The high-end video card market is currently a very competitive one, populated by eerily similar ATI and NVIDIA products, and featuring top-end performance that would make a Radeon 9800XT dizzy. The two main combatants are the Radeon X800 XT Platinum and the GeForce 6800 Ultra, and both are well equipped to deal with the performance requirements of games of today, with enough power in reserve for those of tomorrow.
ATI has a dual-tiered line of Radeon X800-based products, which include the Radeon X800 Pro and X800 XT video cards. The Radeon X800 Pro is the base model, sporting a 12 pixel pipeline core running at 475 MHz (a 5.7 Gpixels/sec fill rate) and 256-MB of 256-bit GDDR3 clocked at 450 MHz. The Radeon X800 XT line is split into two distinct products: the standard X800 XT and the higher-speed X800 XT Platinum. Both utilize a full 16-pipeline core, while the X800 XT features matching 500 MHz memory and core speeds. The Radeon X800 XT Platinum is simply a higher-clocked version and runs at 520 MHz core and up-to 575 MHz memory speeds. Each of these graphics processors is built on a 0.13-micron, low-k manufacturing process, and the cards feature powerful GDDR3 memory.
This product matrix mimics the GeForce 6800 line to some extent, as the GeForce 6800 Ultra has 16 pixel pipelines and is clocked higher than the GeForce 6800 GT, while the base model GeForce 6800 includes only 12 pixel pipelines and is clocked lower still. For every video card NVIDIA can trot out, ATI has a natural competitor to offset it. The bus types offered is also an interesting tale in itself, as ATI has (thus far) offered these three products in different configurations. The Radeon X800 Pro is an AGP-only part, while the Radeon X800 XT and X800 XT Platinum can be found in both AGP and PCI Express implementations.
The Radeon X800-based cards also include an upgrade to ATI's High Definition (HD) gaming, which includes SmartShader HD and its 16 parallel pixel pipelines and 6 programmable vertex shader pipelines, to give ATI X800 XT-based cards a new level of visual realism. VideoShader HD utilizes the shader processing engine to provide user programmable video effects, video enhancements, and to encode/decode video using standard formats like MPEG1/2/4, Real Media and DivX. SmoothVision HD offers improved AA and AF performance, and Hyper Z HD uses enhanced buffer and memory compression to increase bandwidth and performance.
Features such as FullStream and HydraVision are also included, and the entire X800-based line is fully DirectX 9 compatible. The only real difference is ATI's decision to go with Shader Model version 2.0b, while NVIDIA has gone straight to Shader Model 3.0 with their latest GeForce 6X00 cards, but it remains to be seen which strategy will pan out in terms of performance and image quality.
The ASUS AX800 XT 256-MB card features the Radeon X800 XT Platinum VPU, along with 256-MB of 256-bit GDDR3. The clock speeds are close to standard levels, with the AX800 XT using 520 MHz core and 560 MHz (1.12 GHz DDR) memory speeds. These are close to the reference specifications, with only the memory clock being slightly lower than the 575 MHz ATI states in their reference materials. This is an AGP 8X board, and also includes VIVO (Video-In/Video-Out) functionality for added multimedia capabilities.
The ASUS AX800 XT is a single-slot card with a low-profile heatsink-fan and single Molex power connector, and it really gives this product an aesthetic and auditory edge over the dual-slot, dual-Molex GeForce 6800 Ultra. Adding to this is the card's Blue LED fan light, which is a bonus for the enthusiast crowd. The card's backplate is standard, and features VGA-in, DVI-I and VIVO connectors. The VIVO functionality is also enhanced by the inclusion of not only an S-Video/Composite-In/Out cable, but an S-Video to HDTV (YPrPb) cable as well.
The ASUS card is also standard in terms of design, and follows the reference design very closely. This is actually a good thing in terms of compatibility, as other than the ASUS-branded heatsink-fan unit, this is a standard Radeon X800 XT Platinum video card. Some prior ASUS Radeon-based cards were built outside the reference design, and required specialized software to make use of basic features like ATI OverDrive. Not so with the AX800 XT, and it allowed seamless operation using either ASUS or ATI reference drivers. The ASUS AX800 XT also supports features such as GameFace Live (real-time video/audio communication), Video Security Online (creating a personal security system), and ASUS On Screen Display (ability to change 3D settings in almost any PC game without quitting the game).
ASUS is renowned for their flashy bundles, and the AX800 XT retail package is a real treat. On the hardware side, we have the AX800 XT card, S-Video/Composite and HDTV VIVO cables, DVI to VGA adaptor, Molex Y-adaptor, and even a free Webcam. The software end is equally impressive and includes Counter Strike: Condition Zero, Deus Ex: Invisible War, Ulead Cool 3D 3.0 & PhotoExpress 4.0 SE, ASUS DVD XP, Power Director 3DE, ASUS Media Show SE 2.0, and the driver/utility/manual CDs, all in a hard plastic case.