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GeCube X800XLA-VIVO 256MB (RADEON X800 XL - AGP)
By Vincent Chang
Category : Graphics
Published by Vijay Anand on Friday, 6th May, 2005
Rating : 4 out of 5 stars  


The Coming of the Rialto

One of the most anticipated games ever, Valve's first person shooter, Half Life 2 has sold an estimated 1.7 million retail copies to date. The game utilizes a proprietary graphics engine – Source, which boasts the latest in 3D graphics technology that by all accounts, only the current generation of graphics card could handle with aplomb. As all users have to go through Valve's Steam application to play the game, it was relatively easy for Valve to survey the gaming hardware used by their customers. What the Valve survey found was that contrary to some expectations, the most popular graphics card used to play Half Life 2 was the ATI RADEON 9800 series with around 10% of the survey population. And probably the most surprising fact of all: the ancient NVIDIA GeForce 4 MX series of cards was ranked third in popularity with around 8%. Of the current generation of graphics card, the highest ranked was the NVIDIA GeForce 6800 GT, with a paltry 2.5%.

Fans from the NVIDIA and ATI camps can have a field day arguing over which side is more popular among end users, depending on how they frame the statistics. However, from our point of view, it seems that there is a sizeable population that does not see the necessity to upgrade their computer hardware. Considering that those surveyed are gamers who arguably tax their hardware more than your usual Internet/email users and hence likely to demand more of their hardware, the situation speaks volumes. Leaving the techies out of the picture, most people do not upgrade that often. Instead, they are satisfied with older hardware that enthusiasts would deem obsolete. To these slow adopters, getting them to change to a new technology like PCI Express would be extremely difficult. Not only would they have to change their graphics card, they would require a new motherboard and CPU among many other components. Technology companies cannot afford to overlook this group of end users, especially since the AGP standard has been around close to a decade. This brings us to our main topic of discussion today, the introduction of the Rialto bridge chips and our subsequent review of a GeCube RADEON X800 XL graphics card that integrates this technology.

The bright and colorful packaging aims to catch your fancy.

PCI Express has been touted as the replacement for the existing PCI and AGP standards. Intel has been one of its most fervent advocates, releasing new chipsets that support PCI Express only. Following suit, the graphics card industry has responded with new PCI Express products from both ATI and NVIDIA. Yet, as the Valve survey findings illustrates, many end-users are seemingly content with their older hardware. They are not likely to switch to PCI Express in the very near future, especially since that would entail such a major upgrade. Hence, for the next two years at least, AGP would probably coexist well in huge numbers along with the steadily growing PCI Express user group.

This is where ATI has been slow off the block. While NVIDIA released an AGP compatible version of its GeForce 6 series towards the end of last year using its High-Speed Interconnect (HSI) bridge chip, ATI only had a similar chip ready early this year. Only now we are beginning to see cards using this supporting chip, the ATI Rialto bridge chip. Simply put, the Rialto bridge chip translates PCI Express signals into AGP signals, thereby allowing ATI to manufacture AGP products based on some of their native PCI Express RADEON Visual Processing Units (VPUs). This is crucial because when it came to AGP compatible cards, there was a gaping hole in ATI's product lineup. While NVIDIA's GeForce 6800 GT on the upper performance scale was chewing up the competition within its price segment in both the PCI Express and AGP markets, the only comparable AGP card from ATI, the RADEON X800 PRO, just couldn't keep up. The Rialto chip would enable ATI's RADEON X800 XL cards to better compete in both markets. Fittingly, today we will be looking at our first Rialto-powered card, the GeCube RADEON X800XLA-VIVO 256MB. The technical specifications are shown below:

GeCube RADEON X800XLA-VIVO Technical Specifications
Graphics Engine
  • ATI RADEON X800 XL Visual Processing Unit (VPU)
  • Rialto Bridge Chip (PCI-Express to AGP bridge chipset)
  • Stock VPU clock = 400 MHz
  • 16 parallel rendering pipelines
  • 6 parallel geometry engines
  • 256-bit memory interface
  • AGP 8X/4X/2X
  • SMARTSHADER™ HD
    • Full support for Microsoft® DirectX® 9.0 programmable vertex and pixel shaders in hardware
    • 2.0 Vertex Shaders
      • Supports vertex programs up to 65,280 instructions with flow control
      • Single cycle trigonometric operations (SIN & COS)
    • 2.0 Extended Pixel Shaders
      • Supports up to 1,536 instructions and 16 textures per rendering pass
      • 2nd Generation F-buffer technology accelerates multi-pass pixel shader programs with unlimited instructions
      • 32 temporary and constant registers
      • Facing register for two-sided lighting
      • 128-bit, 64-bit & 32-bit per pixel floating point color formats
      • Multiple Render Target (MRT) support
    • Complete feature set also supported in OpenGL® via extensions
  • SMOOTHVISION™ HD
    • 2x/4x/6x full scene anti-aliasing modes
      • Sparse multi-sample algorithm with gamma correction, programmable sample patterns, and centroid sampling
      • Lossless Color Compression (up to6: 1) at all resolutions, including widescreen HDTV resolutions
      • Temporal Anti-Aliasing
    • 2x/4x/8x/16x anisotropic filtering modes
      • Up to 128-tap texture filtering
      • (Adaptive algorithm with bi-linear (performance) and tri-linear (quality) options)
  • 3Dc™
    • High quality 4:1 Normal Map Compression
    • Works with any two-channel data format
  • HYPER Z™ HD
    • 3-level Hierarchical Z-Buffer with early Z test
    • Lossless Z-Buffer compression (up to 48:1)
    • Fast Z-Buffer Clear
    • Z cache optimized for real-time shadow rendering
    • Optimized for performance at high display resolutions, including widescreen HDTV resolutions
  • VIDEOSHADER™ HD
    • Seamless integration of pixel shaders with video in real time
    • FULLSTREAM™ video de-blocking technology for Real, DivX, and WMV9 formats
    • VIDEOSOAP™ noise removal filtering for captured video
    • All-format DTV/HDTV decoding
    • Adaptive Per-Pixel De-Interlacing and Frame Rate Conversion (temporal filtering)
  • Dual integrated display controllers
  • Single and dual link external TMDS transmitter support for high resolution and/or multi-monitor DVI configurations
Graphics Memory
  • 256MB DDR3 SDRAM (Samsung GC-16, 1.6ns)
  • Default Memory clock = 1.04 GHz (520 MHz DDR)
RAMDAC
  • Dual integrated 10-bit per channel 400 MHz DACs
  • Integrated 165 MHz TMDS transmitter (DVI 1.0 compliant and HDCP ready)
I/O Faceplate Connectors
  • DVI-I connector
  • 9-pin mini-DIN connector
  • Standard VGA monitor output
Drivers & Software
  • Driver support for Windows 98SE / Me / 2000 / XP
  • CyberLink PowerDVD 5.0
  • CyberLink PowerDirector 2.5ME
  • Counter Strike: Condition Zero
Other Information
  • AGP 2.0 / 3.0 slot required (1.5V)

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