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ATI's Radeon X1800 GTO graphics card attempts to split the price-performance ratio of Nvidia's GeForce 7900 GT and 7600 GT down the middle. At roughly $250, the X1800 GTO lands squarely in the center of the $200 GeForce 7600 GT and the $300 GeForce 7900 GT. Throw in the X1800 GTO's superior graphics feature capabilities, and ATI's midrange leader seems like an easy choice. Unfortunately, when you start talking about dual-card configurations--CrossFire for ATI and SLI for Nvidia--the Radeon X1800 GTO can't come close to Nvidia's performance. Thus, our recommendation for the Radeon X1800 GTO is similar to our stance on ATI's high-end Radeon X1900 XTX card: if you're sticking with one card, ATI is your best bet. If you have any designs on a dual-graphics-card rig, the performance benefits of Nvidia's SLI tech overwhelm any feature advantage afforded by ATI's GPUs.
The Radeon X1800 GTO has a slower core speed (500MHz) and memory clock speed (1,000MHz) than any of the GPUs we've reviewed recently. The next closest in terms of clock and memory speeds is the GeForce 7600 GT (560MHz and 1,400MHz, respectively). Still, the Radeon X1800 GTO achieves slightly better F.E.A.R. scores than the GeForce 7600 GT in single-card mode. We suspect that the reason lies with the ATI card having more vertex shader pipelines than the less expensive GeForce card.
If you look at the rest of CNET Labs' benchmarks, the Radeon X1800 GTO doesn't impress. Its scores at every resolution on our Doom 3 and Half-Life 2: Lost Coast tests lag behind the competition. What's worse, for an additional $350 or so, you can pair the X1800 GTO with a Radeon X1800 CrossFire Edition card, but that $600 worth of ATI-based 3D power lags behind even a single $300 GeForce 7900 GT at 1,280x960 on F.E.A.R. Further, pairing two $200 GeForce 7600 GT's for a $400 Nvidia-based rig will get you better scores than the Radeon X1800 GTO in CrossFire mode at 1,280x960. And yes, the X1800 GTO does win at 1,600x1,200, but none of these cards achieves even close to a truly smooth frame rate (60 frames per second, in our minds) at that resolution, so the point is moot.
ATI's lone advantage over Nvidia with the Radeon X1800 GTO is the chip's ability to support both antialiasing and high-dynamic-range (HDR) lighting simultaneously. Nvidia's GeForce 7000-series chips can run one or the other, but not both at the same time. On the high end, this is perhaps a larger issue. If the 3D card is fast enough, you can afford to drop a few frames for a better-looking image. But for midrange cards, you're more likely to switch off the 3D bells and whistles for the sake of a smooth frame rate. And while a dual-card configuration will help you gain some frames back, the Radeon X1800 GTO's performance in CrossFire mode doesn't deliver enough of a frame rate boost to make it a worthwhile upgrade.