GPU speeds once more shader intensive games come out.

The Radeon 9800 XT does have a thermal diode (mounted on-package but not on-die) that has a driver interface that will allow the card to automatically increase its core speed if the thermal conditions are suitable. The GPU will never drop below its advertised 412MHz clock speed, but it can reach speeds of up to 440MHz as far as we know. The important thing to note here is that ATI fully warrantees this overclocking support, an interesting move indeed. Obviously they only guarantee the overclock when it is performed automatically in the drivers, as they do not rate the chips for running at the overclocked speed in all conditions.

The OverDrive feature, as ATI likes to call it, will be enabled through the Catalyst 3.8 drivers and we’ll be sure to look into its functionality once the final drivers are made available.

The Radeon 9800 XT will be available in the next month or so and it will be sold in 256MB configurations at a price of $499 – most likely taking the place of the Radeon 9800 Pro 256MB.

Index The Radeon 9600XT & NV38
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  • Anonymous User - Friday, October 24, 2003 - link

    I believe a few of these benchmarks are misleading. The flight simulator 2004 results are a perfect example. It's obvious that the frame rates are limited to the refresh rate of the selected resolution, which is different for different cards (example: 125 Hz, 75 Hz, and 60 Hz). I would suggest fixing your method of benchmarking or removing the games with incorrect results from your benchmark suite, since it misrepresents the NVIDIA card's true performance. I would have thought the stepped frame rates on cards of WIDELY varying performance would have clued you guys in on the problem, but I guess not.
  • Anonymous User - Tuesday, October 21, 2003 - link

    Anand have refused to give ATi the credit they deserve. In every bench where ATi prevailed they managed to find some fault with the benchmark rather than find fault with nVidia's cards\drivers. Those 5 "Marginal" benches belong to ATi ...but Anand can't very well award them or it looks too one sided. The summing up recommends ATi, but not because the cards are better, apparently it's because you can't predict what the future holds (???). It's time Anand got it's hand out of nVidia's pocket and told it like it really is ...The current crop of nVidia FX cards Suck as much as they Blow. They can't produce the goods without cheating and favourable reviewers. To those that would choose nVidia over any other manufacturer, no matter what they produce! You just got Screwed over.
  • Anonymous User - Monday, October 20, 2003 - link

    Thank God! At last a review that means something!
  • Anonymous User - Thursday, October 16, 2003 - link

    The 9800 XT is already on my upgrade list. Thanks you Anandtech once again for helping me make an imformed decision. One game I would like to see is Papy's Nascar Racing 2003 as it can be a real bear to run.
  • Anonymous User - Sunday, October 12, 2003 - link

    OMG I predicted this a few months ago. That Nvidia would start messing with the filtering. Setting it to a lower value than what the end user thinks it is set at.

    An analogy: What if you set your graphics card to 1280 rez but in the game the driver forces the game to load at 1024 or even 800x600 rez.

    Well I know most of you would figure it out but I know lots of people that could be fooled.

    Take it a step further and use bilinear filtering when the person sets it at trilinear. This is not as obvious, it forces the card to do 1/2 the work it would be doing if tri filtering was invoked.

    So basically Nvidia drivers have fooled Anandtech into praises. It makes Anand either look like a fool or greedy.

    Either way this review is tainted.
  • Anonymous User - Saturday, October 11, 2003 - link

    Everyone should read this article. It explains what Anandtech could not.

    Added on October 9, 2003:

    AnandTech made an extremely extensive article about the performance and image quality of the current high-end graphic cards like Radeon 9800XT and GeForceFX 5950 Ultra (NV38). Beside the game benchmarks with 18 games, the image quality tests made with each of those games are strongly worth to be mentioned. AnandTech uses the Catalyst 3.7 on ATi side and the Detonator 52.14 on the nVidia side to compare the image quality. In contrast to the statements of our youngest driver comparison, AnandTech didn’t notice any general differences of the image quality between the Detonator 52.14 and 45.23 and therefore AnandTech praises the new driver a little into the sky.

    This however not even absolutely contradicts itself with our realizations. The nVidia-"optimizations" of the anisotropic filter with texture stages 1 till 7 in Control panel mode (only a 2x anisotropic filter is uses, regardless if there were made higher settings) are only to find with proper searching for it, besides most image quality comparisons by AnandTech were concerned without the anisotropic filter and therefore it’s impossible to find any differences on those pictures. The generally forced "optimization" of the trilinear filter into a pseudo trilinear filter by the Detonator 52.14 is besides nearly not possible to see on fixed images of real games, because the trilinear filter was created in order to prevent nearly only the MIP-Banding which can be seen in motion.

    Thus it can be stated that the determined "optimizations" of the Detonator 52.14 won’t be recognized with the view of screenshots, if you do not look for them explicitly (why however AnandTech awards the driver 52.14 a finer filter quality than the driver 51.75 is a mystery for us, then the only difference between them is a correctly working Application mode of the Detonator 52.14). Thus the "optimizations" of nVidia are not to be really seen
  • Anonymous User - Thursday, October 9, 2003 - link

    Has any else noticed that the Nvidia 5600 ULTRA gets whooped by the ATI 9600 Pro in this article? This is sharp contrast to the AnandTech's last review on the two cards here==> What's going on here??
  • avijay - Wednesday, October 8, 2003 - link

    I have a problem the viewing the results of the tests they way they are now posted. Could it be possible to put the graphs the way it used to be, i.e., not use flash. Cos I access the site thru a public network and flash movies or similar things don't load and hence I haven't been able to view the graphs for the past few articles now. Thanks.
  • Anonymous User - Tuesday, October 7, 2003 - link

    I am only interested in 1600x1200 or higher, with AA & AF turned on. I could not imagine spending >$500 and using 1024x768, etc. Perhaps AnandTech could include benchmarks at the high end of resolutions, AA & AF, especially considering they are reviewing the "best" or "most expensive" graphics card available to the consumer.
  • Anonymous User - Tuesday, October 7, 2003 - link

    The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind can be a great benchmark, with a little .ini file tweaking so that it shows the FPS in the corner.

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