June 22, 2005, Nvidia announced its landmark G70 graphics processor and claimed technological superiority over the previous leader ATI Technologies. ATI’s R520 made a tardy appearance on October 5 but didn’t put the company back in the lead being slower in some tests than the GeForce 7800 GTX.
ATI found itself with a large store of previous-generation chips (R423, R430 and R480) which had to be disposed of in some way or another. Otherwise the company would face severe financial loss. ATI solved the problem in an elegant, even though not very profitable, way by announcing performance-mainstream and mainstream graphics cards called Radeon X800 GTO and Radeon X800 GT, respectively. These cards were in fact the same as Radeon X850 XT but with fewer pipelines and lower clock rates, and they suited their purpose well, especially since there was some delay with shipments of Radeon X1600 XT. Radeon X800 GT and GTO are still quite appealing in terms of price, but their performance is rather too low by today’s standards.
But let’s get back to the R520. As we said, this chip didn’t become an unrivalled leader despite the number of progressive architectural innovations it embodied in silicon. The performance of the best solution on that GPU, Radeon X1800 XT 512MB, was overall higher than that of the GeForce 7800 GTX, but the Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX 512 released November 2005 proved to be faster still (for details see our article called NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX 512: Faster, Higher, Stronger!). And although Nvidia couldn’t provide that card in mass quantities, ATI Technologies should have felt very disturbed at its lost technological superiority.
Radeon X1800 GTO
Well, you surely know that how this story ends: ATI hastened the development of the R580 chip and introduced it to the public on January 24, 2006 (for details see our article called The Fast and Furious: ATI Radeon X1900 XTX Review). The chip featured more general-purpose registers and three times the number of pixel processors compared with the R520, yet had the same number of texture-mapping units. This approach to GPU design might seem arguable, but the R580-based Radeon X1900 XTX and X1900 XT cards delivered excellent performance in games, leaving the GeForce 7800 GTX 512 behind in most cases. But what happened to the R520?
Not the luckiest claim for technological superiority, the R520 was found inadequate for the top-end market sector once R580-based graphics cards began to sell in mass quantities which they did right after the announcement of the new GPU. So, it was just like with ATI’s previous-generation chips and the company played the same trick again to put the already manufactured R520 chips to good use.
Some R520 chips are still being installed on Radeon X1800 XL while the rest of them are coming to us on the new mainstream graphics card which was announced at the same time with Nvidia’s mainstream GeForce 7600 GT. The ATI Radeon X1800 GTO card claims to be the best offer in a price range of $199-249. Let’s see what’s behind this claim.