Like ATI's new Radeon X1800 XT card, the $449 256MB Radeon X1800 XL brings all the latest bells and whistles to 3D gaming. It also gives you the benefits of the decoding side of ATI's new Avivo video technology. The core features are identical for the entire Radeon X1000 series, so for the complete rundown, take a look at our full review of the Radeon X1800 XT. Here, we'll strictly discuss the design and performance specific to the Radeon X1800 XL.
Instead of the two-slot-wide Radeon X1800 XT, the single-slot Radeon X1800 XL is much easier to find a home for in your PC. You won't have to worry about removing or juggling cards around inside your system if you decide to add it. Like its faster brother, the Radeon X1800 XL requires a direct connection to your PC power supply, a fact of modern graphics card life that we've learned to accept. Thankfully, ATI includes a splitter cable to connect to your internal power supply, should you need it.
Like all of the new ATI Radeon 3D cards, you can add two Radeon X1800 XLs to the same system, provided you have a supporting motherboard, such as the ATI Xpress 200 CrossFire. You can reportedly also use any Nvidia Nforce 4 SLI-based motherboard for CrossFire as well, although without a Radeon X1800 CrossFire Edition card, that rumor is impossible for us to test for this new generation.
The good news is that unlike ATI's last set of Radeon cards, all of the cards in the same chip family (all Radeon X1800s, for example), have the same number of processing pipes, so you won't run the risk of sacrificing a faster CrossFire Edition card's performance if you pair it with a different card in the same family. Overclockers will also be glad to hear that the pipe counts are the same, because, assuming that you can provide adequate cooling and that the silicon on the card is tolerant of the higher memory and core clock speeds, if you're lucky, you may be able to achieve Radeon X1800 XT-like frame rates for $100 less.
As to performance, the ATI Radeon X1800 XL does not differentiate itself as much as the Radeon X1800 XT did from its direct Nvidia competitor. Where ATI's and Nvidia's highest-end cards differ by 22 percent in frame rate scores on our highest-resolution 1,600x1,200 Half-Life 2 test (in ATI's favor), the Radeon X1800 XL separates itself by only 12 percent from its counterpart, the Nvidia GeForce 7800 GT. That's still a decisive victory, but given that the Doom 3 scores at 1,600x1,200 differ by 22 percent to the GeForce 7800 GT's advantage, it's harder to recommend the ATI Radeon X1800 XL specifically for the Direct3D tasks that it excels at than it is to recommend the GeForce 7800 GT for OpenGL games such as Doom 3. All of the frame rates are playable, of course, and if you're willing to dial down the resolution to 1,280x1,024 or 1,024x768, you should even be able to leave antialiasing and anisotropic filtering on and still achieve smooth frame rates with the Radeon X1800 XL.