ATI counters with a more affordable X1800
Not content to sit back and let NVIDIA hog the spotlight, ATI has decided to launch its own new video card today, as well. The Radeon X1800 GTO will sell for about $249, and ATI bills it as a rival to NVIDIA's G73. That's not quite accurate from a list price standpoint, and I doubt the street prices will be exactly equal, either.
That said, the X1800 GTO is based on higher-priced hardware: an ATI R520 GPU with a 256-bit memory interface. In fact, the GTO shares the same board design used for the Radeon X1800 XL and XT. For this application, the R520 has had its wings clipped a little bit. All eight of its vertex shaders remain, but one of its pixel shader "quads" has been deactivated, leaving 12 pixel shader units intact. Accordingly, ATI has disabled four of the GPU's 16 texture address units and four of its 16 render back ends. The maximum number of threads possible in its dispatch processor drops from 512 to 384, as well. This scaled-back R520 will run at 500MHz on the Radeon X1800 GTO, and it will make use of 256MB of GDDR3 memory running at the exact same speed.
The GTO's appearance with these specifications sets up heckuva battle with the 7600 GT. ATI was obviously aiming for the 7600 GT when they cooked up the GTO, but they may not have fully anticipated the 7600 GT's potency: the GTO's peak multitextured fill rate is 6 gigatexels/s, while the 7600 GT's is 6.72 gigatexels/s. What it gives up in texturing capacity, though, the GTO makes up in pixel fill rate (6 gigatexels/s to the 7600 GT's 4.48 gigatexels/s) and memory bandwidth (32GB/s to the 7600 GT's 22.4GB/s.) The question, of course, ultimately comes down to price and performance, all other things being approximately equal. We'll have to see how the GTO-GT battle shapes up in our tests.
In order to make the Radeon X1800 GTO more competitive in the mid-range of the graphics market, ATI will be releasing a driver in the coming days that will allow "connectorless" CrossFire multi-GPU configurations with the GTO. Such configs will not require a CrossFire "master" card or an external dongle; they will, instead, transfer data between the graphics cards via PCI Express. Connectorless CrossFire systems are subject to the bandwidth limitations of the host system's PCI Express connection, but the GTO might do fairly well in combination with ATI's new dual 16-lane CrossFire Xpress 3200 chipset. Of course, because it's an X1800, the GTO could also be used in conjunction with the Radeon X1800 CrossFire Edition, but that's a more expensive card that will have to disable half of its 512MB of memory when running in tandem with the GTO.
ATI expects Radeon X1800 GTO cards from its board partners to be on store shelves by the end of March, possibly sooner. There will not, however, be any "built by ATI" versions of the GTO. This is a partner-only product.
The X1800 GTO is notable for another reason, too: it's a new Radeon X1800. We were given the distinct impression at this past CES that the Radeon X1900 would be replacing the X1800 series. ATI even showed us a slide with its new product lineup featuring the X1300, X1600, and X1900 series, with no mention of the X1800 at all. Unless "EOL" stands for "alive and well" in Etruscan, the X1800 series was on the way out. Now, not only does the GTO reanimate the Radeon X1800 line, but it's part of a larger repositioning of Radeon X1800 cards at lower prices. Here's a look, straight from ATI, at the new mix of Radeons.
This remixed product lineup brings a number of changes, starting with lower expected selling prices up top. The Radeon X1900 XTX is down $100 from its launch, and the XT is down $80. Radeon X1800 cards have also been rejiggered to better fit into their new places below the X1900s, with the XT dropping down to 256MB and the XL jumping up to 512MB. (All of this makes sense if you have a marketing degree, I'm quite sure.) The GTO rounds out the bunch at $249.
This apparent change of plans from ATI is a welcome one, because it plugs what we've called "a gaping hole" in its product linein a place where PC enthusiasts have recently found the most value for their money in a graphics card. We will, of course, have to see whether street prices wind up reflecting ATI's newly stated wishes. We have seen eleventh-hour price cuts from ATI in the past that didn't really materialize in the market.
We're talking about essentially three new products in the Radeon X1800 series, despite the "available" notes in ATI's table above. As I write, the Radeon X1800 XL 512MB is nowhere to be found in our price search engine, and the Radeon X1800 XT 256MB shows up as only one card available from one vendor. Also, prices on the incumbent cards haven't yet fallen to these levels. You'll pay between $469 and $499 for a Radeon X1800 CrossFire card today. As for the X1900 series, the going rate on the XTX is about $589, and the XT weighs in at about $510. ATI's plan for its new lineup looks like it could offer excellent value for the money, but that lineup simply hasn't arrived yet.