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ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT 1GB: Challenging the GeForce 8800 GTX/Ultra?

As you know, Nvidia currently holds the title of the maker of the world’s fastest gaming graphics card and AMD has nothing to beat it with. The ordinary ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT, priced at $399, is a rival to the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB. Having a high potential, this card is still no match to the GeForce 8800 GTX, let alone the GeForce 8800 Ultra. This lagging behind does no good to the already precarious position of AMD’s graphics department. The former ATI Technologies has to find a quick and ready answer to Nvidia’s aggressive policy.

Long before the writing of this review there emerged rumors about a Radeon HD 2900 XTX, a card that would make a worthy opponent to Nvidia’s GeForce 8800 GTX. The “long” version of Radeon HD 2900 for system integrators was being alluded to and various technical characteristics were being quoted, but different sources agreed on one point – the new card would certainly have 1 gigabyte of GDDR4 memory on board.

In late May, Sapphire Technology, a major partner of ATI’s, quietly adds a Radeon HD 2900 XTX into the list of graphics cards being supplied to the market. According to the list, the new card is indeed equipped with 1024 megabytes of GDDR4 memory clocked at 1025 (2050) MHz while the graphics core frequency remains the same at 742MHz. There is no official announcement from AMD while Sapphire refuses to comment upon the situation.

Later on, the Canada-based Extreme PC shop begins to accept pre-orders for Radeon HD 2900 XT 1GB at a price of somewhat higher than $600 but with GPU and memory frequencies of 825MHz and 1050 (2100) MHz, respectively. AMD was still keeping quiet, but it was clear the new Radeon HD 2900 had been already put on production lines and there would be no problems with the availability of the card. This was confirmed by the major memory maker Samsung who was supplying GDDR4 chips for the AMD Radeon HD 2000 series.

We’ve carried out a small investigation to find the following: AMD’s graphics department is not planning to announce the new Radeon HD 2900 with 1GB of GDDR4 memory officially. The responsibility for producing such cards lies with ATI’s partners in graphics card production such as Sapphire Technology, Diamond Multimedia, etc. If this announcement ever takes place, however, it will be only about the version with a graphics core frequency of 742MHz. We guess the company doesn’t want to spend its resources on culling chips capable of operating at increased frequencies. It is a rather laborious task that does not guarantee an increase in AMD’s market share.

As opposed to Nvidia who officially released its GeForce 8800 Ultra into retail networks, the overclocked versions of Radeon HD 2900 XT 1GB will be not only produced by ATI’s partners but also supplied mainly to system integrators. This is true for the Diamond Viper Radeon HD 2900 XT 1GB, for example. The clock rates of such cards may vary.

We have also found out the final specs of the non-overclocked Radeon HD 2900 XT 1GB: its graphics core frequency is indeed 742MHz but its memory frequency is lower than expected, 1000 (2000) MHz. Anyway, this ensures a record-breaking memory bandwidth of 128GB/s.

Thus, the AMD Radeon HD 2900 series looks as follows today:

  • Radeon HD 2900 XT 512MB (742/1650 MHz)
  • Radeon HD 2900 XT 1GB (742/2000 MHz)
  • Radeon HD 2900 XT 1GB (825/2100 MHz)

As we have written above, the latest model is an initiative of ATI/AMD’s partners in graphics card production and will not have an official status. It will be mainly supplied to system integrators although some online shops offer such cards for about $610.

The difference in performance between the Radeon HD 2900 XT and the Radeon HD 2600 XT is very big, leaving not one, but several empty product niches. Clearly, even dual-processor RV630-based solutions can’t fill in this vacuum. However, there is yet no sign of AMD’s planning to release R600-based products with lower performance than the Radeon HD 2900 XT 512MB provides.

So, the Radeon HD 2900 XT 1GB exists for real. But differing from its junior brother in the amount and type of graphics memory only, this graphics card can hardly win absolute supremacy among single-card solutions. We don’t expect a record-breaking performance from the version with a 742MHz core frequency at least, yet we’ll check this out soon in the Tests section. A higher performance can be expected from a Radeon HD 2900 XT 1GB that comes with an increased graphics core frequency, though.

As a matter of fact, AMD pins its hopes of beating the GeForce 8800 Ultra on a tandem made out of two ordinary Radeon HD 2900 XT working in CrossFire mode. At an official price of $399, a pair of such cards can prove to be as fast as the Nvidia GeForce 8800 Ultra and even cheaper for the end-user. The success will depend on the implementation of CrossFire technology in AMD’s new GPUs and drivers. In this review we’ll try to find out if the multi-GPU solution of the former ATI looks competitive in this struggle.

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