The graphics card industry is a very strange place where nothing seems to make sense from one month to the next. Not long ago the GeForce FX5700 Ultra was touted as nVidia’s top of the range main stream graphics card, although I’m not sure how something main stream can be top of the range. A couple of months later the FX5900XT arrived - a faster card at a lower price and marketed as a budget high-end card. Confusion all around, but things where clarified a little bit while I was at CeBIT where I was told that the FX5700 Ultra will more or less replace the FX5700 in terms of price. As a result we’ll probably see many board manufacturers discontinue the FX5700 completely and concentrate solely on the FX5700 Ultra instead.
I hope that clears things up a little, and for those of you that have already read our earlier AOpen FX5900XT review, there is little to shout about here. Chaintech has put together a decent card and made good use of the nVidia FX5900XT chipset. In fact, this is one of few FX5900XT cards to feature heatsinks covering the RAM. The GPU cooler is also slightly different to the one sported by the AOpen card. The Chaintech GPU cooler features a copper plate with welded copper skives and a paddle wheel style fan that, in theory, should push a good amount of air across the heatsink.
The core specifications are, of course, the same as any other FX5900XT card with the GPU clocked at 390MHz and the memory at 700MHz. This might not sound very high compared to the FX5700 Ultra or even the Radeon 9600XT, but as we have seen in many other products, clock speed isn’t everything. What makes the FX5900XT such a great performer is the 256bit core and memory bus, which until now has been reserved for high-end products.
There is very little else that sets the Chaintech SA5900XT apart from any other FX5900XT card. On the backing plate you’ll find the usual array of connectors consisting of a D-SUB, DVI and an S-Video output. There is no video-in capability, but then, this would have added cost to the card and it seems like most board manufacturers are trying to make the FX5900XT as affordable as possible.
The supplied bundle consists of a DVI to D-SUB converter, an S-Video cable, S-Video to composite video converter and a power cable. In terms of software you get a driver CD and interVideo WinCinema which consists of WinDVD, WinDVD creator and WinRip. There’s a full version of MDK2 which wasn’t that good a game when it was new – and that was over three years ago. You also get a CD with five game demos, but these are of little use to anyone. Not the best bundle around, but you can’t expect too much from a sub £150 graphics card.
Performance is nigh on identical to that of the AOpen FX5900XT which shows how little difference there is between cards from different manufacturers these days. That said the different cooling solutions will dictate how far you can overclock specific cards, which could make a huge difference to some potential buyers.
With scores identical to the AOpen card, this part of the review should be recommending the Chaintech as a bit of a graphics card bargain, but unfortunately that’s not the case anymore. Since our review of the AOpen FX5900XT card, ATi has announced new pricing for its products, which makes the Radeon 9800 Pro creep down to as little as £150-170 depending on retailer and board partner, which really throws the cat among the pigeons in the mid-range graphics market. This does of course also affect the value for money rating of the FX5900XT cards, since the Radeon 9800 Pro is a far better card in terms of performance. There is nothing wrong with the SA5900XT, it’s just that the price of £147.33 is not as competitive now as it was last month. Maybe we’ll see this drop in the near future, but I doubt it. Ultimately it looks like ATi has pretty much won the mid-range graphics card battle.
The Chaintech SA5900XT is a top notch FX5900XT card that would have got a sure fire recommendation a few weeks ago, but with the Radeon 9800 Pro available at roughly the same price, the appeal of the FX5900XT chipset has lessened.