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Review: ATI Radeon X800 XT Mac Edition
By Mike
Published: 1/7/2005
Performance Tests vs 6800 Ultra & OEM 9800 Pro in Dual 2GHz G5

Intro/Photos | 2D/Video Performance | 3D Performance | Game Performance | Control Panel

    Pros: As good or better performance in general than the $100 more expensive Mac 6800 Ultra card. Single slot design. ADC and dual link DVI port. Support for HDTVs via DVI Port. Control Panel w/advanced features including 3D/GL overrides.

    Cons: Expensive (Although there's no retail Mac graphics card in its class that's less.)

    Reviewer's Tilt: (Jan 2005) If I were buying a high end card for my AGP slot G5 Mac today, personally I'd choose the X800 XT over the 6800GT or the more expensive 6800 Ultra. Considering the performance, single slot design, ATI control panel features (nothing like that for Mac nvidia cards) and (generally) more frequent Mac driver updates than the Nvidia cards, I consider the X800 XT a better overall value for most users than the Mac 6800 series.

    Requirements: Apple PowerMac G5 Tower system running 10.3.5 or later per user guide (specs page notes 10.3.6 or later). 512MB RAM or better. 8x AGP slot required, so not compatible with G4 Towers. Retail package includes one DVI to VGA adapter, ATI software CD and Installation/User guide. 3-year limited warranty.

    Availability: The X800 XT Mac Edition originally shipped in January 2005 at $499, later dropped appx $200 (in 2007) but after a brief appearance in late Sept/Early Oct. 2007, it's not longer listed at the ATI online store and likely is EOL (end of life) due to parts availability. As of early Oct. 2007, Site sponsor OWC has some of the last stock on the xlr8yourmac specials page but they may be sold out by the time you read this.



Introduction
On Jan. 5th, ATI officially announced the Radeon X800 XT Mac Edition graphics card for PowerMac G5s. The Mac X800 XT has one Dual Link DVI and one ADC port and supports the Apple 30-inch Cinema HD Display as well as legacy Apple ADC Displays and (with included adapter) VGA monitors. The X800 XT features 16 pixel pipelines, six vertex pipelines and 256MB of GDDR3 memory. (2005) Original list price is $499 ($100 less than the Mac Nvidia 6800 Ultra, although that card can drive two 30in displays). Since 99.9% of Mac users won't own two 30in Cinema displays, I think the choice of Dual Link DVI + ADC port makes market sense and it's -very rare- to see a retail card with an ADC port. Although I have never been a big fan of ADC (powering a monitor from the computer P.S.), there are a lot of those displays out there and having a native ADC port saves having to buy a $100 or so DVI/ADC adapter w/Pwr Supply.

This first posting compares performance of the X800 XT to a Mac 6800 Ultra DDL (256MB) and the original OEM Radeon 9800 Pro (128MB) card that was a BTO option with the 2003 PowerMac G5 and includes pages on the ATI Displays Control Panel. Test system is a Dual 2GHz G5 with 3.5GB RAM running 10.3.7 (More system details below.) Drivers used were the ones included in the OS X 10.3.7 update. (The X800 XT uses the Radeon 9700 extension as does the 9800 card.)

Here's a photo of the X800 XT Mac Edition (courtesy ATI).

Mac X800 XT card

There's no Aux/Molex power connections on the card as is typical for many higher end ATI and Nvidia retail models (where older systems may not source enough power in the AGP slot.)

Here's a photo of the X800 XT card installed in the test system (2003 model Dual 2GHz G5).

Mac X800 XT Installed

Just to give you an idea of how much smaller/slimmer the X800 XT is compared to the 6800 Ultra, here's a pix of the 6800 installed in the same G5 (from the 6800 Ultra review):

Mac 6800 Ultra DDL Installed

One of the reasons the 6800 Ultra card is so long is for support during shipping of G5 systems. (The end of the card engages in a retainer/support slot to avoid damage during shipping.)

Fan Noise:
This is always a common question from readers. My review sample X800 XT arrived without any docs or CD and after installing the card initially, I was surprised at the fan noise level as it was clearly louder than the 6800 Ultra sample I had used. I immediately mentioned this to ATI and was told I was the only person that had complained about fan noise. A day later after writing for a version of the ATI Displays that recognized the X800, I was sent an installer that included a ROM Xtender file. After installing that I noticed some new resolutions but also noticed that the fan wasn't running at WFO anymore in typical use. I noticed at cold start the fan noise/speed was high, but then dropped after the OS loaded. I wrote ATI to confirm my quess that the ROM Xtender enabled fan speed control on the card - they replied it did.
(BTW: The OEM 9800 Pro card I have has a verax G03 replacement fan/heatsink and is virtually silent. For articles on replacing a 9800's HS/fan with the verax (too expensive IMHO) or the lower cost Arctic VGA Silencer, see the Video topics page, graphics card section.)

X800 XT Card ID/Firmware Info: (from Apple system profiler)

X800 ASP info

This card has the initial production run firmware version and included on CD is the previously mentioned ATI ROM Xtender. (As a FYI - the 6800 Ultra card used for comparison had firmware v2119.)

Features:
Rather than regurgitate the details on the features of the X800 XT Mac Edition and other cards used for comparison in this review here's a summary with links to more info at ATI's site. (Some features not yet supported in current Mac software)

  • 475MHz Core Clock (vs 375MHz for 9800 Pro*)
  • 1000MHz Memory data rate (vs 375MHz for 9800 Pro*)
  • 160 million transistors on 0.13 micron low-k copper fabrication process
  • 16 pixel pipelines (vs. 8 for 9800 Pro)
  • 6 vertex processing engines (vs. 4 for 9800 Pro)
  • 7.6 GigaPixel/sec Pixel Fill Rate (vs. 3.0 for 9800 Pro)
  • 32GB/sec Memory Bandwidth (vs. 22 for 9800 Pro)
  • 182 GigaFLOPS (vs 77 for 9800 Pro)
  • 712 Vertices/Sec transform rate (vs 340 for 9800 Pro)
  • High precision 32-bit per channel rendering
  • 256-bit quad-channel GDDR3 memory interface
  • SMARTSHADER(tm) HD
  • SMOOTHVISION(tm) HD
  • 3Dc(tm) (High quality 4:1 Normal Map Compression)
  • HYPER Z(tm) HD
  • DVD and Quicktime(tm) Acceleration

*Per ATI supplied comparison docs. The OEM G5 9800 Pro model used in this review had slightly lower performance than the retail model (see my OEM 9800 vs Retail 9800 tests from last fall), so I believe the OEM 9800's clocks are 350MHz core, 325MHz (DDR) memory. (I keep forgetting to run ATIccellerator II to check this.)

Here's a summary of the 6800 Ultra included for comparison (see Nvidia's Geforce 6800 product page for more details)

  • NVIDIA CineFX 3.0 Technology
  • NVIDIA UltraShadow II Technology
  • Superscalar 16-pipe GPU Architecture
  • 64-Bit Texture Filtering and Blending
  • 256-bit Graphics Core and Memory Interface
  • 35.2 GB/sec. Memory Bandwidth
  • 6.4 billion texels/sec. Fill Rate
  • 600 Million Vertices per Second
  • 1100 MHz Memory Data Rate (400MHz core clock)
  • Pixels per Clock (peak): 16
  • Textures per Pixel* 16
    (*Maximum in a single rendering pass)
  • RAMDACs 400 MHz

More info at Nvidia's Geforce6 tech specs page.

Review Index:
This article is divided into the following categories/pages:

  1. 2D Image Quality/Performance: 2D image quality, resolutions/refresh rates, DVD playback, Apple Motion RAM Preview, Appleworks 6.2.9 scrolling, XBench (graphics/UI), and Let1KWindowsbloom tests.

  2. 3D (non-Game) Performance: CineBench 2003 (G5 version) and Marine Aquarium 2.0x

  3. Game Performance: Halo, Splinter Cell, Call of Duty, Unreal Tournament 2004, Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Quake 3 tests.

  4. ATI Control Panel: Screenshots and info on ATI's control panel features. (Including VersaVision, Mac2TV and 3D/GL overrides.)


Test System Hardware Summary:

Details of the test system used for this review is listed below.

  • Apple Dual G5 2GHz (2003 model):
  • System Firmware 5.1.4f0 (and Fan Control firmware update incl. w/6800 card)
  • 3.5GB RAM
  • Hitachi 7K250 160GB and Seagate 160GB Hard Drives
  • OEM Pioneer DVR-108 (firmware v1.18)
  • OS X 10.3.7 with all updates applied
  • Monitor: Sony FW-900 (24" widescreen CRT)
  • Airport Active for all tests

X800 XT User Feedback Wanted:
The X800 XT should be shipping to retailers by mid-Janary. I welcome other X800 XT owner reports on using the card with applications, games, etc.. Please include system/OS/software/addon software/hardware details in reports. Thanks.


You can follow my preferred path through the review by continuing to the next page,
or use the links below to jump to a specific page.

Index of Mac X800 XT Review

Intro/Photos | 2D/Video Performance | 3D Performance | Game Performance | Control Panel

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