We tested on our new testbed system consisting of an AMD Athlon FX 55 sitting in an nForce4 SLI board, with 1GB DDR 400 low latency RAM and a Maxtor 250GB SATA II drive. To mark the occasion weâ€™ve also upped our filtering tests to include 8x AF, up from our previous 4x AF, to give the newer cards a bit more of a workout.
Starting with 3DMark 03 and 3DMark 05, the results show that there really is nothing to distinguish the two cards at our regular settings. Where we have results for both, the 512MB card has a small increase but the difference is negligible. We run our own custom made demo that runs for around ten minutes. Combined with the fact that Far Cry has large textures, this is a real killer of a benchmark that stresses even the top cards.
The scores in Far Cry however, are quite different from what we saw in 3DMark. At 1,024 x 768 and at 1,280 x 1,024 with no filtering and with FSAA enabled the score nearly doubles. However, enabling AF essentially wipes out that advantage. At 1,600 x 1,200 the pattern is repeated but the increase is far smaller. This shows clearly that in texture heavy situations the 512MB card will make its presence felt, but the X800 XL is lacking the necessary memory bandwidth and the raw GPU fill-rate power to make it count at higher resolutions. In that situation itâ€™s like putting bigger wheels on an underpowered engine - it doesn't help.
Next up was Doom 3, and at our standard settings the 512MB is again a damp squib. So onto Doom 3s â€˜Ultra Highâ€™ setting. The result? Exactly the same. A very minor increase of around one frame a second for the 512MB card. Half-Life 2 rounds things off, repeating the pattern with no significant increase.
With the introduction of this board ATI has certainly confused things for its customers. The 256MB XL is a superb performer at a good price, but the 512MB version skews this. Our tests show that 512MB can make a big difference in certain circumstances. But is it worth the extra? The price is not far off an 850XT that would make a more better performer overall. The retail boards, with improved designs and overclocking utilities, might make it worthwhile, but at an estimated street price of Â£282 Iâ€™d still rather spend that bit extra and go for a 256MB X850 card.
Our Far Cry tests show that there is a case for an X800 XL 512MB, but right now itâ€™s not really worth the extra over the 256MB version, especially as the price point is moving into X850 XT territory. However, the introduction of this card is interesting from a technology perspective and is a clear sign that the move to 512MB at the high-end is inevitable. We just need the games that will really take advanage of it.