ATI All-in-Wonder X1800 XL

ATI All-in-Wonder X1800 XL

Written by John Yan on 2/24/2006 for PC  
More On: All-in-Wonder X1800 XL

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.

Like the All-in-Wonder X800XL card, the All-in-Wonder X1800XL features a small tuner; the Microtune 2121 to be exact. Because of the small size, power consumption is also reduced when compared to the original large silver tuner. One thing about the Microtune 2121 that I like is that it is quicker to change channels than the Philips tuner. Without the change to the Microtune 2121, ATI wouldn’t be able to make these higher end All-in-Wonder cards possible as there wouldn’t be enough room to pack all the features that the line is known for.

Besides television, the card will also function as an FM radio tuner. The included software from ATI will let you record, timeshift, and playback FM recordings. If you’re going to be using the card with another PVR program such as BeyondTV, FM support is there so you’ll be able to listen to the radio in those programs as well.

Driving the multimedia capabilities from ATI is the Multimedia Center 9.10. While a capable piece of software, it is starting to show its age in comparison with other software suite such as Sage, BeyondTV, and Windows XP Media Center 2005. Eazylook has helped provide a better user experience with a nicer UI but the software still falls short in my opinion to others. The good news for Windows XP Media Center 2005 users is that this card can be used in that OS as both a tuner and a video out card. Setting up is pretty simple with the drivers installed as MCE 2005 automatically found the tuner and I was watching Live TV quickly and easily. Performance and picture quality were quite good as well.

The card is one of the longest cards out there. It’s even longer than the GeForce 7800GT card that I own. On a few of my boards, the length of the card encroached into the space where the memory clips where making it hard to access them. At least the card was still a single slot solution so it won’t overflow into the slot next to it.

Connections on the card itself consist of a coaxial plug, an FM antenna plug, the AV I/O connector, and one DVI connection. Unfortunately, those with dual monitors and DVI connections will have to use a VGA converter as the secondary monitor’s connection is limited to VGA on the output adapter. To be honest, there’s no room on the bracket with the TV and radio connections unless ATI decides to go the All-in-Wonder X800XL route and move those connections to an external connector. Even then there might not even be enough room for two DVI connectors.

The All-in-Wonder X1800XL packs many of the same peripherals as the recently released All-in-Wonder cards. Besides the card itself, the great connection blocks are included. These stackable boxes allow for VIVO connections such as S-video, composite, RCA stereo, and component connections. The popular Remote Wonder Plus is also included for those wanting to control the multimedia functions from far away. The remote works on via RF so no line of sight is needed and the range is pretty good as well. You can read more about a version of the Remote Wonder from our review. The plus remote is a lot thinner and packs a few more buttons as well then the original Remote Wonder.

Installation of the card consisted of inserting it into an available PCI-E slot and then connecting a six pin power connector to the card. There wasn’t a Molex converter in the packaging and unless my review sample was incomplete, I suggest checking your power supply and purchasing a converter cable if one is not available.

Our test setup is as follows:

  • AMD64 3800+
  • 1 GIG of PC3200 RAM
  • ECS KN1 Extreme SLI
  • Maxtor 120GIG 7200RPM HD
  • Windows XP Professional Service Pack 2
  • Catalyst 5.13 drivers

We compared the card to a Leadtek Geforce7800GT card all at stock settings.

3DMark05 is one of two synethetic benchmarks we are using today. From their website: It is the first benchmark to require a DirectX9.0 compliant hardware with support for Pixel Shaders 2.0 or higher! By combining high quality 3D tests, CPU tests, feature tests, image quality tools, and much more, 3DMark05 is a premium benchmark for evaluating the latest generation of gaming hardware.

Doom 3 is iD Software’s re-invention of the classic game that started the deathmatch craze. The engine really taxes a system and the graphics are phenomenal for a computer game. For the tests, we ran the game with Max settings here.

Far Cry is an impressive first person shooter from Ubi Soft with great outdoor levels and some awesome effects. The vehicles and the ability to explore the entire island makes this one of the best games of the past year. Settings were maxed out and we used the default demo.

Call of Duty 2 is the sequel to the great WWII first person shooter from Infinity Ward. The game utilizes an advanced in-house engine with many effects that tax video cards. We recorded the start of the beach level all the way up the rope climb and at the top we threw a few smoke grenades and walked around some more before we ended the demo. Settings were set at maximum and forcing to use DirectX 9.

F.E.A.R. is Monolith's great horror shooter. The graphics are intense and the game makes great use of pixel shaders. For the demo, we turned up all the settings and ran through the default benchmark that came with the game.

Half-Life 2 is Valve's sequel to the mega hit of five years ago. The game features incredible physics and highly detailed graphics. We used to built in benchmark to test the board out.

For testing anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering, we used Call of Duty 2 and F.E.A.R..

In most of the tests, the card ran close to the Geforce 7800GT and the performance lead does flip flop between the two depending on the applicaiton. With that said, the card is pretty fast and offers great gaming performance. While this isn’t the most powerful All-in-Wonder card out right now, it’s still a great performer. You can pick up the All-in-Wonder X1800XL card for $375 currently which is $75 more than a 7800GT card. With that extra $75, you get a little better performance in higher resolutions on some games and great amount of multimedia functions.

With the recent release of the All-in-Wonder X1900, the All-in-Wonder X1800XL didn’t have that much time to shine. That’s ok though as the card can be had for a good price and will give you great gaming performance with TV and radio functionality. You also get a nice bundle of software and an RF remote to control it all. For editing pictures and video, the new Adobe suite that ATI has included is a nice improvement over their previous offerings. I still wish they bundled one game though in the package. Those that want a jack of all trades card and can’t afford the high end can’t go wrong with the All-in-Wonder X1800XL.

It's got the speed and functionality that all All-in-Wonder cards are known for. Can't beat this card for do it all.

Rating: 8.7 Very Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

I've been reviewing products since 1997 and started out at Gaming Nexus. After writing for a few different sites that went under, it's nice to bring back a site that's not dependent on revenue and just wants to deliver news and reviews of products.

I'm  married, and enjoy first person shooters, sports games, and real time strategy games.

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