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HIS, Palit, MSI, Sapphire
RADEON 2600/2900 PRO/XT Roundup

September 4, 2007



HIS RADEON 2600 XT (Zalman Edition) 256MB DDR3
HIS RADEON 2600 XT IceQ Turbo 256MB DDR3
Palit RADEON 2600 PRO Sonic 256MB DDR3
Palit RADEON 2600 XT Sonic 256MB DDR3
MSI RADEON 2600 XT Diamond 256MB DDR4
Sapphire RADEON 2600 PRO 256MB DDR2
Sapphire RADEON 2900 XT 512MB DDR3




Experienced readers as well as those users who are interested in graphics cards (why else you read this article?) know well about the delayed launch of the new family of budget and Mid-End ATI RADEON graphics cards from AMD. Similar product from NVIDIA have been conquering stores since this spring, and their competing solutions appeared only two months ago. This approach surely couldn't win the market. Something had to be sacrificed. Skimming the cream off the new sales (raising prices) was out of the question, because NVIDIA were selling their products like hot cakes. So AMD entered the market with initially low prices to attract users to the new products.

But it should be added that the new cards both from NVIDIA and AMD are cut down so much that they are sometimes outperformed even by their DX9 predecessors. It's much more expedient now to buy the GeForce 7900GS or the RADEON X1950 PRO than these new DX10 cards, which are very slow in modern games. In fact, the only reason to buy the new family of graphics cards from NVIDIA (except for Hi-End models, of course) and AMD is to be able to play DX10 games in future (if they do not support DX9) as well as to enjoy HDTV. That's all! In other respects, the previous generations are NO WORSE! The GeForce 7900GS is already cheaper than the GeForce 8600GTS. And this old card has a 256-bit bus and 20+7 pipelines. It has more texture units and ROPs than the new DX10 card. The X1950 PRO is also much more expedient than the HD 2600... I suspect that by the time a Mid-End DX10 card will become a necessity under the pressure of MS Windows Vista and DX10 games, there will appear much faster Mid-End cards for the same prices.

OK, I don't know how soon it will happen, and how fast the new cards will justify their expenses. But one thing is clear: DX10 support in these cut-down cards is absolute profanation! Yep, these cards indeed support it. But the number of their units is cut down so much that powerful modern games with all effects enabled (it makes no sense to use DX10 without them, you can just play old games, or new ones in DX9 mode with more powerful cards at the same price) just crush all GeForce 8600 and RADEON 2600 cards. Have a look at the results demonstrated in a DX10 game - World In Conflict: even top accelerators are slow in minimal resolution. Did you sell your old graphics card and buy a new one for the sake of 5 fps?

You can also run demos in a slide-show mode. And if we disable two thirds of effects in WiC to raise performance to acceptable 30 fps, what will the game look like? We have seen such graphics three year ago. In return, you will have DX10 and Vista, which takes up seven times as much space on your HDD. Your gaming will be ruined. Some marketing. Nice letters and nothing to support them.

I cannot say when there appear games, which will reveal the advantage of GeForce 8600/RADEON 2600 over their predecessors with more pipelines at the same price. As for now, GeForce 7900 and RADEON X1950 DO NOT WORK in WiC DX10. Those cards that DO WORK there demonstrate 1-2 fps. Just great! Do you need it?

Nevertheless, marketing and dictated products do their job - even more interesting products are pushed out of the market by the new generation of graphics cards. Users are forced to choose these cards. Plus the illusory promises of Vista...

We've recently reviewed a bunch of new cards from NVIDIA. Now we'll have a look at AMD. One of its best partners is HIS (I judge by products, of course, not by the company) and Sapphire. The latter is the oldest partner. So it's Number One even for historical reasons. However, the company is constantly working to retain this status.

The other two companies (MSI and Palit) manufacture both GeForce and RADEON families. For this very reason, they are not the closest partners of both chipmakers. But nevertheless, their production volume is very large. Much larger than HIS can provide.

Graphics Cards

HIS RADEON 2600 XT (Zalman Edition) 256MB DDR3 PCI-E
  • GPU: RADEON HD 2600 XT (RV630)
  • Interface: PCI-Express x16
  • GPU frequencies (ROPs/Shaders): 800/800 MHz (nominal - 800/800 MHz)
  • Memory frequencies (physical (effective)): 700 (1400) MHz (nominal for DDR3 - 700 (1400) MHz)
  • Memory bus width: 128bit
  • Vertex processors: -
  • Pixel processors: -
  • Unified processors: 120
  • Texture processors: 8
  • ROPs: 4
  • Dimensions: 180x100x16 mm (the last figure is the maximum thickness of a graphics card).
  • PCB color: blue
  • RAMDACs/TDMS: integrated into GPU.
  • Output connectors: 2xDVI (Dual-Link), TV-Out.
  • VIVO: not available
  • TV-out: integrated into GPU.
  • Multi-GPU operation: CrossFire (Hardware).




HIS RADEON 2600 XT IceQ Turbo 256MB DDR3 PCI-E
  • GPU: RADEON HD 2600 XT (RV630)
  • Interface: PCI-Express x16
  • GPU frequencies (ROPs/Shaders): 830/830 MHz (nominal - 800/800 MHz)
  • Memory frequencies (physical (effective)): 960 (1920) MHz (nominal for DDR3 - 700 (1400) MHz)
  • Memory bus width: 128bit
  • Vertex processors: -
  • Pixel processors: -
  • Unified processors: 120
  • Texture processors: 8
  • ROPs: 4
  • Dimensions: 180x100x16 mm (the last figure is the maximum thickness of a graphics card).
  • PCB color: blue
  • RAMDACs/TDMS: integrated into GPU.
  • Output connectors: 2xDVI (Dual-Link), TV-Out.
  • VIVO: not available
  • TV-out: integrated into GPU.
  • Multi-GPU operation: CrossFire (Hardware).




Palit RADEON 2600 PRO Sonic 256MB DDR3 PCI-E
  • GPU: RADEON HD 2600 PRO (RV630)
  • Interface: PCI-Express x16
  • GPU frequencies (ROPs/Shaders): 600/600 MHz (nominal - 600/600 MHz)
  • Memory frequencies (physical (effective)): 700 (1400) MHz (nominal - 400 (800) MHz)
  • Memory bus width: 128bit
  • Vertex processors: -
  • Pixel processors: -
  • Unified processors: 120
  • Texture processors: 8
  • ROPs: 4
  • Dimensions: 160x100x16 mm (the last figure is the maximum thickness of a graphics card).
  • PCB color: red
  • RAMDACs/TDMS: integrated into GPU.
  • Output connectors: 1xDVI (Dual-Link), 1xVGA, TV-Out.
  • VIVO: not available
  • TV-out: integrated into GPU.
  • Multi-GPU operation: CrossFire (Software).




Palit RADEON 2600 XT Sonic 256MB DDR3 PCI-E
  • GPU: RADEON HD 2600 XT (RV630)
  • Interface: PCI-Express x16
  • GPU frequencies (ROPs/Shaders): 800/800 MHz (nominal - 800/800 MHz)
  • Memory frequencies (physical (effective)): 800 (1600) MHz (nominal for DDR3 - 700 (1400) MHz)
  • Memory bus width: 128bit
  • Vertex processors: -
  • Pixel processors: -
  • Unified processors: 120
  • Texture processors: 8
  • ROPs: 4
  • Dimensions: 170x100x16 mm (the last figure is the maximum thickness of a graphics card).
  • PCB color: red
  • RAMDACs/TDMS: integrated into GPU.
  • Output connectors: 2xDVI (Dual-Link), TV-Out.
  • VIVO: not available
  • TV-out: integrated into GPU.
  • Multi-GPU operation: CrossFire (Hardware).




MSI RADEON 2600 XT Diamond 256MB DDR4 (RX2600XT-Diamond-256) PCI-E
  • GPU: RADEON HD 2600 XT (RV630)
  • Interface: PCI-Express x16
  • GPU frequencies (ROPs/Shaders): 850/850 MHz (nominal - 800/800 MHz)
  • Memory frequencies (physical (effective)): 1150 (2300) MHz (nominal for DDR4 - 1100 (2200) MHz)
  • Memory bus width: 128bit
  • Vertex processors: -
  • Pixel processors: -
  • Unified processors: 120
  • Texture processors: 8
  • ROPs: 8
  • Dimensions: 200x100x16 mm (the last figure is the maximum thickness of a graphics card).
  • PCB color: black
  • RAMDACs/TDMS: integrated into GPU.
  • Output connectors: 2xDVI (Dual-Link), TV-Out.
  • VIVO: not available
  • TV-out: integrated into GPU.
  • Multi-GPU operation: CrossFire (Hardware).




Sapphire RADEON 2600 PRO 256MB DDR2 PCI-E
  • GPU: RADEON HD 2600 PRO (RV630)
  • Interface: PCI-Express x16
  • GPU frequencies (ROPs/Shaders): 600/600 MHz (nominal - 600/600 MHz)
  • Memory frequencies (physical (effective)): 500 (1000) MHz (nominal - 400 (800) MHz)
  • Memory bus width: 128bit
  • Vertex processors: -
  • Pixel processors: -
  • Unified processors: 120
  • Texture processors: 8
  • ROPs: 8
  • Dimensions: 170x100x16 mm (the last figure is the maximum thickness of a graphics card).
  • PCB color: blue
  • RAMDACs/TDMS: integrated into GPU.
  • Output connectors: 2xDVI (Dual-Link), TV-Out.
  • VIVO: not available
  • TV-out: integrated into GPU.
  • Multi-GPU operation: CrossFire (Software).




Sapphire RADEON 2900 XT 512MB DDR3 PCI-E
  • GPU: RADEON HD 2900 XT (R600)
  • Interface: PCI-Express x16
  • GPU frequencies (ROPs/Shaders): 742/742 MHz (nominal - 750/750 MHz)
  • Memory frequencies (physical (effective)): 830 (1660) MHz (nominal - 830 (1660) MHz)
  • Memory bus width: 512bit
  • Vertex processors: -
  • Pixel processors: -
  • Unified processors: 320
  • Texture processors: 16
  • ROPs: 16
  • Dimensions: 220x100x32 mm (the last figure is the maximum thickness of a graphics card).
  • PCB color: red
  • RAMDACs/TDMS: integrated into GPU.
  • Output connectors: 2xDVI (Dual-Link), TV-Out.
  • VIVO: RAGE Theater 200
  • TV-out: integrated into GPU.
  • Multi-GPU operation: CrossFire (Hardware).






HIS RADEON 2600 XT IceQ Turbo 256MB DDR3 PCI-E
The graphics card has 256 MB of GDDR3 SDRAM allocated in four chips on the front side of the PCB.

Samsung memory chips (GDDR3). 1.0 ns memory access time, which corresponds to 1000 (2000) MHz.




HIS RADEON 2600 XT (Zalman Edition) 256MB DDR3 PCI-E
The graphics card has 256 MB of GDDR3 SDRAM allocated in four chips on the front side of the PCB.

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




Palit RADEON 2600 XT Sonic 256MB DDR3 PCI-E
The graphics card has 256 MB of GDDR3 SDRAM allocated in four chips on the front side of the PCB.

Samsung memory chips (GDDR3). 1.2ns memory access time, which corresponds to 800 (1600) MHz.




Palit RADEON 2600 PRO Sonic 256MB DDR3 PCI-E
The graphics card has 256 MB of GDDR3 SDRAM allocated in four chips on the front side of the PCB.

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




Sapphire RADEON 2600 PRO 256MB DDR2 PCI-E
The graphics card has 256 MB of GDDR2 SDRAM allocated in eight chips on the front and back sides of the PCB.

Qimonda memory chips (GDDR2). 2.0ns memory access time, which corresponds to 500 (1000) MHz.




MSI RADEON 2600 XT Diamond 256MB DDR4 (RX2600XT-Diamond-256) PCI-E
The graphics card has 256 MB of GDDR4 SDRAM allocated in four chips on the front side of the PCB.

Samsung memory chips (GDDR4). 0.9 ns memory access time, which corresponds to 1100 (2200) MHz.




Sapphire RADEON 2900 XT 512MB DDR3 PCI-E
The graphics card has 512 MB of GDDR4 SDRAM allocated in sixteen chips on the front and back sides of the PCB.

Samsung memory chips (GDDR4). 0.9 ns memory access time, which corresponds to 1100 (2200) MHz.






Comparison with the reference design, front view
HIS RADEON 2600 XT IceQ Turbo 256MB DDR3 PCI-E
Reference card ATI RADEON 2600 PRO
Palit RADEON 2600 XT Sonic 256MB DDR3 PCI-E
Sapphire RADEON 2600 PRO 256MB DDR2 PCI-E
Palit RADEON 2600 PRO Sonic 256MB DDR3 PCI-E
HIS RADEON 2600 XT (Zalman Edition) 256MB DDR3 PCI-E
MSI RADEON 2600 XT Diamond 256MB DDR4 (RX2600XT-Diamond-256) PCI-E
Reference card ATI RADEON 2600 XT
Sapphire RADEON 2900 XT 512MB DDR3 PCI-E
Reference card ATI RADEON 2900 XT


Comparison with the reference design, back view
HIS RADEON 2600 XT IceQ Turbo 256MB DDR3 PCI-E
Reference card ATI RADEON 2600 PRO
Palit RADEON 2600 XT Sonic 256MB DDR3 PCI-E
Sapphire RADEON 2600 PRO 256MB DDR2 PCI-E
Palit RADEON 2600 PRO Sonic 256MB DDR3 PCI-E
HIS RADEON 2600 XT (Zalman Edition) 256MB DDR3 PCI-E
MSI RADEON 2600 XT Diamond 256MB DDR4 (RX2600XT-Diamond-256) PCI-E
Reference card ATI RADEON 2600 XT
Sapphire RADEON 2900 XT 512MB DDR3 PCI-E
Reference card ATI RADEON 2900 XT


There are evidently TWO TYPES of the RADEON HD 2600 XT: with GDDR4 and GDDR3 memory. The latter are cheaper and more popular, but their memory frequencies are lower. So when you buy the 2600 PP card, make sure you know what memory it uses. We can see that the 2600 PP with DDR3 has a simpler design than the 2600 PRO. The 2600 XT with DDR4 has a longer PCB and a more complex layout.

Graphics cards from Palit are based on their own design, which traditionally differs from the reference design. It should be noted though that Sapphire has also modified the reference design to allow additional memory chips on the back of the PCB. HIS cards are exact copies (I suspect that they are manufactured at Sapphire's plants).

Although the product from MSI is a copy of the reference card, it's manufactured at MSI plants, and it is based on the black PCB.

The cards have TV-Out with a unique jack. You will need a special bundled adapter to output video to a TV-set via S-Video or RCA. You can read about the TV-Out in more detail here.

Analog monitors with d-Sub (VGA) interface are connected with special DVI-to-d-Sub adapters. Maximum resolutions and frequencies:

  • 240 Hz Max Refresh Rate
  • 2048 x 1536 x 32bit x85Hz Max - analog interface
  • 2560 x 1600 @ 60Hz Max - digital interface (all DVI jacks with Dual-Link)

What concerns MPEG2 playback features (DVD-Video), we analyzed this issue in 2002. Little has changed since that time. CPU load during video playback on modern graphics cards does not exceed 25%.

What concerns HDTV and other trendy video features, you can read one of our reviews here.

The 2900 XT cards require additional power supply, so they are equipped with TWO black connectors (6-pin and 8-pin ones). In case your PSU does not have cables with such connectors, the bundles include adapters to plug any cable with a Molex. The 2900 XT works well with two 6-pin cables (the 8-pin cable is required for overclocking).

Now about the cooling systems. We shall not describe coolers on the 2900 XT reference cards, because we have already examined them. HIS RADEON 2600 XT IceQ Turbo 256MB DDR3 PCI-E also comes with the standard cooling device - a closed rectangular heatsink with an off-center fan (similar to coolers used in GeForce4 Ti, we've described them many times). Foxconn GeForce 8600 GT Overclocked Edition 256MB PCI-E uses a usual cooler with a round heatsink (decorated with multiple fins) and a fan in the middle. But the heatsink is very thick, so the graphics card actually takes up two slots.

Palit RADEON 2600 XT Sonic 256MB DDR3 PCI-E
Palit RADEON 2600 PRO Sonic 256MB DDR3 PCI-E
It's a very efficient cooler that consists of a heatsink (many radial fins) and a fan in the middle. The fan is slow, so there is no noise. However, we should warn you that noise may appear after some time (IT'S NOT FOR CERTAIN! BUT IT'S POSSIBLE!)





Sapphire RADEON 2600 PRO 256MB DDR2 PCI-E
We've seen this solution many times: a large flat heatsink with a turbine at one end that pumps air through the heatsink to cool the GPU.

It's a low-speed fan, so there is no noise.







MSI RADEON 2600 XT Diamond 256MB DDR4 (RX2600XT-Diamond-256) PCI-E

It's a massive cooler similar to popular solutions from Arctic Cooling - a long heatsink with a turbine at one end. Its other end is pressed to a slot in a PC case. Thus, hot air is ejected out of your computer.

The cooler is light-weight, as its heatsink is made of aluminum. The turbine is slow, so the cooler is noiseless.







HIS RADEON 2600 XT IceQ Turbo 256MB DDR3 PCI-E

And this is a solution from Arctic Cooling, very popular IceQ. In fact, this device made AC popular. It's absolutely identical to the previous model in its operation. It's just smaller.

The turbine is slow, so the cooler is noiseless.







HIS RADEON 2600 XT (Zalman Edition) 256MB DDR3 PCI-E

And in this case the name of the graphics card reveals what cooler it uses.

It's a traditional fan-like design. The cup is small, so the cooler takes up only one slot. This card does not need a larger cooler.

Like all Zalman products, this cooler is quiet.









We monitored temperatures using RivaTuner (written by A.Nikolaychuk AKA Unwinder). We got the following results:

HIS RADEON 2600 XT IceQ Turbo 256MB DDR3 PCI-E




Sapphire RADEON 2600 PRO 256MB DDR2 PCI-E




HIS RADEON 2600 XT (Zalman Edition) 256MB DDR3 PCI-E




MSI RADEON 2600 XT Diamond 256MB DDR4 (RX2600XT-Diamond-256) PCI-E




Interestingly, both coolers used in the HIS cards are almost identical in their efficiency. The Arctic card is slightly overclocked, so its load is a tad higher, but its temperature was lower by one degree. But this is irrelevant. That is a quiet small Zalman does justify itself.

The large and quiet cooler on the MSI card is also justified, because the GPU is overclocked, and its temperature still does not exceed 75°.

The other graphics cards did not suffer from overheating either, even though their cooling systems were not noisy.

Bundle

HIS RADEON 2600 XT (Zalman Edition) 256MB DDR3 PCI-E
HIS RADEON 2600 XT IceQ Turbo 256MB DDR3 PCI-E
User's Manual, CD with drivers and utilities, a DVI-to-VGA adapter, a component output adapter, a CrossFire adapter. Bonus - a coupon for a free game to download from Steam.


Sapphire RADEON 2600 PRO 256MB DDR2 PCI-E
It's a similar bundle, but there is no CF adapter.


Palit RADEON 2600 PRO Sonic 256MB DDR3 PCI-E
Palit RADEON 2600 XT Sonic 256MB DDR3 PCI-E
It's a similar bundle, plus SpellForce2 (game) as a bonus to the 2600PP.


MSI RADEON 2600 XT Diamond 256MB DDR4 (RX2600XT-Diamond-256) PCI-E
User's Manual, CD with drivers and utilities, two DVI-to-VGA adapters, a component output adapter, S-Video-to-RCA.


Sapphire RADEON 2900 XT 512MB DDR3 PCI-E
User's Manual, CD with drivers, DVi-to-VGA and DVI-to-HDMI adapters, a component output adapter, a VIVO splitter. And a traditional Steam coupon for a free game.




Packages

HIS RADEON 2600 XT (Zalman Edition) 256MB DDR3 PCI-E

The box has a new design. But we have already seen this elongated box shape for HIS products. The jacket covers a box made of thick cardboard, where all components are arranged into sections. But the card may dangle inside.




HIS RADEON 2600 XT IceQ Turbo 256MB DDR3 PCI-E

This is a traditional box. It's a better design, when all components are arranged into plastic sections, and the card itself is secured in the box.

The box has a window, through which you can see the card.




Palit RADEON 2600 PRO Sonic 256MB DDR3 PCI-E

A bright glossy box made of thick cardboard with a laser pattern. The box (to be more exact, its lid) has an interesting shape. Bundled components are arranged into cardboard sections inside. But these compartments are tough, so dangling is almost out of the question.




Palit RADEON 2600 XT Sonic 256MB DDR3 PCI-E

A similar box.




MSI RADEON 2600 XT Diamond 256MB DDR4 (RX2600XT-Diamond-256) PCI-E

A traditional box (bag). All components are arranged into compartments inside. The card itself is secured in a foamed polyurethane section.




Sapphire RADEON 2600 PRO 256MB DDR2 PCI-E

It's a small box, retailers will like its dimensions. There is a box made of thick cardboard inside. The card itself is inside an envelope in the lid. Bundled components are just scattered in the box.




Sapphire RADEON 2900 XT 512MB DDR3 PCI-E

This is a stylish large box with all components arranged into plastic compartments, and the card is secured inside the box.




Installation and Drivers

Testbed configuration:

  • Intel Core2 Duo (775 Socket) based computer
    • CPU: Intel Core2 Duo Extreme X6800 (2930 MHz) (L2=4096K)
    • Motherboard: EVGA nForce 680i SLI on NVIDIA nForce 680i
    • RAM: 2 GB DDR2 SDRAM Corsair 1142MHz (CAS (tCL)=5; RAS to CAS delay (tRCD)=5; Row Precharge (tRP)=5; tRAS=15)
    • HDD: WD Caviar SE WD1600JD 160GB SATA
    • PSU: Tagan 1100-U95 (1100W).

  • Operating system: Windows XP SP2; DirectX 9.0c
  • OS: Windows Vista 32-bit; DirectX 10.0
  • Monitor: Dell 3007WFP (30").
  • Drivers: ATI CATALYST 7.8; NVIDIA Drivers 163.44.

VSync is disabled.

Test results: performance comparison

We used the following test applications:

  • Splinter Cell Chaos Theory v.1.04 (Ubisoft) - DirectX 9.0, shaders 3.0 (with/without HDR), maximum settings.

  • Call Of Juarez (Techland/Ubisoft) - DirectX 9.0, shaders 3.0 (HDR), demo (demo Tests were run with maximum quality. The batch file is included.

  • World In Conflict (beta) (Sierra/Massive Ent.), DirectX 10.0, shaders 4.0, (the benchmark is started inside the game), all settings were set to maximum.

  • PREY 1.01 (3D Realms Entertainment / Human Head Studios / 2K Games) - OpenGL, shaders 2.x, demo003 (40MB!). Tests were run with maximum quality. The batch file is included.

  • 3DMark05 1.20 (FutureMark) - DirectX 9.0, multitexturing, trilinear filtering.

  • Serious Sam II 1.068 (Croteam/2K Games) - DirectX 9.0, shaders 3.0 (with/without HDR), batch file to start the test. It's the standard demo0002 that comes with the game. Tests settings - maximum.

    We express our thanks to our reader, Vozniuk Valery AKA Px, for his batch file to run this game.

  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 1.003 (GSC Game World/THQ) - DirectX 9.0, demo. You should unpack the files into the game folder with savegames (Documents and settings). When the game starts up, load ixbt3, open the console and start the demo: demo_play ixbt3. Test settings - maximum (DYNAMIC LIGHTS are ENABLED).

  • Company Of Heroes (Relic Entertainment/THQ) - DirectX 9.0, shaders 2.0, startup batch file. When you start the game, you should go to options, choose the graphics section, and press the test button. Tests were run with maximum quality.

  • 3DMark06 1.02 (FutureMark) - DirectX 9.0c, multitexturing, trilinear test settings.

Graphics cards' performance

If you have a decent understanding of 3D graphics, you may draw your own conclusions for the diagrams below. However, if you are interested in our comments on test results, you may read them after each test. Anything that is important to beginners and those who are new to the world of video cards will be explained in detail in the comments.

First of all, you should look through our reference materials on modern graphics cards and their GPUs. Be sure to note the operating frequencies, support for modern technologies (shaders), as well as the pipeline architecture.

ATI RADEON X1300-1600-1800-1900 Reference

NVIDIA GeForce 7300-7600-7800-7900 Reference

If you have just begun realizing how large the selection to choose a video card is, don't worry, our 3D Graphics section offers articles about 3D basics (you will still have to understand them - when you run a game and open its options, you'll see such notions as textures, lighting, etc) as well as reviews of new products. There are just two companies that manufacture graphics processors: ATI (the graphics department of AMD) and NVIDIA. So most of the information is divided into these two sections. We also publish monthly 3Digests that sum up all comparisons of graphics cards for various price segments. The February 2007 issue analyzed dependence of modern graphics cards on processors without antialiasing and anisotropic filtering. The March 2007 issue did the same with AA and AF.

Thirdly, have a look at the test results of our today's cards. We are not going to analyze each test in this article, primarily because for us it makes sense to draw a bottom line in the end of the article. We will, however, make sure that we make our readers aware of any special circumstances or extraordinary results.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

Test results: S.T.A.L.K.E.R.






World In Conflict (beta), DX10, Vista

Test results: World In Conflict (beta), DX10, Vista






Splinter Cell Chaos Theory (No HDR)

Test results: SCCT (No HDR)






Splinter Cell Chaos Theory (HDR)

Test results: SCCT (HDR)






Call Of Juarez

Test results: CoJ






Company Of Heroes

Test results: CoH






Serious Sam II (No HDR)

Test results: SS2 (No HDR)






Serious Sam II (HDR)

Test results: SS2 (HDR)






Prey

Test results: Prey






3DMark05: MARKS

Test results: 3DMark05 MARKS






3DMark06: SHADER 2.0 MARKS

Test results: 3DMark06 SM2.0 MARKS






3DMark06: SHADER 3.0 MARKS

Test results: 3DMark06 SM3.0 MARKS




Conclusions

On the whole, our tests brilliantly prove my theses in the beginning of the article. Namely that DX10 games configured for maximum graphics quality just crush these weak graphics cards. It's impossible to play games without SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCING 3D graphics quality. Besides, you'll most likely have to switch to DX9 mode, which will be available in many new games. The question is why we need the GeForce 8600 or RADEON 2600, if we can get the excellent GeForce 7900GS and RADEON X1950 PRO, which offer higher speed in DX9 applications for the same price?

It's a rhetorical question. OK, they offer HDTV, HDMI... But these features are not spread in Russia. You may also buy these card for forums, which users like discussing HD features, complain about no HDCP support, even though they use 2-year-old Middle-End cards and are not planning to upgrade.

I have never been so disappointed in a new Middle-End family. Such cards had always been faster in old games and offered new features. And now? Indeed, the 8600-series cards are faster than the 7600-series models. But look at the prices! The 7900 cards come at the same prices, and they are still available in stores. Something is not right. They are either cut down too much to reduce the costs, or they made a mistake while doing it. Now they are trying to solve the problem using marketing means. Now marketing will dictate users to buy only these new cards.

It will happen, because the previous generation of graphics cards will disappear from the shelves. It will be done very soon for the above mentioned reasons.

Now it's time to mention the strange quality (to put it mildly) of AMD/ATI drivers. They seem to get worse from version to version. One feature or another is broken. AA in CoH has been broken in Catalyst 7.8. As a result, performance in the AA+AF mode has become even higher than without this load. We've checked it up several times. It's true. Why? - Ask AMD.

HIS RADEON 2600 XT (Zalman Edition) 256MB DDR3 PCI-E is a high-quality product with a good cooler. What concerns its performance, the situation varies. We can see how leaders change from game to game. The 2600 is often victorious in shader-intensive games. Its tiny texturing unit, as if inherited from the RADEON 9000, is certainly too weak for texturing-intensive games.

HIS RADEON 2600 XT IceQ Turbo 256MB DDR3 PCI-E - our conclusions are actually the same. The cards do not differ much from each other, although increased GPU frequencies of this card play an important role from time to time. It's a very good card. We had no gripes with its operation. It's equipped with an excellent time-proven cooler that takes the heat out of a system unit.

MSI RADEON 2600 XT Diamond 256MB DDR4 (RX2600XT-Diamond-256) PCI-E - the same applies here. It looks better, because its frequencies are even higher. But its popularity will depend on prices. The card is notable for its efficient and quiet cooler that takes the heat out of a PC case. It's very good!

Palit RADEON 2600 XT Sonic 256MB DDR3 PCI-E - this card is not present in the diagrams, but its results are very close to the HIS RADEON 2600 XT (Zalman Edition) 256MB DDR3 PCI-E. So there is no need to include its results. Our conclusions are the same. This sample worked fine. We had no gripes with it. It uses a very efficient cooler. I hope it won't get noisy after six months of usage.

Sapphire RADEON 2600 PRO 256MB DDR2 PCI-E is weaker than the 2600PP, but it competes with the 8500GT in price. In this case the 2600 PRO fares well. If its prices are adequate, the 2600 PRO will be preferable. It's a good card, we had no gripes with its operation, it's equipped with a good cooler.

Palit RADEON 2600 PRO Sonic 256MB DDR3 PCI-E differs from the previous card only in memory frequencies. Its performance is higher by 6-7% at best, so our conclusions are similar. This sample worked fine. We had no gripes with it. However, it uses a unique design. It may also use cheaper components. You should take it into account. What concerns the cooler, I can say the same here as in case with the 2600 XT from this company.

Sapphire RADEON 2900 XT 512MB DDR3 PCI-E is just a copy of the reference card. We showed it to you to make sure that all 2900 XT cards are manufactured by AMD's orders. Partners just buy ready cards and pack them into their boxes.

As always, the final choice is up to the reader. We can only inform you about products and their performance, but can't make a buying decision. In our opinion, that should solely be in the hands of the reader, and possibly their budget. ;)

And here is one more thing, we'll repeat it in each review. Having decided to choose a graphics card on your own, you should be aware that you change one of the key components of your system unit, which may require additional configuration for better performance or you may have to enable some functions to achieve higher quality. This is not an end product, it's just a component. So you should understand that you'll have to learn 3D graphics basics in order to get maximum performance from a new graphics card. And some graphics in general. If you don't want to deal with it, you shouldn't upgrade your computer on your own: you'd better buy ready PCs with preconfigured software and technical support from your system integrator, or game boxes, where no configuration is required, everything necessary is already configured in a game.

To find more information regarding the current graphics card market and the performance of various cards, feel free to read our monthly special 3Digest.

The following cards get the Original Design award (August):


  1. MSI RADEON 2600 XT Diamond 256MB DDR4 (RX2600XT-Diamond-256)
  2. HIS RADEON 2600 XT (Zalman Edition) 256MB DDR3
  3. HIS RADEON 2600 XT IceQ Turbo 256MB DDR3


We'd like to thank
MSI Russia
HIS Russia
Sapphire Russia
2L (Palit Russia)
for the provided graphics cards


PSU was kindly provided by TAGAN


The Dell 3007WFP monitor was kindly provided by NVIDIA


Andrey Vorobiev (anvakams@ixbt.com)
September 4, 2007

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