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» Channels :: Graphics Card
Sapphire Radeon X300 SE 128MB HyperMemory (PCIe)
By Vincent Chang
Category : Graphics
Published by Vijay Anand on Thursday, 25th August, 2005
Rating : 4 out of 5 stars  


Introduction

The advent of the PCI Express (PCIe) interface for graphics cards has brought along tangible benefits for both manufacturers and consumers. Compared to the older AGP standard, the greater bandwidth and higher transfer rates of PCIe are some of the more obvious advantages. Even if most implementations of the interface have yet to achieve the theoretical limits, the results are encouraging and bode well for future, more bandwidth intensive tasks like HD video streaming where GPUs can play a useful role.

However, both ATI and NVIDIA have not missed the opportunity to rehash an idea from the past, which was that of storing large textures in the system memory and then accessing them when needed. In effect, this is analogous to what your operating system does with the swap/page file, in which case, we have the hard drive performing a similar role. While this was initially mooted and implemented with AGP cards, the limitations of the technology then meant that it was an idea ahead of its time, as the results were not impressive. Things are slightly different now due to the wider and faster PCIe interface that has equal upstream and downstream bandwidth and that has convinced chipmakers to give it another shot.

For the manufacturers, using the system memory to supplement the onboard graphics memory meant that they could get away with less onboard components, and produce low budget graphics cards that are a step up from the usual integrated graphics option and thereby compete with the dominant integrated graphics maker, Intel. After all, there's the general impression that having a discrete graphics card is better than integrated graphics. Having really low budget cards will almost certainly attract mainstream consumers, especially when it comes 'branded' with the ATI or NVIDIA logo, unlike the generic integrated graphics solution and besides, some of those implementations have their drawbacks.

As expected, we have two competing technologies from the present graphics duopoly. Despite starting from the same concept, both graphics chipmakers have quite different implementations. NVIDIA uses a technology that has a mix of both software (TurboCache Manager) and hardware (onboard memory management unit) components, dubbed TurboCache. Meanwhile, ATI has gone purely software, depending on memory management algorithms, which they have named HyperMemory. Unlike NVIDIA's more complex TurboCache scheme that even allows direct rendering to the main memory, ATI's HyperMemory only writes to the local memory. This means if the local memory is full, its holding data has to be swapped out to the main memory before the GPU can write to the local memory. While the operating algorithm is simple, memory swapping occurs more often. So which side has the superior technology?

We shall not be answering that question directly as that is not our focus in this review. Hence, there would not be an in-depth analysis and comparison of the two technologies, though you may still find the results relevant enough to form your own conclusions from them. For more information on NVIDIA's TurboCache, you can refer to our previous in-depth coverage . Instead, we shall be focusing on a low budget graphics card retail solution based on ATI's HyperMemory technology, the Sapphire Radeon X300 SE and see how it performs against other budget cards.

The low end budget cards get smaller retail boxes, as we can see here for the Sapphire Radeon X300 SE 128MB HyperMemory.

Sapphire Radeon X300 SE 128MB HyperMemory Technical Specifications
Graphics Engine
  • ATI RADEON X300 Visual Processing Unit (VPU)
  • Stock VPU clock = 325MHz
  • 4 parallel rendering pixel pipelines
  • 2 programmable vertex shader pipelines
  • 64-bit memory interface
  • SMARTSHADER™ 2.0
    • Programmable vertex and pixel shaders
    • Pixel Shaders
      • up to 160 instructions with 128-bit floating point precision
      • Realistic lighting of any kind of surface
      • Varying properties of a material across a surface
      • Accurate modelling of objects with microstructure
      • Horizon mapping
    • Vertex Shaders
      • Supports up to 160 instructions and 16 textures per rendering pass
      • Procedural deformation
      • Fur rendering
      • Advanced keyframe interpolation
      • Shadow volume extrusion
      • Particle systems
      • Many light sources
      • Lens effects
      • Advanced matrix palette skinning
    • Multiple render target support
    • Shadow volume rendering acceleration
    • High precision 10-bit per channel frame buffer support
    • Supports DirectX® 9.0 and the latest version of OpenGL
  • SMOOTHVISION™ 2.1
    • 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 to 6: 1) at all resolutions, including widescreen HDTV resolutions
    • 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™ III
    • 3-level Hierarchical Z-Buffer with early Z test
    • Lossless Z-Buffer compression (up to 24:1)
    • Fast Z-Buffer Clear
  • VIDEOSHADER™
    • Seamless integration of pixel shaders with video
    • FULLSTREAM™ video de-blocking technology
    • Noise removal filtering for captured video
  • Dual integrated display controllers
  • MPEG-2 decoding with motion compensation, iDCT and color space conversion
  • All-format DTV/HDTV decoding
  • YPrPb component output
  • Adaptive de-interlacing and frame rate conversion
Graphics Memory
  • 128MB Effective Frame Buffer Size with HyperMemory
  • 32MB DDR1 SDRAM Onboard
  • Default Memory clock = 295MHz (590MHz DDR)
RAMDAC
  • Dual integrated 10-bit per channel 400MHz DACs
  • Integrated 165MHz TMDS transmitter (DVI 1.0 compliant and HDCP ready)
I/O Faceplate Connectors
  • 1 x DVI-I connector
  • 1 x mini-DIN connector
  • 1 x analog VGA connector
Drivers & Software
  • Driver support for Windows 98SE / Me / NT / 2000 / XP
Other Information
  • PCI Express x16 required
  • Requires a minimum of 256MB system memory to be installed

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