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Asus Radeon cards & Digimatrix PC
The world was officially informed this time last week that Asus, one of the largest computer component manufacturers in the world would be joining the ranks of Gigabyte, Sapphire and Hercules to name but a few as ATI board partners we finally see the actual product today. The Radeon 9800 XT represents the current pinnacle of graphics performance and today Asus were launching a whole raft of ATI related products.

The Radeon 9800 XT took centre stage in a booming presentation boasting of good things to come and included a demo of Half Life 2 (albeit the same demo that was seen at E3 and ECTS). The card itself was present (which is more than can be said for the real Radeon 9800 XT launch in Munich last week) along with packaging and the promise of Half Life 2 being bundled with the 9800 and 9600 XT, presumably as a token which you can cash in for the real game when it becomes available.

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A slide was presented with more information on the overall package. Glancing over the initial technical information, the thing to note is the four video-in/video-out ports and the use of a heatpipe cooler which is made from copper and covers both GPU and memory.

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Asus have also updated the overall software bundle, and although Half Life 2 will appear later (as to how much later is a hotly debated topic) they are trying to push into the retail sector and the inclusion of more value-added technologies like SmartDoctor which allows easy overclocking is welcomed.

Other cards were announced, with the 9600 XT and SE for the mainstream along with the 9200 SE for the value segment.

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The revamped 9600 XT should provide better competition against NVIDIA's Geforce FX 5600 Ultra which seems to be making a healthy comeback after initial problems. The 9200 will see the light of day in value systems where gaming isn't the top priority.

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The last slide sums up the new video products that were launched today. There's nothing that wasn't already public knowledge, however it's good to see Asus making a complete range of ATI powered video cards rather than just sticking to the high-end. It certainly should give NVIDIA some food for thought.

Finally and probably most impressive of all was the DigiMatrix. Like many other manufacturers, Asus have ventured into the small form factor (SFF) arena. We (along with many other journalists) were really impressed with this unit, which features a Pentium 4 2.4 GHz processor. Intended as a multimedia entertainment PC, it features a TV tuner which can be controlled by the remote.

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The front pull down panel reveals the smart cart reader, 4 USB 2.0 ports, 2 Firewire, a line out and microphone jack. The volume control sticks out and makes the most prominant mark on the whole system. The faux aluminium effect on the panel is not too tacky but as with most of these things, you can't beat the real thing.

More USB 2.0, one Gigabit Ethernet and one fast Ethernet sockets are present along with D-Sub and DVI connectors. Although this machine isn't a graphics powerhouse, it can't be faulted for lack of options. Putting it alongside the new Asus MyPAL 620 PDA we can see a comparison of height. For the technically minded we would say that the DigiMatrix is around 1.5U high.

So Asus move back into the world of ATI graphics and although the availability of Half Life 2 has put a dampener on the whole 9800/9600 XT launch cards Asus say products will be available later this month. ATI can be happy in the fact that they have a wide range of quality board partners that can finally do it justice in numbers. The DigiMatrix looks like a very well made and thought-out design, and although to many it is just another small form factor PC, Asus look to be differentiating themselves through design, functionality and one of the best brands in the business.