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Asus EAX1800XT Top
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Date: Feb 07, 2006
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction, Specs. & Bundle

If you're familiar with the computer hardware industry, Asus should be a company that needs no introduction. Whether referring to their motherboards, notebooks, or video cards, Asus' products have consistently ranked amongst the best in their respective classes. We've had a ton of experience here at HotHardware.Com working with products from Asus over the years, and save for a couple of rare aberrations, we've usually come away with favorable impressions. We've actually even handed out a number of rare "Editor's Choice" awards to Asus for some exceptional products like the A8N SLI Premium and V9999 Ultra, among others.

In this article we're going to take a look at an ambitious product from Asus, the EAX1800XT Top. As its name implies, the EAX1800XT Top is based on ATI's powerful Radeon X1800 XT GPU. This isn't simply a reference design with a custom badge though. Asus has taken ATI's Radeon X1800 XT, tweaked the VRM, jacked up the clock speeds, enhanced the cooling, and thrown in a wide assortment of accessories. There is a lot to get cover here, so what do you say we get down to business?

  

Asus EAX1800XT Top
Features & Specifications
Features - ATI Radeon X1800
• 321 million transistors on a 90nm fabrication process
• Ultra-threaded architecture with fast dynamic branching
• Sixteen pixel shader processors
• Eight vertex shader processors
• 256-bit 8-channel GDDR3/GDDR4 memory interface
• Native PCI Express x16 bus interface
• Dynamic Voltage Control

Ring Bus Memory Controller
• 512-bit internal ring bus for memory reads
• Programmable intelligent arbitration logic
• Fully associative texture, color, and Z/stencil cache designs
• Hierarchical Z-buffer with Early Z test
• Lossless Z Compression (up to 48:1)
• Fast Z-Buffer Clear
• Z/stencil cache optimized for real-time shadow rendering
• Optimized for performance at high display resolutions, including widescreen HDTV resolutions

Ultra-Threaded Shader Engine
• Support for Microsoft DirectX 9.0 Shader Model 3.0 programmable vertex and pixel shaders in hardware
• Full speed 128-bit floating point processing for all shader operations
• Up to 512 simultaneous pixel threads
• Dedicated branch execution units for high performance dynamic branching and flow control
• Dedicated texture address units for improved efficiency
• 3Dc+ texture compression
_o High quality 4:1 compression for normal maps and two-channel data formats
_o High quality 2:1 compression for luminance maps and single-channel data formats
• Multiple Render Target (MRT) support
• Render to vertex buffer support
• Complete feature set also supported in OpenGL 2.0

Advanced Image Quality Features
• 64-bit floating point HDR rendering supported throughout the pipeline
_o Includes support for blending and multi-sample anti-aliasing
• 32-bit integer HDR (10:10:10:2) format supported throughout the pipeline
_o Includes support for blending and multi-sample anti-aliasing
• 2x/4x/6x Anti-Aliasing modes
_o Multi-sample algorithm with gamma correction, programmable sparse sample patterns, and centroid sampling
_o New Adaptive Anti-Aliasing feature with Performance and Quality modes
_o Temporal Anti-Aliasing mode
_o Lossless Color Compression (up to 6:1) at all resolutions, including widescreen HDTV resolutions
• 2x/4x/8x/16x Anisotropic Filtering modes
_o Up to 128-tap texture filtering
_o Adaptive algorithm with Performance and Quality options
• High resolution texture support (up to 4k x 4k)
CrossFire
• Multi-GPU technology
• Four modes of operation:
_o Alternate Frame Rendering (maximum performance)
_o Supertiling (optimal load-balancing)
_o Scissor (compatibility)
_o Super AA 8x/10x/12x/14x (maximum image quality)
_o Program compliant

Avivo Video and Display Engine
• High performance programmable video processor
_o Accelerated MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, WMV9, VC-1, and H.264 decoding (including DVD/HD-DVD/Blu-ray playback), encoding & transcoding
_o DXVA support
_o De-blocking and noise reduction filtering
_o Motion compensation, IDCT, DCT and color space conversion
_o Vector adaptive per-pixel de-interlacing
_o 3:2 pulldown (frame rate conversion)
• Seamless integration of pixel shaders with video in real time
• HDR tone mapping acceleration
_o Maps any input format to 10 bit per channel output
• Flexible display support
_o Dual integrated dual-link DVI transmitters
_o DVI 1.0 / HDMI compliant and HDCP ready
_o Dual integrated 10 bit per channel 400 MHz DACs
_o 16 bit per channel floating point HDR and 10 bit per channel DVI output
_o Programmable piecewise linear gamma correction, color correction, and color space conversion (10 bits per color)
_o Complete, independent color controls and video overlays for each display
_o High quality pre- and post-scaling engines, with underscan support for all outputs
_o Content-adaptive de-flicker filtering for interlaced displays
_o Xilleon™ TV encoder for high quality analog output
_o YPrPb component output for direct drive of HDTV displays
_o Spatial/temporal dithering enables 10-bit color quality on 8-bit and 6-bit displays
_o Fast, glitch-free mode switching
_o VGA mode support on all outputs
• Compatible with ATI TV/Video encoder products, including Theater 550




Kong & Asus - Quite The Combo

      

    

Asus ships the EAX1800XT Top with what has to be the most over-the-top accessory bundle we have seen with any video card to date. Included with the card itself, we found a pair of DVI-to-DB15 adapters, an S-Video cable, a composite video cable, a component output adapter, a Molex-to-6-Pin PCI Express power adapter, and a VIVO cable with S-Video and RCA inputs and outputs.

On top of these items, we also found a couple of user's manuals, and a leather CD pouch loaded with discs. There was an Asus Driver & Utility CD and an Asus DVD XP CD, along with copies of Cyberlink's Power Director 3 and Media Show, and a handful of games like Joint Operations, Snowblind, Xpand Rally, and a "GamePack" CD with lite versions of Second Sight, Chaos League, and PowerDrome. And rounding out the software bundle was a full version DVD of Peter Jackson's King Kong.

If Asus stopped there, we would have been pleased by the EAX1800XT Top's accessory bundle, but there is still more to talk about. Over and above the items we've already mentioned, Asus also included an Asus XitePad USB game pad and an external power adapter. The gamepad is surprisingly comfortable and well-built, and definitely adds value to bundle. It's not a cheaply made item by any means. The power adapter is an interesting item too, but we'll get talk more about that a little later.

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The Asus EAX1800XT Top

Although upon first glance the Asus EAX1800XT Top looks nothing like a "Built by ATI" Radeon X1800 XT, there are quite a few similarities. Obviously just by looking at the card however, you'll note that there are some very distinct differences as well. The Asus EAX1800XT is anything but a "me too" reference card.

The Asus EAX1800XT Top
All Up In There

       

The EAX1800XT Top's stand-out feature is its oversized cooling apparatus. Unlike ATI's design that draws air in through the rear of the card and exhausts it from the system, the cooler on the EAX1800XT Top draws in air from within the system and directs it over the GPU and then the VRM. The large fan and tall heatsink fins make the cooler look much larger than a "stock" ATI cooler, but in fact the EAX1800XT Top is still "only" a two-slot solution. In addition, the oversized retention bracket and channel running along the top of the card, could be problem with some systems. There is no way the EAX1800XT Top is going to fit in a typical small form factor system, for example.

    

We should also mention that the cooler on the EAX1800XT Top is much quieter than ATI's. The large blades on the fan move plenty of air, but they also generate very little noise in the process, which is a definite plus in our book. Overall though, we're torn between this design and ATI's. We like that ATI's cooler exhausts hot air from the system, but prefer the near silence offered by the Asus EAX1800XT Top.

         

The cooler isn't the only thing that differentiates the EAX1800XT Top from ATI's reference card. For the most part, the PCB is identical, except for an additional component in the VRM. If you take a look at this picture of an ATI built Radeon X1800XT, you'll see there are five Pulse inductors in the VRM. On the Asus EAX1800XT Top, though, there are six. This means that there is a smaller load placed on each of these inductors during normal operation, which in turn results in less heat output, and potentially a longer life. ATI's X1800 CrossFire Master Card also has six inductors.

While we're on the subject of power, notice the jack adjacent to the DVI connector in the picture above. That jack is connected to a cable that leads from the front of the card, to the 6-Pin PCI Express connector at the rear. The power adapter that we mentioned on the previous page can be plugged into this jack to supply power to the card, in lieu of using a lead from the system's PSU. This is a solution somewhat similar to what 3dfx had proposed with the ill-fated Voodoo 5 6000.  Using the adapter is completely optional though, provided your PSU can handle the load but this external PSU is a bonus in our opinion, taking load off the main system PSU as well as the heat generated by the graphics subsytem's draw.

The Asus EAX1800XT Top also differs from ATI's reference design in that it is clocked much higher than "stock". The Radeon X1800 XT GPU at the heart of the EAX1800XT is clocked at 700MHz (actual clock speed was 695MHz), up from 625MHz on an ATI built card. The EAX1800XT Top's 512MB of GDDR3 memory is clocked higher as well, 1.6GHz on the Asus card versus 1.5 on ATI's. The inflated clock speeds of the Asus EAX1800XT Top equates to increased performance in all 3D applications, as you'll see on the proceeding pages.

Peter Jackson's: King Kong PC Game
Graphics So Good You Can See Kong's Hairy Nipple

    
Peter Jackson's: King Kong PC Game

Before we get to the benchmarks, we wanted to show you a couple of screen shots from Peter Jackson's King Kong; one of the games bundled with the EAX1800XT Top. Although PC games based on popular movies tend to be sub-par, King Kong is actually quite good. The artwork and graphics are superbly done, and the gameplay is a nice mix of simple puzzles and hardcore combat. The game has garnered quite a bit of attention and dare we say has been viewed by critics as better than the movie.

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Our Test System & 3DMark06

HOW WE CONFIGURED THE TEST SYSTEMS: We tested our NVIDIA cards on an Asus A8N32-SLI nForce 4 SLIX16 chipset based motherboard. However, the ATI cards were tested on an ECS KA1 MVP Extreme motherboard based on the Radeon Xpress 200 chipset. Both systems used the same AMD Athlon 64 FX-55 processor and 1GB of low-latency Corsair XMS RAM, though. The first thing we did when configuring these test systems was enter each BIOS and loaded the "High Performance Defaults."  The hard drive was then formatted, and Windows XP Professional with SP2 was installed. When the installation was complete, we installed the latest chipset drivers available, installed all of the other necessary drivers for the rest of our components, and removed Windows Messenger from the system. Auto-Updating and System Restore were also disabled, the hard drive was defragmented, and a 768MB permanent page file was created on the same partition as the Windows installation. Lastly, we set Windows XP's Visual Effects to "best performance," installed all of the benchmarking software, and ran the tests.

The HotHardware Test Systems
AMD Athlon 64 FX Powered

Processor -

Motherboard -





Video Cards -





Memory -


Audio -

Hard Driv
e -

 

Hardware Used:
AMD Athlon 64 FX-55 (2.6GHz)

Asus A8N32-SLI
nForce4 SLIX16 chipset

ECS KA1 MVP
ATI Radeon Xpress 200 CF Edition

Asus EAX1800XT Top

Radeon X1900 XTX
Radeon X1800 XT
GeForce 7800 GTX
512MB GeForce 7800 GTX

1024MB Corsair XMS PC3200 RAM
CAS 2

Integrated on board

Western Digital "Raptor"

36GB - 10,000RPM - SATA

Operating System -
Chipset Drivers -
DirectX -

Video Drivers
-




Synthetic (DX) -
DirectX -

DirectX -
DirectX -
OpenGL -
Relevant Software:
Windows XP Professional SP2
nForce Drivers v6.82
DirectX 9.0c

NVIDIA Forceware v81.98

ATI Catalyst v6.1


Benchmarks Used:
3DMark06 v1.0.2
FarCry v1.33*
F.E.A.R.
Half Life 2*
Quake 4*

* - Custom Test (HH Exclusive demo)

Performance Comparisons with 3DMark06 v1.0.2
Details: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06/

3DMark06
Futuremark recently launched a brand-new version of their popular benchmark, 3DMark06. The new version of the benchmark is updated 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.

The Asus EAX1800XT Top's increased core and memory clock speeds give the card a measurable advantage over a stock Radeon X1800 XT, and even give it enough of a boost to nudge past a 256MB GeForce 7800 GTX in this test. The 512MB GeForce 7800 GTX and Radeon X1900 XTX are a bit too much to handle, though. The Asus EAX1800XT Top beats the ATI Radeon X1800 XT in every test, and only loses to the 256MB GeForce 7800 GTX in the SM2.0 test by a measly 3 points.

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FarCry v1.33

 

Performance Comparisons with FarCry v1.33
Details: http://www.farcry.ubi.com/

FarCry
Those that have been on top of the gaming scene for some time, probably know that FarCry was one of the most visually impressive games to be released on the PC last year. Courtesy of its proprietary engine, dubbed "CryEngine" by its developers, FarCry's game-play is enhanced by Polybump mapping, advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, dynamic lighting, motion-captured animation, and surround sound. Before titles such as Half-Life 2 and Doom 3 hit the scene, FarCry gave us a taste of what was to come in next-generation 3D gaming on the PC. We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article with a custom-recorded demo run taken in the "Catacombs" area checkpoint, at various resolutions without anti-aliasing or anisotropic filtering enabled, and then again with 4X AA and 16X aniso enabled concurrently.

All of the default tests, where no additional pixel processing is used, are essentially CPU bound. Only a few frames per second separate all of the cards in the default tests, and they all hovered at or just above the 100 FPS mark, which is plenty fast for FarCry.  With anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering enabled though, we begin to see more of a spread. The Asus EAX1800XT Top pulls off the second best overall scores, falling behind only the brand new Radeon X1900 XTX. The 512MB GeForce 7800 GTX was also a bit faster at the lower resolution, but in the more taxing high-resolution test, the EAX1800XT Top comes out ahead of both of the GeForce cards.

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Half Life 2

Performance Comparisons with Half-Life 2
Details: http://www.half-life2.com/

Half Life 2
Thanks to the dedication of hardcore PC 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 sat in eager anticipation. Unfortunately, thanks to a compromised internal network, the theft of a portion of the game's source code, and a tumultuous relationship with the game's distributor, Vivendi Universal, we all had to wait until November '04 to get our hands on this classic. We benchmarked Half-Life 2 with a long, custom-recorded timedemo in the "Canals" map, that takes us through both outdoor and indoor environments. These tests were run at resolutions of 1,280 x 1,024 and 1,600 x 1,200 without any anti-aliasing or anisotropic filtering and with 4X anti-aliasing and 16X anisotropic filtering enabled concurrently.

The game may be pretty, but Half Life 2 is no match for today's high-end graphics cards. All of the 512MB cards are CPU bound in Half Life 2, at both resolutions regardless of whether or not anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering are enabled. The 256MB GeForce 7800 GTX drops falls in behind all of the other competitors here because of its smaller frame buffer, but even the "slowest" card of the bunch manages to put up over 115 frames per second at 1600x1200 with 4X anti-aliasing and 16X anisotropic filtering enabled.

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F.E.A.R. v1.02

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 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, that is a Radeon 9000 or GeForce4 Ti-class or better, to adequately run the game. Using the full retail release of the game patched to v1.02, we put the graphics cards in this review 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 1280x960 and 1600x1200, with and without anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering enabled.

There's a lot to talk about in regard to the EAX1800XT Top's performance in the F.E.A.R. benchmark, so lets get the easy stuff out of the way first. The EAX1800XT Top is clearly faster than the 256MB GeForce 7800 GTX and standard Radeon X1800 XT, especially when anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering were used. The Radeon X1900 XTX is definitely the top dog though. The 512MB GeForce 7800 GTX had a significant performance advantage over the Asus EAX1800XT Top when no additional pixel processing was used, but that advantage disappears once AA and Aniso were enabled.

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Quake 4 v1.0.5.2

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 1,280 x 1,024 and 1,600 x 1,200 without anti-aliasing enabled and then again with 4X AA and 8X aniso enabled simultaneously.

Nothing touches the 512MB GeForce 7800 GTX in our custom Quake 4 benchmark, but the competition is much close than it has been in the past. The Radeon X1900 XTX is the fastest of the ATI powered card, but the EAX1800XT Top's higher clock speeds put it within striking distance of ATI's current flagship here. The EAX1800XT Top is able to easily outpaces the 256MB GeForce 7800 GTX, though, and it's about 10% faster than a "stock" Radeon X1800 XT.

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Overclocking the Asus EAX1800XT Top

Overclocking The Asus EAX1800XT Top
(Fast 3D Video Card) + Overclocking = Even Faster Card

Before wrapping things up, we spent a little time overclocking the Asus EAX1800XT Top using the clock frequency slider available within ATI's Catalyst drivers, under the "Overdrive" tab.  Because this card is essentially "pre-overclocked" though, we weren't expecting to gain much more in terms of clock speed.

Asus EAX1800XT Top "Stock" = 695MHz Core / 792MHz Memory
Asus EAX1800XT Top
"Overclocked" = 700MHz Core / 797MHz Memory

 


Asus EAX1800XT Top "Stock" = 695MHz Core / 792MHz Memory
Asus EAX1800XT Top
"Overclocked" = 700MHz Core / 797MHz Memory

In the end, we were able to max out the clock speed sliders available within the Catalyst drivers to 700MHz for the core and 797MHz for the memory. These are relatively small clock speed increases of 5MHz each, but we re-ran a couple of benchmarks anyway to see what kind of performance we had gained. The answer is not much. While overclocked, the EAX1800XT Top's 3DMark06 overall score went up by only 14 points, and its framerate in F.E.A.R. increased by only 1 FPS. Perhaps with a more specialized overclocking tool we could have taken her a bit higher.

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Our Summary & Conclusion

Performance Summary: The Asus EAX1800XT Top performed very well throughout our entire battery of tests. The card's higher core and memory clock speeds give it a distinct advantage over any standard Radeon X1800 XT, and also helps the Asus EAX1800XT Top to outperform a 256MB GeForce 7800 GTX in almost every benchmark.  Only in the 3DMark06 SM 2.0 test and in Quake 4 without anti-aliasing was a 256MB GeForce 7800 GTX faster.  The 512MB GeForce 7800 GTX was faster than the EAX1800XT Top more often than not, but similarly the Radeon X1900 XTX was faster throughout.

We like almost everything Asus has done with the EAX1800XT Top.  Its GPU and memory are clocked significantly higher than any standard Radeon X1800 XT, which gives this card a measurable performance advantage over just about any other X1800 XT based card. Asus also ships the EAX1800XT Top with one of the best accessory bundles we have ever come across, and the card's oversized, near-silent cooler is excellent. We also like the included external power supply, because it could potentially save someone from having to upgrade their PSU to use a high-end video card like the EAX1800XT Top. All of these tweaks to ATI's reference specifications come at a price though.

We were only able to find the Asus EAX1800XT Top listed at ZipZoomFly at an astronomical price of $999. We're unsure if that is an actual "street" price, or just a placeholder until the card is back in stock, but regardless that is a hefty price to pay for a single graphics card. We should note that Asus has set the MSRP on this card at $579, though. ZipZoom's $999 could only be a reflection on the rarity of the EAX1800XT Top at this moment in time, however, as we've been unable to find it on sale anywhere else. At that price it's impossible to recommend this card to anyone, but we suspect street prices will be much lower when/if the EAX1800XT Top becomes more widely available, because Asus' standard X1800 XT is priced much more competitively and the MSRP is much more realistic. As it stands now, we like everything about the EAX1800XT Top except its price and availability. The card is a great performer and its bundle is top notch. We're giving the EAX1800XT Top a 7 on the Heat Meter, but could revisit this article should street prices drop to within striking distance of standard Radeon X1800 XTs.

_Overclocked "Out of the Box"
_Insane Accessory Bundle
_Quiet Cooler
_Optional External Power Supply
_Excellent Performance
_Nearly Impossible to Find
_More Expensive than other X1800s

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