ATI has enjoyed incredible success with their Radeon 9800-based line, and the high-end Radeon 9800XT has moved to the head of the class for performance gaming. This card really has it all, including top end performance, excellent image quality, a fully DirectX 9 feature set, and plenty of overclocking potential. Other manufacturers may go along with the "has it all" mantra, but ASUS is always looking for a way to squeeze a bit more power out of a reference design, and their take on the Radeon 9800XT is a real treat. Enhancements include an upgraded cooling system, out of the box overclocking, VIVO functionality, and a few very interesting applications.
The ASUS Radeon 9800XT/TVD 256-MB in many ways resembles a standard Radeon 9800XT card, while raising the bar significantly in other areas. ASUS stuck to the default 412 MHz core and 730 MHz DDR memory clock speeds, but slapped an impressive copper-based, dual-fan heatsink on the card to really keep temperatures down and overclocking high. If you've seen one of these retail ASUS cards before, you know they're quite impressive, and really hit the mark in terms of both performance and aesthetics. The Radeon 9800XT/TVD is not only a high-end gaming card, but ASUS has also added in VIVO functionality, for seamless video input and output. The card's backpanel is similar to the reference design, and include VGA, DVI-I and VIVO ports.
The ASUS Radeon 9800XT/TVD 256-MB retail packages are known for their attention to detail and top notch selection of hardware and software. This time, ASUS has really gone all out on both ends of the spectrum. The standard equipment is all there, including hardcopy manuals for both the hardware and software installs and a DVI-I-to-VGA dongle. Where things really change is in the choice of audio/visual VIVO cabling, and ASUS has included a breakout box that is quite reminiscent of the one ATI bundles with their All-in-Wonder products. The adaptor includes four ports for S-Video and composite in/out connectivity. This not only looks more professional, but it's also more functional and much easier to use than the standard VIVO mini-cables.
The bundled software is another treat, and ASUS has not only included a pile of software, they've also packaged it in a plastic carrying case. Naturally, the standard VGA driver/utilities and ASUS DVD CDs are present, but there are also a few multimedia programs, such as MediaShow SE 2.0, PowerDirector Pro 2.55 ME, and Ulead Cool 3D & Photo Express CDs. Games are a big part of the Radeon 9800XT/TVD's appeal, and ASUS has bundled full retail versions of GunMetal and Battle Engine Aquila, along with a 6-in-1 game demo CD.
The real gem of any new Radeon 9800XT-based card is the inclusion of Half-Life 2, or more accurately, a coupon for the game upon its release. The ASUS coupon is the standard deal, which you can send in for an actual CD, or use to access the online STEAM game service. If you choose the latter option, you get a Half-Life, Counter Strike, Team Fortress Classic, Deathmatch Classic, Half-Life: Opposing Force and Ricochet bonus pack to play now, and Half Life 2 when it's released. Once HL2 ships, this STEAM bonus offer becomes null and void, and if you scratch the STEAM access code on the sticker, then the product is non-returnable.
ASUS offers a few innovative features with their latest video cards, including GameFace, Smart Cooling, Smart Doctor II, Digital VCR, and Video Security. ASUS GameFace is one of the more intriguing ones, as it offers an in-game video feed. ASUS is parlaying this into a type of video-conferencing system for online gaming, but there are other uses as well, such as pumping a TV signal in and watching your fave show while waiting for opponents. Digital VCR II allows manipulation and recording of video signals, many of which require a TV tuner, while Video Security works along with a video cam to monitor a given area, record activity, and even alert users via email.
These are all interesting features that many will find useful, but the nitty gritty are the hardware cooling, monitoring and overclocking options. Smart Cooling allows the user to set fan speeds based on GPU loading and temperature levels, thus keeping noise down when you're not pumping out the 3D framerates. This is performed through the Smart Doctor II setup options, which also include areas for voltage and temperature monitoring, along with ASUS' own brand of OverDrive and video card overclocking.
Smart Doctor II is a very useful program, as it not only monitors system and video card voltages, temperatures and fan speeds, but also provides the base for overclocking. The ASUS Radeon 9800XT/TVD does not inherently support OverDrive, and it will not show up as a driver tab in any revision. Instead ASUS has gone for the high-end crowd by allowing freedom to overclock. In our review card, we were able to hit the program maximums of 440 MHz core and 770 MHz DDR with no problems, and GPU temperatures (as measured b the program) only went up by 3-6 degrees C. In fact, this was one of our few issues with Smart Doctor II, as 440/770 were the maximums allowed, and we know this puppy can go higher.