ATI Radeon X700 XT

Mainstream price, maximum performance?

Performance proved to be a bit of a mixed bag, with some definite driver issues in evidence. Far Cry showed some anomalies, where anti-aliasing refused to work at 1600 x 1200 but anisotropic filtering worked fine. Conversely, at 1280 x 1024 FSAA worked fine, but turning on AF had no effect whatsoever. Likewise, running both Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness and Unreal Tournament 2004, turning on AF had no effect to the frame rate. I have, however, been assured by ATI that these driver issues have already been addressed, so retail boards should not see any problems.

ATI Radeon X700 Reference Board Far Cry

Comparing the X700 XT results directly to the GeForce 6600 GT showed that things are pretty much 50:50 right now, although the newer games with the more demanding engines seem to favour the GeForce 6600. Under Doom 3 the 6600 GT raced ahead of the X700 XT, but this is to be expected as Nvidia has always been ahead when it comes to OpenGL. However, Far Cry also proved to be much faster on the 6600 GT, with a score of 58.6fps compared with 43.5fps on the X700 XT at 1024 x 768 with no FSAA or AF. Pushing things up to 1600 x 1200 still saw the 6600 GT ten frames ahead of the X700 XT with scores of 37.5fps and 27fps respectively.

ATI Radeon X700 Reference Board Doom

The X700 XT levelled the playing field in Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, but it didn't really pull ahead. But running Unreal Tournament 2004, showed a definite advantage using the X700 XT over the 6600 GT, and with a game that's as fast and frenetic as UT, every bit of performance counts.

Both 3DMark 2001 SE and 3DMark03 proved faster on the X700 XT than the 6600 GT. But with 3DMark 2005 just around the corner (hopefully), it will be interesting to see which chipset comes out on top running the new benchmark.

ATI Radeon X700 Reference Board 3DMark

The last two tests - Halo and AquaMark 3 - again split things straight down the middle, with the 6600 GT coming out ahead in Halo, and the X700 XT edging ahead in AquaMark 3.

ATI Radeon X700 Reference Board Halo
ATI Radeon X700 Reference Board Aqua

Estimated pricing for the X700 XT is $199, which, unsurprisingly, is exactly the same estimated US price that Nvidia announced for the GeForce 6600 GT. So, it looks like the mid-range is going to be a hard-fought market, with the consumer set to be the real winner. Of course the GeForce 6600 GT does have the advantage of supporting SLi, which could prove to be a major boon for anyone looking for high-performance on a tight budget.

The other major factor will be the, eventual, release of Half-Life 2. Depending on how Half-Life 2 performs on both Nvidia and ATI hardware could prove to be a major influence for consumer buying decisions in the mid-range.

Ultimately though, the mid-range graphics market is looking pretty good for the consumer, with both ATI and Nvidia offering very impressive products. Which one is better could well come down to what games you play, and whether games developers choose to take advantage of 3Dc or Shader Model 3.0 in the near future.

Verdict

Like the GeForce 6600 GT, the X700 XT sets out to prove that you don't need to take out a second mortgage to get decent graphics on your PC. For now at least, it seems like the GeForce 6600 GT has the edge, with faster Doom 3 performance and the prospect of SLi, but things may well change when Half-Life 2 arrives. All that said, the X700 XT provides solid 3D performance at an affordable price point. ®

ATI Radeon X700 XT
 
Price $199
 
More info The ATI site

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