X-bit labs CeBIT 2006 Coverage: Day 3

Here we go with the third day of our CeBIT 2006 coverage. Today we share secrets of ATI and its RV570 code-named product, we take a look at the ultra-overclockable mainboard from Albatron, we find out that Evga will sell boards for quad SLI setups, reveal the new Blizzard graphics card from Sapphire and check out Shuttle’s new system that delivers blazing speeds in small form-factor.

by Anton Shilov
03/12/2006 | 05:06 PM

Max Speed Per Square Inch: Shuttle XPC X100

As expected, Shuttle Computer officially unveiled its new small form-factor system called X100 at the CeBIT show in  Hannover, Germany. The main idea the developers had for the system was to pack desktop-class performance and feature-set in the smallest possible form-factor.

The goal was achieved quite successfully: the XPC X100 has dual-core processor, advanced Shader Model 3.0-supporting graphics core, large hard disk drive, DVD burner and even powerful audio solution. While the system ended up a bit larger compared to Apple’s Mac mini or AOpen’s Cube mini, it provides much more features and higher performance compared to these two.

Shuttle XPC X100 will ship as a system, not as a barebone, because it is based on mobile components which are not easy to obtain in all countries. The basic configuration will have Intel Core Duo T2400 (1.83GHz), Intel 945PM core-logic, 512MB of DDR2 memory, 250GB HDD, DVD burner, ATI Mobility Radeon X1400 with 128MB of memory MXM module, Intel high definition audio, Gigabit Ethernet, wireless network controller and card-reader. Of course, buyers will be able to configure the parts online before purchasing.

End users will obtain the XPC X100 with pre-installed Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2006, which emphasizes the current positioning of the product.

The basic configuration will cost about $1000, which is quite a lot. For this amount of money users do not get maximum performance and also do not obtain the smallest computer on the market. Instead of that customers get what Shuttle calls the most perfect balance between size and performance.

Hot Like the Sun and Wet Like a Rain: First Ever Water-Cooled Radeon X1900 XTX

Being one of the largest producers of ATI-powered graphics cards, Sapphire has opportunities to offer its customers pretty unique products that not only leverage reference designs, but provides some exclusive features. For instance, Sapphire has Toxic product line with improved performance and Blizzard family with improved cooling systems.

The most unique product from Sapphire at the show is probably its water-cooled Radeon X1900 XTX. The concept of the new Blizzard is akin to Thermaltake Tide Water: a heat-spreader is placed onto the graphics processor and the heat is taken to a special module which is installed just like a typical add-in card into computer cases.

Coolant is circulated with a 12V mini pump with superb reliability. Air is extracted from the case by a fan, passed through the radiator and vented out of the case at the rear mounting bracket. Two speeds of operation give a choice of lower noise or higher efficiency. (18dBA at 2000RPM, 26dBA at 2500RPM). The Blizzard cooler was developed in conjunction with Thermaltake and is exclusive to Sapphire.

Pre filled and sealed, the Blizzard cooler is easy to install and has removed the risks of spillage associated with most liquid cooling solutions. Industrial-grade rubber tube links the GPU block with the rest of the system to minimize liquid evaporation and is fitted with stress relief springs supporting the tubes against damage or distortion at their connecting points. Provision is made to top up the system when necessary, according to Sapphire.

While the Blizzard Radeon X1900 XTX will run at typical clock-speeds, it is expected to have better overclocking potential compared to the typical Radeon X1900 XTX.

RV570 Revealed: 256-Bit Memory for The Mainstream

ATI Technologies historically had issues with its products designed for the mainstream market: the chips that the company developed were good enough to serve the $100 - $200 range, but when it came to the range between $200 and $300, ATI’s products were behind Nvidia’s in terms of various factors. The source of the problems was the fact that the company tried to develop as small chip as possible, cutting down all functional units. After that Nvidia showed up with a product that was larger in terms of die size, but offering better performance. At the end, to serve this market segment, ATI had to lower the prices on the higher end graphics products, which, perhaps, affected the company’s profit margins negatively.

But the things are going to change with the introduction of the next-generation mainstream graphics chip: the new product will be produced using 80nm process technology, which should ensure its low cost, but, according to some sources within the industry, will have 256-bit memory bus, something that should ensure blazing speeds with full-scene antialiasing enabled and something that is now a prerogative of higher-end boards. In addition to high-speed memory bus the RV570 is expected to have very elevated clock-speeds.

According to performance estimations, the RV570 XT should outperform the Radeon X1800 XT by about 10% in all types of applications, which is not even inline with historical trends: previously the new generation GPUs had similar or a little slower performance compared to the previous high-end graphics cards.

The new RV570-series samples should be available around May, whereas production should start in July or August this year.

EVGA to Sell Quad SLI Components

Nvidia Corp. said that the quad SLI setups will be available only from system builders initially, however, it does not mean that the technology would be accessible by customers of companies like Alienware. In fact, EVGA, a partner of Nvidia, will have dual-chip graphics cards available as soon as next month, said Hans Wolfram Tismer, the European chief of the company.

Currently the pricing of a single dual-chip graphics card is unknown and even EVGA itself has no ideas about it. It is certain that such a solution will be pretty expensive, but it unclear whether dual-chip board will cost the same amount of money as two single-chip graphics cards.

What is interesting to note about quad SLI is that Nvidia is promoting it without giving any concrete details, still, the interest towards the technology is pretty high. Quad SLI is also a product which will be sold without any published reviews: buyers who get it will have to buy something that they do not even know and something that nobody even tried!

Nvidia’s Ujesh Desai claims that the market of quad SLI systems is “tens of thousands of units” per month, meanwhile, Mr. Tismer implied that the first batch of dual-chip graphics cards at EVGA will be 300 units. Also, Asustek Computer has been selling 2000 units of dual-chip GeForce 7900 GT boards for months now.

Albatron Does ?ber-Overclocking and Lifetime Warranty

Albatron has been around for some years now, but being a relatively small company it is not easy to attract a lot of attention of performance-demanding users as companies like Asustek put tremendous amounts of efforts into publicity. As a result of that Albatron has been practically absent from high-margin market of enthusiast-class products so far. In an attempt to actually sell something that attracts performance fans Albatron has developed a mainboard featuring digital clock-generator and very advanced microprocessor power supply circuitry.

The new PX975X motherboard is based on the Intel 975X chipset, has amazing amount of special features and comes with another unique feature for the mainboard market: it has lifetime warranty.

Some sources in the industry claim that Intel’s processors code-named Conroe have higher performance compared to AMD’s solutions, which is why a mainboard that supports Conroe may be more attractive to enthusiasts compared to platforms for AMD microprocessors. While Albatron is vague about Conroe support by PX975X, the insiders within the company said that the new chip will in fact be supported.

Albatron says that mainboards with digital clock-generator from Timelab have higher overclocking potential compared to ordinary motherboards. The company said that an Intel Pentium 4 3.40GHz processor can be overclocked up to 4250MHz using air cooling on the new Albatron PX975X mainboard, whereas the same chip on a typical platform runs at about 3910MHz when overclocked. Certainly, part of that advantage comes from improved CPU power like the digital clock-generator is very forward-looking too, everything is going digital at the end of the day.

Albatron currently hires 80 engineers in its mainboard division, not a lot fewer compared to Abit, for example. The company is trying hard to concentrate on high-end market, as this is the one that is relatively stable and bring very high profit margins, something that every company would like to have.