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VisionTek's Xtasy 9800 Pro 256MB graphics card

Excess at its best

ModelXtasy 9800 Pro 256MB
Price (estimated)US$470

THE LAST VisionTek graphics card I reviewed was a GeForce4 Ti 4200. Since then, VisionTek has survived a significant loss of staff, a bankruptcy and subsequent buyout, and perhaps most importantly, a shift from NVIDIA to ATI as its graphics chip supplier.

VisionTek couldn't have picked a better time to switch teams.

Since VisionTek flipped its allegiance, NVIDIA has struggled to overcome early GeForce FX problems and endured an ugly benchmark cheating/optimization fiasco. At the same time, ATI's new line of R3x0-derived Radeons has dominated mid-range and high-end enthusiast markets. I suppose one could accuse VisionTek of jumping on the ATI bandwagon, but can you blame them?

Today we've wrangled VisionTek's latest high-end graphics card, the Xtasy 9800 Pro 256MB. As I'm sure you've already guessed, the card is based on ATI's Radeon 9800 Pro, and comes packed with 256MB of memory. Loading up graphics cards with gobs of memory has become a clever marketing trick for manufacturers looking to spice up their low-end and mid-range graphics cards, but often those cards lack the horsepower to take advantage of the extra memory. Can the Xtasy 9800 Pro's R350 graphics chip push enough 3D pixels to make use of the card's extra memory? Read on to find out.

The specs
We reviewed ATI's Radeon 9800 Pro back in March, so I won't dwell too much on the graphics chip's capabilities. 128MB and 256MB flavors of the Radeon 9800 Pro use the same R350 graphics chip clocked at 375MHz, so they're essentially identical when it comes to feature support, DirectX capabilities, and the like.

Core clock380MHz
Pixel pipelines8
Peak pixel fill rate3040 Mpixels/s
Texture units/pixel pipeline1
Textures per clock8
Peak texel fill rate3040 Mtexels/s
Memory clock700MHz
Memory typeBGA GDDR2 SDRAM
Memory bus width256-bit
Peak memory bandwidth22.4GB/s
PortsVGA, DVI, and S-Video outputs
Auxiliary power connectorFour-pin Molex

Not only do 128 and 256MB Radeon 9800 Pros differ in memory size, the two card flavors also feature different memory technologies running at different clock speeds. 256MB cards have a 20MHz advantage over 128MB cards in memory clock speeds. That 20MHz lead translates into an extra 640MB/sec of memory bandwidth, which should give 256MB cards a very slight advantage in scenarios where memory bandwidth becomes a key bottleneck.

Part of the reason for different memory clock speeds for 128MB and 256MB Radeon 9800 Pro cards is the fact they use different memory types. 128MB cards use plain old DDR SDRAM, while 256MB cards use swanky new GDDR2 chips. GDDR2 is a relatively new technology that's supposed to enable higher clock speeds, but given the Radeon 9800 Pro 256MB's paltry 20MHz memory clock speed advantage, it doesn't look like GDDR2 has a significant clock speed advantage just yet.

Since the R350's memory controller was designed to work with both DDR and GDDR2 SDRAM, ATI didn't have modify its GPU chip to support the new memory type.

The Xtasy 9800 Pro 256MB poses for a centerfold shot