ATI Tries To Ruin NVIDIA's Party

The ATI Radeon X1800 GTO

The Radeon X1800 GTO came to us as a bit of a surprise. It showed up with very little advanced notice and is also seems to have caught Nvidia by surprise also. ATI knew they needed to launch a worthy competitor to the 7600GT and there solution is the Radeon X1800 GTO video card. Nvidia had planned to release the 7600GT against ATI?s X1600 Pro and X1600XT models, which would have been a very ugly affair for the ATI cards. Instead ATI took their R520 core and did a number of modifications to the card to cut back performance and the price tag. With an MSRP of $249, the X1800 GTO is essentially a modified Radeon X1800 XL GPU with fewer pipelines and ROPs. Here, we see a slight decrease from 16 pipelines down to 12 as well as a drop in Raster Operator Units (ROPs) from 16 to 8. Other than these changes the X1800 GTO retains all the features and functionality of the full Radeon X1800 series of GPU's.

The ATI Radeon X1800 GTO Card Back

Let?s get straight to the ugly truth, the X1800 GTO is not hard launching today and has no availability until March 31st. Yes, that means that ATI is doing a paper launch to spoil NVIDIA's launch this week. Legit Reviews hates paper launches and ATI knows this, but they love to do them just to get some numbers and press out on the market.  ATI is very dedicated to delivering this card to market but a hard launch is the only way to go anymore. When NVIDIA launched their 7600 GT, 7900 GT and 7900 GTX yesterday they were available to be bought right then and there.  Since the R520 is not a new core and the GTO's aren't shipping yet it makes you wonder who got owned in this round of the video card battle.  Only time will tell on that front!

When it comes to pricing and card selection on the $200+ side of the market ATI has a number of solutions out on the market.  Actually the X1800 GTO will be the seventh ATI card in the $249 to $549 price range.  

Video Card

MSRP Availability
Radeon X1800 GTO 256MB $249 March 31st
Radeon X1800 XL 256MB $299 NOW
Radeon X1800 XT 512MB $329 NOW
Radeon X1800 Crossfire 512MB $349 NOW
Radeon X1900 XT 512MB $479 NOW
Radeon X1900 XTX 512MB $549 NOW
Radeon X1900 Crossfire 512MB $549 NOW

With that said let?s take a look at why the competition in the mid-range just got a whole lot hotter.

X1800 GTO

It may seem like the GTO is a card rushed to market but ATI has been working on this for some time and have very important changes in store. The biggest of the changes are that the X1800 GTO does not require a dongle or master card to run in CrossFire as long as you have a new Xpress 3200 motherboard. If you have an RD480 based motherboard you will need the master card along with the dongle. This is big news and a big step forward for CrossFire.

ATI X1800GTO DVI

Let?s take a look at some of the other features:

If you are wondering why the specifications look familiar it?s because they are nearly identical to the X1800XL. The one exception is that the XL carries a full 16 Pixel shader processors. In fact the ATI X1800 GTO even has the same impressive heat sink fan that the X1800XL has.  Since we didn't take apart the X1800XL heat sink in our review of that card let's show you the one on the X1800 GTO.

First you have to remove the eight screws that hold on the fan cover.

The X1800 GTO Fan Covered Removed

Once those screws are removed you have to flip the card over and take out the additional four screws that hold the heat sink in place.

The X1800 GTO heat sink Removed

With the heat sink removed you now have full acess to the R520 core that is used on the ATI X1800 GTO video card.  Many enthusiasts and overclockers will install better thermal compound, which is simple to do with the right tools.

The Heat Sink Removed

Only with the heat sink removed does one start admire the work that went into making a good single slot cooling solution.  This heat sink could be shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art without a doubt!

The ATI X1800 GTO Heat Sink

Since we still can't see the memory IC's the entire heat sink bracket must be removed. Once removed we can take clear pictures of the R520 core, memory IC's and theater chipsets.

The ATI X1800 GTO R520 Core Picture

As you can see from the above image the ATI Radeon X1800 GTO uses the same R520 core found on the other X1800 Series cards.  This R520 core was made on the 40th week of 2005.

The ATI X1800 GTO R520 Samsung GDDR3

Taking a closer look at the memory IC's on our reference X1800GTO we find Samsung GDDR3 memory chips rated at 500MHz by ATI. Since the last two numbers are BC20 we can easily look up on the Samsung site and see that these chips are rated at 2.0ns (500MHz).

The ATI X1800 GTO R520 Rage Theatre Chip

 

 

Test System

ATI Readeon GTO PCIe Video Card

For testing purposes I used the following system:

Test System:

Video Card Test Platform

Component

Brand/Model

Live Pricing

Processor

AMD Athlon 64 4800+

Motherboard

DFI NF4 SLI-DR

Memory

2GB Crucial PC-4000

Hard Drive

Western Digital Raptor 74GB

Cooling

Vapochill Micro

Power Supply

OCZ PowerStream 600W

Operating System

Windows XP Professional

Testing was completed with driver settings at default for both Nvidia and ATI cards.

Video Drivers:

Motherboard Drivers:

Quake 4

Quake 4 is a very relevant test as this is obviously a very popular multiplayer game. Having a low framerate while competing in a local LAN is only going to hurt your chances of winning.

Quake 4

Quake 4

We see the XFX 7600GT XXX whooping up on the ATI cards here in Quake 4 at both resolutions tested. Even though Nvidia usually leads in Quake 4 performance this was a bit of a surprise.

Serious Sam 2

Ok, let's get Serious! This game offers HDR, tons of impressive scenery and enough enemies to make your trigger finger tired. We've provided results below with HDR and no AA, and results with standard Anti-Aliasing without HDR. HDR is the next big thing for games coming out today and on the horizon. Although the ATI X1000 series support the use of Anti-Aliasing with HDR enabled in Serious Sam 2, the Nvidia 7000 series does not. No HDR+AA results were included in the review for this reason.

Serious Sam 2

Serious Sam 2

Serious Sam 2

Serious Sam 2

The XFX 7600GT ends up at the bottom of the pile in each test here, but puts up a good showing at 1600x1200 with AA on. It's plain to see that the X1800XL and GTO are much better at HDR than the 7600GT. The X1800's 256-bit bus shows its power here.

F.E.A.R

First Encounter Assault Recon or F.E.A.R. Anyone who has played this game knows that it brings any computer to it's knees. Fantastic visuals, this is one of the most advanced graphic engines we have seen. If you haven't played this game you should really check it out. Both graphics and machine settings were on "Maximum" in the F.E.A.R. performance menu. Soft Shadows were turned OFF.

F.E.A.R

F.E.A.R

Here we see that the 7600GT can compete very well with the X1800GTO, tying it at the lower resolution and within a couple of frames at 1280x960. Don't be fooled by the lower resolutions of this test, it takes a lot of GPU power to run this game at even 1024x768. Anything less than a 6800GT will need to run at much lower quality setting to even be playable.

X3: Reunion

This new game is starting to get a lot of attention and rightfully so. It offers some of the best visuals that we've ever seen in a PC game. Visit the gang at Egosoft and download the demo. We tested with the resolution set to 1280x1024, High Quality with 4xAA/16xAF and everything enabled.

X3: Reunion

The X1800 GTO has a clear advantage here in X3: Reunion. Very good results with all the eye candy turned on.

Call Of Duty 2

Call of Duty 2 was tested with a custom multi-player demo. Quality Settings were set to max, DX9 rendering, and Anisotropic filtering. Optimize for SLI was enabled for all cards.

Call Of Duty 2

Call Of Duty 2

Call Of Duty 2

With the quality settings turned way up the test should favor the X1800's 256-bit memory bus but the XFX 7600GT is able to keep up very well with the X1800 GTO.

3DMark 2006

Futuremark has overhauled "The Gamers' Benchmark" with the introduction of 3DMark 06. The benchmark includes improved Shader Model 2 tests, new CPU tests and HDR Shader Model 3 tests for system-wide gaming performance measurement. Final scores are now impacted very directly by the CPU used so we are including the Shader Model 2.0 and Shader Model 3.0 results as this will tell us just how well our video card performs in this benchmark.

3DMark 2006

3DMark 2006

3DMark 2006

These results are little surprising as we've seen the X1800 GTO ahead of the 7600GT in most every test. SM 3.0 results are very interesting in comparing to Serious Sam 2 where the 7600GT was well behind in the HDR tests. Obviously there is more to SM 3.0 than HDR but these results don't match very well with what we've seen.

Thoughts and Conclusions

ATI Radeon X1800 GTO PCIe Power Header

Legit Reviews Staff Thoughts:

Though most of our testing showed the X1800 GTO ahead of the overclocked 7600GT, we would only expect that since the ATI card is $50 more expensive. With specifications so close to the X1800XL the GTO performed nearly as well, which is to say it is very fast for a mid-range product. When it comes to Anti-Aliasing results the X1800 GTO will almost always show better performance and scaling due to the 256-bit bus vs. 128-bit on the Nvidia card. The ATI offerings also seem to perform better in shader intensive operations which is believed to be the direction for upcoming games. The X1800 GTO gives you the option of High Quality Anisotropic Filtering and HDR+AA. HDR performance is an important feature for upcoming titles and the GTO does very well here.

The NVIDIA GeForce 7600 GT could be found for $189 yesterday when launched and one can only expect that price to drop over the next couple of weeks. It would be my best guess that we might be seeing GeForce 7600GT's selling for the $179 price range by the time these $249 ATI Radeon X1800 GTO's hit the market.  In that case the cards would be nearly $70 apart in cost.  That leads us to believe that the chopped up R520 core is not in the same market at the NVIDIA G73 core. The sub $199 video card market is very different than the $249 market. 

Now that we have a chance to see how these two cards pair up it's easy to see why ATI was in such a hurry to launch the GTO. Looking back at our X1000 series article even the X1600XT couldn't keep pace with the X1800XL, which the GTO is nearly identical to.

Once again, the biggest news is CrossFire without the master card or dongle, provided that you pick up an Xpress 3200 motherboard. We don't yet have a second GTO card to give you benchmark numbers, but even if we did ATI doesn't have the drivers ready yet that support CrossFire on teh X1800 GTO series.  Master-cardless CrossFire is great news for ATI as it opens up CrossFire to a market that they haven't really been able to reach. Anyone building a new system or upgrading an old and looking at the mid-range line of cards should have it on their list.

The main issue at this moment is availability. Currently the only shipping Xpress 3200 board is the Asus A8R32-MVP but you can expect others to be arriving later this month, just in time for the X1800 GTO to be shipping. While the announcement without product in stores is frustrating, ATI no doubt has R520 GPU's around for use in the X1800 GTO so it is reasonable to expect them to deliver the GTO before or on March 31st.

At this time of writing this I can't tell you that the X1800 GTO is the card that you should buy because obviously you can't. If you must have a new video card today for $250 or less than the XFX 7600GT XXX is the card that you should be looking at. If the X1800 GTO is indeed available on March 31st as promised then the decision will depend on how the market is pricing each card and if you want CrossFire or SLI. If price were the same or you have the budget for the GTO it would be our choice, but that is a very big ?IF.?

In closing we just got in some NVIDIA 7900GT's which are priced at $299 and for $50 more than the ATI X1800 GTO and are supposed to be some fast cards.  We wanted to bring you the X1800 GTO article this week and rather than holding off all of our articles for an entire week.

Legit Bottom Line: The X1800 GTO brings with it the promise of great mid-range performance for a middle of the road price. March 31st will be a big day for ATI.