Evesham Axis Vulcan X1900 CF review

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ATi has just launched its new flagship GPU, the X1900. Naturally, there’s a CrossFire Edition for a dual-card setup and we wanted to see exactly how much power this new arrangement has to offer. The system designers at Evesham were also curious, and so wrangled a pair of cards from ATi for this machine.

Evesham Axis Vulcan X1900 CF review

As we’ve seen from our numerous ultimate PCs group tests, there can be teething troubles with such new technology: the more there is to go wrong, the more likely something will go wrong. We spent the best part of half a day trying to get the Vulcan to output a screen. Admitting defeat, we called Evesham’s engineers, who quickly diagnosed the problem: ATi’s input/output connection (that takes an input from the slave and also outputs the final composited picture) on the CrossFire master card can be attached either way up. External CrossFire connector duly turned, our screen lit up immediately. Evesham will clearly label the connections on retail machines to rectify ATi’s oversight and spare you the blushes we displayed.

As our review shows, the X1900 XTX is the fastest single card on the market, but the X1900 CrossFire Edition is an XT and runs 25MHz slower. However, it does still have 48 pixel pipelines, which gives this system a total of 96. With these running at 625MHz, ATi claims X1900 CrossFire systems have 1 teraflop of processing power, equivalent to the $50 million IBM Deep Blue machine that defeated Gary Kasparov nine years ago. We expected great things.

We weren’t disappointed either: as the graphs below show, our standard tests at standard settings were dazed like a fly being hit by a bullet train. To really stress all those pixel pipelines, we needed to increase the detail and the resolution. We started conservatively by using 1,600 x 1,200 with 4x AA and 8x AF. We still got ludicrously high scores in every test: Far Cry ran at 86fps, just as it did at 1,280 x 1,024, showing that the test was CPU limited. We needed even tougher tests, so we enabled HDR and used 16x AF and 12x AA; both cards sample six times and use different patterns, so ATi claims 12x AA when both are combined. It was still playable, running at 35fps. Call of Duty 2, with all its settings turned to maximum, also played at 35fps at the same resolution with full AA and AF.

Clearly, then, to get the best out of this incredibly powerful gaming hardware, you’re going to need at least a 1,600 x 1,200 resolution monitor, and you may as well use every quality enhancement setting going. We do have slight concerns, though. Despite the 12x AA, we still saw aliasing errors: jagged edges to diagonal lines and shimmer along thin ones. It’s not too off-putting, but we expected perfection.

Evesham has made sure the Vulcan is no one-trick pony, giving it the horsepower for any computing task. To race through Office applications and media encoding alike, there’s the AMD FX-60 under the hefty copper Akasa heatsink. This is currently the fastest processor going, with two cores that Evesham has tweaked to run at 2.68GHz. It too made our strenuous benchmarks seem a sunny spring stroll in the park. The overall score of 1.37 is the highest we’ve yet seen, with the Vulcan over 50 per cent faster in Office-based tasks than our reference Intel Pentium D 840-based system. It’s even a shade faster than Mesh’s X-Treme FX-60, which we saw last month.

The score was no doubt helped by the 2GB of PC3200 RAM and the 16MB cache on the 400GB Western Digital Caviar SE16 hard disk. There’s still plenty of room for adding extra storage or memory too, with two RAM sockets free and comfortable room for another hard disk. Elsewhere, upgrade potential is either limited or pointless. The Vulcan already has two DVD drives, even if only one can burn discs. There’s only one expansion slot free, a PCI Express 1x slot, but then there’s already a Creative X-Fi Xtreme sound card for superb audio. This not only forms a great partner for your choice of speakers, it also has plenty of features to help musicians and movie editors compile their latest masterpiece. And if you’re still worried about the adage that if there’s more to break there’s more chance of it breaking, the three-year on-site warranty will do much to ease your mind.

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