Our Summary & Conclusion
Performance Summary: Both CrossFire configurations performed very well in the majority of games / benchmarks we tested. Half Life 2, FarCry, Splinter Cell and 3DMark05 all scaled dramatically on CrossFire, and ATI's and NVIDIA's respective flagship configurations traded victories in these benchmarks. 256MB and 512MB GeForce 7800 GTX SLI configurations had big performance advantages in OpenGL games, like Doom 3 and Quake 4, but overall ATI had a good showing. Clearly though, a 512MB GeForce 7800 GTX SLI configuration remains the most powerful gaming setup available today.
Radeon X1800 XT CrossFire Edition Master cards should be available from a handful on-line retailers over the next few days, at an MSRP of $599. We have already received word that HIS has begun shipping cards, and ATI was only waiting on shipments of the custom dongle before getting product out to retailers, so there is a chance consumers will be able to get their hands on an X1800 XT master card in time for Christmas. But is X1800 XT CrossFire worth the expense? Well, that all depends on your perspective, and your wallet's girth of course. If we strictly look at price, a pair of X1800 XTs - if master cards actually end up being available at or below MSRP - will end up being up to $300 "cheaper" than a pair of 512MB GeForce 7800 GTX cards. Although NVIDIA launched these cards with an MSRP of $649, you can't find them for less than $750, and that's if you can find them at all. Plus, ATI's Catalyst 5.13 drivers give the X1K series a cards an advantage in video playback quality by exposing more of Avivo's capabilities. So, with very good gaming performance, better video performance, and an overall lower price, X1800 XT CrossFire is clearly a solid alternative to a pair of 512MB GeForce 7800 GTXs. A pair of 256MB GeForce 7800 GTX, however, could be had for $200-$300 less than X1800 XT CrossFire, which probably makes that configuration the best value at the high-end. You would miss out on the performance benefits of larger 512MB frame buffers though with 256MB GTXs, so there is definitely a lot to consider if you've got the funds for a high-end dual-graphics configuration. We wouldn't recommend purchasing an X1800 XT master card for use in conjunction with a Radeon X1800 XL, however. Dropping $600 on a much higher-clocked, more powerful 512MB Master card, only to disable half of its memory, doesn't strike us a great idea.
In the end, X1800 XT CrossFire proved to be a very high performing platform, that offered excellent image quality at smooth frame rates. We are a bit concerned over the instability we experienced during some of our testing, but we suspect these issues will be ironed out with future driver releases. We also suspect ATI will be able to wring more performance out of X1800 XT CrossFire configurations with updated drivers, as the company's software engineers get more familiar with the intricacies of the hardware, so the future certainly looks promising for ATI.
|•_X1800 XT CrossFire is Fast
•_Excellent Image Quality
•_Less Expensive than dual-512MB GeForce 7800 GTXs
|•_We Experienced Some Instability
•_X1800 XL CrossFire Price/Performance