Thereâ€™s a definite halo effect when it comes to graphics cards, just like with cars. Take Subaru for example, it leverages off the back of its WRC pedigree by producing the Impreza WRX STi â€“ a very fast road going version its rally car. However, Subaru knows that only a small number of its customers will be able to justify the cost of an STi, but due to the halo effect, people will still buy into the Impreza range because of its motor sport roots. In the world of graphics cards, both ATI and nVidia launched their high-end, next generation parts first in order to grab the performance headlines, but they always knew that these cards would represent a small percentage of the overall volume. But, as with Subaru, both companies are hoping that the high-end cards will produce a halo effect that tempts mainstream buyers with the more affordable mid-range products.
It was only a couple of weeks ago that I looked at the GeForce 6600 GT, which is nVidiaâ€™s new mid-range offering, and it proved to be a pretty capable solution at a reasonable price. So, unsurprisingly, ATI has just launched a new mid-range card as well â€“ the Radeon X700. Like the GeForce 6600, the Radeon X700 will come in multiple flavours offering differing levels or performance, and consequently different levels of pricing. Top of the range will be the X700 XT, which is set to go head to head with the GeForce 6600 GT.
The card that made its way into the TrustedReviews lab was the Radeon X700 XT, which meant that I could compare it directly to the GeForce 6600 GT that I reviewed previously. Architecturally, the X700 is very similar to its X800 big brother. The number of pixel pipelines has been reduced to eight, compared with 16 on the X800 XT and 12 on the X800 Pro. However, there are still six vertex pipelines in evidence.
As with the X800, ATI has employed GDDR3 memory for the X700 XT and Pro; in differing quantities and speeds. The type of memory used for the standard X700 hasnâ€™t been decided yet, but considering the clock speeds employed, itâ€™s likely to be standard DDR memory. The X700 XT will sport 128MB of memory running at 525MHz (1.05GHz effective), while the X700 Pro will employ 256MB of memory clocked at 432MHz (864MHz effective). Finally, the vanilla X700 will have 128MB of memory running at 350MHz (700MHz effective). To bring high-end features to the mainstream, certain compromises have to be made, and just like nVidia with the GeForce 6600, ATI has had to limit the memory interface to 128bit, instead of the 256bit interface seen on the X800 chipset.
Other than the memory speeds, the different X700 variants are also separated by the core clock speeds. The X700 XT has a core speed of 475MHz, the X700 Pro ticks over at 420MHz and the vanilla X700 burbles along at a steady 400MHz.
The X700 continues ATIâ€™s recent tradition of low power consumption, so itâ€™s no surprise to see that the X700 XT doesnâ€™t need an external power connector. But, to be fair, the GeForce 6600 also needs no external power. The X700 also shares some of its bigger brotherâ€™s features such as 3Dc Normal Map compression â€“ a new compression standard that allows a 4:1 compression ratio of normal maps, producing potentially far more detailed 3D models. Of course for 3Dc to make a real impact it needs mass adoption, and itâ€™s still a long way from that goal. It is however an open standard, so any hardware or software manufacturer could adopt it if they wished.
Looking at ATIâ€™s projected pricing structure shows a strange lineup. Bizarrely, the X700 XT and the X700 Pro are both pitched at the same price. However, although the XT is clocked faster, it only sports 128MB of memory, while the Pro has 256MB of RAM. That said, I recently received an email from Abit, stating that it will be offering an X700 XT card with 256MB of RAM on-board, so I guess any combination is possible.