While PCI Express (PCIe) doesn't hold a performance advantage over AGP at this point in time, that isn't stopping chipset makers from pushing the standard forward. An advantage PCIe has over AGP is the bandwidth headroom for the time that system platform and games actually can make use of it.
Though it's still a lot easier tracking down entry and mid-ranged PCIe cards, high end PCIe cards are becoming more abundant. MSI is the latest company to release a series of PCIe cards that cover the various market segments, and today we'll be looking at their which is based on ATI's X800 XT VPU. While it's no Platinum Edition, the X800 XT still packs a heavy punch.
" Chipset Feature ATI Radeon X800XT VPU (visual processing unit)
SMARTSHADER" HD increased maximum shader instruction count to 1,536 from 160; new high-performance shader compiler
SMOOTHVISION" HD improved AA and AF performance for HD resolutions; 12X effective Temporal MSAA generates the sharpest and clearest images
VIDEOSHADER" HD integrated shader features to provide unprecedented support for digital and high definition video.
HYPER Z" HD enhanced Hi-Z buffer for improved performance at HD resolutions
3Dc" provided image enhancement & acceleration technology resulting in high polygon characters and scenes
128-bit, 64-bit & 32-bit per pixel floating point color formats
Microsoft® DirectX 9 and OpenGL 1.5 support
AGP 8X support
The MSI RX800XT-VTD256E
The MSI RX800XT-VTD256E is packaged in a huge box which is larger than some of their motherboard boxes we've received in the past. Inside, you'll find a driver CD, productivity software (full list ), a manual, and three games which are URU, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and XIII. While the games aren't exactly new, they are a huge jump forward compared to what they used to bundle.
In terms of hardware, other than the RX800XT video card, MSI includes a 9 Pin S-Video to composite VIVO cable, one DVI-to-VGA output adapter, and a 6-pin power splitter.
The MSI RX800XT-VTD256E is a "standard" sized card, and should have no problems fitting into full height systems. The ATI Radeon X800XT VPU is a native PCIE processor, and is clocked at 520MHz. This is ATI's topflight part, and has 16 pixel pipelines with hardware support for DirectX 9B and Shader Model 2.0. Shader Model 3.0, as some of you may know, is not supported by the X800. At this time, this is not a huge problem but the card can potentially struggle as games featuring this begin to appear.
Cooling is provided by a large copper heatsink and fan combination. The setup is not very loud at all, and for those of you concerned with noise, the MSI cooling should be a non-issue.
The RX800XT-VTD256E uses Samsung's K4J55323QF-GC20 GDDR3 (Part number ). According to Samsung's specifications, the BGA ram is rated at 500MHz (1GHz DDR). The RX800XT, while a full fledged X800 XT, is not a Platinum Edition part, as that version of the card uses 560MHz ram.
A 6-pin power connection is used to give the extra juice needed to operate the card. Using the 6-pin splitter, simply plug in two 4-pin Molex connections, then plug the splitter into the card.
For your input and output options, starting from left to right is the analogue VGA connection. Next to it, we have the video-in, followed by the primary DVI.
ASUS P5AD2 Premium: Intel Pentium 4 560 (3.6GHz), 2 x 512MB Corsair XMS5400 ProSeries DDR2 (4-4-4-12), ASUS Extreme AX800XT, 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA, Windows XP w/SP1, Catalyst 4.9.
We'll be using FRAPS to record framerates in all our tests, playing the game as anybody would (trying to stay alive), firing weapons, dodging attacks and so on. Unlike our past video game tests, all benchmarks will be done with the audio "on", as we're trying to illustrate real gaming experiences, and I doubt any of our readers mute the audio during gameplay.
Test Software will be:
Doom 3 - Making good use of the BFG, rocket launcher and plasma gun (the most graphically intense weapons), we'll be killing demons on the Enpro. We'll also be demonstrating actual multiplayer performance on a live server.
Far Cry - Another graphically intense shooter, we'll be fighting baddies in the Dam and Volcano levels.
Unreal Tournament 2004 - We'll be playing some bot deathmatch (31 bots in all) on the Compressed and Curse4 maps.
The driver settings were manually configured for AntiAliasing and Anisotropic Filtering (on or off), and set to "Quality". All games were set to their highest allowable game settings. Unless otherwise stated, all games will be played at 1280x1024 and 1600x1200.