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Radeon X300 SE 128MB HyperMemory
Date: May 10, 2005
Author: Jeff Bouton
Introduction and Recap


On March 15th, ATI announced news of their new value-class HyperMemory X300 SE series PCI Express Graphics Cards.  In direct answer to NVIDIA's TurboCache product line, the HyperMemory line was targeted to offer better overall performance at a lower price point.  At that time however, the cards themselves were not ready for testing, leaving our coverage more of an overview of the new technology, with little tangible performance data.

Now, as we move into Q2 2005, we've been provided an X300 SE Hypermemory 128 card direct from ATI.  This card allowed us to take a direct look at the X300 SE Hypermemory 128 and update our original preview with some performance comparisons from our own test bench.  Since there is no retail package to go over, nor any new information available that we haven't already covered, we are going to focus our attention on a brief recap of the product, followed by a comparison of an X300 SE 128 HyperMemory card vs a NVIDIA GeForce 6200 TurboCache 128, the closest apple-to-apples comparison of the two competitors that you can get.

ATI's Radeon X300 SE 128MB HyperMemory - Up Close
First Looks

The card we received was exactly as the promotional images looked from the original preview.  The card comes equipped with 32MB of on-board memory that combined with available system memory, can offer a total of 128MB frame buffer.  The main difference we see compared to the TurboCache line is ATI has opted to go with a single monitor output solution, while TurboCache models we've seen offer a VGA and DVI output as well, which adds a bit more flexibility, especially for LCD panel-based end users.   This is totally dependant on a board supplier's build out options however, and we've seen Hypermemory boards in the channel already with both VGA and DVI available on the back-plate.


The GeForce 6200 TC 128 we're going to use for performance comparison has a 25MHz core speed advantage, running at 350MHz vs. the X300 SE's 325MHz.  Memory speed also favors the 6200 at 350MHz vs the X300 at 300MHz. These differences give the GeForce 6200 TurboCache card a higher overall Pixel Fill Rate and Peak bandwidth.  For a side-by-side comparison of each card's specifications and features, please check our HyperMemory preview here

Each of these value-class graphics cards aim to be an affordable alternative to integrated graphics solutions, opening the door to some basic gaming potential.  Next, we're going to run a series of benchmarks to give you an idea of what kind of performance levels each of these new budget PCIe cards are capable of.

HH Test Bed, Final Fantasy & 3DMark05
HotHardware's Test System
Not all are created equal...

Socket T - Pentium 4 530 (3GHz)
ASUS P5GDC-V Deluxe Motherboard
I915G Chipset
Kingston HyperX PC3500 DDR-512MB
ATI X300 SE HyperMemory 128
NVIDIA GeForce 6200 TurboCache 128
On-Board 10/100/1000 Ethernet
On-Board Audio
WD 80GB Hard Drive
Windows XP Pro SP2
ATi Catalyst 5.4

NVIDIA ForceWare 71.89

Performances Comparisons With Final Fantasy XI Benchmark 3
A Classic Console Franchise On The PC

Final Fantasy XI
The Final Fantasy franchise is well known to console gamers, but Squaresoft has since made the jump to the PC with a MMORPG version of this classic. The Final Fantasy XI benchmark 3 runs through multiple scenes from the game and displays a final score every time a full cycle of the demo is completed. Although the demo is meant the check an entire system's readiness to play the game, the number of frames rendered scales when different video cards are used. Lower scores indicate some frames were dropped to complete the demo in the allotted time. The scores below were taken with the demo set to its "High Resolution" option (1024x768), with anti-aliasing disabled.

Final Fantasy performance was actually decent for both of these value-class cards.  The GeForce 6200 took the top spot with a 363 point lead over ATI's X300 SE 128MB HyperMemory model.


Performance Comparisons With 3DMark05
Futuremark's Latest - The Jury is Still Out...

3DMark05 is the latest installment in a long line of synthetic 3D graphics benchmarks, dating back to late 1998.  3DMark99 came out in October of 1998 and was followed by the very popular DirectX 7 benchmark, 3DMark2000, roughly two years later.  The DirectX 8.1-compliant 3DMark2001 was released shortly thereafter, and it too was a very popular tool used by many hardcore gamers.  With 3DMark05, though, Futuremark positions the benchmark as a very advanced DirectX 9 benchmarking tool.  We ran 3DMark05's default test (1,024 x 768) on all of the cards we tested and have the overall results for you posted below.

3DMark05 leaned heavily in favor of the TurboCache ready 6200.  Here the margin was 437 3DMarks, a difference of 60%.

Benchmarks with Halo
Benchmarks with Halo
Halo - All Patched & Ready To Go!

For many gamers, the release of Halo marked the end of a long wait, since it was originally released as an Xbox exclusive a few years back. No additional patches or tweaks are needed to benchmark with Halo, as Gearbox has included all of the necessary information in their README file. The Halo benchmark runs through four of the cut-scenes from the game, after which the average frame rate is recorded. We patched the game using the latest v1.06 patch and ran this benchmark twice, once at 800x600 and then again at 1024x768.

Running at lower resolution, each card can be considered playable, however, the 6200 took a 9 FPS lead.  Once we increased the resolution to 1024x768, the X300 dipped below 30 FPS and started to struggle.  The 6200 settled in at 30 FPS and showed some signs of a struggle as well.

Benchmarks & Comparisons With Far Cry
Benchmarks & Comparisons With Far Cry
DX9 Effects Galore.

Far Cry
If you've been on top of the gaming scene, you probably know that Far Cry is one of the most visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date.  Although Doom 3 and Half Life 2 have both arrived, Far Cry still looks great in comparison, especially with the new v1.3 patch installed and some special effects turned on.  We benchmarked the graphics cards in this review with a custom-recorded demo run taken in the "Catacombs" area checkpoint at various resolutions without AA or Aniso Filtering enabled and then with 2X AA enabled along with 8X anisotropic filtering.  Geometry instancing and normal map compression were enabled for these tests, but HDR rendering was disabled.  The default pixel shader code path was used.

When we look at performance with FarCry, we have to give the edge to the X300 SE card.  At 800x600, each card was close with the HyperMemory enabled card holding a 2 FPS lead throughout.  When we increased the resolution to 1024x768, the No AA tests were a virtual dead-heat whereas the 2XAA/8X Aniso tests returned to the 2 FPS lead we saw at 800x600.  Frankly it was impressive to see both of these cards were actually able to handle Far Cry so well, posting very playable frame rates even at 1024X768, as long as AA was disabled.

Benchmarks & Comparisons With Doom 3 - Single Player
Benchmarks & Comparisons With Doom 3 - Single Player
In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb.

Doom 3
id Software's games have long been pushing the limits of 3D graphics.  Quake, Quake 2, and Quake 3 were all instrumental in the popularity of 3D accelerators on the PC.  Now, years later, with virtually every new desktop computer shipping with a 3D accelerator, Id is at it again with the release of the visually stunning Doom 3.  Doom 3 is an OpenGL game using extremely high-detailed textures and a ton of dynamic lighting and shadows.  We ran this benchmark using custom demos with Doom 3 set to its "Medium-Quality" mode, at resolutions of 800x600 and 1024x768 without any AA and then with 2X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering enabled.

With our custom Doom 3 Single-Player demo, the ATI X300 SE HyperMemory 128 had a hard time competing with the TurboCache ready 6200.  At 800x600, the margins favored the GeForce 6200 by an average of 11 FPS with No AA testing and 6 FPS with 2XAA and 8X Aniso enabled.  When we increased to 1024x768, the gap narrowed to 9 FPS with the No AA tests and 3 FPS with 2XAA and 8X Aniso enabled.  Either way you look at it, 800x600 is as good as it gets with either card and the ATi HyperMemory card especially has a hard time of it.

Benchmarks & Comparisons With Half-Life 2 & Final Thoughts
Benchmarks & Comparisons With Half-Life 2
It Shipped!  And it's GOOD!

Half Life 2
Thanks to the dedication of millions of gamers and a huge mod-community, the original Half-Life became one of the most successful first person shooters of all time.  So when Valve announced Half-Life 2 was close to completion in mid 2003, gamers the world over began chomping at the bit.  We benchmarked Half-Life 2 with a long, custom- recorded timedemo that takes us along a sea-side cliff and through a few dilapidated shacks, battling the enemy throughout.  These tests were run at resolutions of 800x600 and 1024x768 without any AA or aniso and with 2X anti-aliasing and 8X anisotropic filtering enabled concurrently.

When we look at Half-Life 2 performance, we're not surprised at these frame rate.  Half-Life 2 manages to offer playable framerates on a broad range of lower-end cards, including the HyperMemory and TurboCache lines.  Here, even at 1024x768, each card broke 60 FPS with No AA enabled.  At 800x600, each card even performed well with 2X AA and 8X Aniso filtering on.  For the most part, the 6200 held a slight advantage over the X300 SE HyperMemory 128, slipping only once with 2XAA and 8X Aniso testing at 1024x768.

Performance Summary and Conclusion


Performance Summary:   Looking back at the series of tests we ran, the majority of the tests leaned in favor of the GeForce 6200 TurboCache 128.  Final Fantasy, 3DMark05, Halo and Doom 3 were all dominated by the 6200 with its higher clock rates.  Half-Life 2 was the tightest race between the two cards, but still, the 6200 prevailed.  The only time the X300 SE came out on top was with Far Cry, where we saw the X300 SE HyperMemory 128 hold a slight lead over the generally faster GF 6200 TC128.

It seems that ATI is finally bouncing back from their apparent surprise with NVIDIA's TurboCache offering.  It took them a bit of time to get their ducks in a row, but a competitive offering they have delivered it seems.  Surely, when we do the comparison, the TurboCache ready 6200 was the better overall performer.  However, there is one major caveat to this equation, price.  While each manufacturer has been quoting how their price point and product is the better overall value, here's what we found.  As we searched for prices for each model, we found the X300 SE HyperMemory 128 boards in the retail channel for around $50 - $55.  When we searched for the TurboCache 128 card we tested in this review, it posted in the $60-$70 range.  So while the GeForce 6200 TC 128 card was the best overall performer, ATI's X300 SE 128MB HyperMemory card has a slightly more agressive price point at this stage of the game.  Given our 128MB competitive equation however, we'd still recommend spending a few more dollars on the Turbocache card.  We've also found 256MB HyperMemory cards for $55-$65, which are probably a better overall value on the ATi side of the fence.  To get a TurboCache 256MB equivalent, you'll shell out closer to $75 for a GeForce 6200 TC 256 card, which utilizes 64MB of on-board memory and has a higher minimum system memory requirement of 512MB vs. HyperMemory's 256MB. 

Within the confines of our 128MB card testing here, we'll give the nod to the NVIDIA TurboCache card when considered in an apples-to-apples performance comparison.  However, taking into account the best overall price point, we may well opt for ATI's X300 SE HyperMemory 256, though to make this claim conclusively we'd have to see how this card fairs on our test bench as well.  It's a close call either way for sure.  For now, we hope this showcase has given you some much needed food for thought with these new budget PCI Express based alternatives in the market.

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