It appears as though ATi’s confidence in the core architecture the company released with the Radeon 9700 Proback in 2002 is a gamble that hasn’t yet backfired. The X800 series of boards has won numerous OEM contracts and been extremely popular with gamers in the retail market, though availability for the XT and PE boards has been poor throughout the summer. The Radeon X800 XT used in this review displayed no issues rendering any of the games in the benchmark suite, nor were there any stability problems with the test system while running the board. And the new Catalyst Control Center is a fairly user friendly control panel that offers a wide host of configurable options for the end user, though in its current form it is somewhat bloated in terms of system resources required to run; hopefully ATi will be able to optimize the package in the near future.
Though we suspect the Radeon X800 XT’s performance is somewhat limited by the 500 MHz GDDR3 memory installed, the board still managed to blaze through many of the games included in SimHQ’s benchmark suite. This hardly comes as a surprise, considering the sheer fill-rate generated by 16 pixel pipelines running at 500 MHz, a high frequency achieved largely due to TSMC’s 130nm low-k process and ATi’s choice of employing it for this generation of high-end chips. While the R420 design lacks support for certain features found in Shader Model 3.0, and for higher floating point precision rendering, it’s doubtful a game will be released within an expected lifespan for the X800 boards that significantly eclipses their capabilities. And unique features such as temporal anti-aliasing and 3Dc are worth consideration for those looking to purchase a high-end graphics card. ATi has struck a remarkable balance over the past few generations, successfully leveraging their initial DX9 architecture across several years, largely through the smart use of process technology, while freeing up the engineering resources necessary to work on a future design that has already won one major contract: Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox 2 console. Only time will tell, however, whether or not ATi’s future design will likewise function as an architectural vinculum, a foundation able to bridge generations of products as the graphics industry transitions itself toward Longhorn and DirectX 10.
Download a pdf of this article here (528 kb).
The “How SimHQ Tests” page is here.
The page includes our test criteria and links to the new Benchmark Suite.