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The biggest surprise at the event in Tunisia was AMD’s admission that nVidia was set to retain the performance crown. With the Radeon HD 2900 XT pitched against the GeForce 8800 GTS, it appeared that AMD was happy for the GeForce 8800 GTX to remain the fastest graphics card available. Bizarrely, AMD announced that it considered HD 2900 XT CrossFire to be the natural competitor to the 8800 GTX, but that surely meant that there would be no competitor to 8800 GTX SLi!
Interestingly, it was during the briefing on AMD’s CPUs that the answer to the above conundrum slipped out – quad CrossFire. It seems that AMD will be offering a quad-GPU solution in the near future, although everyone was very tight lipped when it came to details. Whether this means four graphics cards rendering frames, or whether one of them will be utilised for physics remains to be seen, but you can be sure we’ll be badgering AMD for this hardware as soon as it’s officially announced.
Although the HD 2900 XT is clearly geared towards DX10 performance, there aren’t any viable DirectX 10 benchmarks available yet. Of course AMD supplied a DX10 benchmark based on the game Call of Juarez, but we never use benchmarks that are supplied by one particular manufacturer. Likewise, today nVidia and Capcom announced a DX10 benchmark based on Lost Planet, but I’m not willing to use that for the same reasons.
We will of course do DX10 benchmarking as soon as independent DirectX 10 games become readily available, but for now we’ve had to stick with our usual suite of DX9 benchmarks. Despite the fact that Richard Huddy stated categorically that the DirectX 9 driver overhead was “like being slapped by a woman”, he also insisted that the HD 2900 XT’s DX9 performance was still first rate.
Kicking off with Company of Heroes, it’s clear to see that the HD 2900 XT will happily hold its own against a 640MB 8800 GTS. It’s also interesting to see that the Radeon scales very well too, getting pretty close to an 8800 GTX when the resolution is pushed up to 2,560 x 1,600. CrossFire didn’t scale quite so well, dropping a way behind twin 8800 GTX cards at 2,560 x 1,600 with 4x anti-aliasing, although a score of over 65fps is still pretty impressive at this resolution.
Next up is Prey, which I assumed would favour nVidia hardware since it uses OpenGL rather than DirectX. The assumption is borne out at the lower and even mid resolutions and settings, but once again the HD 2900 XT shows excellent scaling and comes close to the 8800 GTX at 2,560 x 1,600, although when 4x AA and 8x AF is switched on the Radeon falls behind. Of particular note is how ineffective CrossFire was running Prey, although to be fair these are very early drivers and I was surprised to see CrossFire running as well as it did.
Call of Duty 2 is a very texture heavy game, which is why the GeForce 8800 GTX puts so much distance between itself and every other card on test. Interestingly here the older Radeon X1950 XT teaches its new sibling a lesson or two, by staying ahead of the HD 2900 XT for many of the tests. That said the HD 2900 XT still manages to stay ahead of the 640MB 8800 GTS in the majority of tests. Unfortunately we couldn’t get CrossFire to work with CoD2, despite many hours of trying – hopefully a future driver revision will solve this.
So, it would seem that AMD was pretty much spot on when it said that the Radeon HD 2900 XT would be competing with the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB. Those two cards seem to dance around each other in most benchmarks, although the Radeon does appear to scale better as the resolution rises. Of course it’s worth remembering that the HD 2900 XT is using first generation drivers, so one would hope that we’ll see significant performance gains over the coming months, especially where CrossFire is concerned.