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Gigabyte RADEON X1800 XL PCI-E 256MB
Gigabyte GeForce 6600GT Silent PCI-E 256MB DDR2
Based on NVIDIA GeForce 6600GT/ATI RADEON X1800XL

December 28, 2005








TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Introduction
  2. Video cards' features
  3. Testbed configurations, benchmarks
  4. Test results
  5. Conclusions



Any IT branch has its highs and lows as well as protracted periods of slow evolutional changes. The same applies to 3D graphics. Rapid highs in 2004 ended in slow evolutional addons. Only Canadian ATI made a final lunge in DirectX 9.0c graphics with SM 3.0, having launched RADEON X1xxx.

What next? There will be nothing new in terms of technologies up to DirectX 10 (it will appear only in the end of 2006). We've reached maximum. Indeed, it's true for Hi-End series. Now the companies plan to correct all drawbacks, cure drivers from old diseases, etc. By the way, NVIDIA had better improve the long-standing problem with low quality of filtering by default - a number of useful optimizations are disabled in the drivers when you switch to High Quality. It's high time to separate the husk from the grain.

So, if the field of the most expensive and the most powerful accelerators still registers some movements, everything is clear in Middle End, all the niches are occupied. As for now, only a pale release of the X1600 series from ATI added something new and formed new competition (though these cards are still scarce on the market).

That's why manufacturers are seeking ways to attract attention to traditional GeForce 6600/6600GT. One of such solutions is to install fanless cooling systems not only on the less powerful 6600, but even on the 6600GT.

Today we are going to review one of such cards from Gigabyte. We'll also review a new card based on RADEON X1800 XL, though it features nothing new - just a reference card.

Video Cards



Gigabyte RADEON X1800 XL PCI-E 256MB
Interface: PCI-Express x16

Frequencies (chip/memory — physical (memory — effective): 500/500 (1000) MHz (nominal - 500/500 (1000) MHz)

Memory bus width: 256bit

Number of vertex pipelines: 8

Number of pixel pipelines: 16

Dimensions: 205x100x15mm (the last figure is the maximum thickness of a video card).

PCB color: red.

Output connectors: 2xDVI, S-Video.

VIVO: available (RAGE Theater)

TV-out: integrated into GPU.




Gigabyte GeForce 6600GT Silent PCI-E 256MB DDR2
Interface: PCI-Express x16

Frequencies (chip/memory — physical (memory — effective): 500/400 (800) MHz (nominal - 500/500 (1000) MHz)

Memory bus width: 128bit

Number of vertex pipelines: 3

Number of pixel pipelines: 8

Dimensions: 175x100x32mm (the last figure is the maximum thickness of a video card).

PCB color: blue.

Output connectors: DVI, d-Sub, S-Video.

VIVO: not available

TV-out: integrated into GPU.






Gigabyte RADEON X1800 XL PCI-E 256MB
The video card has 256 MB of GDDR3 SDRAM allocated in eight chips on the front side of the PCB.

Samsung (GDDR3) memory chips. 1.4ns memory access time, which corresponds to 700 (1400) MHz.




Gigabyte GeForce 6600GT Silent PCI-E 256MB DDR2
The video card has 256 MB of GDDR2 SDRAM memory, allocated in 8 chips on the front side of the PCB.

Infineon memory chips. 2.5 ns memory access time, which corresponds to 400 (800) MHz.






Comparison with the reference design, front view
Gigabyte RADEON X1800 XL PCI-E 256MB
Reference card ATI RADEON X1800 XL
Gigabyte GeForce 6600GT Silent PCI-E 256MB DDR2
Reference card NVIDIA GeForce 6600 DDR2


Comparison with the reference design, back view
Gigabyte RADEON X1800 XL PCI-E 256MB
Reference card ATI RADEON X1800 XL
Gigabyte GeForce 6600GT Silent PCI-E 256MB DDR2
Reference card NVIDIA GeForce 6600 DDR2


Everything is clear about the X1800 XL, I guess: the card is manufactured by ATI's order. That is it's a reference card, all partners just label such products with their own stickers.

What concerns the GeForce 6600GT Silent, I intentionally compared the design of this card with the GeForce 6600 DDR2. Their designs are evidently identical. This is not as good as it seems. First of all, because it uses the same memory (as in the 6600 DDR2), operating at just 400 MHz instead of 500 MHz. I don't understand why a new cooling system was not installed on the regular 6600GT with GDDR3 memory not to break the nominal operating mode? The core operates at the standard frequency of 500 MHz anyway.

There is an evident explanation here: 256 MB of memory! The standard 6600GT design provides for 128 MB only. So either to create a new 6600GT design (ASUS actually did it easily) supporting 256MB GDDR3 or to use the 6600 DDR2 design, since the reference design is already available. Engineers have chosen the second option. They still didn't risk installing DDR2 2.0ns that gets heated so much to get 500 MHz, this design does not support it.

The cooling system on this card can be seen well on the above photos, including the collage. It's a usual double device (two heatsinks connected with heat pipes) - we have seen a similar design many times. But in this case, it's reinforced with another heatsink, which can channel the heat outside a PC case (there are tabs, though quite symbolic due to the lack of fans). It's installed next to the output jacks. Nevertheless, if a PC case is blown through well, this cooler gets much more efficient.

But the X1800 XL sticks to the standards: a closed heatsink with a fan shifted to the left that drives the air through the housing above the processor. The rotational speed of the fan varies from 2000 to 3500 rpm, it's driver-controlled depending on the heating (you can also control it via RivaTuner 15.8).

Even though the device is obviously thin, this is hardly a good solution, as the fan periodically changes its rotational speed under 3D load (the effect of overheating), which is not at all comfortable for your ears. The cooler also has a copper heatsink in a housing, but in this case the turbine drives the air in the opposite direction — inside the system unit. That's all right for a lower-clocked core, but I think that the overall temperature of the card is still rather high.

That's a description of the reference cooler, but this Gigabyte card has got an absolutely identical model, there is just a sticker from this company on top.

Note that the X1800XL is equipped with two DVI connectors, while the 6600GT has d-Sub and DVI. You can also see that the first card is equipped with RAGE Theater coder, thus the device supports VIVO. This is not the case with the 6600GT.

Bundle

Gigabyte RADEON X1800 XL PCI-E 256MB
User's Guide, CD with drivers, games, DVI-to-d-Sub, HDTV/VIVO adapters, external power cable.


Gigabyte GeForce 6600GT Silent PCI-E 256MB DDR2
User's Guide, CD with drivers, DVI-to-d-Sub, HDTV/SVideo-to-RCA adapters.




Packages.

Gigabyte RADEON X1800 XL PCI-E 256MB

These products are packaged in boxes made of thick white cardboard inside bright covers. Interestingly, the company sort of changed the orientation of the box from landscape to portrait (pictures and labels can be read when you put the box vertically).




Gigabyte GeForce 6600GT Silent PCI-E 256MB DDR2

A similar box, but a bright jacket has a different design.






Installation and Drivers

Testbed configurations:

  • Athlon 64 (939Socket) based computer
    • CPU: AMD Athlon 4000+ (2400MHz) (L2=1024K)
    • Motherboard: ASUS A8N SLI Deluxe based on NVIDIA nForce4 SLI
    • RAM: 1 GB DDR SDRAM 400MHz (CAS (tCL)=2.5; RAS to CAS delay (tRCD)=3; Row Precharge (tRP)=3; tRAS=6)
    • HDD: WD Caviar SE WD1600JD 160GB SATA

  • Operating system: Windows XP SP2 DirectX 9.0c
  • Monitors: ViewSonic P810 (21") and Mitsubishi Diamond Pro 2070sb (21").
  • ATI Drivers (PCI-E video cards) 6.575 (CATALYST 5.10); NVIDIA Drivers 81.94.

VSync is disabled.

A few words on overclocking. Here are the frequencies we managed to get:

  • Gigabyte RADEON X1800 XL PCI-E 256MB: 559/1250 MHz (memory voltage is definitely reduced, as the 1.4ns memory couldn't work even at the standard frequency of 700 MHz)
  • Gigabyte GeForce 6600GT Silent PCI-E 256MB DDR2: 535/920 MHz

Test results: performance comparison

We used the following test applications:

  • Splinter Cell Chaos of Theory v.1.04 (Ubisoft) — DirectX 9.0, multitexturing, maximum test settings, shaders 3.0 (for NVIDIA cards)/shaders 2.0 (for ATI cards); HDR OFF!

  • Half-Life2 (Valve/Sierra) — DirectX 9.0, demo (ixbt01, ixbt02, ixbt03. Tests were carried out with maximum quality, -dxlevel 90 option, we removed presets for video cards in dxsupport.cfg).

  • FarCry 1.33 (Crytek/UbiSoft), DirectX 9.0, multitexturing, 3 demos from Research, Pier, Regulator levels (-DEVMODE startup option), Very High test settings.

  • DOOM III (id Software/Activision) — OpenGL, multitexturing, test settings — High Quality (ANIS8x), demo ixbt1 (33MB!). We have a sample batch file to start the game automatically with increased speed and reduced jerking (precaching) d3auto.rar. (DO NOT BE AFRAID of the black screen after the first menu, that's how it should be! It will last 5-10 seconds and then the demo should start)

  • 3DMark05 1.20 (FutureMark) — DirectX 9.0, multitexturing, test settings — trilinear,

  • The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay 1.10 (Starbreeze/Vivendi) — OpenGL, multitexturing, test settings — maximum texture quality, Shader 2.0, demo 44 and demo ducche.

  • F.E.A.R. v.1.01 (Multiplayer) (Monolith/Sierra) — DirectX 9.0, multitexturing, test settings — maximum, Soft shadows disabled.

  • BattleField 2 (Ubisoft) — DirectX 9.0, multitexturing, test settings — maximum, shaders 2.0 tests in Benchemall

  • Call Of Duty 2 DEMO (Ubisoft) — DirectX 9.0, multitexturing, test settings — maximum, shaders 2.0, tested in Benchemall, demo and a startup script, readme contains necessary instructions

    I wish to thank Rinat Dosayev (AKA 4uckall) and Alexei Ostrovski (AKA Ducche), who have created a demo for this game. I also want to thank Alexei Berillo AKA Somebody Else for his help.



Summary performance diagrams for PCI-Express video cards



Conclusions

  1. Gigabyte RADEON X1800 XL PCI-E 256MB is difficult to describe. Just a reference card. Gigabyte brought nothing new or unique to this product. The company just used its own stickers and the box. Everything will be traditionally up to the price. Anyway, all X1800 XL cards will be sold under trademarks of this or that manufacturer, even though they are manufactured on the same plant. A piece of advice to ATI partners - they can make the bundles more interesting to attract customers. Besides, ATI allows to use coolers manufactured by the partners themselves or bought from third-party companies. Unfortunately, Gigabyte did not please us here either. In other respects everything is OK: 2D quality is up to the mark, operating stability is good as well.

  2. Gigabyte GeForce 6600GT Silent PCI-E 256MB DDR2 is a very interesting product. Of course, the lower memory frequency decreased the performance by 5-10%, but the card is still very attractive. Firstly, its price will be lower than for the regular 6600GT. Secondly, guaranteed noiseless operation; the card is very stable, as the core temperature does not exceed 70°C at standard frequencies and 75°C in overclocked mode.


You can find more detailed comparisons of various video cards in our 3Digest.








Gigabyte GeForce 6600GT Silent PCI-E 256MB DDR2 gets the Original Design award (December).








Theoretical materials and reviews of video cards, which concern functional properties of the GPU ATI RADEON X800 (R420)/X850 (R480)/X700 (RV410) and NVIDIA GeForce 6800 (NV40/45)/6600 (NV43)



Andrey Vorobiev (anvakams@ixbt.com)

December 28, 2005.



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