This article is designed to be complimented by a Technical Discussion on the 3D architecture for those that wish to delve into R5-series hardware in depth. When that Technical Discussion is available, you'll find the link here.
Speculation about ATI's new R5-series 3D graphics architecture has arguably eclipsed all speculation for any other piece of consumer 3D silicon in history. The consumer 3D graphics space is a new one, but even in these short years since 3dfx with Voodoo Graphics, Rendition with the Verite and the other early pioneers of 3D in household PCs, the rumour mill ramps things up to fever pitch every time a brand new architecture rolls around.
It was crazy with the NVIDIA G70 - something they initially fobbed off as a mobile part to curious hacks! - but since that part was relatively straightforward for NVIDIA to execute on, given a solid architecture with NV40 and recent experience with TSMC's 110nm process, the process of discussion leading up to its launch with GeForce 7800 GTX was logical and frankly fairly clean cut.
With R520 and the derivative parts sharing the same basic architecture that are being launched today, that's certainly not been the case. How the hardware works is a complex beast to discuss, which is partly why this article stands separate from a technical analysis, one which will follow at HEXUS in the near future. Discussing that online here at HEXUS and elsewhere when you really don't know how the hardware is going to work is hard. Without samples of the hardware to benchmark, play games on and analyse in a technical sense even more so.
That all changes today with the launch of three base SKUs based around the new silicon ATI have been developing over the past few years. ATI Radeon X1800, ATI Radeon X1600 and ATI Radeon X1300 all, using R520, RV530 and RV515 respectively, debut today in some form or another. To best explain the range, HEXUS have decided to look at the range topper in terms of performance in this article and technology in another. Radeon X1800 XT is the top clocked R520-based product for the time being, serving that purpose well.
Our hand is somewhat forced in this respect by time pressure and ATI's frankly rubbish sampling of the new hardware to the technology and mainstream press. Saying that, it's certainly my pleasure to deliver the HEXUS first look at their long-awaited technology jump, defining the basics of 3D hardware from them for some time to come, which in turn will form the foundations of the graphics cards they'll want you to buy.
This article will therefore cover the ATI Radeon X1800 XT from a product and performance sense, to see if you'd want one in your system, pretty much regardless of the underlying technology. I'd be remiss in not discussing what makes R520 in broad strokes, however, so let's start with that.