AMD’s graphics division, the former ATI Technologies, loves a good surprise. The company has been a perennial also-ran in the graphics performance arena, but every now and then, it one-ups the competition in a big way. That happened back in 2002, with the launch of the original Radeon 9700, which stole the performance lead from archrival Nvidia. It happened again last year, with the Radeon HD 4800 series. The 4850, 4870, and 4890 weren’t always faster than the competition, but they were small, efficient chips that forced Nvidia into a price war that was good for users but bad for Nvidia’s bottom line.
Now AMD’s doing it again, putting some serious hurt on the competition with the first GPU to support Microsoft’s upcoming DirectX 11 API. AMD’s also been paying close attention to the emerging market for non-gaming apps accelerated by GPUs, such as video transcoding and digital photography, fully supporting DirectCompute 11 and OpenCL standards for general purpose computing on graphics cards.
This new chip is no shrinking violet in the numbers department. Every number associated with the new Radeon 5800 series is staggering: 2.15 billion transistors, 2.7 trillion floating-point operations a second, more than 20 gigapixels per second throughput, 1,600 shader units. Other numbers impress because of their smallness. One example: The idle power is a scant 27W— lower than many entry level GPUs.
Given the sheer scale and ambition of this GPU, does it deliver in the performance realm? And will it deliver at a price normal humans can afford? Let’s find out.
Today’s graphics cards can barely handle one 30-inch monitor in gaming. Pushing around 2560x1600 pixels is a challenge for current-generation GPUs. While it’s true that each new generation of graphics cards can push performance, we weren’t quite prepared for the preview AMD gave us of its upcoming DirectX 11–capable graphics hardware.
AMD ushered us into its Sunnyvale, CA, test lab, where it had a high-end system set up with a single graphics card. AMD would only disclose that the card had a single GPU, and was one of the company’s upcoming DirectX 11–capable chips—nothing about the amount of video RAM, clock speeds, or anything else. This particular graphics card also sported six DisplayPort connectors. Attached to each DisplayPort connector was a 30-inch Dell display. The whole affair was configured as a single, 7680x3200 monitor. That's 24.6 megapixels!
Sure, you say, you can hook up six monitors and run Windows… but can it do 3D?
As a general rule, our belief is that pairing two slow-performing cards using SLI or CrossFire is a bad idea—you’re usually better off running a single faster card. However, the Radeon 4850 X2 delivers astounding performance compared to the single-GPU boards in its price range, spanking the Radeon 4870 and the GeForce GTX 280, with none of the pitfalls that have plagued dual-GPU boards in the past.
At the heart of the board is a pair of ATI’s RV770 GPUs running at 625MHz, just like the single-GPU in the 4850 boards. Each GPU features a full complement of 800 stream processors, which are connected to identical 1GB GDDR3 frame buffers running at 993MHz on a 256-bit bus. Although X2 boards are labeled as featuring 2GB of memory, because the contents of each GPU’s frame buffer must be mirrored, applications can utilize only 1GB of video memory.
Stop the presses! (Ok, maybe not). We wanted to let you know that Best of the Best, our comprehensive list of our favorite PC hardware components, has just been updated and overhauled with new categories and parts that you’ll need to consider for your next PC build or upgrade.
In addition to three new processor categories (Extreme, $500, and $250), we’ve listed our pick for the top Core i7 motherboard. The budget through high-end GPU lineup as also been refreshed, and we now make two hard drive recommendations based on performance and capacity.
When Nvidia unveiled its G200 GPU, we were immediately drawn to the shiny, speedy GeForce GTX 280. Why wouldn’t we be? With high core and memory clocks and 240 stream processors to churn through the toughest shaders, it was sexy and fast. We were less excited about the 260, which sported 192 stream processors and slower clocks speeds but cost about $100 less than the 280 (at the time). Since then, ATI has released its R700-based Radeon 4870, which outperforms the original 260 but costs the same amount.
And that’s where the Core 216 edition of the 260 GTX comes in. With the same stock clock speeds but 24 more shader processors than the original, the new version of the 260 GTX delivers comparable performance to the 4870 at a similar price. The speeds and feeds are about the same as the original 260’s, although EVGA clocked this card’s core at 626MHz (up from 576MHz stock) and includes 896MB of GDDR3 running on a 448-bit bus at 1053MHz (stock is 999MHz).
The 4870 X2 outperformed the previous single-card performance champ in most of our benchmarks, delivering playable frame rates at 1920x1200 and 2560x1600 in nearly every game we tested. Naturally, the exception remains Crysis, which, at its highest quality settings, punishes nearly every system we’ve tested. We’re slightly concerned about the accuracy of our Crysis benchmarks; the ATI card seemed to render far-off textures at a higher resolution than the Nvidia card.
As always with high-end cards, if you’re running a low-resolution display—pretty much anything below 1920x1200—you won’t be able to harness the full power of this card. At lower resolutions, the 4870 X2 performs exactly the same as the single-GPU 4870. For anyone running a high-res panel, the X2 truly kicks ass.
Asus has laid claim to launching the world's most intelligent graphics card with the release of their ROG (Republic of Gamers) EN9600GT MATRIX/HTDI/512M. Asus goes on to say, “Much like a sci-fi movie where the protagonists can do just about anything, the ROG MATRIX Series will allow gamers to unleash the true power of graphics cards.” Can you smell the hype? I love the smell of hype in the morning.
Make the jump to hear more about the MATRIX EN9600GT video card including specs!
Watching the ongoing race between AMD and Nvidia to build the ultimate graphics processor reminds us of the tale of the tortoise and the hare. AMD has played the hare, aggressively bounding ahead of Nvidia in terms of process size, number of stream processors, frame buffer size, memory interface, die size, and even memory type. Yet Nvidia always manages to snag the performance crown. The GeForce 200 series is but the latest example. We lay hands on the smokin’-fast GeForce GTX 280. Could this be the graphics processor to finally tame Crysis? We reveal what makes the card unique and how its architectural advances translate in the benchmarks!
We were so pleased with the price/performance ratio of AMD’s Radeon HD 3870 that we awarded Asus’s implementation of it a 9 Kick Ass verdict in our January 2008 issue. We’re not nearly as impressed with the gaming performance of the architecture’s cheaper cousin, the Radeon HD 3850.