by Alexey Stepin , Yaroslav Lyssenko
10/03/2007 | 02:26 PM
Created by AMD’s graphics department to conquer the mainstream sector, the ATI Radeon HD 2600 (RV630) processor proved to be an ambiguous product. Although endowed with good technical characteristics, this GPU is not really brilliant in gaming applications.
Our tests showed that the Radeon HD 2600 XT GDDR4, the senior RV630-based graphics card model, did not have an overwhelming advantage over its market opponent Nvidia GeForce 8600 GT despite being closer to the more advanced GeForce 8600 GTS in its specs. Why? Because the RV630 core has only four rasterization subunits and the drivers are not yet quite polished off.
On the other hand, the ATI Radeon HD 2600 is beyond competition when it comes to playing video. Thanks to its dedicated decoder with full hardware support of such HD formats as H.264 and VC-1, including support for entropy encoding (CABAC and CAVLC), and to high image quality, RV630-based graphics cards are surely the best choice for a multimedia PC. That could be the factor to boost the popularity of the ATI Radeon HD 2600 series.
But besides playing video of various formats, a graphics card for multimedia PCs has to comply with other requirements. It must be compact, quiet, and economical. While it’s all right with the power consumption of the Radeon HD 2600 XT GDDR4, the card proved to be far from compact. Its reference PCB is large. Today we will discuss the less advanced version of ATI Radeon HD 2600. It has a Pro suffix in its name and should be free from the mentioned drawback.
We know that graphics cards of the Radeon HD 2600 class do not have to follow the reference design. Will the ASUS EAH2600PRO/HDTI/256M card we are going to test today prove a unique product? Let’s find out right now.
As opposed to more advanced graphics solutions, the EAH2600PRO is shipped in a standard-size and ascetically designed box.
It looks good, however, and you can’t call it gaudy or something. Besides a picture of a cute archer, there are captions on the box that tell you the type and amount of graphics memory, indicate HDCP support, and claim that the graphics card features an advanced cooler. ASUS promises a 20°C reduction of temperature in comparison with the reference cooler.
There is a thick cardboard tray inside the box. The graphics card lies in the largest compartment. Next to it there are discs and a user manual. The bottom compartment contains adapters and splitters. The EAH2600PRO comes with the following accessories:
Although a DVI-I → HDMI adapter is listed on the manufacturer’s website among the accessories, it is missing in our kit, which is rather strange considering that the ATI Radeon HD 2600 suits best for multimedia PCs. Hopefully, it is a problem of our particular sample of the card. If it is not, ASUS should remove the mention of the adapter from the product description to avoid misleading the customer.
The user manual is a booklet, which is handier than a huge poster. It contains the basics of using the graphics cards. For details you can refer to the full manual you can find on the included disc.
So, the accessories aren’t numerous, especially for an ASUS product, but additional bonuses would have made the card more expensive. Moreover, the card has its special feature – it comes with quite a powerful cooler (for its class).
Although the graphics card vendor doesn’t have to follow the reference design here, the discussed card uses the PCB developed at ATI. The company seems to produce PCB & GPU kits and assembles them by itself as is indicated by the ASUS logo in the bottom left corner.
The EAH2600PRO is about as large as the ATI Radeon X1600 XT or X1650 Pro/XT and will easily fit even into a cramped system case. The system case must have a full height or allow to install the graphics card at 90 degrees to the mainboard by means of a special adapter.
The wiring of the new PCB differs significantly from ATI’s earlier works. It lacks components placed at an angle of 45 degrees and doesn’t have a place for a VIVO chip. The memory chips are turned around by 90 degrees on the PCB.
As we know, the RV630 has a low power draw even in the Radeon HD 2600 XT GDDR4 implementation, so the power circuit of the ASUS EAH2600PRO is very simple and contains a small number of elements, most of which are even not installed. There is no additional power connector on the card as it gets all the power it needs from the PCI Express x16 slot.
The EAH2600PRO is equipped with GDDR2 memory. It carries eight Qimonda HYB18T256161BF-20 chips (256Mb, 16Mbx16, 500 (1000) MHz). The chips yield a total of 256 megabytes of graphics memory accessed across a 128-bit memory bus. The memory is clocked at its rated frequency of 500 (1000) MHz. With such parameters, the peak memory bandwidth is only 16GB/s, which is going to affect the performance of the EAH2600PRO in games. And there is no headroom for overclocking.
The graphics core of the EAG2600PRO card is clocked at 600MHz and contains 120 unified shader processors grouped into 24 blocks of 5 ALUs. It also incorporates 2 texture processors roughly equivalent to 8 classic TMUs and 1 raster processor equivalent to 4 ordinary ROPs. In other words, the GPU configuration is standard and identical to the ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT.
The ASUS EAH2600PRO has two universal DVI-I ports with support for dual-link mode which allows connecting two monitors at a resolution of 2560x1600. The graphics card also supports HDMI with the audio-over-HDMI feature, but we didn’t find the necessary adapter in the box. For analog devices the card offers a universal port that supports S-Video, composite and YPbPr connections.
The RV630 features a frame compositing engine, but the PCB design of the ATI Radeon HD 2600 Pro does not provide for CrossFire connectors. Thus, the EAH2600PRO can work in multi-GPU mode but data transfers and synchronization signals will be sent by the two cards via the PCI Express bus, which is less efficient than the native mode with an external CrossFire interface.
The GPU is cooled by a rather large cooler with a radial placement of the ribs. It resembles the legendary Orb coolers from Thermaltake and Zalman’s CNPS7x00 series. Considering the universal fastening mechanism, it seems to be an OEM product from Thermaltake or from ASUS itself because ASUS makes coolers besides other things. The yellow color of the ribs can hardly mislead you as it doesn’t look like the red color of copper. It is anodized aluminum. Well, it would be a squander to use expensive copper in a cooler system for a device with such low heat dissipation. The cooler is equipped with an 11-blade fan whose impeller is made from translucent plastic. The fan lacks highlighting and uses a simple 2-wire connection. The cooler is fastened to the PCB with four spring-loaded screws and doesn’t need a back-plate due to its low weight.
The cooler of the EAH2600PRO promised a low noise level and we checked this out. We performed the measurement with a digital sound-level meter Velleman DVM1326 using A-curve weighing.
At the time of our tests the level of ambient noise in our lab was 36dBA and the level of noise at a distance of 1 meter from a working testbed with a passively cooled graphics card inside was 43dBA. We got the following results:
The cooler is indeed quiet and is not audible against the noise from the working PC. It copes easily with the RV630 chip that is clocked at a lower frequency than on the ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT, so there is no need for speed adjustment. The fan is always rotating at a constant speed.
Our attempt to overclock our ASUS EAH2600PRO was not much of a success. None of our overclocking utilities could identify the GPU properly while the standard options of the Catalyst driver could not increase the GPU frequency above 660MHz. The GPU was stable at 660MHz, though. The memory showed zero overclockability. As soon as we increased its frequency, the graphics card would show visual artifacts and malfunction. So, the final result was 660MHz GPU and 500 (1000) MHz memory. We did not test the EAH2600PRO at the overclocked frequency because it is the memory subsystem, not the GPU, that is the main bottleneck of this graphics card.
To test the performance of Asus EAH2600PRO/HDTI/256M we assembled the following standard test platform:
Since we believe that the use of tri-linear filtering optimizations is not justified in this case, the AMD and Nvidia graphics card drivers were set up to provide the highest possible quality of tri-linear and anisotropic texture filtering. Also, to ensure maximum image quality, we enabled transparent texture filtering - Adaptive antialiasing for AMD Catalyst and Transparency antialiasing (multisampling) for Nvidia ForceWare. As a result, our AMD and Nvidia driver settings looked as follows:
We selected the highest possible graphics quality level in each game using standard tools provided by the game itself. The games configuration files weren’t modified in any way. Performance was measured with the games’ own tools or, if not available, manually with Fraps utility version 2.9.1. We also measured the minimum speed of the cards where possible.
This time we again gave up 1920x1200 and 1920x1440 resolutions, because contemporary mainstream solutions will almost definitely be unable to ensure acceptable level of performance in them. Therefore, we only ran the tests in 1280x1024/960 and 1600x1200 resolutions. We used “eye candy” mode everywhere, where it was possible without disabling the HDR or Shader Model 3.0. Namely, we ran the tests with enabled anisotropic filtering as well as MSAA 4x. We enabled them from the game’s menu. If this was not possible, we forced them using the appropriate driver settings of Catalyst and ForceWare.
Asus EAH2600PRO/HDTI/256M will be competing against the following graphics accelerators participating in our test session:
For our tests we used the following games and benchmarks:
First-Person 3D Shooters
Third-Person 3D Shooters
With its modest memory subsystem parameters and reduced GPU frequency the ASUS EAH2600PRO is far slower than the ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT GDDR4 – by about 50% at a resolution of 1600x1200. While the senior model of the family can be used to run the game at 4x FSAA and 1280x1024 more or less normally, the ATI Radeon HD 2600 Pro yields an unsatisfactory 20fps. The Nvidia GeForce 8600 GT ensures a twice higher average frame rate while its minimum of speed is higher than the EAH2600PRO’s average.
The ASUS EAH2600PRO is quite faster than the GeForce 8600 GT in the original DirectX 9 version of the game, but its performance is too low by itself, not giving you even a minimum of comfort. A more or less comfortable level of performance is achieved only by the ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT GDDR4 and by the already outdated but still robust ATI Radeon X1950 Pro. We’re talking about the lowest of popular resolutions, 1280x1024. For playing Call of Juarez at a resolution of 1600x1200 you need a much more advanced graphics card.
Judging by the results, it would be unwise to upgrade from an ATI Radeon X1950 Pro to an ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT GDDR4 as both deliver roughly similar performance.
The DirectX 10 version of Call of Juarez is not meant for owners of entry-level and mainstream graphics cards as the game will be too slow on them. As we have already found out in our previous article called DirectX 10 Games vs. Contemporary Graphics Accelerators, even top-end solutions don’t have a really high speed in this game.
The ASUS EAH2600PRO can’t provide a comfortable performance even in such an old game as Far Cry, at least when you run it with enabled full-screen antialiasing. The average frame rate is above the critical level in closed environments but falls below 20fps in open scenes.
It’s somewhat better in the HDR mode: the average frame rate of the ASUS card is always above 25fps and the resolution of 1280x1024 seems to be playable even though with occasional slowdowns. You won’t have as much comfort as with an ATI Radeon X1950 Pro, yet it’s still a good result for a $100 product.
The EAH2600PRO is good in the sequel of the popular shooter. It is ahead of the GeForce 8600 GT and only 10% slower than the ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT GDDR4. That’s an excellent result for a graphics card with such a low price and modest specs. It’s also clear that the more math1ematical computations a game has, the better AMD/ATI’s approach to developing GPUs works in it. And F.E.A.R. is an example of such a math1ematics-heavy application.
In resolutions higher than 1280x1024 the RV630-based solutions are limited by their raster processors and memory bus, and the ATI Radeon X1950 Pro with its 12 ROPs and a 256-bit memory bus comes out the winner. This graphics card is the only one in this review to ensure an average speed of 30fps at a resolution of 1600x1200 and with the highest graphics quality settings.
Having the most modest specs among all the cards included into this review, the ASUS EAH2600PRO is the slowest of them all, too. However, it can keep the frame rate at about 30fps in 1280x1024. This solution provides a means to improve the speed further by disabling 4x FSAA.
The ATI Radeon X1950 Pro is the least advanced solution in this test session from a technical viewpoint. But despite its traditional architecture with separate vertex and pixel processors this graphics card enjoys a victory over the Nvidia GeForce 8600 GTS and ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT GDDR4. The card from ASUS cannot reach even 20fps at 1280x1024, and disabling FSAA can hardly help it here.
The game doesn’t support FSAA when you enable the dynamic lighting model, but loses much of its visual appeal with the static model. This is the reason why we benchmarked the cards in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. using anisotropic filtering only.
The ATI Radeon HD 2000 series has problems with this game. You can’t really play S.T.A.L.K.E.R. on anything other than the ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT unless you disable the dynamic lighting model and lower the level of detail. Well, even the GeForce 8600 GTS doesn’t look brilliant here, and the outdated ATI Radeon X1950 Pro is in fact the only card that allows playing with more or less comfort.
The EAH2600PRO is not successful in this test. Even though third-person shooters do not need such a high average frame rate as first-person shooters do, 13fps at 1280x1024 is just not enough. Disabling FSAA may increase the performance of the ATI Radeaon HD 2600 Pro somewhat, but we don’t think that would make the game playable.
We try to get the highest possible image quality from each game, but Splinter Cell: Double Agent cannot use FSAA and FP HDR simultaneously. That’s why the game was tested with anisotropic filtering only.
Without FSAA, the ASUS card makes up for the lack of memory bandwidth and low performance of its raster processors with its high computing capacity – it equals the ATI Radeon X1950 Pro as a result. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean an acceptable speed: the average speed of both cards is below comfortable level.
The ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT GDDR4 is not so limited by its memory subsystem and outperforms the GeForce 8600 GTS. This graphics card easily ensures comfortable gaming conditions at a resolution of 1280x1024.
The current version of the game doesn’t support FSAA, so we performed the test with anisotropic filtering only.
The Gothic 3 engine is not very optimized, and none of the tested cards can provide an acceptable speed at 1280x1024 if you select the highest graphics quality settings. The ASUS EAH2600PRO takes last place, being over 15% slower than the GeForce 8600 GT.
The game offers FSAA starting with version 1.04, but its support for HDR is still deficient, so we are benchmarking the cards in the eye candy mode only.
The ATI Radeon X1950 Pro is the only card to approach the 15fps mark necessary for playing this game normally. The other cards have much worse results, the ASUS EAH2600PRO being the slowest of them.
The game loses much of its visual appeal without HDR. Although some gamers argue that point, we think TES IV looks best with enabled FP HDR and test it in this mode.
The engine of this game is optimized better than the one of Gothic 3. The ASUS EAH2600PRO has a good speed for its class, even though lower than that of the GeForce 8600 GT, in the closed environments.
A walk along the open vistas of the Oblivion world puts a serious load on every component of the graphics card, including the memory subsystem, and the EAH2600PRO begins to lose its ground. It still performs quite well for its class, though. Here, it may be profitable to overclock the GPU of the ASUS card.
The ASUS card shows the lowest speed again, and its minimum of speed is too low for comfortable gameplay. However, the EAH2600PRO seems to be able to run X3: Reunion at a playable speed in 1280x1024 resolution. Moreover, you can also disable FSAA 4x to increase the minimum speed for more playing comfort.
This game having a frame rate limiter, you should compare the minimum frame rates in the first place because it is the minimum speed that determines your playing comfort in Command & Conquer 3.
The minimum and average speed of the ASUS EAH2600PRO is too low for playing the game normally. You can hardly achieve an acceptable speed even by disabling FSAA.
The ASUS card cannot give you a comfortable speed even at 1280x1024, but its elder brother and the Nvidia GeForce 8600 GT do not do that, either. The GeForce 8600 GTS allows playing with minimum comfort, and the ATI Radeon X1950 Pro is the only card to deliver a really good speed.
We haven’t worked with this game with enabled FSAA lately because we encountered certain problems with this function. Therefore, we would like to offer you only the results with enabled anisotropic filtering.
The ASUS EAH2600PRO has a good average frame rate in the DirectX 9 mode and you could play the game normally at 1280x1024 if it were not for the pretty low minimum speed.
The level of detail increases noticeably in the DirectX 10 mode of Company of Heroes with an appropriate tradeoff: the ASUS card performed well enough for its class in the DirectX 9 mode, but it is hopelessly slow here.
However, taking into account that the built-in performance benchmark hardly represents the actual gaming process, we wouldn’t make any final conclusions at this time against ATI Radeon HD 2600 Pro.
There’s nothing unusual about the results. The ASUS EAH2600PRO is the slowest card and the only one to score less than 8000 points overall.
The ASUS is poor in the individual 3DMark03 tests, too. It takes last place in every test, but we can note it shows its best in the third, computations-heavy, test. The ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT GDDR4 is ahead of the GeForce 8600 GT in that test as it has a better computing capacity.
The ASUS card behaves in 3DMark06 just as it did in 3DMark05, but has a lower overall score. It is the only card not to score less than 4000 points.
Having a lower core frequency than the ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT, the ASUS EAH2600PRO is far slower than the others in the SM2.0 tests but outperforms the GeForce 8600 GT in the SM3.0/HDR tests, confirming the superiority of ATI’s architecture at computationally complex tasks.
The results of the individual tests from the first group agree with what we’ve said above: the EAH2600PRO can’t do anything when the application puts a serious load on the graphics card’s texture and raster processors.
The second group of tests makes wide use of complex shaders, and the EAH2600PRO feels at ease here. It is limited in the first of the SM3.0/HDR tests by its low frequencies and small number of texture and raster processors, but in the second test it beats the GeForce 8600 GTS and the ATI Radeon X1950 Pro!
The ASUS EAH2600PRO/HDTI/256M leaves a very nice impression. This graphics card is indeed compact and silent. Together with full hardware support for HD video decoding, low power draw and heat dissipation, and inexpensive price, this makes the ASUS card a very appealing choice for everyone who’s searching for an ideal solution for his multimedia PC.
On the downside, the ASUS EAH2600PRO is far slower than the ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT, which is no record-breaker by itself, in 3D games.
Here, the main bottleneck of RV630-based solutions – they have only 4 rasterization subunits – adds up with the slower memory subsystem. At the graphics quality settings and display resolutions we use the ASUS card only delivered acceptable performance in Far Cry’s HDR mode, in F.E.A.R. Extraction Point, Half-Life 2: Episode One, and X3: Reunion. Surprisingly, it also did well in such a difficult test as TES IV: Oblivion.
We are talking about acceptable, not comfortable, performance. The EAH2600PRO can’t ensure comfortable gaming conditions unless you lower the level of detail or reduce the resolution below 1280x1024 pixels. Once again we could see that FSAA is not for graphics card of that class. The same is true for DirectX 10 capabilities as is especially clear in Company of Heroes where the game transformed into a slideshow as soon as we enabled its DX10 mode.
But again, the EAH2600PRO/HDTI/256M is a good product overall. It surpasses the competing Nvidia GeForce 8500 GT in every parameter, including HD video decoding. If your priority is multimedia applications rather than speed in games and you don’t want to spend much money for your graphics card, you can hardly find anything better than the ATI Radeon HD 2600 Pro. The product from ASUS we described in this review is a good version of the graphics card quite worthy of the money you’ll spend for it.