ATIâ€™s R580, actualised as the X1900 surprised us in a number of ways. Firstly, it appeared only a short time after the release of R520, which hit the streets as the X1800 series. Secondly, it was actually available to buy on launch day, the first time in quite a while that ATI has managed to pull that off. Having said that, in the UK you canâ€™t yet buy the All-in-Wonder X1900 that we reviewed here, but you can get hold of the X1900 XT, the X1900 XTX and X1900 CrossFire cards.
The results of the test was clear â€“ ATI had taken back the performance crown from NVIDIA with our X1900 CrossFire system turning in the fastest 3D gaming benchmark numbers that weâ€™ve ever seen.
For our first look at the X1900 we only had time to run the cards in CrossFire mode. Since then, we were sent three retail X1900 XTX graphics cards, giving us the opportunity to run our benchmarks on the single card and compare it to NVIDIAâ€™s current finest â€“ the GeForce 7800 GTX 512MB.
One card is from Sapphire, one from Club 3D and one from Connect3D. Before we launch into the review letâ€™s remind ourselves of one thing. Each of these cards costs around Â£400, which is quite a large amount of money to spend on a graphics card. Remember that an Xbox 360 contains the equivalent generation of ATI graphics hardware but the full version will only cost you Â£279. And you donâ€™t just get graphics hardware for that â€“ youâ€™re also getting a progressive scan capable DVD player, with remote, a wireless controller, a component cable and a 20GB hard disk drive. Ok, you don't get an HD screen to make the best of it but you don't get a monitor with the graphics card either. So itâ€™s hard to really talk about these cards in terms of value. Basically though, if youâ€™re ready to pony up for one of these babies you probably donâ€™t care â€“ you want the latest and greatest hardware and you want it now.
The good news is that if you've had the patience to wait the Â£400 price is Â£70 less than it was on launch day. Itâ€™s also considerably cheaper than NVIDIAâ€™s top-end card, with the cheapest 7800 GTX 512MB that was actually available at the time of writing, a Gainward from Komplett, costing Â£485.
Letâ€™s remind ourselves what the X1900 offers. The XTXs weâ€™re looking at here are all clocked at 650MHz core clock and an astonishing 1,550MHz for the memory. We played briefly with overclocking, but at the moment manufacturers arenâ€™t offering retail overclocked cards as is common with NVIDIA. This is most likely because ATI cards are clocked so high that thereâ€™s far less headroom than there is with NVIDIA. As the cards are all clocked exactly the same, and sport exactly the same reference design we only present one set of benchmark results for the XTXs as at stock settings the cards will perform exactly the same. These results are put up against a 7800 GTX 512MB clocked at reference speeds.
For more detail on the 3D capabilities of the R580 GPU, you can go here, but to summarise, the highlights include 48 pixel shader processors, 16 texture units and eight vertex shaders. ATI has also optimised the architecture for better shadow rendering performance over the X1800 series.
One thing to bear in mind about these cards is that theyâ€™re all based on ATIâ€™s reference design. While this is effective the cooler on the heatsink is far from quiet when under load. If you want a quieter X1900 the All-in-Wonder is your only current option but there are likely to be more adventurous designs soon if youâ€™re willing to hang on. This is especially true if youâ€™re thinking of going CrossFire, though whether any special designs will be applied to the Mastecard is unknown.
So, in alphabetical order, letâ€™s look at the cards.