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ATI RADEON X700 XT – Preferred for Half-Life 2?

So, NVIDIA was ahead of ATI Technologies in releasing a mass graphics card with a new architecture and the PCI Express interface. It was ATI’s turn now.

The answer came on the 21-th of September. The Canadians announced the RADEON X700 GPU as a competitor to the GeForce 6600 in the mainstream market. The new GPU also filled the gap between the RADEON X800 and X600 families. The process of making a mainstream product out of a top-end one was different with ATI: like NVIDIA with its GeForce 6600, ATI halved the number of pixel pipelines and the width of the memory bus, but kept the same number of vertex processors. Judging by the tests, the texture caches suffered a reduction instead.

This 0.11-micron chip proved to be very simple, consisting of only 110 million transistors against 143 millions of the NV43. That’s natural since the X700 couldn’t boast support of Shader Model 3.0 or 32-bit floating-point pixel processors and other technologies available in NVIDIA’s new-generation products, but it had all of ATI’s exclusive technologies like 3Dc, SMOOTHVISION HD, SmartShader HD, VideoShader HD, HyperZ HD and others.

Three X700-based graphics cards were announced – RADEON X700 XT, RADEON X700 PRO and RADEON X700 with the following characteristics:

A curious fact, the RADEON X700 XT and the X700 PRO had the same recommended price and only differed in the amount and frequency of the graphics memory. The user thus had a choice between a card with lower frequencies but more of graphics memory and a high-frequency device with less of memory.

Like the GeForce 6600 GT, the RADEON X700 XT/PRO had a small size, although their PCBs were somewhat more complex. The seemingly simple and efficient cooler proved to be very noisy and the GPU itself – very hot. For more details read our article called ATI RADEON X700 XT: Architecture Preview.

Our gaming tests showed that the graphics card accomplishes its purpose, delivering the performance of the GeForce 6600 GT and outperforming the RADEON 9800 XT in a majority of modern games thanks to the new architecture (for more detailed benchmarking results see our article called 3DMark05: The Future of Computer Games in Numbers). Some driver-related problems were reported as well as an insufficiently high texturing speed of the X700; the latter fact is probably the outcome of a reduction of the texture caches.

Following NVIDIA’s example with Doom 3, ATI began to label its cards as “Preferred for Half-Life 2”. The absence of the X700 XT model in the market put a question mark after the phrase, though.

Thus, by the end of the third quarter ATI and NVIDIA had drafted worthy graphics processors into the ranks, suitable for creating mainstream graphics cards with the PCI Express interface.

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