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HIS X1900XT IceQ3 Dual DL-DVI VIVO 512MB
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Date: Jun 22, 2006
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction, Specifications & Bundle

As power users, we'd all love to own one, or perhaps even two, of today's latest and greatest graphics cards. But wanting to own the best and having the means to do so are two totally different things.  Lucky for us, there are usually a multitude of products that fall in just behind the top-of-the-line that tend to offer similar features and only marginally lower performance for a more palatable price.

The product we'll be looking at today, the HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3, falls into this category. As its name implies, the HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3 is powered by ATI's X1900 XT GPU. But unlike an ATI built card, HIS' model sports a custom cooling apparatus that not only performs better than the "stock" model, but it's also much quieter too. In addition to the custom cooler, HIS also throws in far more accessories than ATI, and most of their board partners as well.  Take a look...

   

HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ 3
Features & Specifications
Features - ATI Radeon X1900
. 380+ million transistors on a 90nm fabrication process
. Ultra-threaded architecture with fast dynamic branching
. Forty-Eight 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)

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 XilleonTM 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


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



   

HIS includes a very complete assortment of bundled accessories with the X1900 XT IceQ3. In addition to the card itself, HIS has bundled a myriad of cables, software, adapters, and manuals with the X1900 XT IceQ3. In the box we found S-Video and Composite Video cables, an HD component output adapter, an S-Video / Composite Video Input & Video Output Dongle to compliment the card's ViVo functionality, and two DVI-to-DB15 monitor adapters.  HIS also throws in an obligatory user's manual and driver CD, along with a few other discs that contain full versions of PowerDirector SE, Power2Go, 3D Album Picture Pro, an off-beat racing game called FlatOut, and the popular game Dungeon Siege.  One disc also contains trial versions of PowerDVD Copy, MediaShow, and PowerBackup, and a handful of game demos for HL2, Act of War, Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, Tribes Vengeance, and Axis & Allies.  Lastly, a couple of HIS case badges are thrown in for good measure.

This is was we would consider a very complete bundle.  There are games that'll somewhat exploit the card's capabilities, utilities to expose certain features, and cables to connect the card to almost any type of display. Good job HIS.

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Inspecting the Card

At first glance, the HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3 looks nothing like an ATI built reference X1900 XT, but the two cards are actually quite similar.  The only thing that differentiates the HIS Radeon X1900 XT from and ATI built product is the IceQ3 cooling apparatus.

      

      

The PCB that hides beneath the large IceQ3 cooler doesn't differ from ATI's reference design in any meaningful way.  The HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3 ships with its GPU clocked at 625MHz and its 512MB of frame buffer memory clocked at 1.45GHz (725MHz DDR), just like ATI's reference design.  If you'd like more details about the GPU and memory controller, and other technologies at work in the Radeon X1900 we recommend reading our launch article from earlier in the year.

Other than the fact that the IceQ3 is a dual-slot solution though, the cooler is nothing like ATI's. The IceQ3 is superior to the stock solution in a couple of ways.  The IceQ3 features heat-pipes and all copper heatsinks to absorb heat from the GPU and memory.  And those heat-sinks are isolated, which means the memory and GPU heatsinks are completely separated, preventing any heat transfer from the GPU to memory, or vice versa.  The all-copper heatsinks are also larger than ATI's reference design, which should help keep temperatures in check.

The fan and shroud used on the IceQ3 is also different than ATI's stock design. The IceQ3 features bi-directional air in-take channels, where cool air is drawn in from both sides of the fan, improving air flow. And the fan itself is also much quieter than the stock model at <20db. To top it off, the shroud is also UV reactive, so those of you with windowed cases can prominently highlight the HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3 at your next LAN party.

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Our Test System and 3DMark06

HOW WE CONFIGURED THE TEST SYSTEMS: We tested the NVIDIA based cards on an Asus A8N32-SLI nForce 4 SLIX16 chipset based motherboard. The ATI powered cards, however, were tested on an A8R32-MVP motherboard based on the CrossFire Xpress 3200 chipset. Both systems used the same AMD Athlon 64 FX-60 dual-core processor and 2GB of low-latency Corsair XMS RAM, though. The first thing we did when configuring these test systems was enter each BIOS and loaded their "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 drivers necessary 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 1024MB 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-60 (2.6GHz x 2)

Asus A8N32-SLI
nForce4 SLIX16 chipset

Asus A8R32-MVP
ATI CrossFire Xpress 3200

GeForce 7950 GX2
GeForce 7900 GTX

HIS
Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3
Radeon X1900 XTX


2048MB Corsair XMS PC3200 RAM
CAS 2

Integrated on board

Western Digital "Raptor"

36GB - 10,000RPM - SATA

OS -
Chipset Drivers -
DirectX -

Video Drivers
-




Synthetic (DX) -
DirectX -
DirectX -
DirectX -
DirectX -
OpenGL -
Relevant Software:
Windows XP Professional SP2
nForce Drivers v6.85
DirectX 9.0c (March Redist)

NVIDIA Forceware v91.29

ATI Catalyst v6.5


Benchmarks Used:
3DMark06 v1.0.2
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory v1.05
FarCry v1.33*
F.E.A.R. v1.05
Half Life 2*
Quake 4 v1.2*

* - 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 HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3's lower clock speeds in comparison to the Radeon X1900 XTX means it won't catch ATI's flaghip in any of our stock tests, but keep in mind that HIS' offering is less expensive.  Also remember, that we'll be overclocking the card a little later, which should level the playing field a bit.

As you can see, the HIS X1900 XT performed well in 3DMark06, but it was outpaced by all of the other cards we tested, especially the GeForce 7950 GX2 which is worlds ahead of any of the single-GPU cards currently available.

If we look deeper into the 3DMark06 results, we see that the HIS card lagged behind the XTX and all of the GeForces in the Shader Model 2.0 test, but not by much. 

The same technically held true in 3DMark06's Shader Model 3.0 / HDR test, but the HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3 was right behind the GeForce 7900 GTX, trailing by only 6 points.

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Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory v1.05


Performance Comparisons with Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory v1.05
Details: http://www.splintercell3.com/us/

SC: Chaos Theory
Based on a heavily modified version of the Unreal Engine, enhanced with a slew of DX9 shaders, lighting and mapping effects, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is gorgeous with its very immersive, albeit dark, environment. The game engine has a shader model 3.0 code path that allows the GeForce 6 & 7 Series of cards, and the new X1000 family of cards, to really shine, and a recent patch has implemented a shader model 2.0 path for ATI's X8x0 generation of graphics hardware. For these tests we enabled the SM 3.0 path on all of the cards we tested. However, High Dynamic Range rendering was disabled so that we could test the game with anti-aliasing enabled (a future patch should enable AA with HDR on the X1K family). We benchmarked the game at resolutions of 1,280 x 1024 and 1,600 x 1,200, with 4X anti-aliasing and 16X anisotropic filtering enabled.

 


The HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3 performed very well in the Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory benchmark. In the low resolution test, it trailed behind the Radeon X1900 XTX and GeForce 7900 GTX by about 4 - 5 frames per second. But with the resolution cranked up to 1600x1200, the HIS card was able to overtake the GeForce 7900 GTX by a fraction of a frame per second.  Once again, the 7950 GX2 was clearly the fastest by a significant margin, but we're going to focus on performance versus other single-GPU powered cards.  Also note, that all of the tests on the proceeding pages were run with anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering enabled.

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FarCry v1.33


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

FarCry
If you've been on top of the gaming scene for some time, you 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 with 4X AA and 16X aniso enabled concurrently.

 

The HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3 also handled our custom FarCry benchmark with relative ease. When we tested the card at a resolution of 1280x1024, the HIS card ran neck-and-neck with the GeForce 7900 GTX, and just a hair behind the Radeon X1900 XTX. But with the resolution cranked up to 1600x1200 the HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3 pulled ahead of the 7900 GTX by about 5 frames per second. The Radeon X1900 XTX and GX2 were faster than the HIS X1900 XT, however.

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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 with 4X anti-aliasing and 16X anisotropic filtering enabled concurrently.

 

We're not going to dwell on our Half Life 2 performance results, because our test system was basically CPU bound at both resolutions even though we had anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering enabled.  The ATI powered cards were technically faster than the NVIDIA powered cards here, but the differences are negligible when we're talking about 140+ frame per second framerates.

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F.E.A.R. v1.05


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 v1.03, 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 the 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 1152x864 and 1600x1200, with anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering enabled.

 

The HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3 also handled the F.E.A.R. benchmark relatively well.  In the lower resolution test, the HIS card trailed the Radeon X1900 XTX and GeForce 7900 GTX by 2 and 4 frames per second, respectively, but the scales tipped somewhat in favor of the HIS card in the higher resolution test.  With the game running at 1600x1200, the HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3 outpaced the GeForce 7900 GTX by 1 frame per second and trailed behind the XTX by 1 frame per second.

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Quake 4 v1.2


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 with 4X AA and 8X aniso enabled simultaneously.

 

The HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3 performed relatively well in our custom Quake 4 benchmark, but NVIDIA's traditional dominance in this test and the Radeon X1900 XTX's higher clock speeds meant a last place finish for HIS here. The HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3 finished this test between 5 and 10 frames per second behind the GeForce 7900 GTX here depending on the test configuration.  It trailed the Radeon X1900 XTX by approximately 3 - 4 frames per second at both resolutions as well, and the GX2 simply couldn't be touched.

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Overclocking the HIS X1900XT IceQ 3

Before we concluded our testing, we spent a little time overclocking the HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3 using the clock frequency slider available within ATI's Catalyst drivers, on the "Overdrive" tab. To find the card's peak core and memory frequencies, we slowly raised their respective sliders until we begun to see visual artifacts on-screen while running a game or benchmark, or until our test system was no longer stable.

Overclocking the HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ 3
(Fast 3D Video Card) + Overclocking = Even Faster Card

HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3 Overclocked: 667MHz GPU / 1.56GHzHz Memory
HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3 Stock:
625MHz GPU / 1.45GHz Memory

 


HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3 Overclocked: 667MHz GPU / 1.56GHzHz Memory
HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3 Stock:
625MHz GPU / 1.45GHz Memory

Overclocking the HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3 was a relatively rewarding experience. By default, the card ships with it's GPU clocked at 625MHz and it's memory clocked at 1.45GHz. By overclocking the card though, we were able to take those clock speeds up to 667MHz / 1.56GHz, which is a bit faster than a Radeon X1900 XTX. Increasing GPU and memory clock speeds by 42MHz and 110MHz is not back, but we were expecting a bit more from the HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3 because of its custom cooling solution.

While we had the card overclocked, we re-ran a coupe of benchmarks to see how the higher clocks affected performance. As you can see, the HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3 surpassed the Radeon X1900 XTX in both tests, and it improved upon its lead over a GeForce 7900 GTX in fear by a couple of frames per second.

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Our Summary & Conclusion

Performance Summary: The HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3 performed relatively well throughout our entire batter of benchmarks.  Because of its lower stock clock speeds, it obviously wasn't able to catch a the ATI Radeon X1900 XTX in any of our tests, but it was able to outpace a GeForce 7900 GTX in a handful of HL2, FarCry and F.E.A.R. tests.

We really liked the HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3.  Because this card is based on the same core GPU technology as the Radeon X1900 XTX, this card has the exact same feature set as ATI's current flagship, it just doesn't perform as well as an XTX because its GPU and memory clock speeds are somewhat lower.  HIS, however, has done away with ATI's stock cooler design in favor of a much quieter, more powerful model, which was a welcome change in our book.  Couple the HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3's superior cooler, with its very complete accessory bundle which included two full-version games and a handful of utilities, with the fact that this card is available for about 15% to 20% less than a typical Radeon X1900 XTX at approximately $400 and you can't help but be impressed. We're giving the HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3 a 9 on Heat Meter and a rare Editor's Choice award.  ATI fans looking for a high-end card, or an XT to pair with a CrossFire Edition Master card would be well served by the HIS Radeon X1900 XT IceQ3.

  • Quiet, All-Cooper Cooler
  • Full-Featured
  • Good Performance
  • Relatively Good Price
  • Great Bundle
  • Moderate Overclocker

 

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