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Review: ATI's Mobility Radeon X700 Launch

by Ryszard Sommefeldt on 19 January 2005, 00:00

Tags: ATi Technologies (NYSE:AMD)

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ATI's Mobility Radeon X700 Launch

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Accelerated 3D graphics is truly pervasive. From flagship desktop accelerators like ATI's Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition, mid-range powerhouses like X800 XL and right down to Imageon 2300, ATI have a 3D chip for everything. And for everything ATI has, NVIDIA invariably have something to match. The two three-dee companies pack a lot of cross-range punch these days, almost to the point of overflowing the market. There always seems to be another model to sneak into a $5 price gap between two existing SKUs.

It's all about getting the most from your silicon. If you've got an excess of a certain configuration of GPU, without a market, just create one. Lube up the press, hammer it home, et voila. It really is that simple, seemingly.

ATI's PCI Express transition in 2004 afforded them many opportunities to do so, with their introduction of R480 and R430 at the end of the year opening the final floodgates on the desktop side of things. The mobile arm of ATI's business has seen a trickle down from discrete, Mobility Radeon X800 showing up late last year as a three-quad R423 in a mobile form-factor, on PCI Express. It's a product that ably served the desktop replacement market and gave ATI something to do with R423 GPUs that fit that particular bill.

Therefore today's mobile PCI Express takeover, part deux, will shock nobody. With PCI Express on the laptop side of things in its infancy and the top slot already filled, ATI is simply extending the long arm of its R4 core range downwards. R430 is the desktop part putting on a mobile mask this time, a two-quad version of the 110nm part ATI has TSMC build for them, with all six vertex units intact creating M26 (to MR X800's M28). Mid-range for the performance thin sector (what a horrible name), Mobility X700 allows Radeon, on PCI Express with fresh bus tricks to boot, to ooze into the arms of more users looking for a game of something on the move.

Form factors and new bus tricks

ATI's PCI Express mobile parts pack the GPU and (optionally) memory on the same package, for thermal management by the same cooling device in the notebook. So think R430 on a processor package, with up to 128MB using four BGA DRAMS on that very same component, with a PCI Express interface to the host. It's speedy PEG in a small space and exactly what ATI and the market are aiming for.

Following on from small space, low power and heat are the next things on your mobile 3D checklist. ATI's desktop R430 apparently doesn't feature dynamic clock gating, but the mobile version is sure to, ATI employing a number of tricks to keep power consumption and heat output in check. PowerPlay, ATI's hardware and software combo for such trickery on the mobile side, gets a bump to version 5.0, bringing with it the ability to dynamically reconfigure the PCI Express bus it rides.

Draping itself across the full 16 lanes in full-speed mode, it'll renegotiate down to a 1X electrical connection with the host if needs be, to save power. ATI claim up to 30% less power draw from the entire GPU package when combining lane renegotiation with the other PowerPlay features.

AXIOM-TV and high-performance video

ATI's preferred mobile form-factor, Axiom, also gets an announcement of its own today. Axiom-TV features a Theater 550 video processor to help process video and audio streams for the host system, riding the PCI Express bus like the GPU it'll feed. More on Theater 550 in coming weeks.

ATI boast the best quality laptop panel output of any product on the market with M26, HDTV output from the notebook is supported and the fragment hardware can be used to process video streams, taking load off the CPU.

M26 and T550 Pro will also generate what's likely to be the first MCE2005-aware portable products, that OS getting hardware support for the two products in due course.

Performance and summary

Performance is quoted as being twice that of Mobility Radeon 9700, something I'm inclined to mostly agree with, given their relative architectures. So to sum up, in the absence of any samples or comparisons with NVIDIA's upcoming announcements in the same sector (Seiko would be proud), Mobility Radeon X700 has some serious on-paper promise, based on the presented information ATI have given to press for today.

Look out for a review of an M26-equipped notebook in due course, along with testing against any possible new NVIDIA offering. 8 fragment units, 6 vertex units, PCI Express and support for lots of on-package memory make for an enthusiastic outlook as ATI squeeze the R4 architecture into just one more product segment. Pass the lube.

Finally, Mobility Radeon X700 is likely to appear in notebooks featuring Intel's high-performance Dothan Pentium-M, rather than balls-out DTR products with desktop processors.