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ATI RADEON X700 GPU: What You Need to Know

So, we’ve got a new mainstream graphics processor from ATI Technologies. Considering its performance in gaming tests, what’s our opinion about it? We don’t think it’s time yet to call triumph or failure of the RADEON X700, since the sample we tested was only a few days old and the new driver certainly required some polishing-off. Off-the-shelf RADEON X700 XT graphics cards are going to be finished products, most probably with a higher performance. The task we set before us when preparing this review was in revealing the architectural features and potential of the new GPU. Hopefully, we succeeded in this.

The RADEON X700 XT displayed an overall strong character in our test session. Despite of having a narrow 128-bit memory bus and some problems with the texturing speed, it can successfully contend with the RADEON 9800 XT, outperforming it in the majority of applications. Well, we saw the same with the GeForce 6600: the new progressive architecture helps both cards to beat the titans of the last generation.

The RADEON X700 XT is good where it is supposed to be – in games with complex pixel shaders and sophisticated geometry – and it feels uncomfortable where there are many pixel shaders that actively use textures or where high texturing speed is a must. The conclusion we arrived at after the theoretical tests can be repeated once again: the new chips have all the pros and cons of their respective top-end mates and behave accordingly. But again, it is rather early to make any final verdicts – we should wait for the release of the new official version of Catalyst with support of the RADEON X700 family.

Summing up, we can say that the RADEON X700 XT:

  • Delivers a good performance in current games;
  • Has an architecture whose strong points are pixel shader and geometry performance;
  • Can potentially add up in speed considerably through the improved optimizations in the Catalyst AI driver;
  • Supports Shader Model 2.0b, 3Dc and other advanced technologies.

These good things are somewhat tarnished by the following facts:

  • The graphics card and the RADEON X700 XT core of the current revisions are rather hot at work, and this results in a noisy cooling system;
  • The drivers for the RADEON X700 XT seem to require improving upon;
  • It is absolutely uncertain when RADEON X700 XT graphics cards are going to appear in shops.

As for the market future of the RADEON X700, it may be bright, but only if the manufacturer solves all the driver-related problems and starts shipping new GPUs to its partners in mass quantities (this is questionable so far, as first revisions of ATI’s mainstream chips don’t always go into commercial production). The situation hasn’t become dangerous – NVIDIA’s GeForce 6600 and GeForce 6600 GT haven’t reached shops, either, but NVIDIA has got a big time reserve and its product has no obvious problems of hardware or software nature. If ATI Technologies lingers too long with promoting the RADEON X700 family into the market, NVIDIA may catch at this opportunity to improve its positions in the sector of PCI Express mainstream graphics cards. Of course, even this scenario would not be fatal for ATI, but it’s always harder to be the pursuer. We hope – for the good of all users – that ATI solves all the problems quickly and we’ll see reliable and fast mainstream graphics cards capable of competing with top-end solutions of the previous generation, in shops.

Can we hope to see an AGP version of the RADEON X700? We think it less probable, just like with the GeForce 6600 GT, because 1) ATI doesn’t have the necessary bridge to realize this interface just now and 2) ATI has good mainstream solutions like RADEON 9800 XT and 9800 PRO for the AGP platform.

Note also that the GeForce 6600 GT has one advantage, although ethereal as yet. It can work in the SLI mode, while the RADEON X700 XT cannot. Then, ATI’s new GPU still doesn’t support Shader Model 3.0, although supports the 2.0b superset to Shader Model 2.0. Neither SM 3.0 nor SM 2.0b has yet been demanded much by the gaming industry, though.

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