PowerColor HD 2900 Pro Review

Author: Kevin Spiess
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Thursday, October 11th, 2007
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/s/pc_hd2900pro/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

 

The HD 2900 Pro just sort of appeared one day.

There was no large launch event; no rash of rumors anticipated its arrival. The HD 2900 Pro's release wasn't preceded by press-release, fanfare, or parade. The card just sort of happened.  You might have heard about it on the net, but if you weren't paying attention the card may have just slipped under the radar.  Come and gone before anyone was the wiser.

Priced competively against the 320 MB 8800 GTS video cards, the HD 2900 Pro has a great deal in common with ATI's top-of-the-line HD 2900 XT.  In fact, what most intrigued us was the fact that the 2900 Pro had the exact same number of stream processors as the top of the line card, and from all appearances only differed from the more expensive 2900 XT by clock speeds and a more affordable price point.

Today we are looking at one of these out-of-nowhere cards, send to us by our friends from PowerColor, and you're going to see why you ought to be excited by this sleeper hit.  So let's get started!

 

 A closer look at the 2900 Pro

If you were to judge by appearance alone, you could say that the HD 2900 Pro is a HD 2900 XT in some makeup.

You can see the pictures for yourself: the only thing that differentiates the appearance of our ATI HD 2900 XT and this PowerColor HD 2900 Pro are the stickers and serial numbers. We have the exact same cooler; same capacitors; same PCB down to every etch.


Good thing there is a sticker on'em so we can tell them apart!

The HD 2900 Pro has 16 texture units, 16 render back-ends, and 320 stream Processors -- just like the HD 2900 XT.

You almost get the impression that each HD 2900 Pro was fated to be a HD 2900 XT, but somehow, something happened and it just turned out to be a HD 2900 Pro instead.

As for under the hood, the HD 2900 Pro has a core clock of 600 MHz, and the 512 MB of GDDR3 memory operates at 800 (1600 effictively.) You can compare this to the standard HD 2900 XT speeds of  750 / 1650. That's a fairly big gulf between the XT and the Pro, in respects to the core clock speed, but the HD 2900 Pro should be in the same performance bracket as a 8800 GTS. Pricewise, the PowerColor HD 2900 Pro retails somewhere around the $280 USD mark, positioning it well against the 8800 GTS 320 MB, which retails right around this price.

The PowerColor HD 2900 Pro also has the standard features found in the more expensive HD 2900 XT, including: CrossFire support, DX10 support, built-in HDMI, ATI Avivo high-def video playback, and 5.1 surround audio.

The Bundle

PowerColor went against the grain with the packaging of the HD 2900 Pro: the card doesn't come in an oversize box. This is a good thing, in my opinion. Sometimes, some cards come in these monstrorous boxes that hold nothing more a small box wouldn't --  besides a lot of empty space.

The graphic on the box is also quite nice. Usually, this isn't something I mention; but the artwork, (an armored woman holding a big sword), is eye-catching and well-done, so I thought it deserved noting.

The bundle in the box includes the following: one DVI to HDMI adapaters, one DVI to VGA adapater, two molex-to-PCI-e power connectors, a CrossFire bridge, a VIVO cable, a HDTV output cable, the ubiqutuous driver CD, a DVD filled with DVD authoring, burning and editing software (the "CyberLink DVD Solution"), and finally, a slim quick installation guide.

Overclocking

A big appeal of the HD 2900 Pro is the overclocking potential. Because the HD 2900 Pro looks like a HD 2900 XT, sounds like a HD 2900 XT, and seems to be, yes, an XT, many gamers undoubedtly wonder if it'll perform like a XT as well. Usually, Neoseeker does not overclock cards for our reviews -- but this is a special exception. The overclocking potential greatly interested us -- and we guess that'll interest you too.

Using the Catalyst Control Center's built-in Overdrive utility, we used the automated clock configuration feature to find a high stable clock.

Something happened.

The Catalyst Control Center just kept going and going. Long past the point that we thought the Powercolor HD 2900 Pro would have crashed or caught fire, the overclock finder just kept on going. The Powercolor HD 2900 Pro settled, finally, at a extremely impressive core clock speed of 858 MHz! That's right: eight hundred, and fifty-eight MHz.

858 is a 258 MHz overclock from the stock clock of 600 MHz.

858 is actually a bit over 100 MHz more than the a HD 2900 XT.

The memory faired very well also: we were able to 900 (1800) MHz, which is  a 100 MHz overclock.

This kind of overclock is just plain awesome to see -- there's just no other way to describe it. To be fair, at these settings, our series of benchmarks were not %100 stable - we had a few irregular crashes at high resolutions in X3, and Call of Juarez. Nonetheless, every other benchmark ran fine, so -- unless we recieved some sort of miracle card of the bunch -- we can expect that any HD 2900 Pro should have no problem running at 800 / 850, which is a still a terrific overclock.

A 800 / 850 overclock will deliver more performance than a stock-clocked HD 2900 XT, which retails for at least a $100 USD more.

Remember, if your planning to overclock, the HD 2900 Pro will require both a 8-pin and 6-pin power connector, and you'll want a power supply somewhere in the neighbourhood of 750 Watts to be safe. 

Benchmark Setup

For this we review, we used this testing platform:

To compare against the 2900 Pro we chose to use several products in the same "performance range" to give you an idea of  And these are the video cards we tested to test against the HD 2900 Pro: 

  

  Core Clock Memory Clock Memory Type Memory Interface Memory Size Price Estimate (USD)
ATI HD 2900 XT 740 1650 GDDR3 512-bit 512 MB ~$440
Asus EAX X1950 Pro 580 1400 GDDR3 256-bit 256 MB ~$175
Asus EN8800 GTS 320 MB 500 1600 GDDR3 320-bit 320 MB ~$330
MSI RX2600XT Diamond Plus 850 2300 GDDR4 128-bit 512 MB ~$170
PowerColor
HD 2900 Pro
600 1600 GDDR3 512-bit 512 MB ~$275
XFX 8600 GTS XXX 730 2260 GDDR3 128-bit 256 MB ~$225
XFX 8600 GT XXX 620 1400 GDDR3 128-bit 256 MB ~$140

The PowerColor HD 2900 Pro does well against its primary rival in these benchmarks, the Asus EN8800 GTS (320 MB).

When overclocked to 858 / 900, the HD 2900 Pro can't be caught.

For F.E.A.R, the HD 2900 Pro does well without AA, but when AA is turned on, gets out-edged by the 8800 GTS.

Not so much in Doom 3. Here the Powercolor HD 2900 Pro does well against the more expensive Asus EN8800 GTS.

Here the PowerColor HD 2900 Pro matches the performance of the EN8800 GTS without AA, but once again, when AA is enabled, the edge goes to the EN8800 GTS.

When overclocked to 858 / 900, the raw horsepower delivered by the PowerColor HD 2900 Pro is so impressive that I don't even want to talk about it.

Continuing trends from other benchmarks done in the past, X3 seems to favor the ATI entry over the comparable Nvidia offering.

The PowerColor HD 2900 Pro continues to do quite well.

In case you are wondering, the overclocked PowerColor HD 2900 Pro would crash in X3 every so often, so it wasn't really fair to include its overclocking results in this chart.

This benchmark, and the next two, were done in Vista. While this benchmark was rendered in DX9 mode, the next two games were rendered in DX10. Stability was also factor at the high overclock of 858 / 900 in Vista, for this benchmark, and the next two, we used a more (but still very good) 'conventional' overclock of 801 / 850.

Out of all the games tested for this review, this was probably where the Asus EN8800 outperformed the HD 2900 Pro the most.

Guess you can't win them all.

Unless you overclock, that is.

No AA:

With AA:

From my experience, World In Conflict has usually run much better on Nvidia cards. It is possibly a driver issue, however, as back in beta, ATI cards fared much better.

Irregardless, the Asus EN8800 GTS has a healthy lead over the Powercolor HD 2900 Pro in this game, at regular clock speeds.

Also please note: the Asus EAX X1950 Pro scores here are so high because this card (and ONLY this card) ran the benchmark in DX9 mode, because it is not capable of DX10. We included the numbers because we thought it would be a good point of reference -- not to mention, the game really doesn't look much different in DX10 mode, compared to DX9.

In an unexpected reversal of trends, the HD 2900 Pro outperforms the Asus EN8800 GTS with AA enabled, but not when AA is disabled.

And I thought I've seen it all.

Guess we'll have to call this round a draw.

 

Power Usage

At stock-clocks, the PowerColor HD 2900 Pro requires a bit more juice than the Asus EN8800 GTS.

We tested the power draw by using a P3 International Kill a Watt enery-usage monitor. We created our 'load' environment by testing during a particularly demanding part of 3dMark 06.

 

Conclusion

The PowerColor HD 2900 Pro is a good deal at it's standard clock speeds -- but if you are inclined to bring overclocking into the picture, the PowerColor HD 2900 Pro transforms into a nothing less than an exceptional deal, in comparison to other video cards on the market today.

At stock speeds, up against the Asus EN8800 GTS 320 MB, the PowerColor HD 2900 Pro fairs quite well. Without AA enabled, the HD 2900 Pro wins most of the battles against the generally more expensive 8800 GTS 320 MB, but not every battle. However, once AA is enabled (x4), the tables tilt in favor of NVIDIA's offering. This lackluster AA performance from an ATI video card, in comparison against similiar products from NVIDIA, has been a small trend as of late, and it was not a surprise to see same the situation with the HD 2900 Pro.

For many, it may be a bit of a toss-up between two options. On one hand, you have the 8800 GTS (320 MB) which offers better performance when AA is enabled, compared to the HD 2900 Pro (on average). On the other hand, when AA was disabled, the PowerColor HD 2900 Pro often out-muscled the Asus EN8800 GTS. So it just might come down to which situation you'd prefer: a bit higher AA-less framerates, or playing with AA enabled. But even irregardless of the underwhelming AA performance, it seems likely that everyone should still be satsified with the PowerColor HD 2900 Pro's performance.

However, once again, once you bring overclocking potential into the picture, the PowerColor HD 2900 Pro becomes a very good deal indeed. For under $300 dollars you can get a whole lot of horsepower, if you're willing to raise those clocks. For exceptional overclocking performance on top of an already fine product, we have no qualms whatsoever in recommending the PowerColor HD 2900 Pro. And for one of the best overclocking potentials I've seen in a video card, the PowerColor HD 2900 Pro is a hands-down winner of our Overclocker's Choice award. 

One thing to be aware of though, is that the HD 2900 Pro's won't last long in stores. Once your local (or online) retailer runs out, there is a good chance they won't be getting anymore. We've been told by reliable sources that the 2900 Pro is literally a "limited run" edition card, and once gone, you likely won't see it again.  Ever.  So, that being said, if you are in the market for a new video card this October and the HD 2900 Pro looks to be what you're after, you might want to act fast, as this stellar deal might vanish as quietly, and as suddenly, as it appeared.

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