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Appeared on: Tuesday, June 01, 2004
VGA Roundup


1. Sapphire Radeon 9800 Pro Ultimate

SAPPHIRE RADEON 9800 PRO ULTIMATE 128MB

HomepageAfter the Cebit exhibition we eagerly have been waiting to get the first VGA card. When Sapphire's 9800 Pro came first to our office, a sense of both amazement and thrill overshadowed us. We all had in mind that with this card, CDRInfo was about to make its debut in the VGA card section. And yes, the Radeon 9800 Pro is a good milestone to start our VGA section establishment with.

Sapphire best known for its qualitative products, offered to send us its 128 MB DDR Radeon 9800 Pro Atlantis. Although a new generation of ATI's VGA cards based on the R420 GP has launched, its previous high-tech answers included the 9800 Pro card which is widely known for its good performance and high overclocking capabilities.

But let's see what the ultimate version has to offer.

- Specifications

GPU RADEON 9800 PRO VPU (R350)
Memory Bus Width 128 MB DDR
Memory interface 256 Bit DDR
Memory Type DDR1
Core clock 380 MHz
Memory clock 680 Mhz (340x2)
Memory Bandwidth 21.8 GB/sec
Pixel FillRate 3.04 Gpixels/sec
Geometry rate 380 Mtriangles/sec
Bus 2x/4x/8x
Processing technology 0.13µ
Output Connections VGA + TV + DVI
Cooling Zalman double-side Heat sink
2D supported Resolutions & Hz 640x480@200, 800x600@200, 1024x768@200, 1152x864@100, 1280x1024@160, 1600x1200@120, 1920x1080@100, 1920x1200@100, 1920x1440@85, 2048x1536@75
3D Maximum resolution 2048x1536 with 16.7M colors
Anisotropic Filtering modes 2x/4x/8x/16x
Anti-Aliasing modes 2x/4x/6x
Ramdac 400 Mhz
Pipelines 8
Texture unit per pixel pipeline 1
Technologies supported - SMARTSHADER 2.1 technology allows users to experience complex, movie-quality effects in next-generation 3D games and applications
- SMOOTHVISION 2.1 technology enhances image quality by removing jagged edges and bringing out fine texture detail, without compromising performance
- Unique VIDEOSHADER engine uses programmable pixel shaders to accelerate video processing and provide better-looking visuals
- FULLSTREAM technology removes blocky artifacts from Streaming and Internet video and provides sharper image quality
- HyperZ III+ technology improves rendering performance
Pixel Shader Support 2.0+
Vertex Shader Support 2.0+
DTV/HDTV Decoding Supported
Package contents -Instruction Manual
-Installation Driver Disk
-Cyberlink Power DVD
-Redline Tweak Utility
-Tomb Raider : The Angel of Darkness
-S-Video Cable
-RCA Cable
-DVI to VGA Adapter
-S-Video to RCA Adapter
System requirements

The system requirements for the card and complementary software:
- PC with Pentium 4 / III 450 MHz or AMD Athlon processor with AGP 4x/8x universal slot
-128MB of system memory and 1.6 GB of hard disk space
-8x speed CD-ROM drive, DVD playback requires DVD drive
-300-Watt power supply or greater
- Windows 2000, 98SE, ME, XP and DirectX 9.0
- Microsoft DirectX 3.0 compatible sound card
- Monitor supported: CRT-15 pin, Svideo, Composite and DVI-I (LCD)

- 3D Mark Detailed specifications

- The chipset

What's special for the Ultimate series? The non-ultimate series are equipped with a huge fan which covers the core of the chipset. Fans are noisy and as every movie-lover knows, the most irritating thing when watching a movie is the bumbling noise of the cooling fan.

Daniel Forster, Sapphire's Senior Manager said the following about the Ultimate series: "This card was built to enable people to be able to build silent yet powerful systems. You want to hear your movies or games in a PC not all the fans in the system - so in the future noise levels this will become more and more important with PC moving into the living room as all round multimedia machines. This is why we build these cards."

According to Mr Forster, the noise problem was the key factor for the development of the Ultimate series. As you can see from the following picture, the irritating fan has been substituted with a double-sided, massive but silent heat pipe system.


Front side

Click to enlarge
Back side

The only problem with the fluid-cooling system is its massive size. Unfortunately it takes the place of the PCI slot which is next to the AGP. Although it is little bunglesome, it does its job with absolute silence.

Click to enlarge
Front side exposed

Removing the screws we were able to see the chipset. As you can see two small heat sinks protect the DDR memories from overheating. Unstucking them we were able to have a closer look on the DDR.

The card wears the common Samsung K4D26323RA-GC2A memory chips with 2.8ns access time at 680 Mhz.

Removing the heat paste conductor we took a pic of the R350 GPU.

This label verifies that the chipset is nothing more or less than the Radeon 9800Pro 128M DDR

- Deeper look in the cooling system

The cooling system is consisted of a massive metallic heatsink which covers the both sides of the card, and a magneto-like pipe.


The thermojunction of the GPU

- How it works

A special liquid is sealed inside the pipe which when it is heated vaporizes. The hot vapor then gets drawn to the other bottom side the heatsink, giving up its heat. After this the vaporized liquid solidifies and it's drawn back to the heat source again. Fascinating, simple and cool!

The Sapphire Atlantis Radeon 9800 Pro Ultimate uses the standard VGA, S-Video, and DVI connections with TV-Out functionality.

- Package contents

The package contents the instruction manual and the Installation Driver Disk for the technical section. The bundle software is consisted of Cyberlink Power DVD, Redline Tweak Utility and the game Tomb Raider : The Angel of Darkness. As for the connectivity the card comes with an S-Video Cable, an RCA Cable, a DVI to VGA Adapter and an S-Video to RCA Adapter.

In the hardware aspect, the Ultimate series chipset is exactly the same as its previous 9800 Pro model. As we have already mentioned the Ultimate model differentiates for its soundless cooling heat pipe system. Also the memory clock speed is lower than the original Pro model (perhaps for overheating reasons).

 


2. Exair Radeon 9800 XT

EXAIR RADEON 9800 XT 256MB

HomepageExcept from being a supporter of Nvidia chipsets, Exair offers great VGA solutions based on ATI's Radeon GPU. The Radeon 9800 XT chipset has many advancements that the former Pro model. Although it is based on the same GPU, the XT series have higher clock speeds on both GPU and Memory. You can say that the 9800 XT is a tweaked revision of the Pro model. But let's have a deeper perspective on this card.

- Specifications

GPU RADEON 9800 XT (R360)
Memory Bus Width    
256MB DDR MEMORY
Memory interface 256 Bit DDR
Memory Type DDR1
Core Clock 412 MHz
Memory Clock 730 Mhz (364x2)
Memory Bandwidth 23.4 GB/sec
Pixel FillRate 3.3 Gpixels/sec
Geometry rate 412 Mtriangles/sec
Bus 8x/4x/2x AGP
Processing technology 0.15µ
Output Connections VGA + TV + DVI
Cooling Dual-slot Fansink
2D Display Resolutions & Hz 640x480@200, 800x600@200, 1024x768@200, 1152x864@100, 1280x1024@160, 1600x1200@120, 1920x1080@100, 1920x1200@100, 1920x1440@85, 2048x1536@75
3D Maximum resolution 2048x1536 with 16.7M colors
Anisotropic Filtering modes (AF) 2x/4x/8x/16x
Full Scene Anti-Aliasing (FSAA) modes 2x/4x/6x
Dual Display Supported
Pipelines 8
Texture units per pixel pipeline 1
Technologies supported - SMARTSHADER 2.1 technology allows users to experience complex, movie-quality effects in next-generation 3D games and applications
- SMOOTHVISION 2.1 technology enhances image quality by removing jagged edges and bringing out fine texture detail, without compromising performance
- Unique VIDEOSHADER engine uses programmable pixel shaders to accelerate video processing and provide better-looking visuals
- FULLSTREAM technology removes blocky artifacts from Streaming and Internet video and provides sharper image quality
- HyperZ III+ technology improves rendering performance
- OVERDRIVE Automatic overclocking
Pixel Shader Support 2.0+
Vertex Shader Support 2.0+
DTV/HDTV decoding
Supported
System requirements

The minimum system requirements for the card and complementary software:
- PC with Pentium 4 / III / II / Celeron, AMD K6 / Duron / Athlon / Athlon XP with 450 MHz
-128MB of system memory and 1.6 GB of hard disk space
-8x speed CD-ROM drive, DVD playback requires DVD drive
-300-Watt power supply or greater
- Windows 2000, 98SE, ME, XP and DirectX 9.0
- Microsoft DirectX 3.0 compatible sound card
- Monitor supported: CRT-15 pin, Svideo, Composite and DVI-I (LCD)

- 3D Mark detailed specifications

- The chipset

The Radeon 9800 XT has a higher core speed at 412MHz, 32 MHz higher than the Radeon 9800 Pro at 238 MHz. Also a higher memory clock speed has been achieved at 730 from 700. Although ATI has done a good job by braking the 400 MHz core speed limit, there are some other matters technical issues need to be put into consideration. Having in mind that the now achieved clock speeds were prohibitive with the Pro series, it is interesting to see what cooling method ATI used to perform such admirable a boost.

Front side. Despite the cooler's size, it is very silent. One of the best cooling solutions based on fan architecture.

On the back side we found the holder of the fan which also reacts as heat sink, and covers the 50% of the chipset.

Click to enlarge

The Radeon 9800 XT exposed


The R360 GPU in its all magnificence

Hynix DDR memories used

As you can see, the Radeon 9800 XT wears a new copper cooler. This new cooler is larger and heavier than the heatsink/fan cooling techniques on the Pro cards. The fan adjusts it's speed according to the chip temperature. Despite the fan's size, we didn't experience irritating noise. These features makes it an awesome cooler.

As you can see in the pictures, the 9800 XT is equipped with the standard outputs: one VGA, one DVI, and one video out. With the new cooler, ATI says the 9800 XT is more overclockable and faster than its forerunner. In the comparison test that follows you will be able to see yourselves if ATI's statement is true or not.

- Package contents

-Instruction Manual
-Installation Driver Disk
-Cyberlink Power DVD
-Half Life2 (coupon for free downloading)
-S-Video Cable
-RCA Cable
-S-Video to RCA Adapter


3. Asus V9950 FX 5900 GE

ASUS V9950 FX 5900 GE 128MB

HomepageAlthough Asus' 5900 VGA card has been released on the market a long time time ago, it is still one of the top FX models based on the NV35 GPU currently available. So, even for comparison reasons the V9950 is a good reference. We have in our hands the V9950 FX 5900 Gamer Edition. Although this card belongs to the previous generation, in this review you will also be able to see the card's performance in the latest cutting edge games.

- Specifications

GPU GEFORCE FX 5900 (NV 35)
Memory Bus Width    
128MB DDR MEMORY
Memory interface 256 Bit DDR
Memory Type BGA DDR2
Core Clock 400 MHz
Memory Clock 700 Mhz (2x350)
Memory Bandwidth 22.4 GB/sec
Pixel FillRate 3.2 Gpixels/sec
Geometry rate 300 Mtriangles/sec
Bus 8x/4x/2x AGP
Processing technology 0.13µ
Output Connections VGA + TV + DVI
Cooling single-slot Fansink
2D Display 32 bit Resolutions & Hz 640x480@240, 800x600@240, 1024x768@200, 1152x864@170, 1280x1024@150, 1600x1200@100, 1920x1440@75, 2048x1536@60
3D Maximum resolution 2048x1536 with 16.7M colors
Anisotropic Filtering modes (AF) 2x/4x/8x
Full Scene Anti-Aliasing (FSAA) modes 1x/2x/4x/6x/8x
Dual Display Supported
Pipelines 4
Texture units per pixel pipeline 2
Technologies supported

- Intellisample HCT is a new compression scheme for better compression at high resolutions with Anti-Aliasing.
- UltraShadow Technology enables a Higher Quality and cinematic experience in games
- CineFX 2.0 Engine delivers cinema-quality video to your PC
- LMA II contains a lossless form of Z-compression, saving memory bandwidth for higher performance

Pixel Shader Support 2.0+
Vertex Shader Support 2.0+
DTV/HDTV decoding
Supported
System requirements

The recommended system requirements for the card and complementary software:
- PC with Pentium 4 / III 450 MHz or AMD Athlon processor with AGP 4x/8x universal slot
-64MB of system memory
-8x speed CD-ROM drive, DVD playback requires DVD drive
- Windows 2000, 98SE, ME, XP and DirectX 9.0
- Microsoft DirectX 3.0 compatible sound card

- 3D Mark detailed specifications

- The chipset

Click to enlarge

With that golden fan the card looks really nice. Also two golden heatsinks cover the DDR2 memories.


After removing the peachy fan, the two memory heatsinks and the heat paste conductor we were able to see the following:

Click to enlarge

Asus V9950 GeForce 5900 exposed for your eyes only.

Click to enlarge
Back side


A closer look at the "brain" of the card,


and the memories. Samsung as usual.

As you can see from above, the Asus FX 5900 is equipped with the following outputs: one VGA, one DVI, and one video out.

- The package

The software bundle contains several tools: ASUS Tweak (overclocking), ASUS SmartDoctor (hardware monitoring), ASUS Video Security, Digital VCR and ASUS Live Update. The card also includes the ASUS DVD XP v4.0 DVD player software and the ASUS GameFace for real-time video/audio communication.

The gaming bundle is a great variety of last year's great games and it's consisted of "Gunmetal" (2003), "Battle Engine Aquila" (2003) and "Delta Force - Black Hawk Down" (2003). A compact disk with the latest gaming demos ("Splinter Cell," "Warcraft III," "Big Mutha Truckers," "Breed," "Colin McRae Rally 3," "Toca Race Driver") is also included. The greatest variety of software we have ever seen.


4. Exair GeForce FX 5900 XT

EXAIR GEFORCE FX 5900 XT 128MB

Established in 1998, Exair Computer began as a hardware manufacturer that marketed Graphic cards, TFT LCD monitors, TV Tuner cards, and Modem for the European market. Exair's VGA card solutions are based on both ATI's and Nvidia's GPUs. If you take a look on Exair's site you will see a great variety of VGA cards such as the Radeon 9800 XT and the Nvidia FX 5950 Ultra high-tech series.

In this comparison review we also include Exair's Geforce 5900 XT with 128MB DDR. Below you can see the preferences, screenshots and general hardware issues about the card. The benchmarks and game test comparisons are included in the following pages.

- Specifications

GPU GEFORCE FX 5900 XT (NV 35)
Memory Bus Width    
128MB DDR MEMORY
Memory interface 256 Bit DDR
Memory Type BGA DDR2
Core Clock 400 MHz
Memory Clock 700 Mhz (2x350)
Memory Bandwidth 22.4 GB/sec
Pixel FillRate 3.2 Gpixels/sec
Geometry rate 300 Mtriangles/sec
Bus 8x/4x/2x AGP
Processing technology 0.15µ
Output Connections VGA + TV + DVI
Cooling single-slot Fansink
2D Display Resolutions & Hz 640x480@240, 800x600@240, 1024x768@200, 1152x864@170, 1280x1024@150, 1600x1200@100, 1920x1440@85, 2048x1536@85
3D Maximum resolution 2048x1536 with 16.7M colors
Anisotropic Filtering modes (AF) 2x/4x/8x/16x
Full Scene Anti-Aliasing (FSAA) modes 2x/4x/6x/8x
Dual Display Supported
Pipelines 4
Texture units per pixel pipeline 2
Technologies supported

- Intellisample HCT is a new compression scheme for better compression at high resolutions with Anti-Aliasing.
- UltraShadow Technology enables a Higher Quality and cinematic experience in games
- CineFX 2.0 doubles the performance of floating-point pixel shader operations.
- LMA II contains a lossless form of Z-compression, saving memory bandwidth for higher performance.

Pixel Shader Support 2.0+
Vertex Shader Support 2.0+
DTV/HDTV decoding
Supported
System requirements

The minimum system requirements for the card and complementary software:
- PC with Pentium 4 / III 450 MHz or AMD Athlon processor with AGP 4x/8x universal slot
-128MB of system memory and 1.6 GB of hard disk space
-8x speed CD-ROM drive, DVD playback requires DVD drive
-300-Watt power supply or greater
- Windows 2000, 98SE, ME, XP and DirectX 9.0
- Microsoft DirectX 3.0 compatible sound card
- Monitor supported: CRT-15 pin, Svideo, Composite and DVI-I (LCD)

Judging by the Specifications of the GeForce FX 5900 XT, we conclude that this model is slightly lighter that its predecessor. When ATI launched its XT series, they were definitely more powerful than its Pro series. It seems that the "XT" expression has different meaning for ATI and Nvidia. So be careful and never judge a VGA card by its name!

- 3D Mark detailed specifications

- The chipset

Click to enlarge

The front side. Nothing revolutionary.

As for the technical aspect, there's nothing spectacular about the card architecture. The plain single-slot Fansink doesn't look very promising and there surely are better cooling solutions than this. Exair has launched some other awesome Nvidia based cards with a lot better and more impressive cooling solutions. You can view them here. Perhaps in the future we'll have the opportunity to review some of them.

and the back side

Samsung memory chipset on board

- Package Contents

-Hardware Installation Guide
-Installation Driver Disk
-DC Cable
-TV connector

 


5. Test specifications

Test specifications

- Test PC

Click to enlarge
Our test PC with Sapphire R9800 Ultimate on.

- Benchmarking Software

- Drivers used


6. 3DMark Benchmark tests

3DMark 2003 Build 340

HomepageAlthough 3DMark is a widely known Direct 3D benchmarking software, we don't recommend it for making concluding decisions about the performance of a VGA card. During 2003 an issue arose, regarding 3DMark's reliability. It was found that Nvidia tweaked its VGA cards in order to show better results with 3DMark. This of course was a great cheat on users and a also a substantial blast for 3Dmark. Madonion, 3DMark's manufacturer, unveiled patches for its software correcting Nvidia's foxy cheat.

The fact is that 3DMark has lost its former glory and many users have stopped trusting it solely. But to be fair it is still a good software for testing a VGA card's capabilities and in our opinion it should not be missing from the user's view.

3Dmark03 is consisted of 4 game benchmarks, sound tests, CPU and feature tests. In this page we offer the average FPS comparison on the game benchmarks, the fillrate test and the pixel shader 2.0 feature tests.

- Game Test 1 - Wings of Fury (DX7)

This test is a combat flight simulator written for older hardware (DirectX 7). Particles are used a lot in this test - smoke and vapour trails, flak and gunfire, and explosions are produced using point sprites and quads.

There are plenty planes but their polygon frame rate is low, as well as single textured background object are used. Hence the average fps (frames per second) are high for all cards.

No minor performance differences, since the DX7 doesn't consume much power of the newest VGA cards. It is visible though, that the ATI cards performed better on this test.

- Game Test 2 - Battle of Proxycon (DX8)

This test is a simulation of first person shooter game types. 1.1 and 1.4 Vertex shaders are widely used since all character models are skinned using vertex shaders.

This makes this test a good vertex shader comparison for VGA cards.

The Radeon 9800 XT shows its teeth on this test, proving its great ability handling vertex shaders.

- Game Test 3 - Trolls' Lair (DX8)

This test should be the favorite of all RPG lovers. It is a cut scene of a female warrior facing two malicious trolls. Again the same vertex and pixel processing is used as in game test 2.

This test also uses post-processing effects, such as Depth of Field and Bloom effects which are widely used in today's game cut scene sequences.

 

Identical fps for the Nvidia cards. Here again the R9800 XT is on top.

- Game Test 4 - Mother Nature (DX9)

This game test represents the level of effects and realism that are possible using 2.0 vertex and pixel shaders, plus some other features that DirectX 9 offers.

The Radeon series are slightly more capable processing vertex and pixel shaders 2.0, according to this test.

- 3DMark Official score

If you test your machine with 3DMark you can post the results at 3DMark' online result browser. For more information visit futuremark.com.

From the start of the 3DMark game test series, the Radeon 9800 XT was on top. This is obvious since the Radeon XT model has the highest core and memory frequencies in comparison with the other cards. It's also the only that comes with 256 DDR. So it would surprise us if the Radeon 9800 XT wasn't first!


7. Aquamark3 Benchmark tests

Aquamark3

Aquamark is a DirectX 9 benchmark and it's very useful for testing a card's performance on DirectX9 applications. The benchmark a real world game engine, named krass Engine.

Unlike synthetic benchmarks Aquamark3 allows benchmarking in a real-world scenario with an engine and art assets representing the complexity of current state-of-the-art games. The results you get from Aquamark vary from Homepagea general result score (AquaMark Triscore), which is a result of 9 chapters each one utilizes different graphical operations.

The chapters are the following:

In this section we present comparison charts for the following chapters:High particle count, Vertex and pixel lightning and Massive Overdraw

- High particle count

This chapter demonstrates a high number of particles being used for simulating dust and smoke. Each particle is approximated by a mass point with one degree of freedom for its rotation.

The particle system of this test is designed to render a large number of physically accurately simulated particles as efficiently as possible.

 

All cards performed similarly, except the FX 9500GE which is a little back.

- Vertex and pixel lightning

The objects in this scene show a broad range of different material and lightning effects used in modern game engines.

Aquamark3 tests two things: It applies many vertex and pixel shader changes straining the graphics hardware and its many texture lookups (determining the lighting contribution and material reflectivity) also strain the Multitexturing and rasterization components.

The GForce FX 5900 XT managed to surpass its rivals with a 52 FPS top score. Here too the FX 9500 GE is last with 5 FPS back from the next card.

- Massive Overdraw

This scene demonstrates the application of the particle system for large explosions. The test stresses the graphics hardware by the high overdraw of textured areas as many particles overlap each other. A huge explosion that is included on this chapter, pushes the VGA card to the limits. It's really awesome if you imagine the number of pixels and shaders needed to make such a bombastic scene.

This is an important test, because the explosions in games require much vertex and pixel processing. In many games when an explosion occurs, this cause frames to drop suddenly at that particular moment. So this test is a simulation of what to expect from your card when facing explosions and other similar effects in games.

The surprise continues with Exair FX 5900 XT on top. This shows the power of the 5900 XT GPU when simulating explosions and other power consuming effects.

- Aquamark Triscore

The Aquamark Triscore comprises 3 values: the overall system performance, the performance of the graphics system and the CPU performance. Keep in mind that this is not the total result of the above tests, but the result of the whole benchmark process including all 9 chapters.

With only 63 points difference than the Radeon 9800 XT, the GeForce FX 5900 XT is at top. Third is the R9800 Pro Ultimate and last the FX 5900GE. These are surprising results since the GeForce 5900 XT has lower specifications than the other chipsets. Now let's see what the codecreatures have to say.


8. Codecreatures Benchmark tests

Codecreatures

HomepageThe Codecreatures benchmark is written with Microsoft's DirectX 8.1 API and incorporates the use of Vertex and PixelShaders popular on next generation 3D accelerators.

The benchmark plays a photo-realistic nature scene and calculates the performance of the graphics adapter by measuring the fps that it can display at 1024x768, 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 resolutions. The score is a geometric mean of those three resolutions called the Codecreatures number.

For this Benchmark we offer the average FPS results of each card in the following resolutions: 1024x768, 1280x1024 and 1600x1200.

From this chart the dominance of the R9800 XT is evident. In all resolutions the R9800 XT was 3 FPS better than the second R9800 Pro Ultimate. Third comes the Asus 5900GE and last the FX 5900 XT.

- Codecreatures number

The codecreatures number is the resulting score of the total benchmarking process.

The Same picture here as with the previous chart. This benchmark corresponds better to the reality and the results are much alike with those we had with 3Dmark. But let's see the cards' performance regarding the OpenGL graphical interface.


9. GL Excess Benchmark tests

GL Excess

HomepageGL Excess is very good tool for measuring the performance of VGA cards on OpenGL applications and games. This benchmark is consisted of 12 scenes grouped in 4 categories (3 scenes in 1 category). Each category renders different OpenGL techniques. The overall result named XSMark is the sum of the first scene of each category. All scenes were run in the 1024x768 resolution at 32bit.

For comparison reason we tested each card with all 4 categories.

- Category 1

The first category include scenes 1,9 and 12. Nothing specific is stressed on these scenes. Just average use of general OpenGL techniques.

The pic you see is from scene 12 is made of three shifting and rotating layers, which are textured in 4 blending modes. Nice effect!

 

 

In this category the ATI cards dominate with the Sapphire 9800 Pro Ultimate first.

- Category 2

The scenes 3,5 and 6 stress the card's 3D particle and polygon processing. Particles are widely used in games and you see them for example when you fire with a laser beam or when you light up a torch.

All 3 scenes are made with a particle system that stresses the card's polygon count and video memory. The spaceship you see in the picture is made of a very large number of polygons.

 

Sapphire still posing first. Perhaps the R9800 XT finds it difficult when processing too many polygons in textures. Here the GeForce cards show their presence.

- Category 3

The third category sum up scenes 4,10 and 11 that render the blending ability of the card. Blending is the mixture of the graphic layers that result in complicated textures and effects.

The fillrate of each card is also stressed in these scenes. So this test should be a reference of the quality of each card.

 

Although the Radeon XT has the highest pixel fillrate, it came second behind the Sapphire Pro model.

- Category 4

Scenes 2 and 7 that constitute this category have to do with multitexturing effects. Multitexturing is the process of applying two or more textures to a single polygon or pixel, in order to provide spectacular images.

Scene 8 uses a sphere map that is mixed to a simple texturing technique in order to give reflection effects. Just to know, the reflection and shadow effects you see in games are being accumulated by the stencil buffer

Interesting. GeForce FX chipsets are better that Radeon when simulating shadows and reflections.

- XS Marks

The XS Marks is the score of the GL Excess benchmark. Keep in mind that this score doesn't sum up the results of all 12 scenes. Also it can be posted on the GL Excess website to compare it with other scores.

Definitely Sapphire is the winner of this test. It seems that the R9800 Pro Ultimate model can process OpenGL applications with flying colors! GL Excess marked the end of the synthetic benchmarks.

Next comes the game benchmarking process.


10. Farcry & Painkiller tests

Farcry

You are Jack Carver running your own boat charter business in beautiful Micronesia. With a past best left behind you, you'll be focusing on your present assignment: escorting an ambitious journalist named Valerie Cortez to the Island of Cabatu. It seems like a piece of cake, but you'll soon learn: paradise can be hell.

Farcry is an awesome First Person Shooter (FPS) based on a last generation 3D engine named as CryEngine. Real-time editing, bump-mapping, static lights, network system, integrated physics system, shaders, shadows and a dynamic music system are just some of the state of-the-art features that the CryEngine offers.

A great advantage and strong point of the CryEngine is its physics system which supports character inverse kinematics, vehicles, rigid bodies, liquid, rag doll, cloth and body effects. All physics seem to be very realistic and you never get bored when facing enemies, since character models have multiple animations that blend in believable ways.

With an integrated shader system and a massive terrain which maximizes the view distance to 2km these features make Farcry a perfect action game and also a referable benchmark to speak of.

- Benchmark Settings

Click to enlargeWe made are own demo with Farcry for benchmarking the VGA cards. For the demo we picked the Fort map and based the character on the top of the mountain where the whole island can been viewed in an unbelievable distance of about 2kilometers. It's really a stressful benchmark for VGA cards since we used the high quality settings for all tests. We were careful not to use many bots because the advanced AI system of the game consumes much CPU power.

The resolutions we run the demo on are the following: 1024x768, 1280x1024 and 1600x1200. The first test was committed with Anti Aliasing (AA) and Anisotropic Filtering (AF) features off. In the second test we leveled up AA at 4x and AF at 8x. Keep in mind that this test is the most stressful of our whole game benchmarks series.

Click to enlargeEven at the 1600x1200 resolution the Exair R9800 XT is on top. The 9800 Pro model comes next and the GeForce models follows. A bug was encountered on the 1024x768 resolution with the GeForce series. Some textures had some other irritating colors as well as some particles occurred. We hope that an update of the game will fix that problem.

 

 

With the AA and AF settings on, the R9800 XT continuous its lead. However we were disappointed by the results of the GeForce VGA cards showing only 13-16 fps in 1024x768 and 1280x1024 resolutions. Keep in mind though that the game's engine has great requirements. Also all stages include a great deal of textures and particles (trees, bushes) as you can see from the screenshot. Imagine processing those textures with Anisotropic Filtering at 4x as we did. Of course a very strong GPU is needed if you have the funny idea to enable AA and AF.

- Painkiller

You play as Daniel Garner, a seemingly regular guy who has just been killed in a horrific car accident. Trapped in a dark and unwelcoming world between heaven and hell, you struggle to uncover the reasons why you've been denied entry into heaven. Awaiting your purification, you must fight through an endless number of demon soldiers as you attempt to stop an imminent unholy war.

If I was told to describe the game in a few words, I would just say "action in its all magnificence". Painkiller it's a FPS, but totally different from other of its kind like Farcry. You see in Painkiller you don't have to use any stealth or tactical abilities. You only shoot and run. An interesting feature of the game is that always you will be outnumbered and surrounded by hordes of enemies. Definitely a pure action game.

Pinkiller's 3D engine, named PAIN Engine, puts out an unbelievably high polygon count, while adding increased texture quality and the latest lighting and shadowing techniques, including soft shadows, DOT3 bump mapping, water reflections, glass simulation, volumetric light and fog, and more.

The game features 24 single-player levels, each one made by an average 350,000 polygons. The game boss monsters are massive made of 8000+ polygons and 2x2048x2048 textures. Enemies also have advanced bump-mapping and lighting models including specular lighting.

- Benchmarking Settings

To test the VGA cards on Painkiller, we recorder a time demo on the Psycho deathmatch stage. We used a multiplayer stage since this was the only way to record a time demo. After this we grabbed the average FPS on the following resolutions: 1024x768, 1280x1024 and 1600x1200. The first test was committed with Anti Aliasing (AA) and Anisotropic Filtering (AF) features off. In the second test we leveled up AA at 4x and AF at 8x.

Many frames for all resolutions. At 1600x1200 things start to clear out. With an average of 75 fps, Exair's R9800 XT is first, Sapphire's R9800 Pro second, and with almost identical fps the GeForce cards follow.

Same results with Anti Aliasing and Anisotropic filtering on. Again Sapphire's Pro model is as good as the XT, on the 1024x768 resolution. A minor drop of fps follows on the other 2 resolutions resulting 41 fps at 1600x1200. Not bad at all having in mind the AA & AF high quality settings are on. Till now Farcry and Painkiller indicated the same thing with similar fps.


11. Unreal Tournament 2004 & 2003 tests

Unreal Tournament 2004

Unreal Tournament 2004 is a multiplayer first person shooter that combines the kill-or-be-killed experience of gladiatorial combat with cutting-edge technology.

Ten game modes - both team-based and "every man for himself" -- provide even the most hardcore gamer with palm-sweating challenges through unbelievably detailed indoor arenas and vast outdoor environments.

As the ultimate techno-gladiator of the future, players will take their fates into their hands, battling against up to 32 other players online in action-packed, frag-filled arenas

- Unreal Tournament 2004 Benchmark

Click to enlargeMany new features and maps are available in Unreal T. 2004. Also the gameplay has changed in many of its game types. For example there is the Onslaught game type where you have to take over the enemy base using warmachines and vehicles in a massive map. For this reason we included an Onslaugh and a Capture The Flag (CTF) map.

As with the other games we conducted the benchmark using our timedemos in the 1024x768, 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 resolutions. All tests were done with the maximum detail settings selected. 2 bots were used on the Ons-Torlan map and 8 bots on the CTF-Bridge of Fate map. First let's see the Onslaught game type test on the Torlan map.

Good results for all cards. On the 1600x1200 resolution though, things start to clear out. R9800 XT comes first with 68 fps and slightly back it's Sapphire's Ultimate model. GeForce cards follows with approximately 10 fps difference.

Setting the Anti Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering on all cards depleted their fps specially in the 1600x1200 high defined resolution. We should mention here that Sapphire's card performed as good as its big brother R9800 XT. Also Asus' 5900 GE showed more stable results with average fps taking the 3rd place.

Also Unreal T. 2004 has the classic CTF game type, which is the most favorite of many gamers. So we could 't just ignore it, but we included in the tests grabbing the average fps on the Bridge of Fate CTF map.

Minor performance differences for all cards. It seems that Unreal T. 2004 is easy for video cards to render. Let's see what happens when enabling AA and AF quality settings.

Now we have a more clear picture. As usual R9800 XT is first, but we were impressed with Asus performance specially at the 1600x1200 resolution.

- Unreal Tournament 2003

In the latest Unreal Tournament series, the player models contain a very high polygonal count. They are extremely detailed from the heads to the feet and they all look totally different from all the other players. The character animations are the most impressive. From running, jumping, and all the death animations.

Thanks to the new karma psychics system, every death is handled in a different way that corresponds to the surrounding environment. If players are shot with a rocket, they will be on fire, or if they die and are on the edge of a cliff, they will roll down according to the bumps of the cliff.

- Unreal Tournament 2003 Benchmark

To test the Unreal T. 2003 we used the deathmatch map dm-antalus with 5 bots. Below you can see the average fps resulted with the same resolutions and quality settings used in UT 2004.

Similar average frames per second for all cards with a slight lead of Exair's R9800 XT.

At 1024x768 for the first time in the whole benchmark series the R9800 XT comes last. Perhaps a bug could have caused this minor fallback. But later on it takes the lead again leaving behind the Radeon Pro and the almost identical GeForce cards.


12. Halo & Tomb Raider:AOD tests
HALO

Halo is a sci-fi shooter that takes place on a mysterious alien ring-world. Packed with combat, Halo will have you battling on foot, and in vehicles, inside and outdoors with Alien and Human weaponry. Your objective: to uncover Halo’s horrible secrets and destroy mankind’s sworn enemy, the Covenant.

The game supports the latest shader technology of pixel shaders 2.0. Of course the graphics are somewhat better on PC than Xbox, since most of the game's shader effects have been redesigned to support the latest 2.0 shaders in DX9. Having that there are few games supporting 2.0 pixel shaders, Halo is a good test for VGA cards performance on the shader technology.

A minor disadvantage of the game is its lack of Anti Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering support. If you get the funny idea to enable these settings via the control panel of your card, you will experience no difference in graphics quality as well as this would slow things down and lose performance.

Halo also supports pixel shaders 1.1 that offer better performance in the cost of quality.

Click to enlarge- Halo Benchmark

For the Halo benchmark we the default settings with pixel shaders 2.0 in the following resolutions: 1024x768, 1280x1024 and the awesome 1600x1200. We used the -timedemo command to run the default benchmark.

 

The "halo" of pixel shading belongs to ATI chipsets. On the web there are benchmark results with Halo, with ATI showing double fps that Nvidia's cards with previous drivers. It seems seems that the 52.xx (Detonator 50) drivers boost up its performance on pixel shading rendering. But let's see also an other game that use Pixel shaders 2.0 on a high extent.

- Tomb Raider : Angel of Darkness

A series of grisly murders brings Lara into conflict with a sinister Alchemist from the past, and a secret alliance of powerful individuals shrouded in mystery. Accused of the murder of her one time mentor, Werner Von Croy, Lara becomes a fugitive on the run. Pursued by the police, she follows the Alchemist into a dark world of blood, betrayal and vengeance where it is up to her to defeat this unholy alliance, and stop them from unleashing their incredible powers on the world.

Angel of Darkness employs a brand new engine with Lara now made up of over 5,000 polygons as opposed to just 500 in previous Tomb Raider games. The range of special effects create a batch of cool visuals.

From the many kinds of water (mercurial liquid forms, good surface texturing, and realistic pools of water) to fire (heat blurs and colorful fiery pits), to the game's many light effects (lots of shadowing, multiple light sources and effective reflections), Core mixes more realistic settings with special effects to create a well-rounded whole. It is wothmentioning though that Tomb Raider: AOD uses pixel shader 2.0 technology on a higher extent than Halo does.

- Tomb Raider:AOD Benchmark

Click to enlargeTo test the VGA cards with AOD we used a timedemo on the Paris stage. The particular room where the timedemo was recorder, is full with complicated fire effects). This benchmark stresses a lot the cards' pixel shading processing, we believe that this is the ultimate pixel shader 2.0 game benchmark.

We grabbed the fps from the timedemo twice. Once with the Anti Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering off (Trillinear was used), and once more with AA at 4x and Anisotropic Filtering just enabled.

Even with the high quality settings off the difference is clearly visible. As Halo indicated, ATI previous generation chipsets are far better processing pixel shaders.

With the quality settings enabled all cards lost a high extent of their performance. At the 1600x1200 the ATI cards dropped dramatically 15 fps as the GeForce FX cards had a 9 fps difference which shows that GeForce cards are more stable between resolutions.


13. Overclocking

OVERCLOCKING CAPABILITIES

- ATI overclocking

We used ATI Tool for leveling up the clock speeds and checking the effectiveness of each Radeon card. We highly recommend ATITool for both beginners and hardcore overclockers.

The ATI Tool has a 3D interface (pic on the left) with which you can test the correspondence and success of each overclock adjustment you applied. After setting a clock speed of either core or memory, then by clicking on the test button, the program scans for artifacts on its cubic 3D interface.

You can continue the scanning for as long as you like and we recommend to keep it running for 30 minutes minimum. If any errors or artifacts occur then just lower the speeds by 10 or 15 Mhz until you reach a no error state.


The main window of ATITool

- NVidia overclocking

Things are different with the NVidia cards. You see there is no any Nvidia exclusive tool for overclocking but RivaTuner can be used to adjust your card's clock speeds. However the same can be done via NVidia's control panel after having applied a patch that reveals the hidden features.

We don't recommend this because it won't let you adjust the clock speeds as high as you want. We should note here that GeForce cards after reaching a specific temperature value the default clock speeds are restored after having restarted your system. This of course is being done without the confirmation of the user, so always double check if the clock speeds are those you entered.


Riva Tuner control panel

Unfortunately RivaTuner don't have an artifact scaning feature so we had to check for artifacts and instabilities manually. All tests for verification a successful overclock were done manually using 3DMark, Codecreatures, Farcry, Halo and Unreal Tournament 2004.

The default values of the core and memory clock frequencies of each card, and the achieved overclocked frequencies are shown in the following table:

 
Default speeds
Overclocked Speeds
Model
Core
Memory
Core
Memory
Sapphire R9800 Pro Ultimate 128
380
680
440
700
Exair R9800 XT 256
412
730
450
740
Exair GeForce FX 5900XT 128
400
700
450
720
Asus GeForce FX 5900 128
400
700
475
730

- Overclocking Sapphire R9800 Pro Ultimate 128

As mentioned before Sapphire's R9800 Pro Ultimate model has its memory clock speed underclocked to 680Mhz and it's core to 380. As referred on the first page, the Ultimate series are equipped with a massive heat sink solution. The reason is to substitute the fan resulting in a soundless VGA card. So the underclock was done to protect the chipset from overheating.

To be honest I didn't expect to achieve high overclocking speeds. But I was wrong since the card performed flawlessly after having overclocked it at 440 for its core clock and 700 for its memory. Having in mind that its default clock speeds are 380 and 680 for core and memory respectively, this is a very good overclock level after all.

Below we grabbed some fps with Farcry and Unreal 2004 to see the performance difference.



Somewhat noticeable performance difference specially with Unreal Tournament 2004 with 10 frames higher. In farcry and Halo you will not notice the difference after having overclocked the card.

- Overclocking Exair R9800 XT 256

As referred the Radeon 9800 XT is the Pro model but with higher clock speeds. Well, we tried to push the speeds a little more higher and we achieved overclocking the card at 450Mhz for the core and 740Mhz for memory. Radeon's 9800 XT default values are 412Mhz and 730Mhz for core and memory respectively.

Have a look on the following charts to see the difference.



Although 3DMark, Farcry and Unreal Tournament 2004 were played flawlessly without any artifacts, in Halo we experienced some irritating triangles coming from nowhere. Thus, we recommended to low down the clock speeds when playing Halo and games that support pixel shaders 2.0 in high extent.

- Overclocking Exair GeForce FX 5900XT 128

The default clock speeds of the GeForce FX 5900 XT are 400 and 700 for core and memory. We managed to reach 450 for the core and 720 for the memory.



Slight performance difference on Halo and Farcry, but Unreal tournament on 1024x768 resolution with Anti Aliasing at 4x and Anisotropic Filtering at 8x showed an impressive 13 fps score.

- Overclocking Asus GeForce FX 5900GE 128

As the XT model Asus GeForce FX 5900GE runs at the same 400/700 (core/memory) speeds. But the overclocking we achieved with this card at 475/730 (core/memory) is somewhat higher than the one achieved with the XT. We were surprised with such high a core speed worked. Now let's see if the performance justifies our surprisment.



Indeed, Asus GeForce FX 5900GE is really apt on overclocking. Good fps achieved with Farcry too.


14. Conclusion

Conclusion

-RADEON 9800 XT 256MB

Yes, Exair's Radeon 9800 XT is definitely the best card from the other series we tested. Unfortunately it can not be found less than $390 (320 euro) remaining unaffordable for the mid-user. Despite the release of the next generation VGA cards (X800 and 6800), the price of the R9800 XT is still high. We expect this to change since ATI's X800 chipset will are to substitute the R9800 ones.

Of course this card is referred to the power user who have no problem giving something more to have a top notch VGA card in his system. Also some good overclocking speeds were achieved resulting to even better performance and higher fps.

- RADEON 9800 PRO ULTIMATE ATLANTIS 128MB

If the silent operation is an important factor to you in purchasing a video card, but you are not disposed to compromise much performance, then Sapphire's Radeon 9800 PRO Ultimate represents at the moment the ideal VGA card for you.

As for the performance, using the Pro GPU, is not as good as the R9800 XT. We mentioned before that the Ultimate version differentiates from the Pro for its heatsink solution. An other minor difference from the plain Pro model is that the Ultimate version is underclocked at 680 Mhz memory from the 700 Mhz the Pro model is.

Keep in mind though that if you wish to overclock this card you will definitely need an efficiently ventilated cooling case. Though we recommend not to overclock the card, since you won't experience any big difference on its performance. If you like playing with fire and overclocking is your life then this card it's not for you. But if you are a movie fan or someone who spend many hours in front of his PC and finds the fan noise irritating then Sapphire's Ultimate series are just for you.

There is a 256 MB version of this card available on the market. The prices of both 128 and 256MB models are over $420 (344 euro).

 

Advertising

- GEFORCE FX 5900 XT 128MB

Exair's FX 5900 card is definitely a good affordable product for everyone. Although it didn't catch up with the ATI chipsets we tested, it managed though to keep a quite acceptable fps record. We found the card with less than $190 (156 euro), and that makes it a very affordable product.

Overclockers might not be very satisfied with Exair's FX 5900XT after we managed to overclock the card only 50Mhz more for the core and 20 more for memory. Keep in mind that the XT versions are lighter than the normal GeForce FX 5900. This is not the case with ATI's XT series since Radeon XT cards are a lot better than its non-XT models. So use discrimination when shopping video cards.

- ASUS V9950 FX 5900 GE 128MB

We expected much from the Asus FX5900 Gamer's Edition, but unfortunately it didn't meet our expectations. According to the game benchmarks, it seems that the GE series performs like the XT versions. Having this in mind this card is for the gamer who wants a fair solution for his system. But to be fair, although FX 5900 GE didn't perform as good as the ATI video cards, it showed satisfying fps at the medium resolutions. The strong points of this card is that its ships with an incredible software and game bundle at the affordable price the XT version has.

An other strong point of the card is its high overclocking capabilities. As you saw V9950 FX 5900 GE was successfully overclockable at 475Mhz for its core! This is truly a very good core clock speed and resulted in a noticeable performance increase. In our opinion it should be named Overclocker edition than Gamer edition...



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