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Review: ATI Radeon X1900 XT and XTX

by Ryszard Sommefeldt on 24 January 2006, 00:54

Tags: ATi Technologies (NYSE:AMD)

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Good money says that most other articles on the launch of ATI Radeon X1900 XT, XTX or R580, depending on how they present it, start with chatter about R5xx being late. It's a valid way to kick off the copy on the new ATI high-end GPU product, too. The delays in getting the silicon into a shipping state, mostly due to a problem in the wafer production that was out of their hands, means that R580 and its associated SKUs are presented barely three months after R520 and friends.

Generally the major 3D IHVs want to wait at least two quarters before debuting something significantly new in the high end, lest you run the risk of pissing off the earliest adopters of the previous product who spent big money. Let's also not forget the AIB partners of the IHV who have to sell the things. The first sniff of something new just around the corner and the knowledgeable crowd that have the cash to drop on the flagship parts will hold off spending.

The IHVs make no secret of the fact they make huge margins on the high end, almost boutique parts. So while they'll still sell the chips eventually, or at least they cross their collective floppy appendages that they will, they'll do so at a price that doesn't entirely reflect what they'd want from the first boats to come back shippable. First run silicon is an expensive business, especially when the chip is comparatively massive. So they want the Big Pockets™ to splash out, and splash out as early as possible.

All that combines to make the introduction of R580 and the first two SKUs it powers a curious one from a timetable perspective. ATI and their AIBs will tell you that X1800 XT, and especially X1800 XL, have sold strongly since their release. And we have no doubt that they have. But again, good money says there's bound to have been a tail off in XT sales in recent weeks as information and rumours on R580 have flowed freely.

Things are what they are, though, and we'd rather not dwell too much on the business and industry side of things during a technical evaluation of a new pixel pusher. And what a pixel pusher R580 seems to be.

There are significant differences in how R580 goes about the business of data processing, compared to R520. Be under no illusions; R580 ain't no simple R520 speed bump.

It's those difference that mostly concern us in this article, so join us as we examine them, building up a picture of how R580 works and defines its own set of processing characteristics, before using that picture as back up to an examination of its theoretical prowess, general computing ability and gaming performance.