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Soltek Xabre 600 Video Card Review

March 6, 2003






CONTENTS

  1. General information
  2. Video card features
  3. Test system configuration 
  4. Test results: news about Xabre architecture, 3Digest summary
  5. Conclusion

Spring 2003 is promising to bring new names, new sensations and new disappointments regarding ATI's and NVIDIA's 3D accelerators. I suppose when this review is published, a couple of new products will be already announced. 

But what about the old heroes? While GeForce4 MX, RADEON 9000 was scrutinized inside out, SIS Xabre got much less attention. Why? First of all, there are few manufacturers dealing with Xabre because of its drawbacks (no anisotropic filtering, slow and often wrong AA, turbotexturing which makes the card as fast as GeForce4 MX 440 and RADEON 9000 but deteriorates 3D image quality and causes significant slowdown when this mode is off (lower than acceptable in 2002-2003). Secondly, many just don't want to find fault with NVIDIA and ATI, that is why some companies didn't even start making such cards, and some only kicked off the production and then quickly phase it out (ASUS, Gigabyte). 

Is Xabre really that bad? The market offers already 4 GPU types: Xabre80, Xabre200, Xabre400 and Xabre600. By the way, you can get more detailed information on performance of this line in our previous reviews: 

Theoretical materials and reviews related to SIS Xabre GPU features and functionality

Line: 

  1. Xabre 80 - AGP4x, 200/166 MHz (core/memory) SDR 128 bit 
  2. Xabre 200 - AGP8x, 200/166 MHz (core/memory) DDR 128 bit
  3. Xabre 400 - AGP8x, 250/250 MHz (core/memory) DDR 128 bit
  4. Xabre 600 - AGP8x, 300/300 MHz (core/memory) DDR 128 bit

Well, the family seems to be covering all clock speeds so that everyone should feel satisfied with the offer. Let's see what's we have at www.xabre.com: 

Ultra performance 256-bit engine 
  • 4 pixel programmable rendering pipelines and 8 texture units 
  • Peak polygon rate: 30M polygon/sec @ 1 pixel/polygon with Gouraud shaded, point -sampled, linear and bilinear texture mapping 
  • Peak fill rate: 1200 M pixel/sec, 2400 M texture/sec @ 10,000 pixel/polygon with Gouraud shaded and two bilinear textured 

So, it comes with 4 pipelines with 2 texture units on each, plus 300 MHz frequency. It's very close GeForce4 Ti 4600. But our test shows that Xabre600 works much slower than NVIDIA's baby (you can check it in the reviews listed above and 3Digest

Last time we pointed out that the developers saved on transistors in the die for caches and provided no proper memory optimization technologies. However, you will see that Xabre has a bit different characteristics than SIS specifies in the new synthetic tests from RightMark 3D and fillrate tests from 3DMark03. 

Still, is it worth buying such cards? Well, SIS does pay due attention to drivers debugging. And complains, if any, are not fatal. If the prices match their performance and the range of 3D functions supported (also remember that SIS had ill fame for a long time as a chip & card maker), they will get a good chance to succeed. 

Soltek is a well-known Taiwanese manufacturer that gained authority on our local market, and the graphics cards we tested before showed high quality and had solid accessory packs bundled. 

Card

Soltek Xabre 600 







 
 
 
Soltek Xabre 600 
AGP X2/4/8 interface, 64 MB DDR SDRAM in 4 chips on the PCB's right side. 128bit memory interface. 

EtronTech memory, 3.3ns access time which corresponds to 300 (600) MHz. Memory works at this very clock speed, while the core operates at 300 MHz which is standard for Xabre 600. 





 
 
 
Comparison with the reference design, front view 
Soltek Xabre 600  Reference card SIS Xabre 600 










 
 
 
Comparison with the reference design, back view
Soltek Xabre 600  Reference card SIS Xabre 600 







 
 
 

Soltek uses the reference design. The PCB is not covered with silver, as you may think comparing it with Triplex's products; it's simply white varnish: 
 

Soltek Xabre 600





Triplex GeForce 4 Ti 4800SE




 The silver-coated PCB of the Triplex card has proper isolation from the logic elements. The Soltek's card doesn't have such. 

Now have a look at the cooler. 
 

Soltek Xabre 600 
It's an ordinary heatsink with a fan in the center. The heatsink's color excellently matches with the PCB. 



 
 
 
If we take off the cooler, we can see the processor itself. 

Soltek Xabre 600 





The package contents: 
 

Soltek Xabre 600 
User Guide, CD with drivers and utilities, S-Video-to-RCA adapter and TV-out extenders.



 
 
 
The card ships in retail package. 
Soltek Xabre 600 
The designers at Soltek created a stylish and bright box. 



 
 
 

Overclocking

Soltek Xabre 600  300/600 -> 340/620 MHz 

 
 
 

Note that 

  • Overclocking requires additional card cooling (for its memory, in particular): 




  • Overclocking depends on a certain sample, and you shouldn't extend single-card results to the entire series or trade mark. Overclocking results are not obligatory characteristics of video cards. 

Testbeds and drivers

Testbeds: 

  • Pentium 4 3066 MHz based computer: 
    • Intel Pentium 4 3066 MHz; 
    • ASUS P4G8X (iE7205) mainboard; 
    • 1024 MB DDR SDRAM; 
    • Seagate Barracuda IV 40GB HDD; 
    • Windows XP SP1; 
    • ViewSonic P810 (21") and ViewSonic P817 (21") monitors. 
    • ATI v6.255 drivers. 

  • Athlon XP 2600+ based computer: 
    • AMD Athlon XP 2600+ (2133 MHz); 
    • EPoX (nForce2) mainboard; 
    • 1024 MB DDR SDRAM PC3200; 
    • Seagate Barracuda IV 40GB HDD: 
    • Windows XP SP1; 
    • ViewSonic P810 (21") and ViewSonic P817 (21") monitors. 

VSync off in drivers, texture compression off in applications. Default texture detail (TurboTexturing=3). 

Test results

Before we start examining 2D quality, I should say there are no complete techniques for objective 2D quality estimation because: 

  1. 2D quality much depends on certain samples for almost all modern 3D accelerators; 
  2. Besides videocards, 2D quality depends on monitors and cables; 
  3. Moreover, certain monitors might not work properly with certain video cards. 

As for the sample tested, together with the ViewSonic P817 monitor and BNC Bargo cable it showed excellent quality at the following resolutions and clock speeds:

Soltek Xabre 600  1600x1200x75Hz (satisfactory), 1280x1024x100Hz, 1024x768x100Hz 

 

Test Results: RightMark3D synthetic tests and, unexpectedly, 2 rendering pipelines instead of 4

The rumors spreading over the Net got it that Xabre doesn't have 4 pipelines. To check it I used Pixel Filling test from RightMark3D (the packet is described in-depth in GeForce FX Review







In both texture combinations the fillrate in the single texturing mode is about 600 Mtexel/s. It's twice lower than the theoretical peak of 1200 Mtexels. 

We also checked it with the Fillrate benchmark from 3DMark03: 




It's all the same here. Note that the test proves the support of 8 texture units though the actual fill rate is far lower than the peak speed of 2400 Mtexel/s. 

Thus, Xabre has 2 pipelines with 4 texture units on each. It proves that Xabre is designed for operation only with 4 textures. It probably explains why Xabre600 yields to GeForce4 Ti, though they should go on a par according to the specs. Games using 4 textures are few on the market, and half of the texture units simply stand idle. 

Unfortunately, 3DMark03 doesn't support operation in 16bit color, and RightMark doesn't account for this anachronism, that is why it's impossible to test Xabre600 in these benchmarks in 16bit color. But the guys from fcenter.ru give the fillrate diagrams in 16bit color, and the scores are only a trifle higher than in 32bit color. 

3Digest Test Results

Test applications: 

  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein (MultiPlayer) (id Software/Activision) - OpenGL, multitexturing, Checkpoint-demo, maximum test settings, S3TC OFF, the configs are available here
    •  

  • Serious Sam: The Second Encounter v.1.05 (Croteam/GodGames) - OpenGL, multitexturing, Grand Cathedral demo, test settings: quality, S3TC OFF 
    •  

  • Codecreatures Benchmark Pro (Codecult) - Direct3D, Shaders, Hardware T&L, Dot3, cube texturing, highest quality 
    •  

  • Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo v.1077 (Final Release) (Digital Extreme/Epic Games) - Direct3D, Vertex Shaders, Hardware T&L, Dot3, cube texturing, default quality 
    •  

  • 3DMark2001 SE Pro (MadOnion/Remedy), Game2 "Dragothic" - DirectX 8.0, Hardware TCL, multitexturing, LOW Details, DXTC OFF, double buffering, 24-bit Z buffer
    •  

  • 3DMark2001 Pro (MadOnion/Remedy) - DirectX 8.0, Hardware TCL, Game1, Game2, Game3, Game4, Low, High detail levels

  •  
  • RightMark 3D (one of the game scenes) - DirectX 8.1, Dot3, cube texturing, shadow buffers, vertex and pixel shaders (1.1, 1.4). 

January 2003 summary diagrams of videocards performance with latest drivers

Overclocked cards are marked red, clock speeds follow the 'o/c' sign. 

For the summary diagrams we used drivers v42.01 for NVIDIA cards, v6.255 - for ATI cards, v3.07 for SIS cards and v1.03.00.043 for Matrox cards.  

In closing I should say that the card showed perfect stability and quality. 

Operation of TV-out with the SIS 301 coprocessor was estimated earlier and you can find the results in the reviews listed above. 

Conclusion

This production Xabre600 based card is one of the first solutions on the SIS new-comer. I have no complains about it, - Soltek made a really high-grade product. 

Our 3Digest clearly shows all weak points of Xabre; first of all, it has artifacts in AA mode in some games with the latest drivers (which didn't have place before). Besides, it doesn't have anisotropy support and demonstrated inferior quality with the default texturing. If you set higher quality, the speed gain will be brought to zero. Well, only price cuts can now attract attention to such products. 

Finally, Xabre doesn't have any 4 pipelines. There are only two. Maybe, the processor supports pipeline programming but I doubt that such expensive technologies would be integrated in this budget solution. Most likely, the Xabre's actual formula is 2x4. 

Highs:

  • Good performance in 3D; 
  • Excellent built quality; 
  • High stability and reliability; 
  • S-Video-to-RCA adapter bundled; 

Lows:

  • No signs of 4 pipelines in Xabre! 
  • Xabre's standard drawbacks: no anisotropy, lower anisotropy quality in 3D because of turbotexturing; 
  • Overpriced. 

Andrey Vorobiev  (anvakams@ixbt.com
 

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