ATI made the very good Radeon 9800 Pro even better. Regarding performance, the Radeon 9800 XT is only 5-10% faster than the previous top model, but thanks to better cooling, the ability for Video-In - which also depends on the card maker - and hardware monitoring, ATI has created a very attractive package. NVIDIA needs to take care that they don't miss the bus. In those DirectX 9 benchmarks, that are available at the moment, the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra is sometimes even beaten by ATI's mid-range cards. However, the results in DX8 titles - some of them part of NVIDIA's "The Way It's Meant To Be Played" program - uncover some surprising issues as well. NVIDIA followers have to hope for the new ForceWare drivers and the upcoming NV38 top model, which was already presented at Computex. But currently ATI cards seem the safer bet and buying a new XT card also means that you get the long awaited Half-Life 2 for free (if there weren't STEAM). Well, it might only be single player version and because of the delay in the game development likely in form of a voucher.
Customers planning to purchase a new top-dog card in the following weeks and months will be happy. Thanks to the launch of the 9800 XT, prices for the 9800 Pro and non-pro are expected to fall. NVIDIA also has to think about its pricing, especially considering the current performance numbers. Winning ASUS as a new customer is an important step for ATI and the consumer as well. Competition drives the market and results in lower prices. It's not unlikely that other card makers will follow ASUS' courageous step ending the days of the good old iron fist rule.
We were only missing the software support of the new features like Overdrive and hardware monitoring, as right now Radeon 9800 XT is nothing but an accelerated (5-10% faster) Radeon 9800 Pro. Fortunately, the ASUS card gave us an idea what we can expect in the next weeks.
One thing is clear: The Radeon 9800 XT will be very expensive. If you are only looking to buy a card based solely on the price/performance category, we recommend something way cheaper and only little slower, such as the Radeon 9800 Pro. But the price is what you must pay for exclusivity. If you want to have 256 MB to be on the safe side for future games using larger textures, we recommend the XT instead of the 256 MB Radeon Pro model because of the better cooling solution.
What's next? In the following weeks we can expect new cards from NVIDIA, based on its code-named NV38 and NV36 processors, and ATI will present the RV360 alias Radeon 9600 XT later this month.