Best Playable IQ:
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The above chart will give you a quick understanding at just how powerful these video cards are when it come to gaming in the real world. Above you can see the IQ settings that we found playable on our test system.
There is a very obvious pattern here; 1600x1200 with AA and AF on the X800XT. Only in one game did we have to play at 1280x1024, and that was only because the game, NFS: Underground did not support 1600x1200 resolution. Otherwise every single game was playable at 1600x1200 with AA and AF! We find this to be nothing short of incredible and frankly we did not think we would see this kind of video card power till possibly later this year.
The Radeon X800Pro comes in second in the pack and did achieve 1600x1200 with AA and AF in a couple of games with the rest being playable at 1280x1024 with AA and AF.
The GeForce 6800Ultra came in third from the top in our testing, as it had only one game that it could run at 1600x1200 with AA and AF. The rest played best at 1280x1024 or 1280x960 with AA and AF. In the case of the new FarCry game that many folks is buzzing about, only 1024x768 MediumAA/4XAF was playable. That said, NVIDIA gave us a newer set of drivers that were outlined to improve FarCry frames per second by 20% by working out some Z culling issues according to NVIDIA. These new v61.11 drivers also were saddled with IQ bugs and we did not feel comfortable testing with them as we would not have suggested them for your gaming experience.
Comparing IQ Technology:
Looking at the Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic image quality between the X800 series and the GeForce 6800Ultra we find them to be very comparable. There is one difference though. The X800 is so powerful, 6XAA is actually a useable Anti-Aliasing setting on the X800 series whereas comparable 8XAA on the 6800Ultra, is basically not usable, as it is too demanding in terms of performance because it is a super-sampling + multi-sampling technique.
The only shader quality differences we noticed were in FarCry where the X800 series is providing much better image quality. Compared to the 9800XT the X800 series have identical AA, AF and shader quality.
Temporal AA is an interesting feature, and one that you will simply have to judge for yourself. Some may like it some may not. Just keep in mind that it does enable VSYNC when it is turned on and if the framerate goes below 60fps it shuts off. Therefore in order to get the most benefit out of it you need to keep the framerate very high, the closer it is to your refresh rate the less shimmering you will notice. We are happy that ATI is evolving new techniques for improving image quality and providing a potentially better AA image quality with no performance hit impact.
So here we are at the question that we know everyone will be thinking about, what about Shader Model 3.0 versus Shader Model 2.0? Right now it isn’t even exposed on the GeForce 6800Ultra and won’t be until DX9.0c is out. There isn’t much to say except that both will look the same this year unless we see games with true displacement mapping implemented. Technically the X800 series, and going all the way back to the Radeon 9700 series, support point sampled Displacement Maps via N-Patches, while the 6800Ultra supports filtered Displacement Mapping via vertex texture lookups in VS 3.0. But it all depends on what developers use in games. If developers never use it, it is a useless feature. SM3.0 is an extension of SM2.0 and adds mostly performance enhancements, as well as possibly easier programming for developers. Again, it all depends on what the developers do, and we’ll stress again, SM3.0 versus SM2.0 image quality differences is really a non issue currently, and probably will be for this year of next-gen games.
The Bottom Line:
The X800Pro should be selling in major retail online outlets today, May 4th, and selling for an MSRP of $399. The X800XT Platinum Edition will begin shipping to retailers by May 21st and will be sold at an MSRP of $499. As usual, those MSRP prices will deflate somewhat quickly if the supply is available that ATI assures us there is.
When it comes right down to it the X800Pro matches or beats the GeForce 6800Ultra in game performance and IQ. Compare the price, performance, and IQ of the ATI Radeon X800Pro with the GeForce 6800Ultra, and the X800Pro definitely stacks up as the better value than the 6800Ultra. NVIDIA is today launching an even higher clocked Ultra, no doubt in response to the X800XT-PE. We have yet to even see a retail 6800Ultra for any of the partners so currently I would consider these a non-issue. Also, a lower clocked 6800GT is being introduced but this card is simply not currnetly going to play in the same ballpark with the X800 series from ATI.
The Radeon X800XT Platinum Edition goes even further and burns through these games like a hot knife through butter, besting NVIDIA’s 6800Ultra by an easily noticeable real-world margin. If the flagship is what you want, be assured the ATI Radeon X800XT Platinum Edition was the top performer allowing us to play today’s demanding games at higher resolution and quality settings than any 3D graphics accelerator we have ever experienced.
Our Radeon X800 Series VPU Technology article is here for those of you that wish to know more about what is in the silicon.
While we realize that it is not likely that you will own two X800s, both are worthy of our "Must Have" award. The X800Pro and X800XT-Platinum Edition can both easily be called Must Have [Hardware] by the discerning gamer.