Performance in Half-Life 2 was impressive, only dropping below 60 frames per second at 1,280 x 1,024 when both FSAA and AF were enabled, while with no Image quality (IQ) settings it achieved a healthy 73fps at 1,600 x 1,200. The numbers only really started to drop at 1,600 x 1,200 with IQ on, though the average figure did scrape past the crucial 30fps mark.
Itâ€™s worth mentioning that while the 4.12 Catalyst driver did indeed increase the benchmark figures as ATI had claimed, it did so only when IQ wasnâ€™t enabled. With IQ on the figures actually dropped very slightly.
ATI will also be pleased that in every Half-Life 2 test, bar 1,600 x 1,200 with 4x FSAA and 4x AF, the X800 XL outpaced the GeForce 6800 GT. Picking a sweet spot in Half-Life 2 of 1,280 x 1,024 with 4x FSAA and 4x AF, the X800 XL manages an average of 53fps compared with 45fps for the GT.
Moving to the year's other blockbuster, Doom 3, we expected to see the GT outpace the ATI, due to nVidiaâ€™s superior OpenGL drivers. Sure enough the GT was faster, though it only starts to flex its muscles at 1,280 x 1,024 and above. However, it did achieve the suitably hellish score of 66.6 at 1,024 x 768 with 4x FSAA and 8x AF. And I thought the 6600GT was the Doom 3 GPUâ€¦.
In Far Cry the two cards are pretty much neck and neck, with the ATI generally edging the GT by a frame per second. In Halo it managed a comfortable 50 frames per second and for what itâ€™s worth, ATI also seems to have been working on 3DMark05 performance, as while the X800 XL falls slightly behind the GeForce 6800 GT in 3DMark03, it edges ahead across the board in 3DMark05. Ultimately, the two boards are very similar both in architecture and performance, though perhaps the GT could be said to be doing better considering its core is running 50MHz slower and has been available now for several months.
The choice therefore is down to features and price. For features the GT has the advantage of Shader Model 3 support, while ATI boasts 3Dc. However, although 3Dc is an open standard, it's not part of the DirectX standard yet, whereas Shader Model 3 is.
nVidiaâ€™s GT also has the potential for SLi. No doubt ATIâ€™s engineers are beavering away trying to come up with an equivalent but as of right now, it has nothing that can compete. Of course, the rumours are that SLi will only work with optimised games so it wonâ€™t necessarily be able to boost performance in everything.
Aside from SLi, the difference comes down to price, and here ATI certainly seems to have got things right. We obtained an early guide price from Sapphire of â‚¬300, which at the time of writing is equivalent to about Â£210. Though it has to be stressed that this price is only an educated guess by Sapphire, if it does turn out to be accurate then it will significantly undercut the price of the 6800GT. The cheapest one I could find as I write, is an OEM card for Â£246 at www.overclockers.co.uk, with retail packages going for over Â£300.
nVidia or ATI. To buy or not to buy. There are several factors to consider, such as Shader Model 3, SLi support and superior Doom 3 performance for nVidia, versus price, 3Dc and superior Half-Life 2 performance for ATI. Which you choose is up to you, but thereâ€™s no doubt that even though its taken its time, with the X800 XL, ATI has definitely achieved what it wanted, and given the 6800 GT a damn good run for its money.