The ATI Radeon 9800 Pro was one of the premier product launches of 2003, and helped solidify ATI as the leader in performance video. The Radeon 9700 Pro was certainly the launching point, but the sleeker and faster Radeon 9800 Pro sealed the deal for many gamers. This was the start of good things to come, and not only did ATI adapt their popular All-in-Wonder design to the Radeon 9800 Pro, but the company also released a 256-MB DDR-II model with a nod to future game requirements. NVIDIA has shot back with the improved GeForce FX 5900 Ultra, but it is a testament to the ATI design that the original Radeon 9800 Pro can still match it in outright performance, and surpass it in image quality.
The ride continues as ATI has announced the latest revision of the Radeon 9800 design. This move follows a more CPU-centric approach of product segmentation, and is reminiscent of the eternal processor wars, where Intel and AMD continually release faster models in the race to stay on top. The Radeon 9800 XT is an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, new design, and it takes all that is good with the R350 core and translates it into a newer, faster R360 core design. We'll be taking a close look at the Radeon 9800 Pro XT card today, and covering off the basic improvements, as well as running it through the gamut of game and application testing.
The Radeon 9800 XT is a high-end video card that looks to hit the enthusiast and gaming markets hard. The new ATI card is not a new design, and is instead a higher clocked and enhanced revision of their existing Radeon 9800 technology. The Radeon 9800 XT features the improved R360 core, which has been tweaked to support 0.13-micron-like clock speeds while still using a 0.15-micron process.
The Radeon 9800 XT uses 412 MHz core and 730 MHz DDR memory clock speeds, and features a full 256-MB of DDR memory. Naturally, with the increase in clock speeds, the cooling hardware has been given an overhaul. Gone is the diminutive ATI heatsink-fan, and it has been replaced by a cooling system quite similar to some high-end GeForce4 boards. A large ATI-branded cooling fan blows air over the GPU, and also through a maze of copper heatsink ducts to cool the memory.
There is also a smaller copper cooling brace on the backside of the card. This enhanced cooling doubles the card weight relative to a Radeon 9800 Pro 256-MB, and while not in GeForce FX 5900 Ultra territory, the larger fan does add to the ambient noise of the Radeon 9800 XT. The card backplate is standard fare, and includes the basic VGA, DVI-I and S-Video outputs. Like all Radeon 9800-based cards, the Radeon 9800 XT requires external power through its onbaord Molex connector.
There is one very interesting feature of the Radeon 9800 XT, called ATI OverDrive. This is sort of the opposite of the NVIDIA cards, and offers an on-demand overclocking function through the drivers. Standard overclocking is still allowed, but ATI OverDrive will support (according to the ATI white papers) up to a 460 MHz overclock automatically. The level of the speed increase is taken care of behind the scenes, and is dependant on variables such as case temperature, GPU load, etc., and is similar to on-demand 4WD on an SUV; it's there when you need it, but there is no facility to enable it fulltime. This feature was not enabled in our review card/drivers, but hopefully ATI will roll it out in the very near future.
ATI is also announcing the Radeon 9600 XT, and this little brother to the Radeon 9800 XT will feature a core speed of 500 MHz and a memory clock of 600 MHz. ATI may move fast at the high-end, but the company certainly like to spread the wealth to the mid-range as well.