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ATI's All-In-Wonder X1900 graphics card

48 pixel shaders, one rabid octopus
— 5:00 AM on January 31, 2006

I SUPPOSE THIS REVIEW should be fairly simple. We've reviewed ATI's All-In-Wonder video cards in the past, and we just recently examined the new Radeon X1900 family of graphics cards. Package together the standard suite of All-In-Wonder extras with a Radeon X1900 graphics processor, and you pretty much have the AIW X1900—a $499 graphics card with a laundry list of multimedia features that will record your favorite TV shows, let you edit family videos, play DVDs while you relax on the couch, slice through the latest 3D games with ease, feed the cat, and wash the dishes while you aren't looking. It is, indeed, a wonder. However, each new All-In-Wonder packs so many features into one box, just understanding what all you're getting with the product can be daunting.

AIW + X1900 = AIW X1900?
Take, for instance, the 3D graphics and gaming capabilities of the AIW X1900. This card is based on the Radeon X1900 GPU, but it runs at different clock speeds than the familiar Radeon X1900 models XT and XTX, so its performance will be quite a bit different. In fact, in place of the stratospheric 600MHz-plus clock speeds of the other members of the X1900 family, the AIW's frequencies are rather modest: 500MHz for the GPU and 480MHz (or 960MHz DDR) for the card's 256MB of GDDR3 memory. That's exactly the same core clock as the Radeon X1800 XL and a slightly lower memory speed. Combined with the Radeon X1900 GPU's basic architecture, these clock speeds give the AIW X1900 eight gigapixels per second of pixel-pushing power and just over 30GB per second of memory bandwidth—virtually the same as the Radeon X1800 XL and in the same neighborhood as NVIDIA's GeForce 7800 GT.

Those numbers would practically be fate for the AIW X1900 if not for one thing: the Radeon X1900 GPU architecture crams fully 48 pixel shader processor units on a single chip, so the AIW X1900 should be a massive leap in computational power over the Radeon X1800 XL. One way to roughly compare pixel shader power between GPUs with the same basic heritage is to look at the number of pixel shader cycles per second running on the chip. At 500MHz with 16 pixel shader processors, the Radeon X1800 XL churns through 8 billion pixel shader cycles per second. The higher end Radeon X1800 XT pushes 10 billion. But thanks to its 48 shaders running at 500MHz, the AIW X1900 rips through 24 billion pixel shader cycles each second. That's considerably more shader power than even the very high end of ATI's last generation GPU lineup—which seems eerie to say since the Radeon X1800 series was only just released in October.

Comparing pixel shader cycles across GPU architectures is quite a bit trickier, because different shader units have divergent types of execution resources onboard capable of handling different mixes of math each clock cycle. Right now, it seems NVIDIA's GPU are performing better on a per-clock basis in most applications, perhaps in part because of the G70 GPU's focus on executing lots of MADD instructions. That said, the GeForce 7800 GTX's 24 pixel shader units running at 430MHz endow it with just over 10.3 billion pixel shader cycles per second. Obviously, at 24 billion, the AIW is a dead-serious challenger to the GeForce 7800 GT's bigger brother, despite a pixel fill rate and memory bandwidth more comparable to the GT than the GTX.

The 3D graphics power of this thing is considerable, but there is no close analog to it on the market right now. I expect—and hope—that the release of the AIW X1900 at these clock speeds presages the release of a non-AIW Radeon X1900 card with the same basic clock speeds and memory size for $50 to $100 less. That would be a very nice development, indeed, and finally put ATI back into contention versus NVIDIA in a segment of the market above $169 and below $499. For now, though, the AIW X1900 is ATI's only contender in high-end graphics under $500. Fortunately, it can most likely fend for itself.

So, you see, summing up the AIW X1900 isn't quite as simple as mashing together the AIW feature set with a Radeon X1900 card—and that's just the 3D part.

The All-In-Wonder X1900

The AIW X1900 card itself comes dressed in a purple-and-gold color scheme that's more muted than the fire-engine-red ATI standard, yet somehow has a higher bling factor. It's regal, I guess. Like all X1900s, it comes in PCI Express flavor only, at least for now, but the AIW X1900 has a decidedly different port configuration than most video cards. Believe it or not, all of the AIW X1900's ample array of I/O options will pass through one of the four ports on the back of the card; there's no separate back plate or drive-bay insert needed.

At the bottom left of the card in the picture above, you can see a rectangular gold plating covering the AIW's TV tuner. That's a Microtune 2121 silicon tuner, the device that receives RF signals from over-the-air broadcasts or the cable TV network and coverts them into analog video streams. This tuner works in concert with ATI's own Theater 200 video decoder chip, which is on the underside of the board and not shown in the picture above. The Theater 200 translates analog video streams into digital data for computer use, handling the analog-to-digital conversion, filtering, and scaling.

This combo of the Microtune 2121 and the Theater 200 have been powering AIW cards since the release of the All-In-Wonder X800 XT, and little has changed on the AIW X1900. ATI does have the newer Theater 550 video chip with hardware MPEG2 encoding, and we found it to be excellent in our round-up of stand-alone TV tuner cards not long ago. However, ATI has yet to integrate the Theater 550 on an All-In-Wonder.