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Abit's Radeon 9800 XT graphics card

Going to bat for the red team

ModelRadeon 9800 XT
Price (list)$499

WHEN ATI first released its R300 graphics chip, I couldn't help but feel bad for NVIDIA's graphics partners. ATI and its partners were offering the best graphics cards on the block, and NVIDIA's partners were stuck with the GeForce 4 and a lot of hype for the upcoming NV30 graphics chip. When NV30 finally emerged in the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra, it was months late, strapped to a Dustbuster, and far from a compelling alternative to ATI's high-end offerings.

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.

The specs
Before we examine Abit's take on the Radeon 9800 XT, here's a quick look at the product's spec sheet:

Core clock412MHz
Pixel pipelines8
Peak pixel fill rate3296 Mpixels/s
Texture units/pixel pipeline1
Textures per clock8
Peak texel fill rate3296 Mtexels/s
Memory clock730MHz
Memory typeBGA DDR2 SDRAM
Memory bus width256-bit
Peak memory bandwidth23.4GB/s
PortsVGA, DVI, composite and S-Video outputs
Auxiliary power connector4-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.

Abit's last chance to differentiate its 9800 XT is the card's bundle, but there's really nothing exciting going on there either. In addition to a driver CD, the card comes with a standard assortment of cables and adapters and a voucher for Half-Life 2, just like ATI's 9800 XT.

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.