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Q4: All-Out Overclocking, Automatic Optimizations

The last quarter of the passing year brought us a bunch of new graphics processors: RADEON 9800 XT (R360), GeForce FX 5950 Ultra (NV38), high-end solutions priced at about $500, and RADEON 9600 XT and GeForce FX 5700 Ultra, mainstream solutions priced about $200.

The $500 newcomers were faster versions of the previously released products.

The R360 is in fact an overclocked R350. It is manufactured on TSMC facilities using the 0.15-micron process and powers up RADEON 9800 XT graphics cards. The frequency of the R360 is 412MHz with an option of dynamic overclocking; the memory works at 730MHz. The NVIDIA NV38 (GeForce FX 5950 Ultra) is a development on the NV35, which runs just a little faster in real applications, just like ATI’s competitor. The core of the new solution works at 457MHz, and memory at 475MHz (950MHz DDR).

ATI Technologies takes it easy when improving their “middle-range” product, RADEON 9600 PRO. They roll out the RADEON 9600 XT clocked at 500MHz due to the low-k 0.13-micron tech process. The graphics cards on the RADEON 9600 XT can show a performance similar to the oldie RADEON 9500 PRO, at last.

NVIDIA approached the problem of developing a new mainstream solution with much more responsibility. The NV36 graphics processor (GeForce FX 5700) was a very well-done product with a thrice higher vertex processing speed compared to the predecessors. Besides, it was equipped with CineFX 2.0 technology meaning some advantage at processing pixel shaders. Well, we had been expecting it as the NV36 was nothing else but the NV35 (GeForce FX 5900) with half the pipelines, but working at a higher frequency (475MHz). NVIDIA takes another try with the expensive and hot memory, DDR-II, working at 450MHz (900MHz). The reason for doing this is not quite comprehensible and first cards on the new GPU would cost somewhat above the declared $200. Anyway, the new product was all right. Its performance was much above that of the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra. In other words, the RADEON 9600 PRO and XT got a new dangerous rival to fight with.

The new products from ATI Technologies are mostly interesting for their dynamic overclocking technology dubbed OVERDRIVE. It allows the card to control the GPU frequency depending on its temperature. The RADEON 9800 XT uses the new option to the full, having a small profit in performance, but the RADEON 9600 XT supports it on paper only.

Notwithstanding the growth of the frequencies, the performance of NVIDIA’s GPUs is always worse when it comes to complex pixel shaders. NVIDIA says it is the payment for flexibility and programmability of the NV3x architecture. This resembles the situation with Intel Itanium processors that are rather slow at executing ordinary x86 code. NVIDIA introduces a special code translator into the new generation of its drivers, changing their name from Detonator to ForceWare along the way.

 
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