ATI HotFix and X1800XT Performance Analysis Update

If you read our comprehensive review of ATI's new X1K Family of graphics cards, you know how we felt about ATI's new line-up at launch.  If you haven't read our review, however, here's the gist of it. We thought ATI's X1K Family of products were a technological step forward, and at the high-end the Radeon X1800 XL and X1800 XT were competitive with NVIDIA's GeForce 7800 GT and 7800 GTX in D3D applications, but in OpenGL based applications NVIDIA's counterparts had an advantage. This particular performance breakdown may be about to change though.

ATI has recently posted a "HotFix" driver that addresses OpenGL performance. ATI claimed performance improvements in the neighborhood of 35% in OpenGL applications like Doom 3 when anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering were enabled.  The extra performance comes by way of changes to the way the new ring-bus memory controller handles OpenGL calls. As we mentioned in our review, ATI's new memory controller is programmable via software, so with a simple driver update, ATI was able to basically completely revamp the way their new memory controller reacts to OpenGL. So, with this new driver in hand, we ran some quick tests in Doom 3 to see if what ATI was claiming turned out to be true...

Doom 3 Performance
X1800 XT (Before) X1800 XT (w/ HotFix) GF 7800 GTX
1280x1024 (4x / 8x) 64.1 84.7 84.2
1600x1200 (4x / 8x) 44.4 60.9 61.7

As you can see, ATI's new "HotFix" driver dramatically improved the Radeon X1800 XT's performance in Doom 3.  So much so that it overtakes the GeForce 7800 GTX at 1280x1024, and just barely falls behind at 1600x1200. This is impressive to say the least.  If these kinds of performance gains hold true across a wide range of OpenGL applications, ATI's new high-end hardware instantly becomes more attractive in our opinion. And please keep in mind, this was with the first unnofficial driver update. Over time, we fully expect more incremental performance improvements to D3D and OpenGL applications as ATI's software engineers get more familiar with the intricacies of their new GPU family.

It's not all good news for ATI, though. They still haven't delivered the X1300s in quantity as they said they would, and the Radeon X1800 XL is available only in limited quantities at a few on-line resellers. Although, the XL's price has already dropped below MSRP, which is a very good sign.

We're going to do some more experimenting with these new drivers, and will be in contact with ATI in an effort to get more specific information as to how these new drivers tick, so we won't draw any premature conclusions just yet.  But, if ATI does deliver the hardware they've launched -- in quantity -- within the next few weeks, their engineers continue to wring more performance from the X1K, and Avivo get's fixed, ATI's new products immediately become vastly more desirable wouldn't you agree?

In our initial review, we liked D3D performance, but were somewhat disappointed by OpenGL performance and the fact that Avivo didn't seem to deliver many tangible real-world benefits just yet. In fact, DXVA accelerated playback of HD content was "broken" with the first couple of driver packages we worked with.  But now it seems that ATI has significantly improved their OpenGL performance with their new cards. Improve Avivo and deliver the hardware as well, and all of sudden ATI's X1K Family is shown in a whole new light. We can't wait to see how a retail Radeon X1800 XT performs with the next official set of Catalyst drivers. It seems ATI is coming on strong right now.