PowerColor X1900 XT Graphics Card Review

ATI Radeon X1900 XT is a very successful solution from the price-to-performance standpoint: it is considerably cheaper than Radeon X1900 XTX but is practically as fast. Today we are going to introduce to you one of the graphics cards based on this chip from PowerColor Company.

by Alexey Stepin
05/04/2006 | 02:37 PM

As our readers should well know, the announcement of the Radeon X1900 (R580) graphics processor from ATI Technologies was accompanied with a release of three graphics cards based on it: Radeon X1900 XTX, Radeon X1900 XT and Radeon X1900 XT CrossFire Edition. The latter is a specific and narrowly-scoped product equipped with a frame-sewing Compositing Engine and meant for use as a Master in CrossFire tandems. If you want to learn more about this card, refer to our 2 Fast, 2 Furious: ATI Radeon X1900 XT CrossFire Review.

 

The Radeon X1900 XTX debuted successfully. It outperformed the GeForce 7800 GTX 512 which had never really taken off and became the highest-performance product among consumer graphics cards. ATI Technologies had taken care to provide the new card in mass quantities, so it was available right after the announcement, even though at a steep price of $649. Well, every flagship product is expensive, and the price of this one was also lowered to $549 a month after the release.

The Radeon X1900 XT in its turn only differed from its elder brother in having somewhat lower frequencies: 625/725 (1450) MHz as opposed to 650/750 (1500) MHz. Such a small difference couldn’t have a big effect on the performance in games as our tests proved (for details see our article called The Fast and Furious: ATI Radeon X1900 XTX Review). In most cases there was a negligible difference between a Radeon X1900 XTX and a Radeon X1900 XT or even none at all, although the latter came at an officially recommended price of $549, i.e. $100 cheaper than the flagship model! Since there was virtually no competition from Nvidia at the time of the announcement, the Radeon X1900 XT had the most appealing price/performance ratio. Today it has got a dangerous rival in the GeForce 7900 GTX which is officially priced at $499.

We’re going to talk about PowerColor’s version of Radeon X1900 XT in this review. Products from this company have never boasted gorgeous accessories, but have usually come at a rather low price, contrary to products from ASUS, for example. Let’s see what PowerColor offers us this time.

Package and Accessories

Boxes with PowerColor graphics cards have never been really eye-catching. They are designed in a simple and unassuming way, perhaps improving towards more elegance recently. You may take the packages of the PowerColor X800 GT (see our article called PowerColor X800 GT Graphics Card Review: Worthy Competitor to NVIDIA GeForce 6600 GT) and PowerColor X800 GTO 16 models (see our article called PowerColor X800 GTO 16 Graphics Card Review: Image is the Top Priority?) as examples. The box with the PowerColor X1900 XT has the new look, too:

The box is painted blue and black with a metallic shine. Careless use of such colors may easily make any design look gaudy and tasteless, but it is all restrained and stern here. There’s nothing on the box save for text, logos and an imitation window. By the way, the color of the box has a direct relation to the graphics card model contained within. Besides blue for the XT model, the PowerColor X1900 series includes XTX and CrossFire Edition models in red and yellow boxes, respectively.

There’s a list of system requirements on one of the box’s sides. One requirement says you need a power supply capable of providing a current of 30A on the +12V rail. You will often see not one but several specified max currents – each much lower than 30A – on the label of a modern power supply, for each of its +12V outputs. Don’t worry about that. There is actually only one +12V power rail inside the PSU, but it is divided into several +12V outputs to comply with a safety regulation that demands that the current on each user-accessible output was not higher than 20A.

So, your power supply should only provide a combined load of at least 30A on the +12V rail. This recommendation doesn’t look excessive considering the high level of power consumption of R580-based graphics cards.

Inside the box, the following items can be found:

No extras here, although we guess at least one modern game would be appropriate. This is in fact the standard set of accessories for PowerColor’s graphics cards and this explains to some extent their lower price.

The voltage regulator deserves a few additional words. The power adapter has a Molex connector on one end and a 6-pin PCI Express connector on the other (the GeCube Radeon X1900 XTX comes with a “dual-headed” adapter, for example, you can read more about it in our review called GeCube Radeon X1900 XTX Graphics Card Review). Well, you may not need this adapter at all considering that almost all new power supplies offer a dedicated power connector for the graphics card, but it is required if your PSU lacks one.

The other accessories from the PowerColor X1900 XT package are standard and we have no complaints about their quality.

PCB Design

Except for engineering samples, all Radeon X1900 are manufactured at Sapphire Technologies’ facilities. That’s why the PowerColor X1900 XT is an exact copy of the reference card we described in our earlier review called The Fast and Furious: ATI Radeon X1900 XTX Review.

 

There is no sign here that this is a product of PowerColor. Even the cooler’s casing is still adorned by an ATI Technologies logo and a picture of Ruby. We think graphics card manufacturers should add more individuality to their products. Just putting another picture on the cooler’s case would make the card more appealing in the eyes of the end-user.

There are eight K4J52324QC-BJ12 chips of GDDR3 SDRAM from Samsung on board the card (512Mbit each, in 136-pin FBGA packages). The total amount of graphics memory is 512 megabytes and its clock rate is 725 (1450) MHz, exactly as described by the official Radeon X1900 XT specs, although the chips themselves are capable of working at frequencies up to 800 (1600) MHz. Like the faster, BJ11-suffixed chips, these work at a supply voltage of 2.0V (chips from this series but suffixed as BC14 or higher work at a lower VDD and VDDQ voltage – 1.8V).

Graphics cards of the Radeon X1900 family have high power consumption, and we were curious to know how big a share the high-frequency memory has in this. We read through the tech specs of the K4J52324QC series and found that the BJ12-suffixed chips have a peak consumption of 1.195A. Working at 2.0V voltage, each chip thus consumes 2.39W. So, all of the graphics memory on board the Radeon X1900 XT consumes a total of about 19W. It also means that the graphics processor of the card consumes as much as 89W which is very high and comparable with the consumption of such processors as AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+! The Radeon X1900 XT GPU consumes even more – 100W almost! Since the power consumption of the memory chips is rather low, the use of elastic thermal pads is quite justifiable, although they are rather too thick to be very effective.

The graphics processor is clocked at 625MHz, exactly as described in the official specs. Thick dark-gray paste with low thermal resistance is used as thermal interface here.

Like all Radeon X1900 series graphics cards, the PowerColor X1900 XT is equipped with a Rage Theater chip which endows it with VIVO functionality. We’d like to remind you that it’s impossible to use the video input and to attach an YPbPr-interfaced device simultaneously because the appropriate adapters need one and the same connector. This is a common drawback of almost all such graphics cards.

Noise, Overclockability, 2D Quality

The PowerColor X1900 XT being a copy of the etalon graphics card from ATI, its cooling system behaves in exactly the same manner (for more details see our earlier article called ATI RADEON X1000: Brand-New Graphics Architecture from ATI Explored). The fan works at its full speed and is very noisy at a system startup, but then the speed management system slows it down and the card becomes almost silent. You may also catch the fan spinning up when you are working long in 3D applications; there’s more noise then, but within comfortable limits.

We were lucky with our sample of the card as concerns overclocking. We managed to make the GPU work at 675MHz, which is 25MHz above the standard GPU frequency of the Radeon X1900 XTX model. The memory chips followed suit, being stable at 800 (1600) MHz. Our further attempts were fruitless, but at the said frequencies the card successfully passed the full cycle of our tests, remaining 100% stable.

Sapphire’s pre-overclocked Blizzard Radeon X1900 XTX, the card that comes with a liquid-based cooling system, has such characteristics. That’s why we are satisfied with the results especially since we achieved them by only installing an additional 120mm fan to blow at the card’s PCB. We might have had better results by modifying the GPU/memory power circuit or using cryogen cooling, but this review isn’t about extreme overclocking after all.

The quality of the 2D image provided by the card was high in all the display modes available on our laboratory monitor, including 1800x1440@75Hz and 1600x1200@85Hz. The PowerColor X1900 XT delivers a sharp picture without any fuzziness or shadowing.

Testbed and Methods

We tested the performance of our today’s hero on the following platform:

We set up the ATI and Nvidia drivers in the same way as always:

ATI Catalyst:

Nvidia ForceWare:

We selected the highest graphics quality settings in each game, identical for graphics cards from ATI and Nvidia, except for the Pacific Fighters flight simulator that requires vertex texturing for its Shader Model 3.0 rendering mode. Radeon X1000 doesn’t support this feature therefore we ran the game in Shader Model 2.0 in this case. We did not edit the configuration files of the games. To measure the performance we either used the integrated tools of the games we tested in, or if there were none available, resorted to FRAPS utility. If it was possible, we measured minimal performance as well.

To load the video subsystem to the full extent and to minimize the influence of the CPU speed on the performance results we didn’t test the systems in the “pure speed” mode. We only ran the tests in “eye candy” mode with full-screen anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering. It is not only about more optimal use of the graphics subsystem potential. We get much higher image quality in this mode than in case no FSAA and/or no anisotropic filtering are used.

We turned on full-screen antialiasing and anisotropic filtering from the game’s own menu if possible. Otherwise we forced the necessary mode from the ATI Catalyst and Nvidia ForceWare graphics card driver. We did not use any special game profiles available in the drivers. Besides PowerColor Radeon X1900 XT, we have also included the following graphics cards:

These games and applications were used as benchmarks:

First-Person 3D Shooters

Third-Person 3D Shooters

Simulators

Strategies

Semi-synthetic benchmarks

Synthetic benchmarks

Performance in First-Person 3D Shooters

Battlefield 2

The PowerColor X1900 XT is a little slower than the Radeon X1900 XTX and the GeForce 7900 GTX in low resolutions. Overclocking helps to close the gap, but not to beat ATI’s flagship product. It’s different in 1600x1200 where the graphics memory bandwidth is vitally important: the GeForce 7900 GTX can’t keep up the tempo and finds itself about 10% behind the non-overclocked PowerColor.

The Chronicles of Riddick

The non-overclocked PowerColor X1900 XT is somewhat better than the GeForce 7900 GT. Overclocking helps it compete with the more expensive Radeon X1900 XTX, but the GeForce 7900 GTX remains unrivalled in this OpenGL-using application. Anyway, the PowerColor X1900 XT delivers a comfortable frame rate in two resolutions at its default frequencies, and in 1600x1200 too at overclocking.

Call of Duty 2

The PowerColor X1900 XT can’t win Call of Duty, although it nearly overtakes the GeForce 7800 GTX 512 and – when overclocked – the GeForce 7900 GTX. Here, the PowerColor is limited to 1024x768 resolution. The GeForce 7900 GTX is the only graphics card that gives you the comfortable minimum of 60fps in 1280x1024. The computational power of 48 pixel processors is uncalled for in this game: the Radeon X1800 XT is almost as fast as the PowerColor X1900 XT.

Doom 3

It’s rather useless to try to challenge the supremacy of the GeForce 7900 GTX in Doom 3. Like The Chronicles of Riddick, this game uses the OpenGL API and the special ability of the GeForce 6/7 architecture to process a double number of Z values per clock cycle (UltraShadow II technology). Anyway, the PowerColor X1900 XT looks good in 1280x1024 and even allows playing comfortably enough in 1600x1200 with enabled full-screen antialiasing and anisotropic filtering, especially at the overclocked frequencies.

Far Cry

The PowerColor X1900 XT is not slower than 88fps at its default frequencies or than 94fps at overclocking. This is enough for the most fastidious lover of 3D shooters. The memory controller in the ATI R580 chip boasts a higher efficiency than the controller from the Nvidia G71 – this is why the GeForce 7900 GTX is about 10% slower than the PowerColor X1900 XT, although has a higher memory frequency.

It’s different on the Research map where version 3.0 shaders are used. In resolutions above 1024x768 the Radeon X1800 XT with its 16 pixel processors looks poor against the GeForce 7900 GTX and the R580-based cards. The PowerColor X1900 XT is successfully struggling with the Nvidia flagship, both delivering a frame rate of 110fps and higher.

Although Far Cry’s HDR support is implemented imperfectly for ATI’s Radeon X1000 cards, the PowerColor X1900 XT allows using the HDR mode in resolutions up to 1280x1024. When overclocked to 675/800 (1600) MHz, it even makes the resolution of 1600x1200 playable.

The performance of the cards is generally higher on the Research map since it is a closed environment. As usual, every megahertz is important in the game’s HDR mode, and overclocking gives the PowerColor X1900 XT a boost of 20-30%, lifting it up to the level of the Radeon X1900 XTX.

F.E.A.R.

Having the highest scene fill rate, the GeForce 7900 GTX is in the lead in 1024x768, but the overclocked PowerColor X1900 XT overtakes it in the next resolution. In the higher still resolution the PowerColor can rival Nvidia’s flagship product even at the default frequencies.

Half-Life 2

Half-Life 2 hardly suits anymore for benchmarking modern top-end graphics cards even if you turn on full-screen antialiasing and anisotropic filtering. It’s clear, though, that the Radeon X1900 family cards, particularly the PowerColor X1900 XT, feel much better in high resolutions of the “eye candy” mode than the GeForce 7900 GTX does. On the other hand, the slowest of the participating graphics cards – GeForce 7900 GT – easily provides over 70 frames per second in 1600x1200, so you don’t have to worry about slowdowns if you use a top-end card to play this game.

Half-Life 2: Lost Coast

The opponents change places in Half-Life 2: Lost Coast. The GeForce 7900 GTX keeps the first place to itself in all the resolutions. Its speed of processing pixel shaders, except for shaders with branching, is comparable with that of the Radeon X1900 XTX, but its 24 TMUs make it faster at texture processing. As a result, Nvidia’s solution delivers over 60fps in 1280x1024 which even the overclocked PowerColor X1900 XT cannot achieve.

Project: Snowblind

All the graphics cards run Project: Snowblind at a sufficiently high speed and have similar results, too, except for the GeForce 7900 GTX and 7800 GTX 512 which are much faster in every resolution and have the same results between themselves despite the considerable difference in their GPU and memory clock rates. It means the pixel processor performance and the scene fill rate are not crucial in this test as both these parameters depend directly on the GPU clock rate.

It may be, however, that the higher GPU frequency of the GeForce 7900 GTX is negated by its lower memory frequency as is indicated by the results in 1600x1200 where the new flagship product from Nvidia is a little slower than the older one.

Quake 4

None of the cards in this review has any problems with this test. The lowest average frame rate is provided by the GeForce 7900 GT and it is 94.5fps in 1600x1200.

The performance of the flagship products from ATI and Nvidia is limited by the speed of the central processor, yet we can see that the non-overclocked PowerColor X1900 XT is a little slower than the GeForce 7900 GTX in high resolutions.

Serious Sam 2

None of the existing graphics cards can deliver an acceptable frame rate in Serious Sam 2 in resolutions above 1024x768 if you turn on full-screen antialiasing and anisotropic filtering and use the highest graphics quality settings.

Overclocking doesn’t help the PowerColor X1900 XT much here, giving it a bonus 3-5fps. The reason is that the developers of the game stuffed it with shaders with multiple texture lookups.

The best results in this test are turned in by the GeForce 7900 GTX and GeForce 7800 GTX 512, yet they are not very much better than the others. And there is still no performance reserve as the game speed may bottom out to below 15fps in the most complex scenes.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

We didn’t test this game with turned-on FSAA because its HDR support is disabled in this case even on ATI’s Radeon X1000 cards and the visuals quality degenerates dramatically. HDR is also incompatible with the Bloom effect in this game.

Owners of a top-end graphics card can try to play The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion in 1600x1200, but they may want to limit themselves to 1280x1024 to have a higher minimum speed and a smaller performance hit in open game scenes. Graphics cards on ATI’s Radeon X1900 series GPUs have as many as 48 pixel processors and provide a higher min speed in this pixel shader-heavy game.

The overclocked PowerColor X1900 XT manages to get ahead of the Radeon X1900 XTX in low resolutions. It also does well at its default frequencies, competing with the Nvidia GeForce 7900 GTX.

None of the cards can provide an average frame rate of 55-60 here, but the Radeon X1900 models have a better min speed than the cards from Nvidia. This means more comfort during play. The cards on Radeon X1900 and GeForce 7900 series GPUs are roughly similar in terms of average speed.

Performance in Third-Person 3D Shooters

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

The non-overclocked PowerColor X1900 XT is as fast as the GeForce GTX in 1280x1024, but slower than it in the lower resolution. Both these cards, and the Radeon X1900 XTX, are so strong that allow playing the game in all the standard resolutions, including 1600x1200, with turned-on FSAA.

Performance in Simulators

Pacific Fighters

The Radeon X1900 have no chance against the GeForce 7800/7900 here since the engine of this game is optimized for Nvidia’s architecture. Anyway, the R580-based cards, including the PowerColor X1900 XT, run the game at a high speed in resolutions up to 1280x1024 at the “eye candy” settings. Unfortunately, they cannot render the water surface with the maximum quality because the Radeon X1000 architecture doesn’t support vertex texturing.

X3: Reunion

X3: Reunion clearly prefers graphics cards on chips from ATI Technologies. Even the Radeon X1800 XT with its 16 pixel processor is almost as fast as the GeForce 7900 GTX and even faster than it in low resolutions. The non-overclocked PowerColor X1900 XT turns in one of the best results, after the Radeon X1900 XTX.

The average performance of the Radeon X1900 cards is highly satisfactory. The frame rate is never below 40fps notwithstanding the enabled full-screen antialiasing: you are guaranteed a smooth space flight without any slowdowns.

Performance in Strategy Games

Age of Empires 3

In high resolutions the PowerColor takes the second place after the Radeon X1900 XTX. This is quite expectable: the game makes wide use of pixel shaders and the 48 pixel processors are welcome here. On the other hand, the GeForce 7900 GTX is as fast as the two leaders in low resolutions – its less efficient memory controller must be the reason for its slowing down in the higher display modes.

Warhammer 40000: Dawn of War

One more strategy game we use, Dawn of War has different favorites than Age of Empires. It is the cards with the highest fill rate that win here, namely GeForce 7900 GTX and GeForce 7800 GTX 512. But generally speaking, every graphics card delivers a comfortable speed in this test.

The PowerColor X1900 XT is behind the GeForce 7900 GT in low resolutions, but overtakes it in 1600x1200.

Performance in Semi-Synthetic Benchmarks

Aquamark 3

Since Aquamark has almost no pixel shaders, even of the version 2.0, the new ATI architecture cannot really show its advantages in this test. So the winner’s laurels go to GeForce 7900 GTX. However the overclocked PowerColor X1900 XT catches up with the previous generation flagship product from Nvidia: GeForce 7800 GTX 512.

Performance in Synthetic Benchmarks

Futuremark 3DMark05 build 120

The performance difference between the PowerColor X1900 XT working at its nominal frequencies and GeForce 7900 GTX is only 168 point in Nvidia’s favor. Overclocking helps PowerColor solution to get ahead, but its still fails to reach the next performance barrier, which is only 244 point away.

PowerColor X1900 XT working at its nominal speed outperforms GeForce 7900 GTX in all resolutions, although the advantage is very small and doesn’t exceed 1fps.

The Game 2 test is less demanding to the fillrate therefore GeForce 7900 GTX leaves PowerColor X1900 XT behind only in 1024x768. In 1280x1024 the performance of these two cards levels out, and as the resolution increases even more the PowerColor solution starts getting ahead of the rival. When overclocked, PowerColor X1900 XT wins in all resolutions.

The performance in Game 3 3DMark05 test is directly dependent on the pixel shader processing speed. Radeon X1900 graphics card family is an indisputable leader in applications like that because they have 48 pixel processors onboard. So, the 4%-10% advantage of the PowerColor X1900 XT over GeForce 7900 GTX is quite logical. The latter manages to perform quite well thanks to high texturing speed ensured by 24 TMUs it has.

The results of the individual Game tests do not really prove the total scores we have seen above, because the results of the Game tests were obtained with enabled FSAA and anisotropic filtering. In the latter case, especially in high resolutions, ATI Radeon X1000 graphics cards are usually faster than the alternative Nvidia solutions thanks to a more efficient ring bus memory controller.

Futuremark 3DMark06 build 120

The specifications of Radeon X1900 XTX and PowerColor X1900 XT are not very much different from one another, however even this slight difference matters a lot for the results in 3DMark06 and the performance difference between these two solutions makes 806 points. As a result, our today’s hero outperforms only Radeon X1800 XT and GeForce 7900 GT yielding to all other testing participants when working at nominal frequencies. Overclocking definitely improves its results letting it almost catch up with GeForce 7900 GTX.

Since the total 3DMark06 score comes from the scores of SM2.0 and SM3.0/HDR tests, it makes sense to look at these tests separately.

Even PowerColor X1900 XT working at higher frequencies falls far behind GeForce 7900 GTX in SM2.0 tests, because these tests do not care about efficient 3.0 shader performance. The texturing speed is on the contrary, very important at least in the first test.

In SM3.0/HDR tests the graphics accelerator needs to have not only high fillrate but also maximum performance during pixel shader 3.0 processing, efficient HDR support and dynamic shadows created with Cascaded Shadow Maps. Although PowerColor X1900 XT working at the nominal speed still yields to GeForce 7900 GTX, the increase of the chip clock speed by 50MHz has terrific effect on the performance. So the overclocked PowerColor X1900 XT outperforms not only the Nvidia solution, but also Radeon X1900 XTX.

As usual, GeForce 7900 GTX is ahead in lower resolutions. However in 1600x1200 the less efficient memory controller of the Nvidia products plays a bad role for them. In this case PowerColor X1900 XT is only 0.4fos behind Nvidia’s flagman.

The second SM2.0 test doesn’t require high fillrate like the first test, therefore PowerColor X1900 XT is not any slower than GeForce 7900 GTX in 1024x768. And in higher resolutions it becomes an indisputable leader leaving Nvidia’s fastest cards 10%-15% behind.

This way it is the PowerColor X1900 XT results of the first test that determined the situation we see on the total score chart, while in the second test our hero feels quite confident. Besides, some results were obtained in eye candy mode, and these conditions are more favorable for Radeon X1900 with its ring bus memory controller. GeForce 7900 GTX equipped with a traditional controller is less efficient with higher memory workload when FSAA and anisotropic filtering are enabled.

Conclusion

PowerColor X1900 XT graphics accelerator made a great impression on us. Just like the GeCube Radeon X1900 XTX we have already tested before (for details you may check out our article called GeCube Radeon X1900 XTX Graphics Card Review), our today’s hero features all the peculiarities typical of the Radeon X1900 family.

The card works pretty well in applications dealing with a lot of math1ematically complex pixel shaders, being especially efficient in high resolutions with enabled full-screen antialiasing. However, it is not the best in scenes requiring high texturing speed. These are the games using a lot of high-resolution textures or shaders with numerous texturing samples, such as Serious Sam 2. Also, PowerColor X1900 XT is usually slower in OpenGL applications such as Doom III, Chronicles of Riddick and Pacific Fighters.

From the today’s performance prospective, GeForce 7900 GTX looks pretty good thanks to its 24 TMUs, however, if you are looking for a long-term solution, then PowerColor X1900 XT may be a very good choice. The card is quite overclockable and can easily deliver the performance level typical of a Radeon X1900 XTX and even higher than that sometimes.

Unfortunately, PowerColor X1900 XT cannot boast rich accessories bundle, like all other solutions from this manufacturer: it is just another Radeon X1900 XT with all the necessary accessories but without any additional sweet extras. I believe that it would be a great addition to the package if they had included a popular game, but at the same time, not all the users really need it.

Buying a PowerColor X1900 XT card, those who are not looking for free games and additional accessories will get exactly what they paid for: a powerful graphics adapter with a pretty promising future. However, if you are looking for a bunch of freebies in addition to a card, you will have to check out the solutions from ASUS or MSI.

Highs:

Lows: