Card appearanceWe'll cut right to the chase and take a look at the card. Ryszard's initial review should give you an excellent grounding into why ATI feels that the 9800XT is the card to have for hardcore enthusiasts.
Oh my. Now go back and have a look at the reference card and then take a second look at Hercules' effort. Call me a cynic but it looks as if Hercules' design department took a week off here. The design is startlingly similar. The same large copper-clad GPU heatsink, the same whisper-quiet fan, and the same location for the auxilary power connector. There's absolutely nothing wrong with reference designs, of course, it's just that Hercules is known for doing things a little different.
Compared to the 9800 Pro, the card feels a lot, lot more substantial. The copious amounts of copper, both front and back, help to give it an expensive feel.
The above shot highlights just how the GPU heatsink is designed. A slab of copper sits on top of the new R360 core. Surface cooling area is maximised by using a ribbed fin approach. The same method is used all around the heatsink and it gets warm after prolonged load, suggesting that it is working in some fashion. The standard molex connector feeds the card with enough juice for it to flex its 412MHz core muscles. Remember that the 9800XT is still based on a 0.15-micron manufacturing process, so it has a propensity to get warm under the collar. It also uses 256MB (8x 256Mbit TinyBGA chips) of onboard RAM for frame-buffer duties. We've previously seen that push up the price and do little for performance in today's games. Future games, though, will no doubt load the texture memory to 200MB and beyond.
Unlike ASUS' 9800XT, the Hercules 3D Prophet 9800XT doesn't feature VIVO capability as standard. Hercules may argue that there's a decent ATI All-In-Wonder card for those that want extra connectivity functions, but we reckon £375 deserves a little more than just plain ol' TV-Out. HD15 and DVI connections flank the S-Video socket. I'll jump up and down in joy the day that someone decides to market a twin DVI 9800XT.
The back of the Hercules card carries on the reference cooling theme. The large copper heatsink is attached on via two screws that are secured from the topside and the small piece of securing metal that you see across the bottom of the heatsink. There's also Thermal Interface Material between the rear heatsink and TinyBGA modules, which are devilishly difficult to picture.
According the labelling of the Hynix 8 x 256Mbit (8Mx32) chips, they're rated to an impressive 800MHz DDR at 2.8v. The nominal rating for a 9800XT's memory is 'only' 730MHz. We'll see just how far it goes when we try to overclock it later. All in all, a reference design with some decent memory. We can't really argue with that. The Rage Theater ASIC would have been a nice bonus, though.