|ATI Radeon X800 XT Mac Edition|
January 6, 2005 | Lucian Fong
General Game PerformanceThe first game I "tested" with the Radeon X800 XT was World of Warcraft. I am accustomed to playing at 1024x768 on my Mirror Drive Door G4, so when I increased the resolution to 1600x1200 and turned up the draw distance to 50%, I felt as if I were playing an entirely new game. Framerate was generally consistent and stayed above 30 FPS, except in heavy traffic areas like the bank and auction house in IronForge.
I also spent some time playing Splinter Cell and Knights of the Old Republic, two games that make extensive use of shaders. Performance in both games was very acceptable at 1600x1200 and high quality detail settings. I made no note of the occasional dip in framerate because they aren't "twitch" games that require a constant 60 frames per second.
I tested a handful of older games as a spot check on compatibility and the Radeon X800 XT passed with flying colors. I thoroughly enjoyed playing Call of Duty and Homeworld 2 at maximum settings with FSAA and AF enabled.
The X-FactorsATI Displays, and more specifically OpenGL Overrides, has become a popular utility for gamers. It allows users to customize FSAA and AF settings on a per application basis, similar to USB Overdrive's ability to customize controls for USB peripherals. For instance, instead of editing Call of Duty's .ini file to change FSAA and AF settings, you can do it from ATI Displays without any knowledge of esoteric variables and values. It will store those settings and the settings for any other 3D application until you change or delete them. OpenGL Overrides are especially useful for older games that do not support FSAA or AF within the application.
Since its release with the Radeon 9800 Pro, the ATI Displays control panel has been extended to support OEM mobile and desktop chipsets. Thanks to the efforts of internal and external beta testers, ATI has been able to squash other application bugs and improve its functionality.
Not to be overlooked are VERSAVISION, which allows users to rotate their entire desktop by 90- or 180-degrees, and the advanced TV-out options. The Radeon X800 XT does not have a dedicated S-video out port, but that functionality can be substituted using Apple's DVI to Video Adapter.
Noise, or the lack of it, has become an important part of Apple's engineering philosophy and a factor in any computer-related purchase. The Radeon X800 XT does not add a significant amount of noise to a Power Mac G5 — its hum is quieter than that of the GeForce 6800 Ultra. When the Radeon X800 XT was installed, I noticed that every so often, the G5's fans would spin up for a moment, then return to normal speed. The NVIDIA card never caused the G5's fans to spin up, but the noise generated by the fansink was a constant reminder that I had a $600 video card installed. Personally, I prefer the former behavior over the latter.
Final ThoughtsNVIDIA may have been quicker to the market with the GeForce 6800 GT and Ultra, but ATI has delivered a more polished product with a very compelling feature set. The Radeon X800 XT's $499 MSRP will buy the fastest GPU available to Mac users, a quiet single slot fansink, support for Apple's current and previous generation Cinema Displays via dual-link DVI and ADC outputs, and an 8x AGP Pro compliant board that eliminates the need for an external power connector. (The latter two conveniences are exclusive to Mac users.) The flexibility of the ATI Displays control panel and solid release drivers add to its overall value.
Unless you need to drive two 30" Cinema Displays — in which case the $100 premium for the GeForce 6800 Ultra DDL will be trivial anyway — the Radeon X800 XT is superior in price, performance and features. This is one of the few times where paying less actually gets you more.
And why the minotaur on the box?