ATI All-in-Wonder X1800 XL

Review

posted 2/24/2006 by John Yan
other articles by John Yan
One Page Platforms: PC

Not long after I reviewed the All-in-Wonder X800XL clamoring for a high end card with the All-in-Wonder features, ATI comes out with one. While the All-in-Wonder X800XL was delayed, the time to market for the All-in-Wonder X1800XL was the same day as the announcement. Kudos to ATI for doing it right this time with the release. With that out of the way, let's look at the All-in-Wonder X1800XL.

The All-in-Wonder X1800XL uses the R520 architecture and features close to the top of the line performance for the R5XX series. The X1800XL is built on the 90 nanometer fabrication process making it smaller than the previous generation of ATI cards. Besides being able to pack twice as many transistors (320+ million total) in the same area as the 130nm process, the chip can also operate on lower voltages. Memory total on the card is 256MB of GDDR3 memory. Both the memory and graphics engine are clocked at 500MHz. As with all the All-in-Wonder cards released from a few years ago, there are no clock differences between this card and the non-All-in-Wonder version so you are not getting a “crippled” card for gaming.

The architecture features an Ultra-Threaded Pixel Shader Engine capable of handling 512 threads at once and operating at over 90% efficiency for shader processing. This time around, the architecture supports Shader Model 3.0, something missing from the X800 line that many reviewers spoke negatively of.

A new memory controller design was implemented as well. There are eight 32-bit channels totaling 256-bit that are coupled to an internal 512-bit ring bus. Optimizing memory performance is done by various techniques such as better compression and hidden surface removal techniques as well as programmable arbitration logic. The arbitration logic can be improved via driver updates so more performance can be achieved through a simple download.

If you don’t know about HDR then you’re not seeing the light. HDR or High Dynamic Range creates more realistic and vibrant lighting. The X1000 line was built for a more extensive support of HDR and allow for HDR when using anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering. When you combine the three, you’ll get some pretty impressive graphical results.

AVIVO is a big selling point for ATI and a very important part of the X1000 line as well as the All-in-Wonder X1800XL. A quick overview of AVIVO shows that it has dual 10-bit display pipelines and each has independent gamma correction, color correction, video overlays, scaling, and de-interlacing technologies. One feature that will really benefit HTPC users is the ability to accelerate encoding, decoding, and playback of H.264 and VC-1 codecs. H.264 is made famous by Apple and their HD trailers on their site.  VC-1 is Microsoft’s codec that’s an alternative to H.264. What does that mean to you? It means less CPU power needed to play and encode HD video translating to smoother and better looking video as well. When the switch to Blu-ray or HD-DVD happens, you’ll be ready with this card since it will support the codecs to handle smooth video playback. At the time of this writing, we didn’t have enough time to really inspect the new Catalyst drivers that adds H.264 decoding to the card but we’ll be sure to look at it in future articles.

ATI is still using the Theater 200 chip in this card and I really hope that they decide to put the Theater 550 in the next batch. While the Theater 200 isn’t a bad performer, the picture quality and hardware encoding of the Theater 550 would really raise the All-in-Wonder line to the top level in analog capture capability. The Theater 200 chip has been in the All-in-Wonder line since the All-in-Wonder 9700 Pro and that makes it around two years old. Not to say that it’s a bad chip as it still does the job well but I’d like to see ATI move on and incorporate the Theater 550 though.

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