Image Quality, Stability, and Compatibility
Perhaps the most important statement I can write for this section is that the test system never once suffered from a CTD (crash to desktop), lock-up, or reboot while conducting the benchmarks for this review. This is noteworthy if you stop and consider that no less than 30 benchmarks were ran for Commanche 4, Ghost Recon, F1 2002, Falcon 4, and Forgotten Battles. Moreover, no rendering errors occurred during benchmarking or actual gameplay of these titles. And though not tested the following games were installed on the test system and played (not in their entirety, of course) during the testing and writing for this review: Mafia, Medieval: Total War, Soldier of Fortune 2, Morrowind, Dark Age of Camelot: Shrouded Isles, UT 2003, Freedom Force, and Age of Mythology. And aside from slightly corrupted text in Age of Mythology and no anti-aliasing on the Medieval battlefields (the game is based on an old 16-bit engine), there were no graphical anomalies noticed, nor as above were there any crashes or lock-ups. ATI and their Catalyst drivers have certainly improved since the 9700 Pro’s initial launch last fall, and will hopefully continue to do so.
While the Xtasy 9800 Pro was an extremely stable and trouble-free piece of hardware, the quality of its output is also of great importance as graphics boards push inexorably closer and closer to CGI-based cinematics. Yet image quality is an issue that is certainly subjective in nature. This last can be best translated to read: the following is the author’s personal opinion, so mileage may vary. That said, good anti-aliasing is of extreme importance in achieving desirable levels of image quality for many game types, the simulation genre perhaps most important of all. If you consider the fact that most sims are played from viewpoints that are more static, or fixed, than that of other genres, such as shooters, it’s only natural that any apparent aliasing will be more easily noticed by gamers. That said, ATI has called the ball with their current anti-aliasing, offering what is simply hands-down the best AA currently available for gaming cards. And all tested AA modes demonstrated playable frame rates in the lower resolutions, with 2x and 4x remaining playable even at 1600×1200 in many of the benchmarks. Yet 6x was often hard to discern as an improvement over 4x, though its slight advantages are there if scrutinized for, and the once-promised super-sampling support, which could be useful in combating alpha texture aliasing in older games, has yet to make an appearance (and at this point in time, it’s doubt that it will). Despite these caveats, the Xtasy 9800 Pro does not disappoint in regard to its supported anti-aliasing modes, and the following screenshots illustrate this perhaps better than words can.
All screenshots were taken at 1024×768 with 4x AA and 8x AF.
Texture filtering is also a strong point with the Radeon 9800 chip. While perhaps not quite as good as it could be due to ATI’s penchant for not texturing at the full anisotropy requested at all angles, a design implementation that results in slight texture aliasing at certain angles, the 9800 Pro’s anisotropic filtering nevertheless combines good texturing with fast performance. A glance at 8x AF scores shows that the feature impacts performance by only 10-20% across all of the resolutions of the games tested. Last, while I was unable to test the DVI-I quality the Xtasy’s 2D output on a KDS Avitron AV21-TF CRT was excellent due to the 400 MHz DAC’s support of extremely high resolutions (up to 2048×1536 at 85 Hz) and refresh rates. While 2D quality appears to be of less and less concern in this era of cinematic graphics, the Xtasy will not disappoint those who spend hours eacy day surfing the web or editing Office files.
The Xtasy 9800 Pro is an outstanding marriage of features and performance. With full DX9 support, the best anti-aliasing currently available for consumer-level graphics cards, solid software support with ATI’s Catalyst drivers, and VisionTek’s lifetime warranty, it is hard not to recommend the board to those looking for a high-end video card. And while VisionTek is no longer manufacturing their own boards, a situation that does not allow their cards to deviate from the reference design, there is certainly nothing wrong with knowing that ATI’s solid engineering with the Radeon 9800 chip and board has not been altered. Simmers looking for that new graphics board for their primary gaming rig should give the Xtasy 9800 Pro serious consideration.