PowerColor X700 PRO Graphics Card Review

This is a review of another ATI based graphics solution from PowerColor. The card runs up to the mark for an x700 chip, shows excellent overclocking potential and boasts 256MB of onboard graphics memory. Want to learn more? Check out our article!

by Alexey Stepin
02/09/2005 | 12:42 PM

Announcing its new RADEON X700 graphics processor back on September 21, 2004, ATI Technologies unveiled two X700-based graphics cards, RADEON X700 XT and RADEON X700 PRO. The company put the same recommended price on these two devices ($199) that only differed in their clock rates and the amount of graphics memory on board. The RADEON X700 XT is clocked at 475/1050MHz (core/memory) but has only 128 megabytes of memory, whereas the PRO model comes with twice as much memory but works at 420/864MHz frequencies.

 

At the product launch moment we thought the elder, XT model a better buy since its performance was higher on the whole. But as the gaming industry outputs ever more games that feel more comfortable on 256MB of graphics RAM, there is a growing interest towards the RADEON X700 PRO, especially among people who’re into overclocking.

No so long ago we used to regard 256MB of graphics memory as something rather useless which only made the end product more expensive, but now there are already a few games and benchmarks which offer some of their graphics modes exclusively to owners of such graphics hardware – take Doom 3 or 3DMark05 as an example. Rome: Total War also doesn’t allow the user to select a resolution of 1600x1200 pixels on less than 256MB.

All in all we have to admit that this amount of graphics memory has become more important, having transformed from a piece of luxury into a necessity. Keep it in mind, though, that we’re only talking about mainstream and high-end graphics cards as low-end devices just can’t run modern games in high resolutions or with full-screen anti-aliasing enabled at a comfortable frame rate.

For our today’s tests we took a mainstream product from the new PCI Express generation. It is an X700 PRO-based card from PowerColor.

PowerColor X700 PRO: First Glance

We have tested and reviewed this company’s products on our site quite a few times already. One of the products you might want to refresh you memory about is PowerColor X600 XT featuring an original-looking but not very efficient cooler and also suffering some problems with the clock frequencies with some BIOS versions (see our article called Mainstream PCI Express Graphics Cards Review: PowerColor X600 XT vs. Albatron Trinity PCX 5750).

Let’s see what PowerColor offers us this time around.

We’ve got the card in its retail package – the way you will see it in shops.

The size and design of the box remained the same since the PowerColor X600 XT, but the color of the insertions to the sides of the central picture has changed from blue to red. The casing of the box looks very formal because of its “carbon fiber” texture. The paper box itself contains the following items:

The discs with the software and games are packed into a special envelope called ProPack. As you see, the accessories to the PowerColor X700 PRO don’t differ from those you receive with a PowerColor X600 XT and they are quite sufficient. Let’s now take a glance at the device proper.

PowerColor X700 PRO: Closer Look

This card looks unpretentious enough, like a majority of RADEON X700 products: a compact PCB of the traditional crimson red color and a small cooler with an aluminum heatsink:

The cooler is not like the one we saw on the reference card – it has a less fanciful shape and sparsely placed ribs and is equipped with a completely different fan with a more efficient design of the blades. The aluminum heatsink is fastened to the PCB with ATI’s traditional spring-loaded clips with fixing pegs that make the fastening more robust. If the pegs are pushed into the clips, you can’t take the clips off without damaging anything. There’s a protruding spot on the heatsink sole where it touches the GPU die through a layer of gray thermal paste. There’s no additional bracket at the back side of the PCB, probably because it’d be just useless here – the heatsink holds firmly enough as it is.

The memory chips are not cooled at all, but that’s not as critical as with the RADEON X700 XT since the memory is clocked at a relatively low frequency. The 2.0ns GDDR3 chips from Samsung installed on the card are rated for 500 (1000DDR) MHz, so there’s a high chance of this product being able to overclock to the level of the RADEON X700 XT. RivaTuner reports that the core of the PowerColor card works at 425MHz, i.e. 5 megahertz above the standard frequency, while the memory is clocked at 423 (864DDR) MHz, exactly like on ATI’s reference card. So, the frequencies are normal, and we meet no surprises from this side.

Noise, Overclocking, 2D Quality

Alas, the cooler of the PowerColor X700 PRO is a bit of disappointment: its fan proved to be noisy and you could easily single its high-frequency voice out among the chorus of the rest of the “sounding” system components. The reference sample from ATI controls the rotational speed of the fan, but the PowerColor does not. The fan speed is a constant and this whizzing sound was getting on our nerves all the time. It’s sad but prospective owners of a PowerColor X700 PRO should say their farewell to silence.

Our overclocking experiments confirmed our suppositions about the good overclockability of the card. It worked stable at 500/1100MHz, i.e. a little above the frequencies of the RADEON X700 XT. A growth of 100 megahertz above the rated frequency is a very good result for 2.0ns memory, by the way. Of course, we had to use an additional 120mm fan for overclocking, to cool the memory chips. We wouldn’t recommend you to repeat our overclocking experiments with this card without taking care first about additional cooling of the memory – the chips are hot at this clock rate and you can damage your graphics card irrevocably in a poorly-ventilated system case. Since our sample sped up to almost the same frequencies as the reference RADEON X700 XT is clocked at, we won’t publish the results of the overclocked PowerColor card in tests – they are almost the same as the results of the RADEON X700 XT.

We check out the image the graphics card outputs in 2D application following the tradition rather than out of any real necessity as almost all modern cards provide an excellent image quality in all resolutions they support. The PowerColor X700 PRO confirms the rule, yielding a crystal-sharp picture up to the 1800x1400@75Hz display mode which is the maximum of the Dell P1110 monitor we use in our labs.

Testbed and Methods

For this occasion we rolled out our standard PCI Express platform that consists of:

Software:

We compared the performance of the PowerColor X700 PRO to that of the following devices:

The Catalyst A.I. option was set to “Standard”, and the Mipmap Detail Level option to “Quality”. We disabled VSync in the drivers for all the participating cards. We also turned off the ForceWare optimizations save for the Anisotropic mip filter optimization, using the Quality mode.

We turned on full-screen anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering from the game’s own menu. If the game didn’t offer this option, we forced the necessary mode from the driver. In all cases we only adjusted those settings which were accessible to any user; we didn’t change the games’ configuration files. The maximum graphics quality settings were selected in each game, the same for graphics cards on ATI’s and NVIDIA’s GPUs.

We used the following games and benchmarks in our tests:

First-Person 3D Shooters

Third-Person 3D Shooters

Simulators

Strategy Games

Semi-Synthetic Benchmarks

Synthetic Benchmarks

Performance in First-Person 3D Shooters

Call of Duty: United Offensive

The PowerColor is slower than the GeForce 6600 GT in the “pure speed” mode as it works at lower frequencies: 425/864MHz against 500/1000MHz. The gap grows to 20 percent in high resolutions, but the PowerColor X700 PRO anyway delivers enough speed even for 1600x1200.

The “eye candy” mode is a different story. The gap between the PowerColor X700 PRO and the GeForce 6600 GT is only diminishing with the growth of the resolution. All our praise goes to ATI Technologies who made an architecture that’s excellently suited to perform full-screen anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering.

Doom III

We don’t think you need our comments on the results of this test: this game just runs faster on NVIDIA’s GeForce6 GPUs. They owe their high performance to the id Software engine, which takes advantage of NVIDIA's architecture and in particular, actively uses their UltraShadow technology. While ATI’s chips with their rather ineffective OpenGL driver fall behind.

The twofold advantage of the GeForce 6600 GT over the PowerColor X700 PRO is true for the “eye candy” mode, too.

It’s the same on the d3dm4 level – ATI’s RADEONs run Doom III very slowly. Only the 16-pipelined RADEON X800 XL performs like the GeForce 6600 GT, which belongs to a lower market sector.

The same goes for the “eye candy” mode with its full-screen anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering. Let’s wait till ATI releases its new OpenGL driver?

Unreal Tournament 2004

The cards have virtually the same speed in low resolutions. it is a pretty CPU-dependent game, and besides, the contemporary mainstream solutions are pretty fast today, anyway. In 1600x1200, however, the PowerColor card falls behind the others because of its somewhat lower clock rates.

We can observe the difference between the cards more clearly after turning on full-screen anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering. The PowerColor X700 PRO is slower than the GeForce 6600 GT in low resolutions, but challenges it in 1600x1200.

The difference between the participating cards is more conspicuous on the Metallurgy level, and the PowerColor X700 PRO is lagging behind the GeForce 6600 GT. The gap becomes wider in high resolutions.

The PowerColor card looks better in the “eye candy” mode, running as fast as the GeForce 6600 GT. Again we see that ATI’s new-generation GPU architectures are well optimized for full-screen anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering.

Far Cry

This highly popular 3D shooter has high-resolution textures as well as numerous pixel shaders. The demo record we use in our tests contains a flight on a hang-glider above water surfaces and jungle. The RADEON X700 XT is a worthy opponent to the GeForce 6600 GT here, while the PowerColor solution is lagging behind them both.

The gap dwindles in the “eye candy” mode. The three mainstream graphics cards yield roughly the same frame rates.

The scene on the Research level is completely different from the previous one. This is a walk across a cave which is lit with several light sources calculated on a per-pixel basis. The lack of the core frequency of the PowerColor card is noticeable, though only in high resolutions.

In the “eye candy” mode the PowerColor X700 PRO sees the back of the GeForce 6600 GT at first, but then closes the gap in 1280x1024, and ultimately brings it to naught in 1600x1200.

Halo: Combat Evolved

The speed of Halo mostly depends on the pixel shader performance of the graphics card. This time the PowerColor X700 PRO can’t catch up with the GeForce 6600 GT just because of the great difference in their core frequencies. The RADEON X700 XT is also slower than the GeForce, but it still doesn't fall too far behind. This means you can achieve good frame rate in this game by overclocking the PowerColor X700 PRO.

Painkiller

The PowerColor X700 PRO (like the X700 XT as well) is behind the GeForce 6600 GT, but the RADEONs anyway prove very fast in this game – even the highest resolution, 1600x1200 pixels, provides comfortable gaming experience!

The PowerColor X700 PRO and the RADEON X700 XT are far behind the GeForce 6600 GT in 1024x768 resolution when FSAA is enabled, but get closer to it in 1280x1024. In the highest resolution the RADEONs are 10% and 20%, respectively, faster than the GeForce rival.

Half-Life 2

Those levels of Half-Life 2 that have the word “canals” in their name are all about racing in a speedboat across water, so it is the pixel pipelines that bear the biggest load here. The advantage here is certainly with those graphics cards that know to process complex math1ematical calculations used to create water surfaces in games. To spice up the situation we enabled the Reflect All option. The hero of this review is in its element here and easily leaves the GeForce 6600 GT 20-25% behind.

The X700 PRO is ahead of its main competitor in the “eye candy” mode, too, but the gap is smaller now because the memory on the PowerColor card works at a lower frequency.

The second demo we use is a street fighting scene that mostly loads the central processor of the computer. That’s why all the participating cards are on the same level of performance here.

This uniformity is somewhat broken as we enable full-screen anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering: the PowerColor X700 PRO is slightly faster than the GeForce 6600 GT.

Counter-Strike: Source

Unfortunately the problems with the PCI Express cards from NVIDIA still persist in this game, so it wouldn’t be fair to compare the PowerColor to the GeForce 6600 GT. The difference between the PowerColor X700 PRO and the X700 XT performance equals about 15%.

The difference between the RADEON X700 XT and the X700 PRO is about 10-12%, although the load on the graphics memory is higher. The RADEON X800 XL is 1.5-2 times faster than the mainstream solution, as it actually should be.

The RADEON X700 XT breaks away from the PowerColor X700 PRO on the Piranesi map, but that’s hardly noticeable in the “pure speed” mode, especially in low resolutions.

There’s the same 10-15 percent of difference between the two versions of the RADEON X700 in the “eye candy” mode.

Performance in Third-Person 3D Shooters

Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow

The RADEON X700 XT and the GeForce 6600 GT are fighting with each other in this game, while the PowerColor X700 PRO is following them closely. This game came to the PC platform from game consoles, so its textures and geometry are deficient, but the speed of its numerous pixel shaders directly depends on the GPU frequency, and the core frequency of the PowerColor card is considerably lower than that of the RADEON X700 XT or of the GeForce 6600 GT.

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time

There are few complex pixel shaders here, but this is compensated with beautiful textures and rather complex geometry. The insufficient size of the texture caches of the PowerColor X700 PRO and X700 XT must have affected the performance of these cards in this test, or the problem may be hiding somewhere in the driver. The difference between the RADEONs is small, amounting to 6fps with the absolute speeds being about 80-90fps.

Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne

While the RADEON X700 XT is closely following the GeForce 6600 GT, the PowerColor X700 PRO is evidently slower in this test than its opponent.

Turning on our eye-pleasing combination of FSAA and anisotropic filtering we change the balance of forces: the RADEON X700 XT is ahead now, but the PowerColor X700 PRO is still incapable of overtaking the GeForce 6600 GT. Of course, the things said above are true for the nominal frequencies only, because as soon as you overclock our today's hero, it will reach the performancelevel of RADEON X700 XT.

We would like to remind you that the third-person 3D shooters are mostly tested manually, with the FRAPS utility. There’s inherent inaccuracy in this technique, so you should regard the results as approximations.

Performance in Simulators

IL-2 Sturmovik: Aces in the Sky

This game is rich in pixel shaders and large textures. The last thing is typical for any flight simulator, and we also know that complex textures are a weak point of the RADEON X700. There’s a small difference between the X700 XT and the X700 PRO, but these two cards are both far behind the GeForce 6600 GT which has no problems with texturing and relies on a better optimized OpenGL driver.

Using FSAA and anisotropic filtering doesn’t change anything. The GeForce 6600 GT remains unrivalled in this game, losing only to the solutions of the higher class like GeForce 6800 GT or RADEON X800 XL.

Lock On: Modern Air Combat

The two versions of the X700 are again inferior to the GeForce 6600 GT, which only breaks farther away in high resolutions. The reason must be the same as with IL-2: Sturmovik, i.e. the reduced texture caches of the RADEON X700, the flaws in the Catalyst driver, or both.

The situation remains the same when we enable FSAA and anisotropic filtering: the cards based on RADEON X700 VPU fall behind GeForce 6600 GT. Unlike IL-2, Lock On is a capricious game as its benchmarking results often vary in a wide range. Just keep this fact in mind.

Colin McRae Rally 04

Colin McRae Rally abounds in pixel shaders which create the game’s various special effects. That’s why the graphics cards on GPUs from ATI Technologies win this test. The advantage of the PowerColor X700 PRO over the GeForce 6600 GT is small, though. It’s only 8-10fps while the absolute speeds are in the 80-150fps range.

Fast memory is important for the “eye candy” mode, so the gap between the PowerColor and the GeForce 6600 GT diminishes as the resolution grows. Yet, ATI’s HyperZ HD technology helps the RADEON to have victory even in 1600x1200, although by a small margin of 2 fps (and even this result is imprecise since the game is tested manually).

Performance in Strategy Games

Command & Conquer Generals: Zero Hour

This game also prefers graphics cards that can quickly process pixel shaders. The PowerColor X700 PRO shows its best here, beating the GeForce 6600 GT.

Even having lower frequencies, the PowerColor card keeps on the same level with the GeForce 6600 GT in the “eye candy” mode.

Perimeter

Perimeter is probably the most demanding strategy game we’ve ever met. With the maximum graphics quality settings you will be able to enjoy comfortable gaming only if your system is equipped with the top-end graphics card. As you see, none of the mainstream cards surpassed the 20fps mark, but the RADEON X700 XT and the PowerColor X700 PRO are overall better than the GeForce 6600 GT here.

The above-said things apply here, too, but the absolute speeds are overall lower.

Performance in Semi-Synthetic Benchmarks

Final Fantasy XI Official Benchmark 3

Unfortunately, the problem with NVIDIA’s PCI Express cards occurs in the new test from Square Enix, too. So, only the numbers shown by the ATI based cards are correct. The difference of 134 points between the RADEON X700 XT and PowerColor RADEON X700 PRO is really small, but not very representative, since this test only supports 1024x768 resolution.

AquaMark3

Aquamark3 features sophisticated geometry and has a high overdraw coefficient, so its speed largely depends on the number and speed of the vertex processors as well as on the efficient invisible-surface-removal technique. The RADEON X700-based cards should have a handicap in this test since they each have 6 vertex processors while the GeForce 6600 GT has only three. Yet we can’t see an overwhelming victory: the performance of the RADEON X700 XT is comparable to the GeForce 6600 GT, while the PowerColor X700 PRO is slower, but by no more than 4-5 frames per second.

The PowerColor overtakes the GeForce 6600 GT in the “eye candy” mode, while the RADEON X700 XT is ahead of them both.

Performance in Synthetic Benchmarks

Futuremark 3DMark03

The PowerColor X700 PRO isn’t far behind the GeForce 6600 GT in the total score – the difference is less than 400 points. When overclocked to the frequencies of the RADEON X700 XT, this device easily becomes a leader in its class. Let’s now examine each of the subtests.

The PowerColor is noticeably slower than the GeForce 6600 GT in the first, DirectX 7 test.

When full-screen anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering are turned on, the RADEON X700-based cards lose again, but their HyperZ HD technology helps them in high resolutions. For example, in 1600x1200 the PowerColor X700 PRO rivals the GeForce 6600 GT, while the RADEON X700 XT is ahead of them both.

3DMark03’s second and third game tests with their specific rendering methods work better on NVIDIA’s graphics cards. That’s also true in the given case, although the gap between the RADEON X700 XT and the GeForce 6600 GT isn’t too big.

It’s all the same in the “eye candy” mode, and the GeForce 6600 GT remains ahead, in spite of the increased load on the graphics memory subsystem.

Again, the second and third tests are very like each other from the technical point of view, so we have the same results here.

The GeForce 6600 GT gains the upper hand, but the RADEON X700 XT is very close behind.

The fourth test, on the contrary, has always been favorable towards ATI’s GPUs as it requires high pixel shader performance which the modern RADEONs have. As you see, the PowerColor X700 PRO, despite its lower frequencies, beats the GeForce 6600 GT here.

But in the “eye candy” mode the PowerColor card falls behind the NVIDIA rival, while the RADEON X700 XT and the GeForce 6600 GT have similar speeds.

The results of 3DMark03 are overall very logical. The PowerColor X700 PRO is everywhere inferior to the GeForce 6600 GT, save for the fourth test, and thus it has a worse total score. When overclocked, however, the PowerColor card can beat its competitor due to a higher pixel shader performance.

Futuremark 3DMark05

The PowerColor card has a worse score in the new 3DMark than the GeForce 6600 GT. While the average score is about 3000 points, the difference makes 295 points, which is about 10%.

3DMark05’s first game test resembles modern shooters like Far Cry or Half-Life 2, but has better graphics. The action goes on at a space station; there are numerous light sources and characters in the scene.

The PowerColor card is only 1fps behind the GeForce 6600 GT, but this amounts to almost 10 percent with the absolute frame rates being about 8-14fps.

3DMark05 doesn’t offer resolutions above 1024x768 for graphics cards equipped with 128MB of memory, so we can only make our comparison basing on this single display mode – there’s a gap of 1 frame per second between the PowerColor and the GeForce 6600 GT.

The second test is closer to role-play games than to any other gaming genres. There’s a lot of dynamically generated vegetation in the scene that depicts a night forest, plus numerous light & shadow special effects.

The results of this round resemble those of the first test: there’s a gap of about 1fps between the GeForce 6600 GT and the RADEON X700 PRO, but that’s quite a lot considering that their absolute speeds are about 5-10fps.

When full-screen anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering are on, the PowerColor X700 PRO has almost the same speed as the GeForce 6600 GT; the difference of 0.2fps lies within the measurement error range.

3DMark05’s third game test can hardly be fitted into the confines of any particular genre. The action is going on outdoors and the load on the pixel pipelines is the highest here: the water surface and the walls of the canyon are all created with the help of mind-bogglingly complex pixel shaders.

The PowerColor X700 PRO is a little behind the GeForce 6600 GT. The lack of the GPU frequency is felt acutely here: the RADEON X700 XT whose core is clocked at a 50MHz higher frequency even overtakes the NVIDIA card.

The “eye candy” mode is more favourable for ATI’s cards. The PowerColor and the GeForce 6600 GT match each other. All in all, considering its reduced frequencies, the PowerColor card performs sufficiently fast in 3DMark05. When overclocked, the PowerColor delivers you the performance of a RADEON X700 XT.

Conclusion

The noisy cooling system of the PowerColor X700 PRO that cannot control the speed of the fan spoils all the fun from this graphics card. That’s the more disappointing as the reference sample of the RADEON X700 PRO can vary the fan speed depending on the GPU temperature and load. Apart of that fact, the reviewed device is good in everything, from its accessories and quality of manufacture to the overclockability and 2D image quality.

As for the performance, the PowerColor X700 PRO did exactly like it should have done. As you know, the performance of the RADEON X700 XT matches the speed of the GeForce 6600 GT across a number of applications, and the PowerColor is a little slower than they both due to its lower clock rates.

The test data confirm this supposition: the PowerColor X700 PRO is almost everywhere slower than the GeForce 6600 GT.

The same goes for the “eye candy” mode with enabled full-screen anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering, but the gap is smaller here due to the X700 PRO efficient memory controller and HyperZ technology. When overclocked, the PowerColor X700 PRO roughly corresponds to the regular RADEON X700 XT, so you can refer to the results of the latter.

The PowerColor X700 PRO is yet missing in the PriceWatch.com database, but the prices for X700 PRO-based cards vary from $195 to $225, and the price of the PowerColor card is unlikely to deviate far from this range. For comparison, the GeForce 6600 GT will cost you about $180-240 and will offer you more performance overall, but this card has only 128 megabytes of graphics memory aboard, while the PowerColor X700 PRO is equipped with 256MB and is capable of overclocking to the frequencies of the RADEON X700 XT. Of course, overclocking is a bit of a lottery, and you can’t expect each sample of the PowerColor X700 PRO to be as overclockable as ours, but the possibility is quite high considering the fast memory the card comes with.

So, it’s again your choice, while we sum up the highs and lows of the device we’ve reviewed today.

Highs:

Lows: