ATI Radeon 9800 XT

ATI Radeon 9800 XT - Page 5

The ATi Radeon 9800 XT  256MB
ATi Turns Up The Heat In High End 3D Graphics

By - Dave Altavilla
September 30, 2003


We began to wind down our testing with a few runs of the great looking new title from Eidos, Tomb Raider: The Angle Of Darkness.  This game engine makes heavy use of DX9 Pixel Shader 2.0 effects, like DOF (depth of field) blur, under water blur and some really nice dynamic lighting effects.  However, all was not rosy for NVIDIA's GeForce FX 5900 Ultra, that we tested versus the Radeon 9800 XT.  Here are a few image captures, to illustrate what we saw.

Head-to-Head / Performance With Tomb Raider Angel Of Darkness
Pixel Shader 2.0 and 1.4 Performance - NVIDIA's Woes

First and foremost, we should point out that the .49 patch, that is available for Tomb Raider AOD, provides an excellent benchmarking mode that allowed us to record our own time demo and then play it back with both Pixel Shader 1.4 (DX8) and Pixel Shader 2.0 (DX9) effects and precision employed.  In the shots below, you can see the impressive "cinematic" quality that Depth Of Field blur can add to a scene's imagery.  Here the garden area, that we recorded in our timed demo run in, has a complete sense of depth and vastness, that is rendered with blurred images in the far background, slightly blurred images in the mid range area and crisp images in the foreground.  That is of course, if you are running the game on an ATi card.

R9800 XT PS20

R9800XT PS14

GFFX 5900U PS20

R9800XT PS20

R9800XT PS14

Surprisingly, the depth of field effect seems to be not functioning properly with NVIDIA's Detonator 51.75 drivers currently, as the DOF blur effect ends up bluring the entire scene and produces a very undesirable effect.  However, enable PS1.4 mode and things look a lot better on the NVIDIA card.  Although, you then lose that impressive looking DOF effect, that runs so well on the ATi card. This points us to a very important issue that has not been covered well in the media lately, relative to NVIDIA's recent heart-burn with DirectX 9 benchmarks and Valve Software's coming out with regards to Half Life 2.

We had a very candid discussion with NVIDIA's Chief Scientist, David Kirk regarding NVIDIA's current situation with DirectX 9 gaming in general.  We went through the company's recent trials and tribulations in great detail and the general point of issue that we came away with was the following.  Simply put, NVIDIA is still playing catch up, in a major way, as a result of their late arrival to market with a Direct X 9 capable GPU.  Many game developers have been working on their game engines with ATi hardware and as such, the leading edge games, that are just coming to market now, have not been optimized at the compiler level, for NVIDIA hardware.  Here in lies the rub and the reason we've seen NVIDIA take significantly more aggressive measures, to optimize performance at the driver level.  NVIDIA is reportedly working hard to update and improve their compiler, such that performance, as well as image quality with DX9 effects, will improve significantly in the months ahead.  Also, hopefully issues like the broken DOF blur effect we've seen here in Tomb Raider AOD, will be a thing of the past.  For now however, the road continues to be a bumpy one ahead for NVIDIA.

Now for the benchmarks. Again, these scores were taken with another custom demo run we recorded with the version .49 benchmarking patch.


NVIDIA's product can't even seem to "buy a vowel" Vanna, in this little spin of the wheel of fortune.  No matter how you slice it, Pixel Shader 1.4, Pixel Shader 2.0, AA or no AA, the Radeons all blew the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra out of the water.  The Radeon 9800 XT also sports a respectable 10% lead over it's siblings, the Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB and 256MB cards.  If the Tomb Raider AOD is indicative of the way the numbers will stack up for ATi's product versus NVIDIA's, in future DX9 gaming situations, they certainly have a lot of catching up to do indeed.

Overclocking With The 256MB Radeon 9800 XT
Looking For That Sweet Spot

Before we close things out here, we decided to see if there was any additional performance that we could wring out of the Radeon 9800 XT.  Our friends at ATi informed us that this was a highly overclockable card and it seems as though they were being truthful for sure.

We were testing our card on an open air bench-test setup, so your results could indeed be different than that we achieved here.  However, we also made sure that there were no visual artifacts whatsoever, throughout a full hours worth of demo looping in AquaMark3.  The board, in our environment, was completely stable and artifact free, at a core clock speed of 455MHz and a DDR memory speed of 800MHz.  This equates to roughly a 10% increase in both core and memory clock speeds with the Radeon 9800 XT 256MB card we tested.  Not surprisingly, the benchmark scores above scaled an additional 10% higher across the board.  As the old saying goes "easy money baby"... of course this new ATi card isn't cheap though.


ATi informs us that as of today, Radeon 9800 XT boards will be shipping to the retail channel.  With this new product launch, ATi has accomplished their objective in maintaining their performance edge in the high end segment, over NVIDIA's GeForce FX 5900 Ultra.  The Radeon 9800 XT was faster in many of the test scenarios we threw at it, with the exception of the Wolfenstein Enemy Territory test and Unreal Tournament, the latter with which NVIDIA has been aggressively optimizing Anisotropic Filtering performance, at the expense of image quality.  Other than that, if you plan of doing your share of DirectX gaming, especially (which is the majority of titles on the market), the Radeon 9800 XT is currently the fastest graphics card on the market. Additionally, it seems as though ATi's product line runs current DX9 titles faster and with better image quality, than competitive NVIDIA products.  Again, this is due largely to the fact that game devs have been coding on ATi DX9 hardware for so long now.  NVIDIA should be able to turn this situation around however, with upcoming compiler and driver optimizations.  We'll just have to see how things play out in this continuing saga.

Physically, the Radeon 9800 XT is easily the nicest looking piece of graphics hardware we've seen in the HotHardware labs in a long time. Best in class performance, great image quality and killer good looks, is a powerful combination that is hard to resist.  Once again however, you've got to pay to play.  The Radeon 9800 XT also retails for $499.  We expect to see street prices well below that range eventually but once you get into the $400+ territory for a Consumer 3D Graphics solution, it's obvious that the product is clearly targeted exclusively toward the high end niche´ enthusiast end user.  From a price / performance perspective, the real sweet spot in ATi's product line-up, will be either the Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB cards or the upcoming impressive looking Radeon 9600 XT.  By all rights, Radeon 9800 Pro prices should drop like a rock, once this new high end card gets out on the street.  So keep an eye out for deals on R9800 Pros.   Additionally, ATi will of course be bundling Half Life 2 with both Radeon 9800 XT and Radeon 9600 XT boards, so there is some additional incentive to upgrading, if you are still a few product cycles behind in the technology.

Then again there's another rumbling coming out from "The Valley".  NVIDIA is also poised to release their NV38 and NV36 based products, also with higher clock speeds and better performance, for both the enthusiast and mid-range markets.  The NV36 will also be the first product shipping from NVIDIA, based on silicon built by their new fab partner, IBM.  We'll be taking a look at those products in the weeks ahead, so it should be an interesting and fun-filled holiday buying season for HotHardware readers.  New technology and these fierce competitions will only help deliver better products to the masses.  We'll be here to tell you all about them.  On a side note, we recently got a heads-up from our friends at Asus.  They informed us that their Radeon 9800 XT board has shipped to our New York lab for testing, so stay tuned for that showcase shortly!

Updated 9:50PM - 9/30/03

In our haste to get this article up and live here today, we were unable to sit back and come to a general consensus on the product, from a rating perspective, with our Heat Meter rating metrics.  Regardless, based on its fantastic performance, great image quality and high quality, as well as impressive board design, we're giving the ATi Radeon 9800 XT a HotHardware Heat Meter rating of 9 and well as our coveted Editor's Choice Award.


There are a ton of folks just like you in
HotHardware's PC Hardware Forum!

Tags:  ATI, Radeon, ATI Radeon, 980, XT

Related content