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Installation was simple enough, though like just about all the higher end cards these days it does require more juice than the AGP port can provide, so a secondary power cable is included which acts like a splitter. I personally found that the length of the cable provided was a little short, and there was not much slack once the card was hooked up. A little extra length would not have gone amiss, especially for those with crowded cases.
Now, as you would expect, the 2D performance of the card was excellent, this aspect of just about any modern card can be taken as a given, and even before this was the case, ATI was one of the best around in this department. However, it’s when we turn to 3D that the weaknesses of the 9800SE become apparent.
With our 9800SE cut down from eight pixel pipelines to four, and featuring 128bit memory architecture as opposed to 256bit, the speed of the memory needed to be quick. Sadly, it isn’t. With 128MB of DDR1 memory rated a just 270MHz, giving an effective clock speed of 540MHz, this is way down on the competition.
Placed alongside MSI’s nVidia based GeForceFX 5700TD Ultra, with memory running at a combined clock rate of 900MHZ the card shows its lack of race pedigree. Even Hercules’ ATI based 9600XT can chip in at 650MHz, with a standard 9600XT running at 600MHz. And while AOpen’s Aeolus FX5900XT, based on nVidia’s latest and most expensive midrange chipset priced at £149, only delivers just 700MHz, it flies along thanks to its 256bit architecture. So as we suspected, with PowerColor’s 9800SE losing memory bandwidth to its rivals, this had a crushing effect on performance.
The 9800SE lagged way behind its rivals in the synthetic 3DMark tests, registering a score of just 1373 at a resolution of 1,024 x768 with 4x anti-aliasing and 4x anisotropic filtering in 3DMark03. This was down nearly a third on all three of its rivals. And in real world games performance, our 128bit 9800SE faired little better.
In the Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby at 1,600 x 1,200, with 4x anti-aliasing and 4x anisotropic filtering the card managed under 18fps, approximately half of what the FX5900XT and FX5700TD Ultra achieved under the same conditions. Even the 9600XT turned in a respectable 27.3fps thanks to its higher memory clock rate.
In Serious Sam 2, the results were repeated with the our 9800SE hitting only 19.6 fps at 1,600 x 1,200, with no anti-aliasing and no anisotropic filtering compared to the FX5900XT, FX5700TD Ultra and 9600XT which achieved 50.1, 43.1, and 30.7 respectively.
If there is a bright spot to the card, it’s that it can be soft modded but even so I noticed less than a 10 per cent increase in performance.
A disappointing card with a misleading name. The 128bit version of the 9800SE lags behind the 9600XT, and is smashed by nVidia’s FX5900XT and FX5700 Ultra chipsets. The card is slightly cheaper than its rivals, but the 128bit version of the 9800SE offers nothing that would convince me not to spend a little bit extra elsewhere.