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ATI Radeon X800 XL (256MB review: ATI Radeon X800 XL (256MB

Taking the Editors' Choice crown away from its Nvidia-built competitor, ATI's Radeon X800 XL 3D graphics card is currently the best bargain for a high-performance graphics card. It's fast, it's quiet, and it won't upend your wallet.

Denny Atkin

See full bio
4 min read

On our tests, the ATI Radeon X800 XL turned in fast frame rates even at extremely high detail settings. On our 1,600x1,200-resolution Half-Life 2 test, the X800 XL achieved a virtual tie with the more expensive 6800 GT card, with the X800 XL clocking 53 frames per second (fps) vs. 52.9fps for the 6800 GT. The X800 XL's score was also just 7.1fps slower than that of the high-end Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition--a card that costs nearly twice as much. The X800 XL even bested Nvidia's high-end 6800 Ultra in our Far Cry test, turning in 51.8fps to the 6800 Ultra's 47.2fps and the 6800 GT's mere 41.9fps. Doom 3 (an OpenGL game) typically runs better on Nvidia cards, and that's true here as well. Dropping down to 1,024x768 resolution, the X800 XL clocked 55.1fps vs. 73.4fps for the 6800 GT.

8.3

ATI Radeon X800 XL (256MB

The Good

High-end 3D performance at a midrange price; driver software offers great feedback for changing 3D settings; quiet.

The Bad

Requires third-party software to overclock; only one DVI port, so a second monitor must use the analog VGA connection.

The Bottom Line

The ATI Radeon X800 XL is unmatched when it comes to providing top-notch 3D speed at a low price. It's our current favorite standalone card.
ATI Radeon X800 XL
ATI's new Radeon X800 XL is a high-end card with a midrange price. Designed to provide excellent 3D performance at a reasonable price, the X800 XL doesn't disappoint. Based on our 3D gaming tests, the $299 X800 XL delivers stellar graphics performance, rivaling that of Nvidia-based competitor cards such as eVGA's $399 e-GeForce 6800 GT. The X800 XL 3D is not only fast, it's also quiet while it goes about its business. It's currently the best bargain for a high-performance graphics card, and it earned our Editors' Choice award.

Despite its lower price, the X800 XL's graphics-rendering features mirror those of the top-end X850 XT Platinum Edition, with full support for DirectX 9.0, Pixel Shader 2.0 (SmartShader HD, as ATI calls it), and 16 rendering pipelines. The most significant difference is that the X800 XL's GPU and memory run more slowly.

Though its lower clock speeds mean you'll sacrifice some frame rates in 3D games--on the order of 10 to 20 percent, depending on the game--the X800 XL also has significant benefits, particularly in its price, which is about half that of the X850 XT Platinum Edition.

Despite its XL moniker, the X800 XL is not a large card at all; it's downright diminutive compared to its X850 XT Platinum Edition big brother. Where the X850 XT Platinum Edition card requires the space of two expansion slots (making it difficult to fit into some systems) and needs a connection directly to a PC's power supply, the X800 XL is a single-slot solution that gets all of its power from the PCI Express slot. This makes it a better candidate for computers with tight interiors, such as small-form-factor units and living room-friendly Media Center PCs.

Further, the X800 XL's large 70mm fan spins slowly and quietly, making it a good candidate for a PC in your stereo rack or in other noise-sensitive environments. The S-Video connector allows you to output to a TV or a VCR, and the X800 XL also includes a digital DVI output and one analog VGA output. The Catalyst drivers offer excellent dual-monitor support, but the lack of dual DVI ports means that you'll have to run one display in analog mode. If you have a pair of digital LCDs, you'll sacrifice some image quality on one monitor as you convert the digital signal to analog.

Gamers looking to tweak every bit of performance possible from their card will find ATI's Catalyst drivers a mixed bag with the X800 XL. For general image-quality settings, the Catalyst Control Center provides immediate feedback on how setting changes affect performance and image quality. You don't get ATI's Overdrive overclocking app, however, which pops up when you use the same drivers with the X850 XT Platinum Edition card. The good news is that third-party overclocking utilities, such as PowerStrip, work fine.

We should also note that, as with the X850 XT Platinum Edition, the Radeon X800 XL appears to be in somewhat short supply. We have seen it at retail for $299 and also at varying prices from ATI's partners, including Sapphire, Asus, and others (most of which don't appear in U.S. brick-and-mortar stores) that sell ATI-based cards. You can expect that performance from other cards that use the same chip will be very close to what we tested here, and you might also find games and other free software thrown in. Pricing varies, but shopping around online should turn up cards at prices in the neighborhood of $299.

Half-Life 2 custom demo (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,200 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,280x1,024 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,024x768 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
ATI Radeon X800 XL
53 
71.9 
97.1 
Nvidia GeForce 6800 GT
52.9 
69.8 
87.4 

Doom 3 custom demo (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,200 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,280x1,024 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,024x768 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
Nvidia GeForce 6800 GT
37.3 
50.5 
73.4 
ATI Radeon X800 XL
27.5 
38.3 
55.1 

Far Cry custom demo (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,200 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,280x1,024 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,024x768 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
ATI Radeon X800 XL
51.8 
67.5 
84.7 
Nvidia GeForce 6800 GT
41.9 
57.2 
77.6 

ATI driver used: Catalyst 5.2 (WHQL)
Nvidia driver used: ForceWare 71.84 (WHQL)
Find out more about how we test graphics cards.
Graphics card test bed
Intel 3.46GHz P4 Extreme Edition CPU; 1,024MB Kingston Technology HyperX DDR2 memory running at 533MHz; Intel D925XCV motherboard; Intel 925X chipset; Maxtor 250GB 7B250S0 SATA hard drive; Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2

8.3

ATI Radeon X800 XL (256MB

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 7Performance 9
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