Articles: Graphics

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Using top-performance GPUs on rather inexpensive graphics cards is a widespread practice in the consumer 3D graphics industry when there are no alternatives available. A well-known example was the announcement of the world’s first DirectX 9 compatible GPU, the R300 chip developed by ATI Technologies, which used to be installed on the flagship Radeon 9700 Pro as well as on the mainstream Radeon 9500. Later on, it was replaced with the R360 and R360 cores in the top-performance segment and with the RV350/360 in the mainstream sector.

There are factors that justify this approach. First, it helps utilize defective cores that haven’t passed a frequency test and/or have defective units that can be turned off. Second, it doesn’t require developing a new PCB which is a costly and long process. A good illustration of this development approach was shown by ATI with its Radeon X1800 and X1900 series that had in fact one and the same PCB design.

The downside of this approach is obvious, too. As the tech process is getting optimized, the chip yield is growing up and the share of defective cores is shrinking, and the manufacturer finds himself having to install full-featured top-class GPUs on inexpensive graphics cards, which is of course not optimal in terms of profit margin. The use of expensive and complex PCBs has a negative effect on the manufacturing cost as well as the end price of a product, so the developer has to diversify his GPU range sooner or later.

Being quite urgent even at the times of Radeon 9700, this problem is especially sharp today when GPUs have evolved into immensely complex devices. For example, Nvidia’s G80 chip incorporates as many as 681 million transistors, but the company has to install it on a $299 card because the G84 core, the basis of the GeForce 8600 series, proved to be unable to deliver performance sufficient for that price category, especially in new games that use Direct X10 capabilities.

The GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB was competitive but it used full-featured G80 cores and an expensive 12-layer PCB that had been originally developed for a $400 graphics card. Of course, this compromise product had to be replaced and Nvidia was working on such a replacement. October 29 the company officially introduced the new G92 graphics processor and the GeForce 8800 GT graphics card series. We’ll tell you how much of a success the new product is and if it brings a new level of performance into the $199-259 sector.

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