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MSI RX2600XT Diamond Plus Graphics Card
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Date: Nov 11, 2007
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Jeff Bouton
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Introduction and Specification
Speed.  It's the one thing that gets all the attention when most folks consider performance computer hardware.  Whether we're referring to the CPU, Memory, Hard Drive or Graphics card, one of the most important characteristics we consider is its raw performance, wanting to know just how fast a component is compared to others in its category.  Perhaps a better question to ask is how fast does it need to be?  Case in point is the constants battle between NVIDIA and AMD/ATI for who has the fastest graphics card on the market.

This time last year the Geforce 8800 GTX was the new top graphics card on the scene, trouncing on every competitor it was pitted against.  This was viewed by some as a back breaker for AMD/ATI, who was struggling to match the raw performance of NVIDIA's power hungry behemoth, let alone producing a viable DX10-ready graphics solution at that time.  Now, roughly a year later, AMD/ATI still doesn't have a high-end card to match the GeForce 8800GTX in raw power, but when you consider the market share of graphics cards that cost over $500, AMD/ATI seems perfectly content in delivering quality options that appeal to the masses, rather than the high-end market niche'.

Today, while ATI/AMD still doesn't have a "GeForce killer", it does have a number of competent and competitive low, mid and high-end cards that often score high marks for those evaluating performance from a dollar-for-dollar perspective.  One such model is the Radeon HD 2600 XT.  In this article, we will assess another 2600 XT class card in the form of the MSI RX2600XT Diamond Plus, an aggressively clocked Radeon HD 2600 XT backed with 512MB of high-speed GDDR4.  We'll take a look at the card's gaming performance with a number of quality titles known to stress even the strongest of graphics cards.  Then we'll assess overall features as well as pricepoint, to come up with a balanced view of how the MSI RX2600XT Diamond Plus fits in the current graphics card market.

 

MSI RX2600XT Diamond Plus
Specifications & Overview
RADEON™X2600XT Chipset Features and Specifications
       
Fully DirectX 10.0 compliant, including full speed 32-bit floating point per component Operations
      - Full symmetry on both heads.
- Shader Model 4.0 geometry and pixel support in a unified shader architecture:
- Full speed 32-bit floating point processing per component.
- High dynamic range rendering with floating point blending, texture filtering and antialiasing support.
- High performance dynamic branching and flow control.
- Advanced shader design, with ultra-threading sequencer for high efficiency operations.
- Advanced, high performance branching support, including static and dynamic branching.
- Full anti-aliasing on render surfaces up to and including 128-bit floating point formats.
- Support for OpenGL 2.0
       
Anti-Aliasing Filtering
      - 2x/4x/8x modes.
- Sparse multi-sample algorithm with gamma correction, programmable sample patterns, and centroid sampling.
- Temporal anti-aliasing.
- Adaptive anti-aliasing mode.
- Lossless color compression (up to 8:1) at all resolutions, up to and including widescreen HDTV.
       
Anisotropic Filtering
      - 2x/4x/8x/16x modes
- Up to 128-tap texture filtering.
       
Advanced Texture Compression (3Dc+)
     
- High quality 4:1 compression for normal maps and luminance maps.
- Works with any single-channel or two-channel data format.
- New vertex cache and vertex fetch design, to increase vertex throughput from previous generations.
- New multi-level texture cache to give optimal performance, greater than 8x the previous designs.
       
High efficiency ring bus memory controller
      - Programmable arbitration logic maximizes memory efficiency, software upgradeable.
- Fully associative texture, color, and Z cache design.
- New hierarchical Z & Stencil buffers with Early Z Test.
- New lossless Z-buffer compression for both Z and Stencil.
- Fast Z-Buffer Clear.
- Z cache optimized for real-time shadow rendering.
       
Integrated HD Audio Controller (Azelia) and Codec
      - Integrated HD Audio codec supports linear PCM and DolbyR Digital (5.1) audio formats for
- HDMI output.
- Uses Microsoft UAA driver.
- Internally connected to the integrated HDMI interface, hence no external cable required.
- PCI device id : AA10h (Azalia), AA11h (Audio Codec).
- Support for basic audio (32, 44.1 or 48 kHz stereo) and DolbyR Digital or DTS at the same sample rates.
       
DVI/HDMI Features
      - Fully compliant with the DVI electrical specification.
- Fully integrated DVI/HDMI Interface
- Supports one single link DVI or one HDMI link (HDMI output on single-link TMDS1 only).
- Meets Vista logo requirements.
- 1650 Mbps/channel with 165 MHz pixel clock rate per link.
- Supports industry standard EIA-861B video modes including 480p, 720p and 1080i. For a full list of currently supported modes, contact your AMD CSS representative.
Avivo Display System - Dual DACs & MPEG 1/2/4 decode and encode acceleration
      - Dual-link support for display resolutions up to 3840x2400 per display output.
- Flexible support of the following configurations: CRT + DVI/HDMI, TV + DVI/HDMI, DVI/HDMI + DVI/HDMI.
- Maximum pixel frequency of 400 Mhz.
- HDCP support available on all DVI and HDMI links with integrated key storage for up to two simultaneous outputs including dual-link DVI. (Note: HDCP available only to HDCP licensed buyers).
- iDCT/DCT and color space conversion
- HW DXVA parser support for iDCT
- MPEG-4 Simple Profile support
- All-format DTV/HDTV decoding.
       
HDCP - High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection
      HDCP is a content protection specification to protect digital entertainment content across the DVI/HDMI interface. The HDCP provides a robust, cost-effective and transparent method for transmitting and receiving digital entertainment similar to DVI/HDMI-compliant digital displays. HDCP encrypts the data transmitted between the DVI/HDMI connector on the graphics adapter and the display. To provide this support, both the graphics adapter and the display need to have an HDCP transmitter and receiver respectively.
       
CrossFire Multi-GPU Technology
      - Scale up rendering performance and image quality with 2 or more GPUs
- Integrated compositing engine
- High performance dual channel interconnect

PERFORMANCE
     
•     Memory interface: 128-bit
•     Memory Clock Speed: 2300MHz
•     Engine Clock Speed: 850MHz
•     Stream Processing units: 120
•     Texture Units: 8
       
Bundle Software
        
•     VGA Driver
•     MSI Live Update Series ( Live VGA BIOS & Live VGA Driver)
-     Automatically online download & update VGA BIOS & Drivers, reduce the risk of getting the wrong files, and never have the trouble on web site searching.
•     GoodMen
      Automatically release the system memory space, reduce the risk of system hang-up.
•     LockBox
-     Instantly enter the data lock mode when you must leave your system for a while.
•     WMIinfor
-     Automatically list the detail system configuration, it helpful for engineering service people.
•     MSI VIVID NEW!
-     Automatically list the detail system configuration, it's helpful for engineering service people.
•     MSI Live NEW!
-     Including all real time life information you need, such as Live MSI Product News, Live Daily Information, Live Personal Schedule Manager, Live Search and more.
•     MSI Secure DOC
•     E-Color
•     MediaRing
•     ShowShift
•     ThinSoft Be Twin
•     Adobe Acrobat Reader
•     Norton Internet Security 2005
•     Microsoft® DirectX 9.0b


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MSI RX2600XT Diamond Plus - Up Close
The MSI RX2600XT Diamond Plus comes packed with an ample collection of hardware, printed materials and software to take full advantage of the card's features.  There is a User's Manual and Quick Installation guide to cover the installation and features and the Drivers/Software CD comes with the necessary drivers and a collection of extra software.  Unfortunately, MSI's software complement hasn't evolved much over the last few years, offering a number of proprietary software bundles and dated third party titles with questionable usefulness.  For example, there is no need to offer Norton A/V 2005 when there are free titles available such as Avast! and AVG.   The same can be said for Goodmem, Lockbox and WMIinfo, all of which are dated as well.  What would be more impressive than a list of software past its prime, would be a current gaming title.


The hardware bundle consists of a DVI-to-VGA adapter and a DVI-to-HDMI adapter that delivers HDMI video and audio to external HDMI-ready equipment.  MSI also includes an S-Video cable, 9-pin-to-component cable and a 9-pin-to-S-Video/composite cable for connecting to a wide range of external video sources.

The MSI RX2600XT Diamond Plus has a name that implies something extra, and that it has.  There is both a MSI RX2600XT Diamond and MSI RX2600XT Diamond Plus, which are identical except for memory configuration.  The MSI RX2600XT Diamond Plus comes with 512MB of GDDR4 memory, double that of its counterpart.  With a 128-bit memory interface and GDDR4 clocked at 2300MHz DDR, the memory interface can deliver 36.8GB/s of bandwidth while the 850MHz RV630 based VPU delivers 120 Stream Processing Units and 8 Texture Units with a peak Fill Rate topping out at 6800MTexels/s.
  The rear of the card comes with two DVI connections as well as a port for component inputs/outputs.

To help keep the MSI RX2600XT Diamond Plus cool, MSI outfitted the card with a two slot cooler that is very quiet.  Sadly, the two slot design means potentially sacrificing other available slots adjacent to the PCI-Express slot.  We would have much rather seen an elegant single slot solution, much like we saw with our recent review of the Sapphire HD 2600 XT, which is of course clocked at a more modest 800MHz/2200MHz.  The sink itself is a heat-pipe design while RAM-sinks are also applied separate from the main cooling assembly.  We should note, however, that the way the VPU cooler is designed, no airflow passes across the RAM-sinks from the VPU fan itself, leaving the case fans to do the job alone.  Another plus is the fact that the card does not need an external power supply but instead meets the standard PCI Express power budget drawn from the slot itself..

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Performance Comparisons with 3DMark06 v1.1.0
The HotHardware Test Systems
AMD Athlon 64 X2 Powered

Hardware Used:
AMD Athlon 64 X2 5200+
(2.6GHz)

GIGABYTE GA-M59SLI-S5
(NVIDIA nForce 590 SLI for AMD)


2x2GB OCZ PC-6400
(2x1GB)


MSI RX2600XT Diamond Plus - 512MB GDDR4
Sapphire HD 2600XT - 256MB GDDR4
Sapphire HD 2600 Pro OC - 256MB GDDR3
GIGABYTE GV-NX86S256H
MSI NX8600GT-T2D256H

On-board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD 74GB "Raptor" DD
10,000 RPM SATA

Relevant Software:
Windows XP Professional SP2
DirectX 9.0c (August Redist.)
nForce Drivers v9.35

NVIDIA Forceware v162
ATI Catalyst v7.10

Benchmarks Used:

DirectX
3DMark06 v1.1.0
F.E.A.R. v1.08
Half Life 2: Lost Coast
 

OpenGL
Quake 4 v1.3
Prey v1.2

Performance Comparisons with 3DMark06 v1.1.0
Details: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06/

3DMark06

3DMark06 is the latest addition to the 3DMark franchise. This version differs from 3Dmark05 in a number of ways, and now includes not only Shader Model 2.0 tests, but Shader Model 3.0 and HDR tests as well. Some of the assets from 3DMark05 have been re-used, but the scenes are now rendered with much more geometric detail and the shader complexity is vastly increased as well. Max shader length in 3DMark05 was 96 instructions, while 3DMark06 ups the number of instructions to 512. 3DMark06 also employs much more lighting, and there is extensive use of soft shadows. With 3DMark06, Futuremark has also updated how the final score is tabulated. In this latest version of the benchmark, SM 2.0 and HDR / SM3.0 tests are weighted and the CPU score is factored into the final tally as well.







Comparing the MSI RX2600XT to other cards in its class, there is little in the way of surprises to be found.  NVIDIA's GeForce 8600GTS wins the overall performance tests as well as Shader Model 2.0 testing, which favored both GeForce models.  In Shader Model 3.0 testing, however, the scales shift in favor of the MSI RX2600XT and its siblings.  With the MSI model being the faster of the three ATI based graphics cards, there was little to set it apart from the standard Radeon HD 2600 XT in this test.  We saw no major advantages from the higher clockspeeds and the larger on-board frame buffer didn't yield measurable gains either.
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Performance Comparisons with F.E.A.R.
Performance Comparisons with F.E.A.R.
More Info: http://www.whatisfear.com/us/

F.E.A.R

One of the most highly anticipated titles of 2005 was Monolith's paranormal thriller F.E.A.R. Taking a look at the game's minimum system requirements, we see that you will need at least a 1.7GHz Pentium 4 with 512MB of system memory and a 64MB graphics card in the Radeon 9000 or GeForce4 Ti-classes or better, to adequately run the game. Using the full retail release of the game patched to v1.07, we put the graphics cards in this article through their paces to see how they fared with a popular title. Here, all graphics settings within the game were set to their maximum values, but with soft shadows disabled (Soft shadows and anti-aliasing do not work together currently). Benchmark runs were then completed at resolutions of 1024x768 and 1280x960 with 4x anti-aliasing and 8x anisotropic filtering enabled.




F.E.A.R. testing was best suited to the GeForce 8600 series, which handily topped all flavors of the 2600 tested.  The MSI RX2600XT Diamond Plus managed a small increase in performance over the Sapphire HD 2600 XT while both GeForce cards held healthy leads over all three ATI cards.
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Performance Comparisons with Prey
Performance Comparisons with Prey
Details: http://www.prey.com/

Prey
After many years of development, Take-Two Interactive recently released the highly anticipated game Prey. Prey is based upon an updated and modified version of the Doom 3 engine, and as such performance characteristics between the two titles are very similar.  Like Doom 3, Prey is also an OpenGL game that uses extremely high-detailed textures and a plethora of dynamic lighting and shadows.  But unlike Doom3, Prey features a fare share of outdoor environments as well.  We ran these Prey benchmarks using a custom recorded timedemo with the game set to its "High-Quality" graphics mode, at resolutions of 1024x768 and 1280x1024 with 4X AA and 8X anisotropic filtering enabled simultaneously.



With our Prey test, the RX2600XT performed roughly on the same level as the GeForce 8600GT, while the GeForce GTS maintained no less than a 10 FPS advantage.   When compared to the Radion 2600 XT, the MSI RX2600XT managed a small 1 FPS increase in both resolutions showing no measureable gains from having twice the memory and a nominal speed boost.
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Performance Comparisons with Quake 4
Performance Comparisons with Quake 4
Details: http://www.quake4game.com/

Quake 4
id Software, in conjunction with developer Raven, recently released the latest addition to the wildly popular Quake franchise, Quake 4. Quake 4 is based upon an updated and slightly modified version of the Doom 3 engine, and as such performance characteristics between the two titles are very similar.  Like Doom 3, Quake 4 is also an OpenGL game that uses extremely high-detailed textures and a ton of dynamic lighting and shadows, but unlike Doom3, Quake 4 features some outdoor environments as well. We ran this these Quake 4 benchmarks using a custom demo with the game set to its "High-Quality" mode, at resolutions of 1024x768 and 1280x1024 with 4X AA and 8X aniso enabled simultaneously.


Like the results recorded with Prey, the MSI RX2600XT Diamond Plus competed on the same level as the Sapphire HD 2600 XT and MSI NX8600GT.  Once again, we saw a 1-2 FPS gain over the 2600 XT, leaving the two cards essentially on the same performance level.  And again, the GeForce 8600GTS was the top performer, holding a 5-8 FPS edge.
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Overclocking, Performance Summary and Conclusion
Overclocking
(Fast 3D Video Cards) + Overclocking = Even Faster Cards, Or So We Hoped

Overclocking the MSI RX2600XT turned out to be a dead-end, with the card yield ingno extra headroom whatsoever.  First we attempted to use ATI Overdrive to find the highest settings, which ultimately peaked at 857/1179 with no option to manually increase the clockspeeds further.  Next, we attempted to use ATITool to take the card further but the software would not operate properly with the MSI RX2600XT Diamond Plus, returning errors with every attempt.  Interestingly, when we reviewed the Sapphire Radeon HD 2600 XT, it too topped out at 857/1179 exactly.  It appears these cards are physically locked so they do not go beyond this point.

Performance Summary:  While the MSI RX2600XT comes with twice the memory of any card we compared it to, and its clockspeeds run a notch higher than a standard Radeon 2600XT, we saw minimal performance gains in all of our tests as a result versus a stock Radeon HD 2600 XT.  That said, the card does compete relatively well with the likes of a GeForce 8600 GT.  Perhaps at higher resolution settings with AA enabled, where a larger frame buffer can be utilized, we would have seen some measurable differences.  However, a lower-cost mainstream card like this simply can't keep up fill-rate wise at very high resolutions, so the end result would be a pointless low frame rate anyway.

In evaluating the MSI RX2600XT Diamond Plus, there are a few things to consider.  First, added clockspeeds and more memory did not result in any marked gains compared to a Radeon 2600 XT running slightly slower and equipped with half the memory allotment.  The MSI RX2600XT Diamond Plus also could not take a definitive lead over the GeForce 8600 class cards in most tests either, begging to question just how this model fits in today's market.

Overall, we'd like to say that the MSI RX2600XT Diamond Plus is a good value for a card of its caliber, but pricing proved to be a challenge.  We were able to locate non-plus models with 256MB of memory for $135, which isn't a bad price, but pricing on "Plus" models remained elusive.  We can report that the RX2600XT Diamond 256MB model weighs in about $5 less that the Sapphire HD 2600 XT we used for comparison, which comes clocked a tad slower, so pricing appears competitive.  Regardless, with the added clockspeeds and double the memory not offering any performance gains to speak of, we think most potential buyers would be perfectly happy with the non-Plus version of the MSI RX2600XT Diamond. 

Comparing the card's value dollar-for-dollar, Radeon 2600XTs stacked up nicely to a more expensive Geforce 8600 series a few months ago, but market pricing has shifted lately and now the two cards are often found at similar price points.  Today, a Geforce 8600GT with comparable features can be had for $130, leaving personal preference the primary reason to choose one model over the other.

  • Good Performance
  • CrossFire Capable
  • No External Power Requirements
  • HDMI
  • Availability
  • Dated Complimentary Software
  • Poor Overclocking
  • Two Slot Cooler
  • No Performance Benefits Seen with 512MB of Memory

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