Many of NVIDIA's partners balked at NV30 and prayed for salvation in the chip's successor, NV35. However, before NV35 had a chance to spread its wings as the GeForce FX 5900, NVIDIA became embroiled in a bitter controversy over questionable driver optimizations and outright cheating that eroded the company's already damaged reputation among enthusiasts.
With NVIDIA's stature in decline, many of its graphics partners sought greener pastures with rival ATI. Asus and VisionTek were among the big-name defectors, but perhaps the most interesting partner to switch teams was Abit, whose OTES cooling system inspired NVIDIA's much-maligned Dustbuster.
Not content to wait for the next generation of chips to capitalize on its new partnership with ATI, Abit is rolling out a high-end Radeon 9800 XT. Abit's 9800 XT has the potential not only to vindicate the company's new partnership with ATI, but also to showcase Abit's ability to deliver unique and innovative graphics products for PC enthusiasts.
Before we examine Abit's take on the Radeon 9800 XT, here's a quick look at the product's spec sheet:
|Peak pixel fill rate||3296 Mpixels/s|
|Texture units/pixel pipeline||1|
|Textures per clock||8|
|Peak texel fill rate||3296 Mtexels/s|
|Memory type||BGA DDR2 SDRAM|
|Memory bus width||256-bit|
|Peak memory bandwidth||23.4GB/s|
|Ports||VGA, DVI, composite and S-Video outputs|
|Auxiliary power connector||4-pin Molex|
At least as far as specs go, Abit's Radeon 9800 XT follows ATI's reference design. You can read more about what's going on under the hood of the R360 GPU in our Radeon 9800 XT review.
So what does Abit's take on the Radeon 9800 XT look like?
Remarkably like ATI's. Apart from a different sticker on the GPU cooler, Abit's Radeon 9800 XT appears to be identical to the ATI reference card we reviewed back in September.
Since so few of ATI or even NVIDIA's graphics partners deviate from reference graphics card designs, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to see an Abit sticker on a reference board. However, I can't help but be a little disappointed that Abit didn't flex its creative muscles and debut a revamped OTES system for the 9800 XT.
Abit follows ATI's reference design all the way down to the card's memory chip heat spreader, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. The 9800 XT's reference cooler's single-slot, variable speed design keeps the GPU cool without producing too much noise or unnecessarily obstructing PCI slots.
Since the reference 9800 XT already has a quiet fan, I can understand why Abit didn't add its own cooler. Also, I've been whining about the lack of dual DVI outputs on consumer-level graphics cards for a while, and I can't for the life of me understand why dual DVI isn't standard on a $500 graphics card. Bringing dual DVI to high-end Radeon graphics cards would have complemented Abit's history of pioneering innovative new features like SoftMenu, IDE RAID, and SecureIDE encryption in high-end motherboards.
When ATI announced its Half-Life 2 bundling deal back in September, it was a huge coup. Instead of bundling the Radeon 9800 XT with an assortment of stale titles from years gone by, the card would come with a free copy of Valve's eagerly anticipated sequel to Half-Life. Unfortunately, things didn't go exactly as planned. A source code leak forced Valve to push back Half-Life 2's original September 30 release date, and gamers have been waiting ever since. In the meantime, ATI's graphics partners have been shipping cards with vouchers for Half-Life 2 rather than the game itself, and some partners have dropped the Half-Life 2 bundle completely. To make up for the delay, Valve is letting those with vouchers for the game download a game pack including six of Valve's older titles. It's a token gesture, but I suppose it's better than nothing. At least the game pack will give users time to familiarize themselves with the Half-Life universe while they wait for the sequel.