We haven't even really gotten over NVIDIA's highly impressive introduction of its GeForce 6800 Ultra, and here ATi is already hitting back hard. Thanks to its performance advantage when using anisotropic filtering, the Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition shows its rivals who's boss in this discipline without noticeably sacrificing image quality. Even the much less expensive X800 Pro with its 12 pipes can beat the GeForce 6800 Ultra in some game tests. The price difference of about $100 will certainly be an argument that could win over a number of undecided buyers. When quality-enhancing features like FSAA and anisotropic filtering aren't enabled, however, it is often the GeForce 6800 Ultra that takes first place. Thanks to Temporal AA, though, ATi has a good solution even to this "problem". At any rate, most gamers would be loath to do without anisotropic filtering when using cards of this caliber anyway. But keep in mind that neither of the cards can be termed "slow". We're talking about differences at very high levels!
In our opinion, the most impressive thing about this card is how little effort ATi needed to reach the performance we saw here. The power consumption of the X800 XT is about the same as that of its predecessors in 3D applications. Additionally, the cards require only one auxiliary power connector and don't need an especially potent power supply like the GeForce 6800 Ultra does. Even the cooler has shrunk a bit, reducing the card's overall weight and ensuring that it would fit even into a mini-ITX case.
The trouble is, there are also drawbacks to the fact that only little effort had to be put into this design. Technologically, ATi's 3D architecture has fallen behind that of NVIDIA, and it is now the green guys that can claim to have the more innovative chip and can rally support for new features. Although the X800 cards can now process longer and therefore more complex shader programs than the R9800XT, they are still limited to 24-bit floating-point precision and ShaderModel 2.0. It remains to be seen whether the GeForce 6800 Ultra, with its support for ShaderModel 3.0 and 32-bit fps precision, will enjoy any tangible performance advantages in practice. For now, ATi's shader quality definitely gives no grounds for complaint. And not to forget 3Dc, which can improve the game experience. Nonetheless the R420 only seems to be a temporary solution. Already, the R480 is rearing its head in the roadmaps, and there's a good possibility that ATi may just introduce the R5xx series instead. And after so much speculation and conspiracy, this author can't help but find himself humming an eerie little melody. You know - the theme from that mystery series with the X in the name...
Until then, the new performance leader is ATi's Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition. Let's just hope that ATi stays true to its word and that these cards will be available in more than just homeopathic doses. Even if only the slightly slower non-Platinum XT versions actually make it to the market in high numbers, these should still be able to keep the GeForce 6800 Ultra in check. Then again, NVIDIA is not just sitting around twiddling its thumbs - it plans to launch the GeForce 6800 Ultra Extreme, which will be offered by a number of NVIDIA partners, Gainward and XFX among them. It remains to be seen at what price point these cards will be sold, as the "normal" GF 6800 Ultra's price tag of $499 already makes it just as expensive as the X800 XT Platinum Edition. The direct competitor to the X800 Pro in the $399 market segment will be the new GeForce 6800 GT.
Keep an eye on Tom's Hard News to see how these two new NVIDIA cards perform.