by Alexey Stepin
09/07/2003 | 05:06 PM
Club3D Company, which is one of the biggest partners of the Canadian ATI Technologies in the European market, gave us an opportunity to take a closer look at one of the fastest PC graphics accelerators: Club3D RADEON 9800 PRO graphics card. In fact, Club3D is the trademark of the Colour Power BV Company, which has been in the European market since 1997, when no one had even imagined the shaders and high-frequency graphics processors with the die more complex than the one of Athlon or Pentium 4. According to Club3D representatives, the main reason for this trademark to come into life was their desire to establish serious long-term partnership with the customers by creating a name, the buyers could really trust.
Since almost nobody from the European or American companies actually have their own production lines, then the major task for those of them who are selling the goods under their own trademark is creating the most successful price-to-performance ratio for their products. Also they have to ensure proper warranty services and technical support. Today we are going to tell you for sure if Club3D RADEON 9800 PRO is really the best European card we have ever tested. Please, meet: Club3D RADEON 9800 PRO!
Of course, when you take any graphics card in your hands the first thing that you pay attention to and that matters a lot for your final purchase decision is the way it looks. In other words, it is the box. That is why no wonder that all the manufacturers try to compete with one another to prove that their product looks more attractive. And what do we see in our case? Here you are:
As for me, I got the impression that this is the product belonging to the top class, the so-called High-End. The box of this graphics card looks very European and reminds of some purely aristocratic traditions. For instance, you will never see any tasteless stickers with colorful promises of super-power and crystal clear volumetric sound on the High-End speakers. The same here: you will not see any catching promises of “world’s best 3D” of the like. The box is designed in black-and-red colors and makes a really good impression. The background color is matt and the letters are glossy, that is why they are very vivid and will not remain unnoticed. The box has no pictures of the existing or ancient civilizations, no heroes and no monsters. Only the first letter of the Club3D brand name is decorated with a red circle and a club ace and on the left there is a nice anime-girl standing for a joker. The cards could push you to think about the military aces of the first and second World Wars, which usually decorated their airplanes with pictures of card aces. The picture of an ace indicated high professional skills of the pilot, which scared many common pilots a lot. Can we expect the product from Club3D to be a professional and powerful? Let’s figure it out.
On the reverse side of the box there is a brief list of technical specifications of this product in 6 most widely spread European languages. However, I think you have already played with the box enough. Let’s open it:
Inside the box there is another package designed in shining black, with the graphics card lying in the middle of it. All the necessary accessories are also there:
Well, not a bad combination. Happy owners of the new Club3D RADEON 9800 PRO graphics card will definitely have something to do: the set of demos is not bad at all, besides, the Comanche 4 game is a pretty exciting thing using shader effects. The DVI-I-to-D-Sub converter looks somewhat unusual: it is much larger than the regular converter, which is usually enclosed with the graphics cards on ATI Technologies’ chips, it is packed into a non-transparent case and is equipped with the fixing bolts. All in all, it appeared very convenient to use. As for the video-signal cables, they are on the contrary, not very reliable at first glance. Though S-Video cable is thick enough and features proper screening, the RCA cable is very thin, which may appear a limiting factor for quality TV-Out implementation. Those of you who would like to use the RCA Out (if the peripheral equipment has no S-Video In, for instance), will have to go to the nearest consumer electronics store to get a good cable.
The user’s manual is written in four languages: English, French, German and Spanish. All in all, it is a pretty common guide, which tells you briefly about the features of the Club3D RADEON 9800 PRO graphics card, provides installation instructions and specifies a few things about the driver settings. It is interesting that this manual seems to be a unified version for the entire RADEON 9500/9700 and 9800 family, because the picture illustrating the connection of the additional power supply cable features a card equipped with Molex connector, while the piece we had at our disposal was equipped with a regular 12V connector.
And what about the graphics accelerator itself? In fact, there is nothing outstanding to be mentioned about its exterior: it is identical to ATI’s reference solution and looks like this:
The thing is that Club3D doesn’t produce any graphics cards, but orders them from ATI Technologies and some other manufacturers, and then sells them under Club3D brand name, if the equipment meets the quality requirements. As you can see, even the stickers with ATI’s logo haven’t been removed from the PCB:
Is this good or bad? Well, probably there is nothing bad about it, except the cooling system used on this card, which we consider not powerful enough for the R350 VPU. Also, we should mention the absence of the heatsinks on the memory chips, which heat up quite significantly. Among the positive things we should definitely mention very high-quality mounting, excellent 3D performance and 2D image quality. Now let’s take a closer look at the card. Here is the chip hiding under the cooler:
As you know, unlike RADEON 9700, the cooler of this product features a special lug, which ensures very tight contact with the chip surface. The thermal interface between the chip and the cooler is a layer of thermal paste, and not the so much disliked “chewing gum”.
By the way, the cooler heatsink features four cuts for better airflow. It definitely helps to cool down the chip much better, though the card still remains too warm. The power supply connector is fastened very nicely: the additional hooks will prevent you from ripping it off altogether and the 12V power cable looks much more reliable than Molex connector, which is usually used for 3.5” floppy drives.
The PCB is equipped with 8 Samsung K4D26323RA-GC2A memory chips supporting 2.8ns access time. The memory works at 340MHz (680MHz) frequency, which is a little lower than the nominal 350MHz (700MHz). However, despite this fact, the memory chips heat up a lot. The VPU works at 380MHz.
We liked the 2D image quality provided by this graphics adapter a real lot: the picture remained very clear-cut up to 1600x1200x85Hz resolution and only in the next 1800x1400 resolution we noticed slight blurring.
Before we sat down to our overclocking experiments, we undertook a few security precautions: I installed an additional 92mm cooler blowing the air onto the heatsink and the memory chips. This cooler was really very important, because at higher working frequencies, the card did heat up quite tangibly. After a few tries, the graphics core managed to work stably at 445MHz and the memory – at 378MHz (756MHz). Well, this is not bad at all for a graphics processor made with 0.15micron technology and for the memory with the nominal working frequency of 350MHz (700MHz). I would like to warn all overclocking enthusiasts once again: don’t try to repeat our experiment without ensuring proper cooling for this solution. If you disregard this important issue, you may cause damage of your graphics accelerator, because the thermal mode of Club3D RADEON 9800 PRO can hardly be called favorable even at the nominal frequencies. Those of you who dare undertake some overclocking attempts, we strongly recommend to install heatsinks onto the memory chips.
Now let’s pass over to the actual performance results of Club3D RADEON 9800 PRO graphics card.
Our today’s hero will have to compete with another representative from the heavy-weight class: ASUS V9950 (GeForce FX 5900) graphics card based on NVIDIA NV35 chip. The tests will take place on the following testbed:
We will test the graphics cards performance in the following benchmarks:
We ran every application in three modes: without anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering, with FSAA 4x and 8x anisotropic filtering, and with FSAA 6x/8x and 8x anisotropic filtering. You should also remember that both: graphics cards on ATI Technologies’ chips as well as solutions on NVIDIA’s chips, didn’t perform correctly in Splinter Cell test with enabled anti-aliasing, so these results shouldn’t be used for any performance analysis.
Quake III is not a new game. It doesn’t use any modern features of the today’s graphics accelerators. However, it requires high fillrate and hence loves GeForce FX 5900 with its high working frequencies. Here Club3D RADEON 9800 PRO proves very powerful with enables full-screen anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering.
RTCW, on the contrary, does not favor NVIDIA GPUs. The victory here belongs to Club3D RADEON 9800 PRO. The problem must be connected with the GeForce FX driver, I assume.
In Serious Sam: the Second Encounter GeForce FX 5900 feels quite at home. It doesn’t let the rival outpace it in any mode.
And here our today’s hero shows its best: it runs neck and neck with GeForce FX 5900, and when we enable FSAA, it little by little gets forward. In 1600x1200 the overclocked RADEON produces 60fps, while GeForce FX stays at 45fps even if we overclock it to unbelievable heights.
In Splinter Cell, Club3D RADEON 9800 PRO manages to stay at a very high level: the gaming performance remain acceptable in all resolutions, if we do not use FSAA or anisotropic filtering. However, enabling these features doesn’t make much sense here, because the game simply doesn’t work correctly in this case.
3DMark2001 SE likes RADEON and hence runs very nicely on it, which you actually see from the benchmarks results. The card from Club3D doesn’t yield to the rival in any of the tests.
In the second gaming test, the situation remains unchanged.
In the third gaming test Club3D RADEON 9800 PRO becomes an indisputable leader, especially with enables anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering.
In the fourth gaming test the situation turns a little bit different. Although RADEON is the leader in light modes, GeForce FX manages to defeat it as soon as the FSAA is enabled. This is probably achieved due to higher working frequencies of GeForce FX 5900 and due to drivers tweaking.
Here, in the first 3DMark03 gaming test, the solution from Club3D also performs very well, leaving the rival no chances for victory.
In the second gaming test, GeForce FX 5900 manages to retain the leadership in the modes with enabled anisotropic filtering and full-screen anti-aliasing.
The same situation can be observed in the third gaming test: Club3D RADEON 9800 PRO wins in all light modes, and loses as soon as the workload increases.
The fourth gaming test from 3DMark03 package brings triumph to Club3D RADEON 9800 PRO! Yes, only NVIDIA GeForce FX chips could perform well here. However, now NV3x based solutions are more than twice as slow as their competitors because of their slow ALUs. The overclocked RADEON 9800 PRO allows achieving more than acceptable performance in 1024x768. However, the 18.4fps result shown by NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900 is none other but a definite mockery.
Having tested the NVIDIA’s solution with 44.90 drivers, we discovered that the results dropped more than twice. Well, and did you expect anything different? This benchmark is very rich in shaders and boasts very complex geometry. No wonder that more technologically advanced Club3D RADEON 9800 PRO wins here.
Our aristocratic guest, Club3D RADEON 9800 PRO graphics accelerator, made a very favorable impression, due to beautiful box and rich accessories set. The performance of this solution also appeared very high, and the technology behind R350 chip from ATI proved that this solution will suit for gaming experience not only with the today’s games, but also with the games of tomorrow, which will be rich in shader effects and complex geometry. We were also very pleased with the 2D image quality and good overclocking potential of this solution. However, I wouldn’t recommend to use this product for extreme overclocking experiments, because the memory chips have no heatsinks and the chip cooler is not powerful enough to ensure safe overclocking. If you replace the nominal cooling system with something more efficient, then you will be able to squeeze a little more out of this product, for sure.
Summing up, I can conclude with all certainty that Club3D RADEON 9800 PRO is a real aristocrat of the graphics cards world.
Those who decide on this graphics accelerator will have no caused for concern about performance for a long time, no doubt.
Club3D RADEON 9800 PRO 128MB also has an elder brother equipped with twice as much DDR-II memory. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the opportunity to test it, so we couldn’t compare their performance. To tell the truth I am very curious to find out what advantages the DDR-II memory can offer the today’s graphics accelerator, and how will 256MB of memory affect the performance in heavy applications.