Powercolor HD 2600 XT Review

Author: Kevin Spiess
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Thursday, June 28th, 2007
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/s/powercolor_hd_2600_xt_review/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

The DirectX10 Card Wars enter a new phase today, with a new milestone: the release of ATI's midrange R600 based cards in the form of the Radeon HD 2600 and HD 2400 series.

It appears that ATI has a lot riding on these cards.  Not only were they quite late in getting their flagship HD 2900 XT DX10 product to market, but in a fair number of benchmarks, the cheaper GeForce 8800 GTS 320 MB out-paces the power-hungry, top-end ATI card. However, it is the mid-range cards that move the most units in the marketplace. If today's card turns out to be a solid performer, loyal ATI enthusiasts would have an easy time forgetting that the HD 2900 XT was not as decisive a winner as they were hoping it would be.

To see what ATI's first DirectX10 mid-range card can do, we have, hot-from-the-factory, a Powercolor HD 2600 XT. If you've read our recent 8600 card roundup and our initial review of the 8600 products, you probably have a good handle on this primary competition: the GeForce 8600 GT's and GTS'. The HD 2600 line comes in both 'XT' and 'PRO' models – the XT being faster of the two. Initial price points indicate that HD 2600 XT will be much closer to the GT price range, than the GTS' price range. The HD 2600 XT is also offered in both GDDR3 and GDDR4 versions. According to information supplied to us from ATI, the HD 2600 XT GDDR4 will be closer in price and performance to a 8600 GT. The GDDR 3 version will probably retail for a bit less than most editions of the 8600 GT, with our particular card being around $115 USD.

If you recall from the 8600 roundup, we were not altogether blown away by the performance of the 8600 GTS', but they did put in some respectable numbers – on the other hand, the cheaper 8600 GT's offered pretty good performance numbers for their price, which was in the $100 to $150 range. It'll be interesting to see how the HD 2600 XT stacks up.

For this review, we will look at how the HD 2600 XT benches against it's current midrange competitors, a 8600 GT and GTS, and we'll also compare the HD 2600 XT against the upper-mid-range cards of the previous generation. Here are all the cards we'll benchmark today: the BFG GeForce 7600 GT OC, a Sapphire ATI Radeon X1600 Pro, a Powercolor HD 2600 XT, a XFX GeForce 8600 GT, and a XFX GeForce 8600 GTS. Here is a chart comparing some pertinent numbers:

 

Card Comparison BFG 7600 GT OC Sapphire X1600 Pro XFX 8600 GT XFX 8600 GTS Powercolor        HD 2600XT
Core Frequency 580 810 620 730 800
Memory Frequency 1450 800 1600 2260 1400
Memory Interface 128-bit 128-bit 128-bit 128-bit 128-bit
Memory  256 MB 256 MB 256 MB 256 MB 256 MB
Memory Type GDDR3 GDDR3 GDDR3 GDDR3 GDDR3
Memory Bandwidth (GB/sec) 23.2 12.8 22.4 32.0 26.4
Stream Processors ----- --- 32 32 120

 

As you can see, the HD 2600 XT has a healthy lead over the 8600 GTS when it comes to core clock speed, and has many more stream processors. Before we see what difference this makes, let's take a closer look at the card, shall we?

In general terms, the HD 2600 XT is a diminutive card. It is the smallest card of the five we will be benching today. The printed circuit board is about an inch shorter than this Asus 8600 GTS.

Of the first things you may notice about this card is that it has no external power connector. We'll look at the power consumption numbers later, but for now, it's safe to say that it is not in the same power-class of a hog as its older brother, the HD 2900 XT. This probably has a lot to do with its 65 nanometer fabrication process. The other cards were made with 80(+) nanometer die process. As you probably know, the smaller the chip, the less power it needs, and the more cooling is required.

This cooler looks very similar to one last spotted in our 8600 roundup article, affixed on top of the Asus 8600 GTS (pictured above).  The only distinguishing visual differences betweens the sticker and color of the cooler. The cooler is a bit big, as mid-range coolers go. It'll stick out -- enough that'll probably block an extra PCI slot, in your rig. It is a fairly quiet cooler, however.

Note that this is not the standard cooler on the HD 2600 XT. PowerColor opted to go with a more silent, more powerful cooler made by ZeroTherm to set their card apart from the reference design.  ATI's reference board design pictures for the HD 2600 XT feature a dual-channel fan / copper heatsink combo, like this:

Down in the corner of the card we have two white boxes. One or the other boxes is marked, with a black dot, to show you how much memory your card comes with. Turns out the HD 2600 XT will be available in a 512 MB. You will also, relatively soon, be able to buy a HD 2600 XT with GDDR4 RAM. It will be roughly $20 or so more, and should offer a step-up in performance to our GDDR3 flavor of card. AGP version of the HD 2600 XT have also been announced. Watch Neoseeker for new news.

Here's a back-end shot -- but no surprises in the rear; just your standard 2 DVI's and video output.

The HD 2600 XT features some really beefy looking capacitors. The 8600 GT has smaller capacitors, but about twice as many as the HD 2600 XT.

Here's a picture of my two good friends: Mr.GPU, and Mr. Memory.

 

Our card was shipped directly to us from the manufacturer in a plain box, so, we will not be looking at any included bundle. Oh well. Benchmarks are more important anyway; lets get right to them...

Here's our benchmarking system:

Software-wise, we used the following programs for benchmarking purposes:

For the first time here at Neoseeker, we double benched Company of Heroes: in addition to our regular XP benchmark, we also added numbers from a Vista system running Company of Heroes, patched to DirectX 10.

When it came to the drivers used for the HD 2600 XT, we had some problems. Hopefully, by the time you read this review, the problems will be smoothed out -- but that wasn't the case for us.  In particular we had some trouble with DX10 benchmarking.  For starters, we could not successfully run the Lost Planet Demo. It hardly ran at all, and when it did run, it looked terrible. We also had problems with Company of Heroes when using the Catalyst 7.6 drivers -- strangely, the DX10 version worked fine, but the DX9 version would often crash, if AA was set to off. X3 also had troubles running.

For this review ATI provided XP 8.38.9.1 development drivers, which alleviated some of the problems. We were never able to get Lost Planet running properly, so that benchmark will have to wait for new drivers.  If you get this card right at launch just be aware that as with other launch cards, the current available public Catalyst 7.6 drivers and the drivers that ship with the card may not be stable with all your games.

3dmark 06

Lots of interesting data here; let's look at each chart seperately.

First of we have the fill rate. A quick glance shows the HD 2600 XT to come in 4th out of 5th place here, but if you look at the numbers, the gaps really aren't as bad as this position would indicate. For instance, the HD 2600 XT's multi-texturing fill-rate is 93% as fast as the  XFX 8600 GT -- which isn't that bad, considering this XFX 8600 GT comes factory overclocked.

The HD 2600 XT gets out-gunned in the particles test, but comes first in the Perlin Noise test. Better particles or more real looking textures -- that's a tough call. As for pixel shading, those extra stream processors seem to come up big. But with the vertex shader test, well, the HD 2600 XT just doesn't impress.

Now that we are done with the synthetic benchmarks, let's check out same game performance... 

 

 

(Note: the BFG 7600 GT OC did not participate in the particles test because it lacks Shader  Model 3 support.)

 

Welcome to our FPS benchmarks.

The HD 2600 XT doesn't perform very well at all in the F.E.A.R benchmark. It would not have been too bad if it was only beaten by the more expensive XFX 8600 GT; but, it isn't able to seperate itself from either the 7600 GT OC or the X1600 Pro. These three cards are around the same price ballpark, but  it would be fair to hope that this newer generation of card would be able to pull bigger performance gains. It looks like it isn't only the 128-bit memory interface that is holding back the card -- the 8600 GT really outshines the HD 2600 XT here. With AA and AF on, the X1600 Pro actually comes in faster than the HD 2600 XT. Surprising, and not pretty.

The HD 2600 XT fairs better in Prey, but again, if you look it the AA/AF numbers it doesn't exactly shine.

Let's see what the next benches bring...

 

Here we go: the HD 2600 XT starts to show some better performance here, with X3. It comes in first with AA/AF off; but again, the HD 2600 XT's AA/AF-on performance is uninspired. I would have thought those 120 stream processors, compared to the 32 of the GT/GTS's, would have come into play more. It is possible that future DirectX 10 games will make better use of this difference -- but for now there isn't much we can say. Before not too long native DirectX 10 games will flood the market, and maybe then this card will deliver better relative performance -- we will have to wait and find out.

The same story continues with Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. Very solid non-AA/AF performance, where the HD 2600 XT beats the XFX 8600 GT, but subpar frame rates with AA/AF enabled.

On to Company of Heroes...

 

If you're an ATI fan, then we saved the best benchmark for last: the Powercolor HD 2600 XT rocked the Company of Heroes DX10 benchmark, and had a good showing for the DX9 versions.

It would have done well to outperform the XFX 8600 GT in the DX10  -- but the HD 2600 XT went the distance here, and solidly out-performed the XFX 8600 GTS. For the DX9 benchmark, the HD 2600 XT did well, but continued its trend of having losing ground to the NVIDIA cards when AA and AF come in play.

That's just the way it goes sometimes: some games like some cards better than others. Apparently. the HD 2600 XT likes Company of Heroes a whole lot.

That's it for the benchmarks. Let's check out some power numbers before wrapping this one up.

 

Not really any big surprises here. The HD 2600 XT has more transistors than the previous generations' card, and does not require an external power cable, so, it slides in nicely to the middle of the pack.

Maybe it's a little bit closer to the GT's power usage then some might guess -- perhaps those extra stream processors make up for the power benefits gained by the 65nm fabrication process.

To conclude matters...

How does HD 2600 XT stack up? Overall -- judging only from this first card -- the HD 2900 XT shows some promise. It delivers what you would expect: decent performance, at a fair price. Sure, the Powercolor HD 2600 XT won't be not knocking off any socks with it's performance, such as in F.E.A.R and Prey, but for something not all that much more than a hundred dollars, there is not really much to complain about. It was a similar story with the 8600 GT's -- perhaps unstellar performance, but when you consider its a DirectX 10 HD playback-ready card, and priced not too far over a hundred bucks, what can you complain about?

Well, you could complain about AA/AF performance hits. You can definitely see some of the R600 family DNA shared between the HD 2900 XT and the HD 2600 XT. Whereas in previous generations, ATI cards generally delivered better performance with AA/AF enabled than their NVIDIA counterparts, the roles seem to be reversed now. Like the HD 2900 XT, the HD 2600 XT offers less AA/AF enabled performance than you'd expect appraising its AA/AF disabled performance. Besides the stellar DX10-patched Company of Heroes performance, the HD 2600 XT consistenly delivered less frames with AA/AF enabled then the NVIDIA cards -- even compared to the older BFG 7600 GT OC. Driver revisions in the coming months may alleviate this but its begining to look like an architectural weakness given the consistency of the AA/AF performance drops both in the 2900 XT and 2600 XT.

On the subject of drivers, we'll have to wait a little bit to see what the future brings. It is too premature for us to judge ATI's drivers for the HD 2600 XT, as it'll still be a few weeks before these cards hit your local hardware shelves. Right now, Vista game performance, for both the HD 2600 XT's, and the 8600 GT's/GTS', is not where it should be.  As gamers, we are all still anxiously awaiting the big coming DirectX10 titles. Those titles will be the true test of this card, and the 8600's. Once more of these native DirectX 10 games start rolling out, and the drivers have had time to mature, we might be seeing a new picture for these current generation, inexpensive mid-range cards.

This showdown between the new generation of mid-range cards shares some similiarites with last generations' battle for the middle market. Last time around, NVIDIA was also first to get their mid-end cards -- the 7600's -- out the door. While last time around, the 1600 XT performed comparably to a 6600 GT, ATI's card were more expensive, leading many people to favor the 6600 GT in the end. Similiar to last generation's cards, many consumers might decide to go with the comparably-priced, best offerings from the previous generation's cards: such as a X1950 GT or a 7950 GT. What's different this time around with these mid-range cards are the prices: the 8600's, and HD 2600 cards, relatively speaking, are selling for less. For example, at its inital launch, the X1600 XT sold for around the $250 mark. So it seems ATI has changed its strategy this time around, with our new HD 2600 XT. The HD 2600 XT sells for roughly half the price that the X1600 XT initially did. With mid-range cards now selling around the $150 mark, maybe they plan to make up this price difference by selling to a broader market, including many people looking for a card that can handle Vista, and offer better HD DVD playback.

In the end, does the HD 2600 XT appear to be a good purchase? For the price range, it does. However, if you were hoping to be able to game with AA and AF enabled at reasonable levels, it becomes harder to recommend a HD 2600 XT over NVIDIA's competitive 8600 GT line. It'll be interesting to see what other models of the HD 2600 XT's can do -- especially the available HD 2600 XT's with the faster GDDR4 memory. Dual-GPU HD 2600 XT's have also been promised from Sapphire. But for now, while this Powercolor HD 2600 XT does offer fair performance for its price, it doesn't perform well enough to outshine its competitors.

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