Final Words

What a long, strange journey it has been to this point. We have a very delayed launch from AMD that features a part that consumes quite a bit of power and doesn't compete with the competition's high end offering. At face value, this sounds quite a bit like NVIDIA's NV30 launch, but thankfully we wouldn't go so far as to call this NV30 Part 2: the R600 Story.

Even though AMD has not built a high end part, they have built a part that runs very consistently at its performance target (which could not be said about NV30). AMD is also not trying to pass this card off as something it's not: rather than price this card out of its class, the R600 will find a good home at a reasonable price.

Despite the delays, despite the quirks, and despite the lack of performance leadership, AMD has built a good part. It might not be as exciting as an ultra high end card, and it certainly isn't as power efficient as an 8800 GTX or Ultra, but it has quite a few positives that make it an interesting product, and more competition is always a good thing. The worst thing that could happen now is for NVIDIA to get as complacent as ATI did after R300 wiped the floor with the competition.

Let's break it down with something akin to a pro/con list. Here's what AMD did right:

R600 features a tessellator which offers an interesting option to geeks and game developers even if it doesn't offer a lot of value to the average consumer. We've got full HD video decode acceleration for all the major codecs. There is a huge amount of processing power available for the code and data that fits the structure of the hardware. Audio is integrated into the video stream and sent out over HDMI with a special adapter allowing both DVI and HDMI to coexist and without the need of splitting the audio channel out from elsewhere. We like to see more options for antialiasing, and even if we don't necessarily like the tent filters the edge detect AA is a really cool concept that looks pretty good. And we absolutely love the architectural detail AMD has gone into with R600.

And here's what AMD did wrong:

First, they refuse to call a spade a spade: this part was absolutely delayed, and it works better to admit this rather than making excuses. Forcing MSAA resolve to run on the shader hardware is less than desirable and degrades both pixel throughput and shader horsepower as opposed to implementing dedicated resolve hardware in the render back ends. Not being able to follow through with high end hardware will hurt in more than just in lost margins. The thirst for wattage that the R600 displays is not what we'd like to see from an architecture that is supposed to be about efficiency. Finally, attempting to extract a high instruction level parallelism using a VLIW design when something much simpler could exploit the huge amount of thread level parallelism inherent in graphics was not the right move.

Maybe that's a lot to digest, but the bottom line is that R600 is not perfect nor is it a failure. The HD 2900 XT competes well with the 640MB 8800 GTS, though the 8800 GTS 320MB does have a price/performance advantage over both in all but the highest resolutions and AA settings under most current games. There are features we like about the hardware and we would love to see exploited. There is potential there, especially for Xbox 360 ports, to really shine... though console ports are often looked down upon in the PC market, particularly if they come late and offer little new to the platform.

Another bit question is that we still haven't seen how either G80 or R600 handle DX10 based games. This unknown will continue for just a little while longer, as next month we should start seeing some titles support DX10. The first titles may not be representative of later DX10 titles, however, so this is something we will only be able to properly assess with time.

For now, R600 is a good starting place for AMD's DX10 initiative, and with a bit of evolution to their unified shader hardware it could eventually rise to the top. We aren't as excited about this hardware as we were about G80, and there are some drawbacks to AMD's implementation, but we certainly won't count them out of the fight. Power efficiency on 65nm remains to be seen, and there is currently a huge performance gap NVIDIA has left between the 8600 GTS and the 8800 GTS 320MB. If AMD is able to capitalize here with the HD 2600 series, they will certainly still have a leg to stand on. We will have to wait to see those performance results though.

In the meantime, we are just happy that R600 is finally here after such a long wait. Let's hope for AMD's sake that the next revision of their hardware doesn't take quite so long to surface and manages to compete better with six month old competing products. We certainly hope we won't see a repeat of the R600 launch when Barcelona and Agena take on Core 2 Duo/Quad in a few months....

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  • wjmbsd - Monday, July 02, 2007 - link

    What is the latest on the so-called Dragonhead 2 project (aka, HD 2900 XTX)? I heard it was just for OEMs at first...anyone know if the project is still going and how the part is benchmarking with newest drivers? Reply
  • teainthesahara - Monday, May 21, 2007 - link

    After this failure of the R600 and likely overrated(and probably late) Barcelona/Agena processors I think that Intel will finally bury AMD. Paul Ottelini is rubbing his hands with glee at the moment and rightfully so. AMD now stands for mediocrity.Oh dear what a fall from grace.... To be honest Nvidia don't have any real competition on the DX10 front at any price points.I cannot see AMD processors besting Intel's Core 2 Quad lineup in the future especially when 45nm and 32 nm become the norm and they don't have a chance in hell of beating Nvidia. Intel and Nvidia are turning the screws on Hector Ruiz.Shame AMD brought down such a great company like ATI. Reply
  • DerekWilson - Thursday, May 24, 2007 - link

    To be fair, we really don't have any clue how these cards compete on the DX10 front as there are no final, real DX10 games on the market to test.

    We will try really hard to get a good idea of what DX10 will look like on the HD 2000 series and the GeForce 8 Series using game demos, pre-release code, and SDK samples. It won't be a real reflection of what users will experience, but we will certainly hope to get a glimpse at performance.

    It is fair to say that NVIDIA bests AMD in current game performance. But really there are so many possibilities with DX10 that we can't call it yet.
    Reply
  • spinportal - Friday, May 18, 2007 - link

    From the last posting of results for the GTS 320MB round-up
    http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=2953...">Prey @ AnandTech - 8800GTS320
    we see that the 2900XT review chart pushes the nVidia cards down about 15% across the board.
    http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=2988...">Prey @ AnandTech - ATI2900XT
    The only difference in systems is software drivers as the cpu / mobo / mem are the same.

    Does this mean ATI should be getting a BIGGER THRASHING BEAT-DOWN than the reviewer is stating?
    400$ ATI 2900XT performing as good as a 300$ nVidia 8800 GTS 320MB?

    Its 100$ short and 6 months late along with 100W of extra fuel.

    This is not your uncle's 9700 Pro...
    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Sunday, May 20, 2007 - link

    We switched Prey demos -- I updated our benchmark.

    Both numbers are accurate for the tests I ran at the time.

    Our current timedemo is more stressful and thus we see lower scores with this test.
    Reply
  • Yawgm0th - Wednesday, May 16, 2007 - link

    The prices listed in this article are way off.

    Currently, 8800GTS 640MB retails for $350-380, $400+ for OC or special versions. 2900XT retails for $430+. In the article, both are listed as $400, and as such the card is given a decent review in the conclusion.

    Realistically, this card provides slightly inferior performance to the 8800GTS 640MB at a considerably higher price point -- $80-$100 more than the 8800GTS. I mean, it's not like the 8800Ultra, but for the most part this card has little use outside of AMD and/or ATI fanboys. I'd love for this card to do better as AMD needs to be competing with Nvidia and Intel right now, but I just can't see how this is even worth looking at, given current prices.
    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Thursday, May 17, 2007 - link

    really, this article focuses on architechture more than product, and we went with MSRP prices...

    we will absolutly look closer at price and price/performance when we review retail products.
    Reply
  • quanta - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    As I recalled, the Radeon HD 2900 only has DVI ports, but nowhere in DVI documentation specifies it can carry audio signals. Unless the card comes with adapter that accepts audio input, it seems the audio portion of R600 is rendered useless. Reply
  • DerekWilson - Wednesday, May 16, 2007 - link

    the card does come with an adapter of sorts, but the audio input is from the dvi port.

    you can't use a standard DVI to HDMI converter for this task.

    when using AMD's HDMI converter the data sent out over the DVI port does not follow the DVI specification.

    the bottom line is that the DVI port is just a physical connector carrying data. i could take a DVI port and solder it to a stereo and use it to carry 5.1 audio if I wanted to ... wouldn't be very useful, but I could do it :-)

    While connected to a DVI device, the card operates the port according to the DVI specification. When connected to an HDMI device through the special converter (which is not technically "dvi to hdmi" -- it's amd proprietry to hdmi), the card sends out data that follows the HDMI spec.

    you can look at it another way -- when the HDMI converter is connected, just think of the dvi port as an internal connector between an I/O port and the TMDS + audio device.
    Reply
  • ShaunO - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    I was at an AMD movie night last night where they discussed the technical details of the HD 2900 XT and also showed the Ruby Whiteout DX10 Demo rendered using the card. It looked amazing and I had high hopes until I checked out the benchmark scores. They're going to need more than free food and popcorn to convince me to buy an obsolete card.

    However there is room for improvement of course. Driver updates, DX10 and whatnot. The main thing for me personally will be driver updates, I will be interested to see how well the card improves over time while I save my pennies for my next new machine.

    Everyone keeps saying "DX10 performance will be better, yadda yadda" but I also want to be able to play the games I have now and older games without having to rely on DX10 games to give me better performance. Nothing like totally underperforming in DX9 games and then only being equal or slightly better in DX10 games compared to the competition. I would rather have a decent performer all-round. Even saying that we don't even know for sure if DX10 games are even going to bring any performance increases of the competition, it's all speculation right now and that's all we can do, speculate.

    Shaun.
    Reply

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