It’s a cruel fact of life that the high-end component you paid top dollar for will, in an often agonisingly short period of time, be available for a depressingly small amount. And thanks to nVidia and ATi’s endless battle for supremacy, graphics cards are one of the worst culprits. It’s no surprise therefore that the mid-range is the most popular, as shelling out around £150 is more palatable than spending £400.
However, thanks to the X800 and GeForce 6800 moving into the top end, £150 will now buy you a lot of graphics card – in particular one based on the ATi Radeon 9800 Pro –a card that just a few short months ago would have set you back £300.
This being the case it’s hard to imagine why anyone would spend the same on a card based on nVidia’s GeForce 5700 Ultra chipset. While this was good value when it was first released, it would seem to be something of a hard sell right now. However, the XFX card we’re looking at here has a few tricks up its sleeve.
The first point of interest is that the card is equipped with GDDR3 memory. GDDR2 found few takers as its benefits over DDR1 were few. It only clocks to 500MHz and draws as much power as DDR1, resulting in excessive heat, which then has to be removed by overly large and noisy cooling systems. GeForceFX 5800 Ultra anyone? No, I didn’t think so... GDDR3 however, has a theoretical limit of 800MHz (1600MHz effective) yet draws less power than GDDR2. While these speeds have yet to be achieved, even this isn’t deemed fast enough and plans are underway to introduce GDDR4, reaching as high as 1.4GHz (2.8GHz effective) by the end of the year.
Returning to the present, we find that GDDR3 is employed on all the new boards from nVidia and ATi. However, some board partners have also chosen to refurbish older cards such as the 5700 Ultra, with the new memory. The GPU remains at 475MHz but the use of GDDR3 provides a speed increase to 500MHz (1GHz effective) compared to the 450MHz of the original. It’s not a huge boost but it should have some effect on performance.
However, the main issue with the 5700 Ultra was never a memory bandwidth limitation, rather the 128bit bus between the GPU and the memory that creates a performance ceiling.
Other than the GDDR3 memory, this XFX card is notable for featuring two DVI connectors, rather than the usual single DVI and D-SUB. This means, obviously, you can hook up two DVI panels directly to the card without needing a converter, enabling you to get the best quality from your dual displays. We tried it out with two 19in LCD panels and were immediately seduced by not only the large amount of high resolution desktop real estate but by the sharpness of the images.
There is a VIVO version of the card available, but this isn’t it, with just a standard S-Video out on the back plate. The gaming bundle is far from exciting, with titles such as Commandos 3, Black Hawk Down and Moto GP, failing to get the pulse racing.