ABIT hardly needs an introduction. Known for their innovative and performance-oriented designs, they have become one of the most recognized and respected names in the retail market. They gained recognition with their original Intel i440BX line of motherboards when they introduced SoftMenu, a breakthrough in motherboard design that allowed users for the first time to change CPU and Frontside Bus settings inside the BIOS setup instead of moving around little plastic jumpers or dip-switches on the motherboard itself. Their name is synonymous with quality and dependability amongst many enthusiasts as they has proven themselves to be not only one of the most innovative manufacturing companies around but also as the company most in tune with computer enthusiasts and their needs.
Not content with being the driving force behind the motherboard market, ABIT branched out and put considerable attention into graphics card manufacturing. They quickly showed innovation in this market as well by introducing the first cooling system designed to pull cool air directly from outside of the PC case to cool a graphics card. Called "Outside Thermal Exhaust System", or OTES for short, the design proved to be quite effective at cooling even the hottest running graphics cards.
The once clearly defined line between AIBs and IHVs has been blurred considerably over the last year and it's now more common than ever to see a company like ABIT offer graphics cards based on graphics cores from more than one company. The people that benefit the most from this are us, the end users, so it was exciting news when it was announced that ABIT would start manufacturing graphics cards based on ATI Radeon graphics cores.
I was a bit disappointed that ABIT didn't try to make a huge splash with their first high-end Radeon by equipping it with their renowned OTES technology. Instead, ABIT opted for the reference design to get the card into the retail market as soon as possible. The only thing that says "ABIT" about the card is the ABIT logo on the cooling unit. Everything else, right down to the sticker inside the cooling duct, is ATI reference. Of course, using the reference design isn't necessarily a bad thing. The Radeon 9800XT is arguably the world's fastest consumer 3D graphics card so there's really little reason why ABIT should change things up. Knowing ABIT however, and their tendancy to cater to the enthusiast crowd, I have little doubt that we will see something unique from them in the future.
Even though it's not equipped with an OTES and is a pure reference design, the fact that it's a retail ABIT card powered by an ATI graphics core is a significant milestone in this ever evolving industry.