ATI Radeon Xpress 200: Performance, PCI Express & DX9 for Athlon 64by Wesley Fink on November 8, 2004 6:00 AM EST
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Final WordsRound 3 has been the most interesting round of the Athlon 64 chipset wars. VIA was first to demonstrate their PCI Express chipset, but it now appears they may be the last with retail product to the market. nVidia showed their nForce 4 PCIe Reference board just a few weeks ago and we are already expecting production samples from Tier 1 motherboard makers in the next week. ATI was last to announce a PCI Express chipset for Athlon 64, but OEM boards are already starting to ship from makers like MSI. That is not to say that Enthusiast boards based on the RX480 and high-end designs with the RS480 are shipping, as it will still be several weeks until these boards make their way to market.
For their first effort at an AMD Athlon 64 chipset, we can only say we are beyond impressed with the ATI RX480/RS480 chipset. No matter how we compare the performance the ATI RX480 is competitive or a bit faster than the best Socket 939 boards we have tested at AnandTech. That in itself would be reason enough to suggest a long, hard look at the ATI RX480 chipset, but there's more. ATI also did their homework in this go round; delivering a board that will excite any enthusiast who gives it a whirl. nVidia got to their position of prominence in the AMD world with solid boards that catered to Enthusiasts. ATI appears to finally understand that pleasing the OEM market is not the same as exciting Enthusiasts. The ATI Bullhead is a monster overclocker with amazing performance, and ATI deserves huge praise for their efforts and their results with their first AMD chipset.
To competitive Athlon 64 performance and demonstrated overclocking abilities, we then add ATI's first DirectX 9 graphics. While the performance of the integrated graphics core can't even beat a X300 SE, ATI does stand alone in offering DX9 graphics compatibility on an integrated Athlon 64 platform. Compared to Intel's GMA 900, ATI's integrated graphics is a step (or two) ahead; add to that the exciting potential of Surround View with 3 or 4 monitors and the ATI RS480 chipset certainly looks like a worthwhile choice.
If we were to compare the very capable Athlon 64 solutions, our choice right now would be the new ATI RX480/RX480, but nVidia threw a significant wrench into the A64 with their simultaneous launch of SLI with nForce 4. Our previews have demonstrated that SLI is a significant boost for graphics performance. Combining two video cards is a solution that will definitely appeal to those aiming for top performance at one end of the spectrum and those seeking graphics upgradeability at the other end. For the rest of the market the ATI Radeon Express 200P and 200 will be a great choice. It is also worth noting that ATI specified that the x16 PCIe graphics slot can be programmed "to drive two devices". ATI shared plans to market their own SLI solution that they expect to launch in early 2005, so SLI will also likely be a choice with ATI in the near future.
We have no hesitation in recommending ATI Radeon Express as either a discrete or integrated solution for a top-line Athlon 64 system. The ATI will not disappoint in either stock performance, features, or overclocking capabilities that top the Athlon 64 pack. Our only concern at this point is that motherboard manufacturers in Taiwan are not accustomed to thinking of ATI for AMD chipsets. This means they may not even consider how really good ATI RX480/RS480 actually are. To them we say please take a closer look. The ATI RX480/RS480 are outstanding performers that definitely deserve a place on some top Enthusiast Athlon 64 motherboards.
Congratulations, ATI, you managed to pull it off! The last announcement of Round 3 of the Athlon 64 chipset wars may turn out to be the most significant introduction of all.