Last week, we looked at Sapphire’s Radeon HD 2600 XT GDDR4 graphics card, finding it to be very good on the features front, especially for HD video playback, but its real problem was that of value for money as a mid-range graphics card for gaming.
You see, AMD’s previous mid-range product, the Radeon X1950 Pro, delivered much higher frame rates and therefore a better gaming experience when anti-aliasing was enabled. To rub some more salt into the wounds, Nvidia’s GeForce 8600 GT showed more potential with anti-aliasing enabled and, for the most part, was a faster graphics card, but even that wasn’t a match for ATI’s Radeon X1950 Pro.
GDDR4 memory is expensive at the moment and therefore not suited to a mid-range card. However, AMD is keen to push GDDR4 into the mainstream so that the price does eventually come down – this is something that Nvidia doesn’t seem to want to support. At the same time though, AMD also recognises that its partners might want to make GDDR3 versions of the HD 2600 XT in order to make the cards more price-competitive with Nvidia’s GeForce 8600 GT.
Today we have one example under the spotlight – HIS’s Radeon HD 2600 XT IceQ Turbo GDDR3. So, without further ado, let’s have a look at how it gets on...
HIS Radeon HD 2600 XT IceQ Turbo GDDR3Manufacturer: HIS
Three years (parts and labour)
UK Price (as reviewed): £76.26 (inc. VAT)
US Price (as reviewed): $154.99 (ex. Tax)
We’ve been a fan of what HIS has done for quite some time, as it was the first ATI board partner to really break the mould of only offering cards clocked at ATI’s reference clocks. The company’s Turbo series is a range dedicated to offering slightly higher than standard clock speeds out of the box.
Additionally, HIS moved away from ATI’s sometimes noisy reference design coolers and instead teamed up with the guys at Arctic Cooling to use its VGA Silencer coolers. Cards that use these coolers fall into the company’s IceQ series. Over the years, we’ve looked at quite a few IceQ cards, and generally speaking the technology doesn’t change – why change a winning formula?
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Before we move onto the card itself, it’s probably worth having a quick recap over what the Radeon HD 2600 XT is all about. The card uses AMD’s RV630 graphics chip, which has around 390 million transistors manufactured using a TSMC 65nm process. Those 390 million transistors amount to 120 stream processors split down into 24 five-way superscalar shader processors that are split into three SIMDs, each with eight shader processors per cluster. Each of these clusters is sent instructions via two sequencers and arbiters inside the chip’s Ultra Threaded Dispatch processor.
In addition to the sequencers and arbiters set aside for the three SIMDs, there are sequencers and arbiters set aside for texturing and vertex fetching too. The chip’s texturing capabilities are half that of R600 and also half what Nvidia’s competing G84 GPU processes every clock cycle. Obviously, the real-world differences between the Radeon HD 2600 XT and GeForce 8600 GT are smaller though, because the 8600 GT’s texture units are only clocked at 540MHz (at default), compared to 800MHz (or 830MHz on the HIS card we’re testing here) on the Radeon HD 2600 XT.
RV630 also outputs only half the number of pixels per clock that G84 does, but when you take the difference in clock speeds into account it’s not quite as bad as it sounds. Taking HIS’s Radeon HD 2600 XT IceQ Turbo GDDR3 card and comparing it to a reference-clocked GeForce 8600 GT shows that the former outputs only 30 percent fewer pixels per second than the latter. While it’s still a sizeable difference, it’s not anywhere near as large as it could have been.
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The card itself is a dual-slot affair like every other IceQ-series card. Now, this is obviously not ideal for someone looking for a card that fits into a small form factor or mATX system, but for those using a full-sized ATX motherboard, it shouldn’t be much of a problem. The heatsink itself is made from aluminium and is covered with a plastic shroud that glows nicely under a UV CCFL.
The fan sucks air into the shroud, across the heatsink’s fins and then straight out of your case through the PCI bracket – this is optimal because a large portion of the heat generated by the GPU is exhausted straight out the back of the case without heating up other components. As a result of this, it means that the fan can run at slower speeds and is therefore potentially quieter than a single slot cooler. During testing, we were unable to hear the card running over other noise emitted by our open air test bed – I guess the theory works in practice, then.
At 167mm long, it’s immediately obvious that the card’s blue PCB is much smaller than the Radeon HD 2600 XT GDDR4, which is 227mm long; instead, it’s a similar length to the Radeon X1650 XT (which is 166mm long). When you add the cooler, which is slightly longer than the PCB, the card is around 184mm long – about 10mm longer than the GeForce 8600 GT’s PCB.
Like the GDDR4 version, there is no need for a supplementary power connector, meaning that the card draws less than 75W of juice – the maximum amount of power that can be drawn through a PCI-Express 1.1a slot.