So, the only major component that we haven’t mentioned is the graphics card, and there’s a very good reason for that. Although this machine is specced and priced with an ATI Radeon X800 Pro, Evesham will offer it with any graphics card you like. So, with this in mind, we tested the 3D performance of the Evolution Extreme with an ATI Radeon X800 Pro, a Radeon X800 XT and an nVidia GeForce 6800 Ultra. Obviously the price will increase accordingly if you choose one of the higher-spec graphics cards, but if you want the best, you’re going to have to pay for it.
So, let’s look at the Radeon X800 Pro. This is based on ATI’s latest core and sports 12 pixel pipelines and six vertex pipelines. You get 256MB of GDDR3 memory running at 900MHz, while the VPU ticks along at 475MHz. This is a pretty amazing card, but if you want to squeeze more power out of this system you might want to go for the Radeon X800 XT which has 16 pixel pipelines, 256MB of GDDR3 memory running at 1.12GHz and a core VPU speed of 520MHz. Or, if you want to go down the nVidia route, the GeForce 6800 Ultra will produce some blinding frame rates with 16 pixel pipelines, 256MB of GDDR3 memory clocked at 1.1GHz and a core GPU speed 450MHz.
Of course I can quote specs until the cows come home, but how does this machine actually perform with all this super-high-end componentry? Well to be honest, when it arrived it wasn’t fast at all. We ran loads of different benchmarks, but the results were all disappointing and in no way indicative of the components inside. After much head scratching we discovered that the CPU temperature was over 90 degrees celsius! Unfortunately, the heatsink/fan that Evesham had used was just not up to the job of cooling a CPU as extreme as this one – the result was a very hot processor that was throttling back and not running at full speed. We replaced the heatsink/fan with a Scythe Samurai CPU cooler (a full review of this cooler will be up soon) and instantly the temperature dropped and the performance rose.
I only ran the 2D benchmarks using the Radeon X800 Pro that Evesham specced with the machine, since you’ll see little variance here between graphics cards. The SYSmark 2004 score was the best we’ve ever seen and at 221 it even beat the Mesh Matrix64 3700+ Pro reviewed last week by a healthy 25 points.
But it was the 3D scores that were really of interest and here this machine just flew through the benchmarks. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to run Far Cry or 3Dmark 2001 on the GeForce 6800 Ultra before it had to go back, but all the other results are comparable over all three cards. The results are quite interesting.
Looking at 3DMark03 you can see that with the X800 Pro installed you’re getting great performance, but things step up a couple of gears with the X800 XT, but sliding the GeForce 6800 Ultra into the AGP slot resulted in even more performance. Again, running X2 at 1,024 x 768 with no FSAA or AF, the X800 Pro turned in a healthy score of 88fps, while the X800 XT soared to 97.1fps, but the 6800 Ultra broke the 100fps barrier.
The Tomb Raider benchmark showed ATI getting its own back – at 1,600 x 1,200 with 4x FSAA and 4x AF the X800 Pro managed 51.4fps while the GeForce 6800 Ultra raised the stakes to 62.2fps, but the X800 XT came up trumps with 67.3fps. But moving onto Halo we see that the GeForce card edges ahead of its ATI rivals once more.
It’s a shame that we didn’t get a chance to run the Far Cry benchmark with the GeForce 6800 Ultra, since that’s the real stress test for graphics at the moment. But I imagine it would be a close call with the X800 XT.