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ATI Aims Mid-Range Blow at nVidia

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Last week, in a room at the Langham Hotel in London, ATI officially revealed its response to nVidia's 6600 series to a small group of journalists and TrustedReviews was in attendance. The chip was the Radeon X700, replacing the X600 which surely has had the shortest shelf-life of any graphics chip ever. That said, the X600 is making an appearance in ATi's forthcoming PCI Express All-in-Wonder X600 Pro. This is due to ship in Europe next month.

Previously known by its code name RV410, the chip is a fully native PCI Express solution. However, at the launch there was no official confirmation of an AGP version. That said, Nils Hostbrink, European Product Manager, did suggest that an AGP version is likely to appear at some point, using a reverse bridge-chip.



This card is important to ATI as after enjoying a prolonged period on top in the 3D graphics market during 2002 and 2003, nVidia clawed back the lead with the 6800 series. nVidia has carried this over into the mid-range GeForce 6600 part, which it has billed 'the Doom 3 GPU'.However, Hostbrink stressed that rather than focusing on just one game, the X700 is optimised for a wide range of titles.

As with its previous mid range part, ATI has taken its current top-of-line-card and essentially chopped it in half. The X700 features eight pixel pipelines compared to the sixteen used on its somewhat rare X800 XT and XT Platinum Edition. It does however feature six vertex shaders – the same as the X800. This is double that of nVidia’s 6600 series, which makes do with only three.



Other features in common with the X800 are SmoothVision HD, SmartShader HD, VideoShader HD, HyperZ HD and the ATI created texture compression technology 3Dc.

The memory will be GDDR3 but the major difference with the top-of-the-line cards is the 128-bit memory interface. This limits the memory bandwidth available, which is the main reason for the performance difference delta that the high-end cards enjoy.

Thanks to TSMCs 0.11 micron process ATI has managed to achieve the following high clock speeds for the core and memory.

X700 - 128MB - 400/350 - $149
X700 Pro - 256MB - 425/430 - $199
X700 XT - 128MB - 475/525 - $199

The Pro and the XT are the same price, with the choice being between a higher clock or more memory.

The launch of a mid-range card is in many ways more significant than a flagship product release, as these chips are what the cards most people will be buying will actually be based on.

As for pricing, nothing UK specific was announced though it seems likely that the UK prices would be the same as the dollar amount. This doesn’t really seem like great value but it is pretty much the norm for all products these days. All in all the Radeon X700 looks like it has a lot of potential and it should be an interesting fight with the GeForce 6600 cards.

ATI has lined up its normal long list of partners to produce boards based on the X700, and Sapphire has been the first to announce a product in the UK, with the Sapphire Hybrid Radeon X700 series. The card is expected to cost around £170 including VAT.



We’ll be getting a reference card to test very shortly so be sure to check back to get the full low down on whether the X700 will be spoiling nVidia’s 6600 party.

Links:
www.ati.com
www.sapphiretech.com

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