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ATI's Radeon X800 XL 512MB graphics card

How much is enough?

TWO MONTHS AGO, ATI demoed a Radeon X850 XT graphics card with 512MB of graphics memory. It was a technology preview rather than an actual product launch, but that didn't stop NVIDIA from following up with a 512MB version of the GeForce 6800 Ultra. In fact, a number of manufacturers have already signed on to produce the GeForce 6800 Ultra 512MB, but at around $900 a pop, the card treads in Extreme Edition territory, beyond the budgets of most gamers and enthusiasts.

What if you could get a 512MB graphics card for half that price?

Today ATI is announcing a 512MB flavor of its Radeon X800 XL. The card packs dual DVI outputs, video in and out capabilities, and twice the memory of the standard X800 XL for only $450. But does the extra graphics memory actually improve performance? We've run the Radeon X800 XL 512MB through its paces in an array of games and benchmarks to find out.

The card
As its name implies, the Radeon X800 XL 512MB is essentially a Radeon X800 XL with extra memory. The cards use the same 16-pipe RV430 graphics chip running at an identical 400MHz core clock speed, and they even share an effective 980MHz memory clock. You can read more about the Radeon X800 XL's capabilities in our initial review of the card.

ATI's Radeon X800 XL 512MB reference card

Despite their similarities, there are a couple of key differences between the 256MB and 512MB flavors of the Radeon X800 XL. Most obviously, the Radeon X800 XL 512MB has twice as many memory chips as the 256MB card. This dual-rank memory design allows ATI to endow the card with 512MB of memory without resorting to denser and more expensive memory chips. Accommodating the extra memory requires a board redesign, and apparently a little extra power. While Radeon X800 XL 256MB cards don't require auxiliary power, our Radeon X800 XL 512MB reference card sports a six-pin PCI-E power connector.

Dual-rank memory from the rear

ATI has added more to the X800 XL 512MB than just extra memory, though. The 512MB card also comes with dual DVI outputs and Rage Theater-powered VIVO capabilities, neither of which are common on $300 Radeon X800 XL 256MB cards.

With a 50% higher price, it's unlikely that the Radeon X800 XL 512MB will directly compete with 256MB versions of the X800 XL anyway. ATI expects the card to line up against NVIDIA's GeForce 6800 GT, but with that card's price hovering around $350 online, a more appropriate competitor may be the GeForce 6800 Ultra, which sells for as low as $500. And don't forget the Radeon X850 XT, which can also be had for under $500.

Oh, and there's one more wrinkle. ATI won't actually be selling Radeon X800 XL 512MB cards itself. Instead, the card will be made available through ATI partners like Abit, Gigabyte, MSI, and Sapphire, with board shipments expected in late May. Each manufacturer will likely price its Radeon X800 XL 512MB as it chooses, depending on bundle contents and extra features. I wouldn't expect them to all hit the market at the same time, either.