ATI Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition
When we last left ATI's and Nvidia's highest-end graphics cards, ATI's Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition beat out PNY's card in two important areas. First, of course, is performance: the Radeon X800 XT provided superior performance in DirectX 9.0-based PC games. Secondly, as a single-slot card that worked with most standard 350-watt PC power supplies, ATI's card was much easier to install than the Nvidia-based card, which took up two slots and required, by some estimates, up to a 480-watt power unit. The 3D performance picture has since gotten more complex due to Nvidia's dual-graphics-card SLI technology, an innovation that ATI has yet to answer. Without an SLI graphics product, ATI's new $550 Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition is the company's most powerful card to date. If you're not ready to scrap your current single-card PC for an SLI machine but you have some money to throw at a high-end card, the Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition (PE) is your best option--if you can find it for a reasonable price.
The X850 XT PE replaces theat the top of the ATI heap. The X850 XT Platinum Edition displayed a notable performance edge over Nvidia's GeForce 6800 Ultra cards (such as ) on most of our tests.
The new card is also physically larger than the X800 XT, and it's the first Radeon card to take up the space of two expansion slots, because of its expanded cooling fan. By occupying more real estate inside your PC, the X850 XT Platinum Edition loses one of its major advantages over the GeForce 6800 Ultra. The power requirements remain a realistic 350 watts, but the card's still a hassle to install if your system already has a full complement of PCI expansion cards.
The X850 XT Platinum Edition's features essentially mirror those of the X800 XT Platinum Edition. The card fully supports all of the DirectX 9.0 bells and whistles, including support for Pixel Shader 2.0 (or SmartShader HD in ATI marketing-speak), a 3D-programming feature that adds realistic detail to surfaces such as wood, cloth, and water. Nvidia made a big deal about its cards' support for the more advanced Shader 3.0 and the ensuing potential performance improvements, but in fact little gaming support has materialized for the technology so far. (Far Cry, with the most recent patch, and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory are the most well-known titles.) At this point, the X850 XT Platinum Edition's lack of support for Shader 3.0 is really just one less check box on the feature comparison--most of today's games look as good and run as fast (or faster) on ATI's hardware as they do on Nvidia's.
In fact, the Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition upheld ATI's slight performance edge over the GeForce 6800 Ultra in two of CNET Labs' three 3D gaming tests. The X850 XT Platinum Edition turned in 91.9 frames per second (fps) on our 1,024x768-resolution Far Cry test, compared to 83.5fps for the 6800 Ultra. At the same resolution, the X850 XT Platinum Edition clocked 100.9fps in our Half-Life 2 benchmark, compared to 91.6fps for the 6800 Ultra. (Interestingly, at 1,600x1,200 resolution, both cards turned in identical 60.1fps results in Half-Life 2.)
Nvidia cards have typically performed best on Doom 3, and that hasn't changed here, where the X850 achieved 68.7fps at 1,024x768 compared to 81.4fps for the 6800 Ultra. With scores this high, both cards deliver imminently playable frame rates, so only those of you prone to compare frame rates will notice the performance difference. We favor ATI due to its slightly faster performance in DirectX 9.0-based games, such as Far Cry and Half-Life 2, which are currently more prevalent than OpenGL-based games, such as Doom 3.