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 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.
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.