ASUS AX800 PRO/TD Graphics Card Review

Today we would like to introduce to you an excellent graphics card from ASUS based on ATI X800 PRO chip. The outstanding accessories set, low noise level and crystal-sharp image quality are its major trumps, which would undoubtedly appeal to you. Check out now, how fast this solution can actually be!

by Alexey Stepin
07/28/2004 | 03:05 PM

ASUSTeK Computer Inc. is outputting a wide assortment of computer products, including mainboards, optical drives, barebone systems and – well, graphics cards of course! This Taiwan-headquartered manufacturer is among those few companies who are not afraid of imparting something new and original into their products.

 

We discussed such an improvisation on the theme of the RADEON 9800 XT in one of our past reviews (see our article called ASUS RADEON 9800 XT and LeadTek WinFast A380 TDH Ultra: The Battle for AquaMark3). ASUS’ RADEON 9800 XT got our praises through its highest quality of manufacture, a compact, silent and intelligent cooling system and simply gorgeous accessories.

Since then the new generations of graphics processors came out both from ATI Technologies and NVIDIA Corporation. Of course, ASUS marked this epochal event with a launch of new graphics card models, and we’ve got one of them, the ASUS AX800 PRO/TD, into our hands. As you may guess, this is a realization of the RADEON X800 PRO graphics processor from ATI. Let’s get to know it closely.

Box and Accessories

Like the last time, the new graphics card came to us in its retail box that’s trying hard to attract the choosy customer. It performs this task with its dimensions mostly: the box is really huge like the one that contained the ASUS RADEON 9800 XT. Its front is decorated with the logotypes of ASUS and ATI Technologies as well as with a picture of a girl in an intricate armor, reminiscent of the heroes of Japanese role-play games. There’s a flap at the back side of the box, the inner surface of which has text describing the advantages of the enclosed product. The product itself is visible through the window at the back side of the box. The free space around the window is also covered with praises to the numerous merits of the AX800 PRO. Among the eulogies to the software bundle, there’s also a short notice of a web-cam included among the accessories.

We open the box up to find the following:

There’s also a traditional orange box with CDs that contain the software bundle:

This software bundle seems to be unified for the ASUS AX800 PRO/TD and AX800 PRO/TVD models. The video-editing programs will be more useful for the owners of the latter version of the card since it can input a video signal. You can use them to edit video you receive from any other source, though.

We already discussed the functionality of the exclusive applications ASUS GameFace, ASUS Video Security and ASUS Smart Doctor in our reviews of the ASUS V9950 and ASUS RADEON 9800 XT/TVD graphics cards. You may follow the links for details.

Note that ASUS GameFace requires the special driver from ASUS to be installed – it is found on the CD with utilities. Besides that, the latest version of this driver allows setting up the brightness, contrast and gamma correction in an OSD menu “on the fly”, without leaving the game. The usefulness of this feature is questionable for us, but maybe not for you? The fact is the exclusive drivers from the graphics card manufacturer are usually updated less frequently than the universal Catalyst or ForceWare suites, so you may want not to use them. Driver updates from ATI and NVIDIA often contain a lot of improvements and corrections, necessary for every advanced gamer.

The ASUS’ web-cam included with the AX800 PRO looks cute enough.

You get it in a disassembled form – before using it, you need to attach the base. The base with the hinged pole allows changing the camera’s vertical angle, but you are not offered horizontal adjustment. The rubberized sole of the base makes the cam stand steady on any surface. The button on the top of the camera’s case is for capturing static frames – like making photographs. You can adjust the focus manually by rotating the rim of the camera’s objective. The device comes with a 1.5m USB cable.

Unlike many other cameras, this one is equipped with an integrated microphone, whose audio stream is transferred along the USB bus – there’s no need for an additional connector. The microphone is identified by the system as “USB Audio Device”. The quality of the sound is rather average, with a noticeable metallic tone. The quality of the image, however, is surprisingly good in all the supported resolutions up to the maximum (640x480). The camera is based on a CMOS sensor so it is not free from the common defects like a relatively low light sensitivity, most noticeable under artificial lighting, and a high level of color noise. The defects are visible if you use fluorescent lamps in your room – the image becomes yellow-red with strong color noise.

Anyway, the web-cam from ASUS is a well-made device and most appropriate, too, since you can use it with such utilities as ASUS GameFace and ASUS Video Security. In the latter case, though, you have to limit yourself with well-lit apartments. Otherwise, this security system will be absolutely useless.

Closer Look

The AX800 PRO/TD seems to be a copy of the reference design of the RADEON X800 PRO/XT as developed by ATI (see our article called ATI RADEON X800 XT Platinum Edition and RADEON X800 PRO: Closer Look for more details). This is really so, save for a few minor details:

  

As you see, the cooling system employed by ASUS is somewhat larger than the reference one and seems to cool the memory chips as well as the GPU. Well, that’s not so. There’s no thermal interface between the heat-spreader’s sole and the GDDR3 chips, although it would be of some help. The fan is not black as on the ordinary RADEON X800 PRO (XT) but transparent and its blades are highlighted with four bright-blue LEDs, much liked by every modder on this planet. The lacquer that covers the PCB also has a different color than ATI’s traditional bright red. Here, the card is rather subdued red or even orange.

So why wasn’t ASUS inventive this time, like it was with the RADEON 9800 XT? The answer is simple: the company just had no time to certify its own PCB design since ATI Technologies started mass production of the new generation of RADEONs very quickly this time around.

Well, there’s nothing wrong with the reference design – as you know from our RADEON X800 PRO and RADEON X800 XT reviews, it doesn’t need any improvements, maybe save for the cooling system. If ASUS had taken care of the proper cooling of the memory chips, both on the face and back sides of the PCB, we would honestly call their card a perfect solution. Without that, the AX800 PRO/TD is merely a very good product.

Like the reference RADEON X800 PRO card from ATI, the AX800 PRO/TD carries 2.0ns GDDR3 memory from Samsung clocked at 450 (900DDR) MHz. The graphics processor works at the standard 475MHz frequency, too.

Noise, Overclocking and 2D Image Quality

The noise, or rather the lack of it, was a pleasant surprise: this graphics card remained silent most of the time. Only after working for a while under a load, it would increase the cooler’s speed. Well, even in this case the noise level was low – you just heard a soft rustling sound. Thus, the AX800 PRO receives our honors for its noise characteristics.

Overclocking was less enjoyable. Starting at 550/1100MHz, we soon had to roll back to 515/1000MHz – although we had installed an additional 120mm blower, the VPU Recover function stopped working at these frequencies only. Probably the hot weather that day played its negative role – the card didn’t even work at 500/970MHz without the additional blower. A water-cooling system might have helped, but we had none at hand.

The quality of the 2D image as outputted by the card was excellent, crystal-sharp in all resolutions supported by our Dell P1110 monitor (i.e. up to 1800x1440@75Hz). Last time we saw such a good picture it was outputted by the ASUS V9950, so the company maintains its reputation as a supplier of high-quality goods.

Now, a few games and numbers to complete the review.

Testbed and Methods

We tested the ASUS AX800 PRO/TD graphics card in the following games and applications:

First Person 3D Shooters:

Third Person 3D Shooters:

Simulators:

Strategy:

Semi-synthetic benchmarks:

Synthetic Benchmarks:

We selected the maximum graphics quality settings in each of the games; we ran the benchmarks on the following testbed:

Performance in Gaming Applications: First Person 3D Shooters

Call of Duty

In the 1024x768 resolution all the graphics cards, save for the representatives of the older generation, reach the performance maximum, possible on our testbed. In higher resolutions we see the AX800 PRO capable of competing with the 16-pipelined GeForce 6800 GT, especially at the overclocked frequencies.

After we enabled full-screen antialiasing and anisotropic filtering, the graphics cards with 16 pixel pipelines go ahead of the 12-pipelined ASUS AX800 PRO. However, in 1280x1024 the ASUS reaches the GeForce 6800 Ultra and even outperforms it at the overclocked frequencies due to its most efficient memory usage technologies.

Unreal Tournament 2004

Torlan level

All the new-generation cards get similar results on this level, restricted by the performance of the system’s central processor. The only exception is the 1600x1200 resolution with enabled FSAA and AF: having only 12 pipelines, the ASUS AX800 PRO managed to be somewhat better in this mode than the GeForce 6800 GT with its 16 pipelines. When overclocked, the ASUS card even contends with the GeForce 6800 Ultra. The situation is sad for NVIDIA’s flagship product, but there’s no miracle here – ATI’s graphics cards have been most efficient in such heavy modes since the R300 core.

Metallurgy level

This level is overall simpler than Torlan, so the load on the graphics card is small – it is mostly of geometrical nature. The difference between the participants is obvious in the “pure speed” mode already, although only in the 1600x1200 resolution. Overclocked or not, the ASUS AX800 PRO sees the back of the GeForce 6800 GT in the first test mode, but overtakes it in the second. The overclocked ASUS is close to the much more expensive GeForce 6800 Ultra in the “eye candy” mode.

Far Cry

Pier level

The demo record on the Pier level contains a short run in thick grass and a long flight on a hang-glider during which you can enjoy the sight of water surface, implemented with the help of pixel shaders.

The ASUS starts this test by losing to both versions of the NV40 core but approaches the 6800 GT in high resolutions at overclocking. There are many complex pixel shaders here, which the new GPUs from ATI Technologies process faster.

The AX800 PRO doesn’t lose its composure in the “eye candy” mode – with only 12 pipelines it performs no worse than the GeForce 6800 Ultra at overclocking!

Research level

This level contains open areas as well as caves lit by numerous light sources. Lighting is calculated on the per-pixel basis.

The AX800 PRO finds it hard to contend with the GeForce 6800 GT that has more pixel pipelines and a certain speed bonus from version 3.0 pixel shaders employed on this level. Overclocking the AX800 PRO doesn’t help much here.

The “eye candy” mode with its full-screen antialiasing and anisotropic filtering is another matter: the AX800 PRO takes its revenge of the GeForces. It roughly equals the GeForce 6800 GT at the nominal frequencies and the GeForce 6800 Ultra at the overclocked frequencies.

Volcano level

The record we made on the Volcano level is much more complex than the one made on the Research level – it is geometry-heavy and features numerous light sources, calculated in a per-pixel manner.

The complexity of the level plays into the hands of the AX800 PRO that is crunching through complex calculations only a little worse than the GeForce 6800 GT. Note also that the GeForce takes advantage of optimizations implemented with the help of version 3.0 pixel shaders here. The overclocked ASUS nearly matches the performance of the 6800 GT.

It’s even better for the RADEON in this mode: the graphics card from ASUS has the performance of the GeForce 6800 GT at the nominal frequencies and of the GeForce 6800 Ultra at the overclocked ones! This is especially nice if we recall the recommended prices: $399 for the RADEON X800 Pro against $499 for the GeForce 6800 Ultra.

Halo: Combat Evolved

It’s all simple in Halo: the abundance of pixel shaders you meet everywhere in this game determine the winner beforehand. However, the number of pixel pipelines is also important: the ASUS AX800 PRO challenges the GeForce 6800 GT/Ultra in the 1024x768 resolution, but this trick doesn’t work in higher display modes – notwithstanding its efficient architecture, the ASUS X800 PRO loses to the GeForce 6800 GT.

Painkiller

The game is less visually advanced than Far Cry, although has numerous shader-based effects. The diagrams suggest that Painkiller favors 16-pipelined graphics cards, irrespective of their architecture.

We enable full-screen antialiasing and anisotropic filtering to find NVIDIA’s chips losing their ground. Although the GeForce 6800 Ultra remains unreachable, the distance to the AX800 PRO has decreased. Moreover, the overclocked AX800 PRO performs at the level of the GeForce 6800 GT.

FireStarter

This game uses a non-standard resolution of 1600x1024 which ATI’s GPUs don’t support in the full-screen mode. That’s why we offer the results for two resolutions only.

The fill rate is of great importance in this rather simple game, which doesn’t have any complex pixel shaders or mind-boggling geometry. The 16-pipelined monsters – the GeForce 6800 Ultra and the RADEON X800 XT – win here. The overclocked ASUS AX800 PRO defeats the GeForce 6800 GT in the 1280x1024 resolution.

The GeForce 6800 family loses its ground in the “eye candy” mode, but the AX800 PRO cannot surpass the GeForce 6800 GT even at the overclocked frequencies.

Highly Anticipated DirectX 9 Game 1

Seafloor level

The first test level of this upcoming game (see our detailed article for more details about this game) suggests a certain advantage of the GeForce 6800 family over the RADEON X800 series. Note that there’s a very small difference between the 12-pipelined ASUS AX800 Pro and the 16-pipelined ATI RADEON X800 XT.

Under 2 level

In this case, the additional pipelines affect the result more seriously. The GeForce 6800 family is again on top.

Highly Anticipated DirectX 9 Game 2

Danger level

The fill rate is among the crucial factors in this next-generation computer game (see our detailed article about this game), so the GeForce 6800 Ultra/GT get big fps numbers here. Overclocking the AX800 PRO is rather unrewarding.

The ASUS looks much better in the “eye candy” mode. Thanks to the excellent suitability of ATI’s GPUs to FSAA and anisotropic filtering, it can challenge the GeForce 6800 GT here.

Escape level

The “pure speed” mode on the Escape level is much alike to the same mode on Danger, only the fps rates are different.

The same goes for the “eye candy” mode: NVIDIA’s products suffer a considerable performance hit, while the ASUS AX800 Pro is comparable to the GeForce 6800 GT in this test.

Performance in Gaming Applications: Third Person 3D Shooters

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

This OpenGL game doesn’t have sparkling special effects and thus favors NVIDIA graphics cards, although not too much. The ASUS AX800 Pro is just a little behind the GeForce 6800 GT – this gap is easily closed by overclocking.

It’s like a game of leapfrog in the “eye candy” mode. The AX800 PRO loses the 1024x768 resolution to the GeForce 6800 GT. In 1280x1024 they go even (the ASUS is better if overclocked), but in 1600x1200 the AX800 PRO again slows down due to its 12 pipelines. Well, the last resolution is theoretical rather than practical: no card except the RADEON X800 XT hits the point of 35fps.

Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow

The game is crammed with sophisticated and beautiful shader-based special effects and GPUs from ATI have an advantage here. The fill rate doesn’t practically affect the speed – the overclocked ASUS AX800 PRO has the same fps rate as the much more powerful RADEON X800 XT and the GeForce 6800 Ultra.

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time

Prince of Persia can also boast numerous shader-based visual effects, but they are less complex than those in Far Cry, for example. That’s why we can expect graphics cards with a high geometry-processing speed and a high fill rate to win here. The expectations came true as the GeForce 6800 Ultra got the best result. As for the hero of our review, the ASUS AX800 PRO, it couldn’t get close to the 16-pipelined cards, but left the cards of the older generation far behind.

Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne

Without full-screen antialiasing and anisotropic filtering nearly all the cards have the same result in 1024x768. The 12-pipelined AX800 PRO and the cards of the older generation slow down since the 1280x1024 resolution.

The diagrams for the “eye candy” mode are practically the same as we saw at the “pure speed” settings. The only difference is the AX800 PRO’s outperforming the GeForce 6800 GT and even the 6800 Ultra!

Performance in Gaming Applications: Simulators

IL-2 Sturmovik: Aces in the Sky

The graphics cards on ATI’s chips have a huge advantage in the “pure speed” mode of this test. The ASUS follows the top-end RADEON X800 XT, leaving the rest of the cards behind. Overclocking produced a few extra frames per second.

The new version of IL-2 doesn’t like 12-pipelined RADEONs in the “eye candy” mode. Even overclocked, the ASUS AX800 PRO has a smaller speed than the 16-pipelined monsters from the GeForce 6800 family.

Lock On: Modern Air Combat

The graphics cards are all very slow in this game at the maximum graphics quality settings. So, it doesn’t pretend to be a good judge of performance, but the NV40-based cards seem to be a little better here.

We enable full-screen antialiasing and anisotropic filtering to get still lower fps rates and also to see that NVIDIA’s cards lose their advantage: the RADEON X800 XT is on top, and the ASUS AX800 Pro delivers the performance of the GeForce 6800 Ultra or GT. Overclocking brings nothing here – less than 1 frame per second.

Colin McRae Rally 04

This racing simulator uses pixel shaders actively – that’s why the ASUS AX800 Pro scores nice results, although loses to the GeForce 6800 GT in high resolutions. Overclocking helps to bridge the gap.

It’s similar with antialiasing and aniso-filtering enabled. However, the graphics cards on NVIDIA’s chips again suffer a terrible performance hit with these settings and the AX800 PRO can compete with the GeForce 6800 Ultra. Despite having fewer pixel pipelines, it even leaves NVIDIA’s flagship product behind at overclocking.

Performance in Gaming Applications: Strategy

Perimeter

This newest strategy game is hungry for resources and has a special liking towards high-performance GPUs, quick at executing complex shaders. The ASUS AX800 PRO falls into this category, too, and the diagrams confirm this fact: even at the regular frequencies, it outperforms the GeForce 6800 Ultra.

With enabled FSAA and AF, the ASUS doesn’t feel at ease anymore as it has only 12 pipelines. Anyway, it is faster than the GeForce 6800 GT and close to the much more expensive GeForce 6800 Ultra.

Performance in Semi-Synthetic Benchmarks

Aquamark 3

Aquamark 3 prefers NVIDIA’s GPUs since it uses fewer shaders, but has a complex geometry and a high overdraw coefficient. That’s why the ASUS AX800 PRO can’t do anything exceptional here, even at overclocking.

The “eye candy” mode is better for the ASUS card – it delivers the performance of the GeForce 6800 GT and even 6800 Ultra, especially in high resolutions. Overclocking is more rewarding here than at the “pure speed” settings.

Performance in Synthetic Benchmarks

Futuremark 3DMark03 build 340

Overall score

This diagram is remarkable for the ASUS card’s overcoming the 10,000 points barrier at overclocking – if you like round numbers. The AX800 PRO didn’t reach the level of the GeForce 6800 GT, though.

Game Test 1

It is the fill rate parameter and fast memory that determine the winner in the first of 3DMark03’s tests. The graphics card from ASUS can’t have any complaints about its memory, but it is worse then the members of the GeForce 6800 family in terms of fill rate.

With FSAA and AF enabled, the overclocked ASUS AX800 PRO can get a score similar to the GeForce 6800 GT.

Game Test 2

The second and third tests of this benchmarking suite are NVIDIA’s territory due to their scene-rendering algorithms as well as the numerous shadows GeForces are most effective with. Overclocking helps the AX800 PRO to get better results, but not enough to compete with the GeForce 6800 GT.

After full-screen antialiasing and anisotropic filtering were enabled, the R420-based cards, and the ASUS AX800 PRO among them, fell behind the NV40-based ones more. The mighty RADEON X800 XT is even hopeless here.

Game Test 3

The diagrams of the third gaming test don’t add anything new to the results of the second test. So, no comment is necessary.

The same goes for the “eye candy” mode.

Game Test 4

The fourth game test of 3DMark03 is, on the contrary, rich in pixel shaders, fast execution of which has always been a strong point of ATI’s products. The humble 12-pipelined ASUS AX800 PRO can run this test as fast as the GeForce 6800 Ultra– and at the standard frequencies! Overclocked, it leaves no chance to NVIDIA’s product.

We witness the same picture in the “eye candy” mode, although the fps rates are overall lower.

So, the AX800 PRO/TD lost three out of four 3DMark03 tests, but we can’t call this a bad performance since this card had to compete with 16-pipelined products, ideally suited to the terrible conditions of the second and third game tests.

Conclusion

We liked the ASUS AX800 PRO/TD much. Its appeal is in the gorgeous accessories you can hardy find with other products as well as in the highest quality of manufacture, crystal-sharp 2D image and low noise level. The ASUS AX800 PRO/TD is an ideal choice for people who need a well-made and fast graphics card, which is however not trying to produce sounds like a jet taking off. Silence is a trump of the AX800 PRO/TD. If we were to examine the device for any faults, we’d find none, save for the not-quite-perfect cooling system. Well, you can find the same fault with ATI’s own reference design of the RADEON X800. The lack of memory cooling doesn’t prevent the AX800 PRO from working normally but the chips are hot at work.

The ASUS AX800 PRO/TD is overall a speedy runner, especially in modern games that abound in complex special effects created with the help of pixel shaders. In such cases it matches the performance of the GeForce 6800 GT and more, and sometimes even leaves behind the GeForce 6800 Ultra that belongs to a higher price category. However, in games that demand a high fill rate and extensively use simple pixel shaders, the GeForce 6800 GT with its 16 pipelines and relatively fast memory beats the X800 PRO from ASUS.

Like every other member of the modern RADEON family, the ASUS AX800 PRO/TD feels at ease in the hardest video modes when you enable both anisotropic texture filtering and full-screen antialiasing. It is of course due to the developer who equipped its products with technologies for an efficient use of the memory bandwidth and, in the case of the X800 series, with chips of fast GDDR3 memory.

Thus, the AX800 PRO/TD suits perfectly for playing modern games that make a wide use of complex pixel shaders and for upcoming games that will be using ever more complex shader-based effects. There will be an exception – games with Shader Model 3.0, presently unsupported by any of ATI’s GPUs.

ASUS may also enjoy demand from users who like playing games with full-screen antialiasing and anisotropic filtering enabled. Like all modern RADEONs, this graphics card easily handles this kind of work.

Highs

Lows:

As for the last item – yes, the product is not cheap at all. According to xbitlabs.dealtime.com and pricewatch.com, you have to shell out from $465 to $527 for a sample, and that’s quite a lot for a graphics card whose recommended price is $399. Well, the rich accessories account somewhat for that price – take the web-camera, for example, that can be used for multiplayer games (the ASUS GameFace feature).

If a price of $527 or something doesn’t take you aback, do consider the ASUS AX800 PRO/TD an as option. And if you also want to have a video input, take a look at the ASUS AX800 PRO/TVD model, which is equipped with an ATI Rage Theater chip.