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ATI Radeon X1600 review:

ATI Radeon X1600

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The Good Shader Model 3 and high dynamic range lighting support; Avivo video decoding.

The Bad Performance lags on real-world game tests; dual graphics card support depends on a special CrossFire Edition card with a murky release date.

The Bottom Line The 3D performance of ATI's Radeon X1600 XT is surprisingly weak, but its video features make it a sound upgrade to aid PC movie watching.

CNET Editors' Rating

5.8 Overall
  • Design 6.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Performance 5.0

ATI's new Radeon X1600 XT 3D card

ATI's 256MB Radeon X1600 XT sits in a strange place between different generations of graphics cards. It's a midrange card priced at $249 ($199 for the 128MB version), so the obvious comparison is with Nvidia's current midrange card. The problem is there isn't one: Nvidia hasn't added a theoretical GeForce "7600" to its most recent generation of graphics cards, because it hasn't had to. Its last generation's high-end 6800 cards have fallen in price to the point that the formerly $450 256MB GeForce 6800 GT currently sells for around $300. Since that card has all of the same 3D features as the GeForce 7800 cards and ATI's new Radeon X1600's, Nvidia has no reason to put a new midpriced card on the market.

With the GeForce 6800 and the 6800 GT as our comparison cards then, it's hard to recommend the Radeon X1600 XT, since it gets beat by both cards on GameSpot's Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 benchmarks. Worse, with a release date of November 30, by then, prices on the GeForce 6800 cards could drop even lower. If you're inclined to wait that long for it, we would suggest that you purchase one only if you use your PC primarily for video playback, rather than 3D gaming.

For a complete rundown of this chip's features, take a look at the review of ATI's high-end card, the Radeon X1800 XT. All of the chips in ATI's new Radeon X1000 family, announced on October 5, 2005, incorporate the same key 3D features, such as Shader Model 3 and high dynamic range lighting support. You can also find details in the Radeon X1800 XT review about ATI's CrossFire technology.

We will, however, make a point to discuss ATI's Avivo technology in this review, as it's the Radeon X1600 XT's saving grace. Announced last month, Avivo brings support for the H.264 standard, which is important if you intend to switch over to the new Blu-ray or HD-DVD formats anytime soon. No other card on the market offers this support yet, although Nvidia says that it is behind the standard and will support it in future products. You also get a series of video-quality tweak options in ATI's drivers. We're in support of anything that will improve video image quality on our PC, so if your primary interest is in home theater but you want at least a semicompetent gaming card, the ATI Radeon X1600 XT is a good choice.

For sheer gaming performance, we highly recommend that you look to Nvidia for a 3D card in the $200 to $300 price range. The 256MB GeForce 6800, which we found online for around $215, is superior on every real-world gaming test. Even on Half-Life 2, a Direct3D-based title that ATI usually dominates, the Radeon X1600 XT and its 40 frames per second lost by 23 percent to the GeForce 6800 and its 49fps (Thanks to GameSpot for providing us with these test results.)

We can't say we're enamored with either card, as anything under 60 frames per second is noticeably slow and Half-Life 2 will soon be surpassed in visual quality by a number of upcoming titles. We found that you can dial down the antialiasing and anisotropic filtering and get 63 frames per second on the Radeon X1600 XT, but then the GeForce 6800 beats it by a even wider margin, to the tune of 91 frames per second, an embarrassing 44 percent difference. ATI might take some solace in the FutureMark 3DMark 2005 scores, in which the Radeon X1600 XT card beat the GeForce 6800 GT by a scant 6 percent. But in our opinion, real-world tests are a more accurate performance indicator.

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