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VisionTek Xtasy 9800 Pro 128MB AGP
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Date: Jul 01, 2003
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: HH Editor
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VisionTek Xtasy 9800 Pro 128MB AGP - Page 1

VisionTek Xtasy 9800 Pro 128MB AGP
Back from the Dead with a Whole New Attitude

By - Jeff Bouton
July 1, 2003

It wasn't that long ago that VisionTek was one of the top manufacturers of nVidia based graphics cards.  The Xtasy line offered a wide range of solutions, from the budget MX series, to the top card of the day, the GeForce 4 Ti4600.  Then suddenly VisionTek was "gone".  Those of us who were familiar with the company were quite surprised.  There were a few rumors of trouble brewing, but no major signs that they had planned to cease production of their "Xtasy" nVidia based product line.  Instead, we just woke up one morning and the "old" VisionTek was no more.  Legal wrangling and asset liquidation commenced and all in all, it was a bit ugly.

A lot has changed since then.  VisionTek has since been resurrected.  Hartford Computer Group, based out of Connecticut, bought up the remaining VisionTek assets, realigned the inner workings of the company and found themselves a new partner in ATi.  Today VisionTek manufacturers all of the OEM ATi products directly for ATi and they've brought back the Xtasy product line with a whole new look.  The bottom line is, however, this is an entirely new company that is striving to make a new name for itself again in the retail video card market.

Today we have our first opportunity to review the new VisionTek Xtasy 9800 Pro 128.  Seeing how VisionTek manufactures these cards directly for ATi, we were curious to see if they were going to add a little flavor of their own, or simply stamp their name on an ATi box.  Let's take a look.
 

Specifications & Features of the VisionTek 9800 Pro 128MB
Powerful Yet Refined.

 
RADEON? 9800 Visual Processing Unit (VPU)
380MHz Core Clock

MEMORY CONFIGURATION

  • 128MB of Double Data rate SDRAM - 340MHz DDR (680MHz)

3D GRAPHICS FEATURES

  • Eight parallel rendering pipelines process up to 3.04 billion pixels per second

  • Four parallel geometry engines process up to 380 million transformed and lit polygons per second

  • High precision 10-bit per channel frame buffer support

  • 256-bit DDR memory interface

  • AGP 8X support

-SMARTSHADER? 2.1

  • Full support for Microsoft® DirectX® 9.0 programmable pixel and vertex shaders in hardware

  • 2.0 Pixel Shaders support up to 16 textures per rendering pass

  • 2.0 Vertex Shaders support vertex programs with an unlimited number of instructions and flow control

  • 128-bit per pixel floating point color formats

  • Multiple Render Target (MRT) support

  • Shadow volume rendering acceleration

  • Complete feature set also supported in OpenGL via extensions

-SMOOTHVISION? 2.1

  • State-of-the-art full-scene anti-aliasing

  • New technology processes up to 18.2 billion anti-aliased samples per second for unprecedented performance

  • Supports 2x, 4x, and 6x modes with programmable sample patterns

  • Advanced anisotropic filtering

  • Supports up to 16 bilinear samples (in performance mode) or trilinear samples (in quality mode) per pixel

  • 2x/4x/6x full scene anti-aliasing modes

  • Adaptive algorithm with programmable sample patterns

  • 2x/4x/8x/16x anisotropic filtering modes

  • Adaptive algorithm with bilinear (performance) and trilinear (quality) options

  • Bandwidth-saving algorithm enables this feature with minimal performance cost

-HYPER Z? III+

  • Hierarchical Z-Buffer and Early Z Test reduce overdraw by detecting and discarding hidden pixels

  • Lossless Z-Buffer Compression and Fast Z-Buffer Clear reduce memory bandwidth consumption by over 50%

  • Fast Z-Buffer Clear

  • 8.8 : 1 Compression Ratio

  • Optimized Z-Cache for enhanced performance of shadow volumes

-TRUFORM? II

  • 2nd generation N-patch higher order surface support

  • Discrete and continuous tessellation levels per polygon for dynamic LOD

  • DirectX 9.0 displacement mapping

 
-VIDEOSHADER?
  • Seamless integration of programmable pixel shaders with video data

  • High quality, hardware accelerated de-blocking of internet streaming video

  • Noise removal filter for captured video

  • Integrated MPEG-2 decode

  • Hardware accelerated iDCT, motion compensation, and color space conversion

  • Top quality DVD and all-format DTV/HDTV decode with low CPU overhead

  • Back-end scaler delivers top quality playback

  • Upscaling and downscaling with 4-tap horizontal and vertical filtering

  • Filtered display of images up to 1920 pixels wide

  • Unique per-pixel adaptive de-interlacing feature combines the best elements of the ?bob? and ?add-field? (weave) techniques

FULLSTREAM? video de-blocking technology

  • Noise removal filtering for captured video

  • MPEG-2 decoding with motion compensation, iDCT and color space conversion

  • All-format DTV/HDTV decoding

  • YPrPb component output

  • Adaptive de-interlacing and frame rate conversion

  • Dual integrated display controllers

  • Dual integrated 10-bit per channel 400MHz DACs

  • Integrated 165 MHz TMDS transmitter (DVI and HDCP compliant)

  • Integrated TV Output support up to 1024x768 resolution

  • Optimized for Pentium® 4 SSE2 and AMD Athlon? 3Dnow!

  • PC 2002 compliant

DISPLAY FEATURES

  • Dual integrated display controllers

  • Drive two displays simultaneously with independent resolutions and refresh rates

  • HYDRAVISION? software provides complete control over multi-display configurations with a user-friendly interface

  • Dual integrated 10-bit per channel palette DACs operating at up to 400MHz

  • Integrated 165MHz TMDS transmitter supports resolutions up to QXGA (2048x1536) and complies with DVI and HDCP specifications

  • Integrated TV-Out support up to 1024x768 resolution

  • YPrPb output for direct drive of HDTV monitors

DISPLAY SUPPORT

  • 15-pin VGA connector for analog CRT

  • S-video or composite connector for TV/VCR

  • DVI-I connector for digital CRT or flat panel

  • Independent resolutions and refresh rates for any two connected displays

GENERAL FEATURES

  • Comprehensive 2x, 4x, and 8x AGP support

  • High performance quad-channel DDR or DDR2 memory interface supports 64/128/256MB configurations

  • Fully compliant with PC 2002 requirements

  • Optimized for Pentium® 4 SSE2 and AMD Athlon? 3Dnow! processor instructions

  • Supports optional THEATER? 200 companion chip for NTSC/PAL/SECAM video capture

  • Highly optimized 128-bit 2D engine with support for new Windows® XP GDI extensions


The Bundle:

There were a couple of things, right out of the box, that caught our attention.  The box is constructed from a clear plastic material with the artwork painted on, which creates an interesting translucent effect.  The Xtasy logo remained virtually unchanged.  The description of the card on the rear of the box, however, is the real attention getter.  In an obvious effort to get the attention of the younger PC gaming crowd, VisionTek opted to describe the card with a little of today's more colorful lingo.  With such statements as "ILLEST BRO ON DA BLOCK" and "FREAKen' SICKest Visual Effects", we found it hard to keep a straight face.  One would think the target market would be the more seasoned crowd, since they would be the most likely candidates to have "$400 smackers" to shell out for this "mutha."

CLICK ANY IMAGE FOR AN ENLARGED VIEW

OK, all kidding aside, we did find that the package was virtually the same as it arrives from ATi direct.  We would have expected a little variation in package contents, instead the box contained only the standard components with no bonus games or other colorful extras.  The box included S-Video and RCA cables as well as coupler for connecting to the video card's TV out features.  A VGA to DVI adapter is included to connect a standard VGA monitor to the DVI connector on the card itself.  A Y-Molex power cable was provided for powering the video card without coming up short a power connect.  Lastly, a setup CD and quick setup guide (not pictured) was also provided to successfully install the card and get it up and running.

Next Up - The Card & Image Quality... 

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VisionTek Xtasy 9800 Pro 128MB AGP - Page 2

VisionTek Xtasy 9800 Pro 128MB AGP
Back from the Dead with a Whole New Attitude

By - Jeff Bouton
July 1, 2003

Introducing the VisionTek 9800 Pro 128MB
Hmmm...This Looks Familiar

When we took a closer look at the VisonTek Xtasy 9800 Pro 128, we found it to be the very same card that ATi offers.  VisionTek did not spend any time outfitting the card with unique features to give it a look of their own.  We thought a custom cooler would be a simple way to give the card a more recognizable appearance as a VisionTek product, but in the end, aside from the packaging, there is no discernable way to tell that this card is a VisionTek marketed product at all.  Instead we found ATi stamped on the cooler and an ATi sticker next to the Molex power connector.

The card is powered by ATi's R350 core, clocked at 380MHz.  The VPU has a standard cooling package that marries up nicely to a shim and thin layer of thermal grease for efficient heat transfer.  While the cooler is nothing more than a stock design, it is quite capable of managing the heat generated by the core both efficiently and quietly.  The VPU is complimented by 128MB of Samsung BGA DDR RAM clocked at 340MHz (680MHz DDR).  A 256MB model is also planned.  The card sports a standard VGA output as well as a DVI output for flat panel display support, each of which are powered by their own 400MHz RAMDAC.  Dual CRT monitor output is supported with the use of the VGA to DVI adapter provided in the packaging.  Between the two video outputs is the TV/Video out connector for those wanting to output video to a television or VCR..

 

All in all, there is nothing groundbreaking to be found with the VisionTek Xtasy 9800 Pro 128.  Its a standard reference design.  What you will find is a re-branded ATi Radeon 9800 Pro.  Before we get into the performance of this card, however, let's take a look at what makes it all come together.

ATi's Catalyst 3.4 Drivers
The Brains Behind the Brawn

One of the strong points for any ATi based video card is the Catalyst driver set.  The Catalyst drivers have a number of features to automatically adjust a cards feature for performance and stability and it appears to be working.  The interface has already undergone several revisions to help users easily access and understand all of the drivers features.  We are particularly fond of the Main Setting slider that lets the user adjust the various visual qualities with a single slider bar rather than manipulating each setting themselves.  However, they did not get in the way of the control freak, allowing for each setting to be manually set as well.

Clearly the ATi Catalyst Drivers are the brains behind a lot of this video card's capabilities.  Next we'll take a quick look and the various presets in the Catalyst drivers and see how each compares as the visual quality is increased.

 

Eye Candy with Antialiasing & Anisotropic Filtering Enabled
This is Unreal!

We often like to throw a little eye candy your way when we review a powerful video card that is capable of running extreme visual qualities.  This time around we opted for Serious Sam: The Second Encounter, to demonstrate the various preset settings within the Catalyst 3.4 driver set.  Below you'll see four examples of the graphics quality while running the OpenGL demo.  Instead of manually configuring each screen, we adjusted the Main Setting slider between Performance, Balanced & Quality and then wrapped things up by manually increasing each setting to their maximum.

Performance
Balanced

Quality

Maximum

With the drivers set for performance we can see a lot of jagged edges with the tree, water line and gun, and there is low detail on the grass.  When we increased the setting to Balanced, the drivers increased the Texture preference and Mipmap detail levels which improved the quality ever so slightly versus the Performance setting.  Next we increased the slider to Quality which set the Texture preference and Mipmap detail levels to their maximums and turned on Antialiasing at 4X and Anisotropic filtering to 16X.  Now we see the texture and detail of the grass really come out and the jagged edges of the tree, water line and gun greatly reduced, the overall picture really sharpened up nicely.  Lastly we pushed Antialiasing to the top setting of 6X.  It turned out to be difficult comparing the Maximum settings vs. Quality, but as we continued to look we could see slightly greater details in the grass at further distances, but overall it was tough to tell the difference.

Next we'll take a look at gaming performance with several familiar OpenGL and DirectX based games to see how the Xtasy 9800 Pro 128 compared to the competition.

Benchmarking the Xtasy 9800Pro!

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VisionTek Xtasy 9800 Pro 128MB AGP - Page 3

VisionTek Xtasy 9800 Pro 128MB AGP
Back from the Dead with a Whole New Attitude

By - Jeff Bouton
July 1, 2003

Gaming Performance with Gunmetal
Something New...

We continued our DirectX benchmarking with a new benchmark called Gun Metal.    This benchmark is based on the game by the same name produced by Yeti Studios.  Realizing the need for a true real world DirectX 9 benchmark that can stress today's powerhouse video cards, Yeti Studios put together this little gem to bring any video card to its knees.  While that isn't the overall goal, what they intend to do is truly stress a card in a way that reflects its true abilities, exposing the GPU limit, rather than the CPU limit of the system.  To help achieve higher stress levels, Gun Metal is set up with Antialiasing and Anisotropic Filtering on by default and it can't be disabled.  Below are the results from running the "Benchmark 2".

At 800x600 screen resolution, the two cards competed very close, giving a slight advantage to the GeForce card.  Once we increased the resolution to 1024x768, the Radeon card dropped significantly in comparison, with the GeForce card barely dropping a full frame per second.  With the recent questions about nVidia's drivers and some of the bugs we've seen in the labs here at HH however, we wonder if this is truly representative of the performance we are seeing. 

This is still a new benchmark to us, so we'll have to keep an eye on it and see what trends unfold as more hardware is tested.  All in all though, we like it!

 

Gaming Performance with Quake3 v1.32
Old Reliable...

Next up, we have some OpenGL testing with Quake 3 Arena.  Like UT2003, we ran the test at two common resolutions with varying visual qualities enabled through the drivers.  We ran each test with the game set for "High Quality", adjusting only the resolution.

In the basic tests, the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra led by 14FPS at 1024x768 and slipped to a 6FPS lead at 1600x1200.  Once we started to increase the visual qualities however, the Xtasy model maintained the upper hand, especially at the higher resolution.  At 1024x768 the Radeon based card stayed on top by roughly 30FPS with the 4X AA and the 4X AA and 8X Anisotropic filtering tests.  At 1600x1200, the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra really began to give up some ground, giving the VisionTek Xtasy the lead by an average of 53FPS.  Clearly the ATi card is far more efficient at handling the additional visual qualities and it's over all image quality looked better too.  This is our subjective opinion of course but we've seen plenty of graphics hardware and feel we can judge accordingly.

Serious Sam TSE, Overclocking & the Wrap-up 

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VisionTek Xtasy 9800 Pro 128MB AGP - Page 4

VisionTek Xtasy 9800 Pro 128MB AGP
Back from the Dead with a Whole New Attitude

By - Jeff Bouton
July 1, 2003

More Head-to-Head Performance with Serious Sam: TSE
Lots of Guns, Action and Explosions!

We continued our OpenGL benchmarking with Croteam's Serious Sam: The Second Encounter.  Serious Sam is a more current OpenGL based program that does a decent job of stressing the mightiest of video cards, especially at higher resolutions.  To ensure that both cards were on a level playing field, we utilized the "High Quality" script developed by the folks at Beyond3D.

With Serious Sam we found the scores between the two cards to be more balanced.  At 1024x768 the scores were very close with the GeForce FX card taking a minor lead with NO AA.  Each card turned out virtually identical scores at 1600x1200.  Once we enabled 4X Antialiasing, the VisionTek Xtasy 9800 Pro took a small lead at all resolutions.  When it comes to enhanced visuals, the Radeon 9800 Pro based card is clearly superior to the FX 5800 Ultra.

Overclocking With The VisionTek Xtasy 9800 Pro 128
We Just Couldn't Leave Well Enough Alone!

Overclocking is a standard practice around here, in an effort to satisfy those who are not happy running their hardware at their default settings.  With the VisionTek Xtasy 9800 Pro 128, we had decent luck going from a default core speed of 380MHz to 430MHz, a gain equaling 13%.  The memory on the other hand jumped from a default 340MHz (680MHz DDR) to 365MHz.(730MHz.), resulting in a 7.3% increase.  When we put these overclocked speeds to the test, we managed to push the Unreal Tournament 2003 1600x1200 score up from 99.23 to an even 110FPS, resulting in a nice 10% boost.  With some added cooling and RAM sinks, this card could go even higher, but in its current configuration, anything higher than 430/365 resulted in serious artifacts.
 


 

The VisionTek XTasy 9800 Pro 128MB proved to be the solid performer that we expected.  Compared to the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra, the 9800 Pro was in command, especially when we enabled various strengths of Anisotropic Filtering and Antialiasing.  When you factor in that the FX card we used had DDR2, this says a lot for the XTasy 9800 Pro 128MB.  We also liked the simplicity of the card too.  Surely nVidia is able to develop a card that can compete, but their models require elaborate cooling solutions that often require the use of 2 PCI slots and generate enormous amounts of heat.  nVidia's latest 5900 Ultra card also shares this design but does drop in, with performance slightly ahead of a Radeon 9800 Pro, in most situations.  The Radeon line is more of a finesse card, capable of the higher performance with a more elegant design.

While performance and quality is the most important consideration for a video card, it is not the only one.  VisionTek pulled off one of the trickiest marketing strategies we've ever seen.  They were able to come up with a great looking design for the XTasy 9800 Pro 128 box, with a modern looking clear plastic design and backed it by some of the funniest "language" we've ever seen on a package.  We think that they may be a bit misguided on how to reach the target audience for this product, but they are not lost on delivering a video card with the power to run anything you can throw at it.

From a pricing perspective, we've seen the VisionTek XTasy 9800 Pro 128 card selling for anywhere from $375-359, while we've seen the ATi version available for as low as $345.  It seems that the VisionTek version is not as widely available as other 9800 Pros, making it difficult to compete price wise.  We also did a search for GeForce FX 5800 Ultras and saw the prices dip as low as $315 for some while others sold for well over $400.  GeForce FX 5900 (non_Ultra versions start at $390 and go up from there.   In our opinion, the Radeon 9800 128 is the best all around solution for the money.  The card will run faster with Antialiasing and Anistropic Filtering enabled.  It will run cooler and quieter since it only requires stock cooling, and it occupies only one slot in your case.  While some of you may be a bit disappointed at the lack of bonus materials in the package, you should be quite happy with the quality and performance of this product and we feel its image quality simply looks better in general, compared to nVidia GeForce FX based models.

Overall we were impressed with the quality and performance of the VisionTek XTasy 9800 Pro 128 and give it a Hot Hardware Heat Meter Rating of an 8.5.

 

 

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