Radeon X800 XT Mac Edition

When it comes to graphics power, G5 owners – even ones with high-end NVidia or ATI graphics cards – have been a bit hamstrung. Both are competent enough, but neither can really keep pace with the prodigious processing power and the high-performance architecture of the G5. It’s like having skinny little tires on a car with a great big engine. But this is about to change – with the release of the Radeon X800 XT Mac Edition.

ATI (www.ati.com) designed the X800 XT specifically for the Power Mac G5. In fact, since it requires an 8x AGP Pro slot, the card won’t work in G4 or earlier systems.
The X800 XT offers much better performance than ATI’s previous high-end cards. For example, it has a 7.6-gigapixel-per-second fill rate (compared with the 9800 Pro’s 3.0-gigapixel-per-second rate), and it can transform 712 vertices per second (compared with the 9800’s 340 vertices per second). And with double the number of pixel pipelines (16 versus 8) and a much faster memory data rate (1GHz versus 675MHz), the X800 XT packs a huge punch.

It’s also much smaller than previous G5 cards, whose large fan assemblies blocked adjacent PCI slots. The X800 XT, on the other hand, features smaller fans – so it occupies only one slot.

When I replaced the 9800 Pro graphics card in my G5 Mac with the X800 XT, I saw a marked improvement in both frame rate and graphics quality in my favourite games. I was able to play Doom 3, for example, at a resolution of 1,280-x-1,024 with quality settings set to high – something that would’ve brought the 9800 Pro to its knees.
The X800 XT includes one dual-link DVI connector and one old-style ADC connector. This means that you can drive a 30-inch Apple Cinema Display and an older one-cable 23-inch Cinema HD Display side-by-side without needing one of those funky adapters. However, this also means that the X800 XT can drive only one 30-inch display at a time, unlike NVidia’s top-end card.

One other aesthetic point: if you’re using a stock 9600 card on your G5, you’ll notice a significant increase in fan noise when you upgrade to the X800 XT. This is because your current video card uses a heat sink rather than a fan to dissipate heat from the graphics chip. But if you already have a 9800 Pro or an NVidia GeForce 6800 Ultra installed, you’ll definitely hear less noise with the new card.


Admittedly, the X800 XT is expensive. At £320 including VAT, it probably costs a lot more than anyone but the most dedicated gamer can justify spending on gaming enjoyment. But if you also use other applications – such as Apple’s Motion, Alias’s Maya, Luxology’s modo, or Maxon’s Cinema 4D – that take advantage of OpenGL, you’ll almost certainly find that the improvement in performance justifies the investment.

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