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Joytech
Apollo Blade Monster Xabre 400
128MB Video Card Review

August 13, 2002



CONTENTS

  1. Peculiarities of the video card
  2. Test conditions, 2D estimation
  3. Comparison of performance of 64MB and 128MB cards based on the Xabre 400, comparison of operation of the card under different driver versions 
  4. Estimation of 3D graphics quality improvement on the latest driver versions 
  5. Conclusion
As far as NVIDIA is concerned, we have studied almost all products on its solutions available on our market (though we are still expecting some more GeForce4 MX and Ti 4200 based cards to arrive). As to ATI... well, all RADEONs 8500 seem to be covered. But we've forgotten about SIS and its new product - Xabre. Last time the Xabre left not very good impression. But! 

Persistency of SIS in promotion of its new product and improvement of the chip production technology is not unnoticeable, and there are such companies as Joytech and Gigabyte which are dealing with the Xabre! Earlier we reviewed some Triplex products and, in particular, its card on this GPU. By the way, let me remind you of the articles on the Xabre based products that we have already published: 

Theoretical materials and reviews of video cards which concern functional properties of the SIS Xabre GPU

Today we will examine a video card from the Taiwanese company Joytech  famous for its Apollo Graphics trade mark. Its video cards are always sky-blue and based on the Joytech's own design. Besides, the company couples cards with memory of the maximum size but also of the highest possible access time. 

Currently the market offers only Xabre 400 cards operating at 250 MHz. The  Xabre 200 (200 MHz) and Xabre 80 (200 MHz, SDR or 64-bit DDR memory) are still unsupported by manufacturers because the Xabre 400 with its price/speed ratio does not look attractively in its market niche, and the Xabre 200 must be priced as the GeForce2 MX, which will hardly please potential manufacturers. The Xabre 600 (275 MHz) will come soon as well but SIS hasn't yet announced mass production of such chips. However, the overclocking of the card in question shows that operation at such frequencies is possible. 

Card

The card has an AGP x2/x4 interface, 128 MB DDR SDRAM located in 8 chips on both PCB sides. 
Joytech Apollo Blade Monster Xabre 400 128MB 

 
 
 
Joytech Apollo Blade Monster Xabre 400 128MB 
The card comes with Samsung memory of 4ns access time which corresponds to 250 (500) MHz. The memory works at this frequency. The GPU runs at 250 MHz as well.

 
 
 
Comparison with the reference design, front view 
Joytech Apollo Blade Monster Xabre 400 128MB  Reference card SIS Xabre 400 64MB 

 
 
 
Comparison with the reference design, back view 
Joytech Apollo Blade Monster Xabre 400 128MB  Reference card SIS Xabre 400 64MB 

 
 
 

An experienced tester doesn't have to look at the marking of the memory chips: 8 DDR SDRAM chips of the old package housing 128 MB are typical only of Samsung (almost all cards with such memory size and the old design without a BGA package have memory from Samsung). 

Although the design is based on the reference one, the guys from Joytech made their own card. Its PCB is shorter and the elemental base is a little different. But the main parts of the card, including the SIS 301 coprocessor, are in their due places: 

The video card has a cooler from ThermalTake (such coolers are sometimes installed on GeForce3 Ti 500 cards). Under the heatsink is the chip itself: 
The card has DVI and d-Sub connectors, as well as S-Video and TV-out. 

Now let's pop into the box and see what's inside. 
 

Joytech Apollo Blade Monster Xabre 400 128MB 
CD with drivers, CD with Sacrifice game, brief installation guide and S-Video extender. 

 
 
 

And the box... 

Joytech Apollo Blade Monster Xabre 400 128MB 
... has a traditional bloody name written on it. This package is designed for the whole Xabre series (and the chip used is marked in a circle below). 

 
 
 

That's all we had to say about peculiarities of the card. 

Overclocking


Joytech Apollo Blade Monster Xabre 400 128MB  250/500 -> 277/560 MHz 

 
 
 

The card managed to reach frequencies higher than the Xabre 600 must work at. But to be safe we reduced the clock speed to 275/550 MHz - thus, we tested the Xabre 600 as well :-) 

Note:

Remember that overclocking is not a standard mode, that is why you should preserve the card from early damages. 

Test system and drivers

Testbed:  The test system was coupled with ViewSonic P810 (21") and ViewSonic P817 (21") monitors.

In the tests we used SIS drivers 3.03. It's impossible to disable VSync forcedly, but all tests used today can do that on their own. 

For comparison we used the following cards: 

Test results

Before we start examining 2D quality I should say that there is no a complete technique of objective estimation of this parameter because: 
  1. Almost all modern 3D accelerators can have 2D quality much dependent on a certain sample, and it's impossible to trace all cards; 
  2. 2D quality depends not only on a video card, but also on a monitor and a cable; 
  3. Besides, certain monitors do not get along with certain video cards. 
As for the tested sample, together with the ViewSonic P817 monitor and BNC Bargo cable it showed excellent quality at the following resolutions and frequencies: 
Joytech Apollo Blade Monster Xabre 400 128MB DDR  1280x1024x85Hz, 1024x768x100Hz (in 16001200 it is not very good) 

 
 
 

For 3D performance estimation we used: 

The tests were carried out in the 32-bit color mode

As you might remember, the Xabre's drivers support 3 Turbo Modes which can be changed only in the Registry: 


By changing the variable highlighted on the screenshot one can modify operation of the accelerator. In our first review on the Xabre we noted that at the highest speed (TurboMode=3) the graphics quality worsens considerably, there are problems even with bilinear filtering. 

But it was with the old driver version. This time we fulfilled the tests on the latest version - 3.03, that is why it's possible to track how the performance changes. At the same time we can estimate a performance drop when the TurboMode is disabled (TurboMode=0). We will also compare performance of 64MB and 128MB cards. 

Performance

3D Mark2001 SE

Game1 Low Details


The Xabre 400 easily stomps its competitors into the ground, even the newly released RADEON 9000/Pro. Comparison of the cards with different memory sizes showed that only in 16001200 64MB is not enough - the 128MB performs extremely better. 

As for the drivers - the higher the version, the lower the speed, though the gap is insignificant. And when the TurboMode is disabled, the performance drops by a great margin. 

Game2 Low Details


A more effective operation with memory of the RADEON 9000 had an effect in this test with a high overdraw factor. Nevertheless, on the whole the Xabre performs well. Both 64MB and 128MB cards have equally high scores. 

The questions regarding the TurboMode and comparison of the driver versions are the same as in the previous case. 

Game3 Low Details


This test is more difficult for the Xabre, and the RADEON 9000 Pro outmatches it. Nevertheless, we can see that the SIS's child works hard. The 64MB and 128MB cards are going on a par. 

And we have nothing more to say about comparison of the driver version to what we mentioned above. 

Game4


This is a beneficial test for the ATI's cards where they usually perform extremely well fighting successfully even against the GeForce4 Ti, that is why the defeat of the Xabre doesn't need comments. Surprisingly, the 128MB card has outpaced its 64MB sister. 

On the newer driver version the performance gets strongly worse. Why? It will soon become clear :-). 

3D MARKS


We can see that a video card priced at $75 at retail which is recommended by the manufacturer for the end of July 2002  outshines in almost all tests. The speed difference between 64MB and 128MB cards is not great (one will hardly play on such cards at 16001200). The performance drops a bit when the older version of the drivers (3.02.51) is replaced with the newer one (3.02.51). But why? Let's estimate the quality. 

3D quality

SiS provides no settings for 3D in its software except AA activation and stereo mode! 
 
Game 1
SiS Xabre, TurboMode=0 GeForce3
SiS Xabre, TurboMode=3 (Old driver) SiS Xabre, TurboMode=3 (New driver)
Game 2
SiS Xabre, TurboMode=0 GeForce3
SiS Xabre, TurboMode=3 (Old driver) SiS Xabre, TurboMode=3 (New driver)
Game 4, example 1
SiS Xabre, TurboMode=0 GeForce3
SiS Xabre, TurboMode=3 (Old driver) SiS Xabre, TurboMode=3 (New driver)
Game 4, example 2
SiS Xabre, TurboMode=0 GeForce3
SiS Xabre, TurboMode=3 (Old driver) SiS Xabre, TurboMode=3 (New driver)

 

Well, the new version 3.03 provides a bit lower efficiency but much higher quality (the rumor has it that the improvement is achieved at the expense of LOD BIAS but I haven't found the exact proof)! Of course, the naturally good quality is not obtained but I hope soon it won't be necessary to switch to the TurboMode=0. Besides, the quality of processing of pixel shaders is higher again. 

However, there are some problems: for example, the Morrowind game can't see shaders of the SIS Xabre. And there are some old quality flaws in certain games. Above all, lack of the trilinear filtering in TurboMode=3 is a real disadvantage. 

Nevertheless, the progress is evident. We haven't considered yet operation of the Xabre in other tests but soon we will test one more video card based on this processor - stay tuned! 

Conclusion

The most important conclusion is that the GeForce4 MX 440 will soon kick the bucket provided that the prices do not change. We are aware that the RADEON 9000 is a really strong competitor of the GeForce4 MX. And the SIS Xabre 400, which is currently not paid due attention to, is speeding up as well. The SIS's drivers keep on improving, and the new cards are promised at $80 at retail at most. Although the card lacks for two high-frequency RAMDACs but the TV-out quality of the SIS 301 is superb. On the other hand, the SIS Xabre 400 doesn't support anisotropy, vertex shaders and default trilinear filtering. But if the prices are going to be attractive, a lot of users which do not care about anisotropy and shaders can choose the Xabre. 

We are now witnessing how two processors are being destroyed: RADEON 7500 and GeForce4 MX 440. But while the former must leave the market as it is going to be replaced with the RADEON 9000, the latter won't give up easily. This will probably result in a severe price war because the cost price of the GeForce4 MX is quite low. And will the Xabre with its drawbacks in 3D graphics be able to stand against the RADEON 9000 which possesses anisotropy and trilinear filtering? Price will be a determining factor. If the prices are equal the Xabre will lose. 

You can find more comparative characteristics of video cards of this and other classes in our 3Digest

Highs:

Lows:
 
Andrey Vorobiev (anvakams@ixbt.com
 

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