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ATI's Radeon X800 graphics processors

Plus NVIDIA's counterpunch

ATI's Ruby

BACK IN THE DAY, graphics geeks would demonstrate a new effect using a model of a teapot. Nowadays, the object of our graphics demos is the sexpot. And if the sexpot demo is a measure of a graphics card, the new Radeon X800 series wins, hands down. The X800 is ATI's second generation of DirectX 9-class GPUs with the floating-point datatypes that have taken real-time graphics to a new plane, and the Ruby demo ATI has created to show off its new GPU is simply stunning.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, let's set the stage a bit. You're probably already aware that ATI has had a very good past couple of years, since the introduction of the Radeon 9700 GPU (code-named R300). ATI's arch-rival, NVIDIA, struggled mightily with its competing NV30-series of graphics chips, but just recently recovered quite nicely with the introduction of its NV40 chip, now better known as the GeForce 6800 series of GPUs.

You might do well to go read our GeForce 6800 Ultra review if you haven't already, but for the lazy among us, I'll sum things up. The GeForce 6800 Ultra is a massive chip with a sweet sixteen pixel pipelines and out-of-this-world performance several steps beyond ATI's previous top-end chip, the Radeon 9800 XT. I concluded my review of the 6800 Ultra by saying that NVIDIA had left ATI with no margin for error, and I meant it. Fortunately, it looks like ATI hasn't stumbled in the least, and the choice between graphics chips will come down to better versus best.

The Radeon X800 family
ATI's new top-end graphics card is the $499 Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition. With sixteen pixel pipes, a 520MHz core clock, and 256MB of DDR3 memory running at 1.12GHz, the X800 XT will be making a strong claim on the title of "fastest graphics card on the planet." Why the name Platinum Edition? I think in part because ATI didn't want to have only one letter's worth of difference between the name of its old $499 card and its new $499 card. Also, the company wanted to let folks know that this puppy is something out of the ordinary, and apparently the platinum name was available. That doesn't mean, ATI assures us, that only 42 of these cards will ever ship to consumers; the X800 XT Platinum Edition will be available in quantities similar to the Radeon 9800 XT.

The X800 XT Platinum Edition

...and the same from the back

Further down the product line, ATI has the Radeon X800 Pro for the low, low price of $399. This card has twelve pixel pipes, a 475MHz GPU, and 256MB of DDR3 memory at 900MHz. Although the X800 XT Platinum Edition is pictured above, the X800 Pro card looks identical. The Pro is probably the more exciting card for most folks, since its price is a little less stratospheric. Amazingly, this card will be shipping today, May 4, to retailers, so you should be able to buy one very soon. The X800 XT Platinum Edition will be following along a little later, on May 21.

Note some details in the pictures above. The cooler is a single-slot design for both cards. Both the X800 Pro and XT Platinum Edition require only one aux power connector, and they should work with any decent 300W power supply unit. In fact, one of the ATI engineers brought an X800-equipped Shuttle XPC to the X800 launch event, just to show it was possible to use the card in it.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, that yellow, four-pin port next to the aux power connector is a composite video-in connector. ATI says this connector will likely be omitted from North American versions of the card, but the Euros will get them.