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

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MSRP: $349.00

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.

8.3 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 7
  • Performance 9

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.

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.

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.