Our Summary and Conclusion
Performance Summary: Throughout our entire battery of gaming related benchmarks, the new Radeon HD 2900 XT performed at roughly the same level as a standard GeForce 8800 GTS. Depending on the test configuration, the Radeon HD 2900 XT and standard GeForce 8800 GTS traded victories, but more often than not the GTS pulled ahead. In comparison to a factory-overclocked GTS, the Radeon HD 2900 XT obviously fares a bit worse and it simply cannot hold a candle to the more powerful, and of course more expensive GeForce 8800 GTX or Ultra.
The performance landscape is largely unchanged as it relates to Radeon HD 2900 XT CrossFire versus GeForce 8800 GTS SLI as well. Somewhat surprisingly, due to superior scaling in a few games, HD 2900 XT CrossFire outperforms 8800 GTS SLI in quite a few tests, especially at XHD resolutions.
With regard to video playback, ATI's and NVIDIA's respective video engines produced comparable results in the tests we ran. Keep in mind, however, that despite similar performance to a standard GeForce 8800 GTS, the Radeon HD 2900 XT consumes considerably more power, produces more heat, and generates more noise as well. Finally, despite some new anti-aliasing modes, ATI hasn't done much to enhance image quality over their previous generation.
As we bring this article to a close, we're sure many of you are left scratching your head and wondering what happened. Has ATI forgotten about enthusiasts now that they are part of AMD and don't care about the high-end any longer? The answer to that question is, no. Even though you may hear different, we think ATI would have loved nothing more than to release a halo product that shines above all others. We just think they rolled the dice with R600 and built it on TSMC's 80nm node hoping it would be able to hit higher clock speeds and have much more manageable power consumption. Unfortunately, that just didn't happen. If the GPUs ran reliably at 900MHz - 1GHz with better power characteristics, you can bet ATI would have released a much faster Radeon HD 2900 today with more RAM and much more fanfare. Again, that's not the way it turned out, so instead ATI is offering their latest flagship at a lower-than usual price point and throwing in an awesome game bundle to enhance its value. At least it's going to be awesome, when all of the games are eventually released.
To summarize, the $399 Radeon HD 2900 XT is a feature rich, DX 10 class graphics card that competes relatively well with a standard GeForce 8800 GTS in many aspects, except power consumption. We wished it was more, but a company can pull only so many Radeon 9700-type launches out of their hat. Over time, the Radeon HD 2900 XT is likely to become a somewhat stronger product due to more finely tuned drivers and continued tweaks made to TSMC's manufacturing process, but for now it is what it is. And who knows what ATI has in store over the next few months. If I was a betting man, I'd say a new high-end GPU manufactured at 65nm will arrive sooner rather than later.
The mainstream Radeon HD 2400 and 2600 series of cards and the new Mobility Radeons we mentioned, however, look very promising. We look forward to seeing how they perform in the coming months when they are released.