ATI Radeon X1800 XT
It’s the year 2002 and ATi is anxiously waiting to unveil their next generation graphics process unit (GPU) in the scenic city of San Francisco. Unbeknownst to the video graphics underdog, and to the gaming industry in general, is the technological jewel it would become. The R300 GPU revolutionized ATi’s image in the graphics market, particularly among the enthusiast segment by vaulting them to the top in performance and in features.
The other guys, the Green Team, were promising greatness to compete with ATI’s offering. This of course was the NV30. The majority of enthusiasts believed in and highly anticipated this product since nVidia, at the time, had always released solid products that provided the best performance and features. When the NV30 did arrive six months later, it fell far short of expectations. Not only was it hampered by the use of an advanced manufacturing process (.13µ), but it was largely unavailable. It also featured a space consuming heatsink/fan (hsf) that commonly became known as the blower. Worst of all, the NV30 couldn’t compare in any category against ATi. It was a dream scenario for ATi in the high-end
and one that significantly changed the market landscape.
Fast forward two years to the present and it seems like we've actually gone back in time to a parallel universe where everything is the opposite! nVidia has taken the performance and feature crown back with the G70 chipset. Boards based on the G70 family are out in full force and have been available for four months. Meanwhile ATi’s next generation chipset the R520 is six months late and, interesting enough, is being produced using an advanced manufacturing process (.9µ). Speculation and rumours are
running rampant, ranging from one extreme to the other.
It’s time now to bring the guesswork to a halt. ATi brought North American journalists back to San Francisco to unveil the R500 technology
product line and answer all our questions. Did we have another NV30 here?
Though the situation is similar, the cause of the delay is much different. The R520 was ready to be introduced back in May but ATI was experiencing an unexplainable failure in a tiny percentage of test cards. Cards would run fine in all situations but suddenly fail. Also there wasn’t one specific situation where it would fail; it would just fail at different points in time. ATI spent months analyzing the core with their best engineers, and after countless tests narrowed it down to one set of circuits. They found a pass gate that didn’t belong. This allowed voltage to pass through it and return a signal of 1, when that particular circuit should have always returned a 0. All it took to correct the problem was the rearranging of a few gates and the core was perfect and ready to be mass produced.
I spoke with an ATI engineer who said the transition to .9µ manufacturing process was the smoothest he ever experienced. There were no hiccups whatsoever.
The reasons for the delay were different, but how does it perform and what features are
in store for us? Let’s find out.