The High End: ATI Radeon X800 Pro vs. NVIDIA GeForce 6800 GTImage Quality:
The high-end, £300 price bracket is a very tough one to call. Models are more widely available to the consumer, but supply is still not where either company would like it to be right now.
We have used the reference clocks for both the ATI Radeon X800 Pro and the NVIDIA GeForce 6800GT, which are 475/900MHz and 350/1000MHz respectively. As you already know, the GeForce 6800GT has 16 fragment pipelines compared to the Radeon X800 Pro's 12 fragment pipelines - this makes up for the raw megahertz deficit that the GeForce 6800GT has and the theoretical throughputs of both video cards are very similar, which should mean that the real-world performance should be close, but it is often not the case.
ATI Radeon X800 Pro:
The Radeon X800 Pro was capable of delivering a solid frame rate at 1280x1024 with 2xAA 16xAF. We were able to use maximum in-game details, which included the use of the 'Reflect All' setting for Water Detail. You can already see that resolution has to be traded off on these £300 video cards. Most of the game is CPU limited, but we happen to have found two very intensive sections, which prove to be about as graphic-intense as it gets. If it is possible to run through these sections of the title, and remain 100% playable, your choice of resolution and detail settings should take you through the entire title without hiccup.
The distance clipping issues are apparent on this video card again, and even with 2xAA, there is still a large amount of aliasing going on in the scenes. The bloom effect in the underpass is still very good, although it is not quite up to the standards of FarCry's HDR rendering methods, which, on the whole, is a very realistic effect. Bloom is a bit subtler, as you don't see massive light rays coming from light sources in to the darker areas.
NVIDIA GeForce 6800GT:
Surprisingly, the GeForce 6800GT was able to deliver a completely playable frame rate at the same settings that we have used for the Radeon X800 Pro. Even though we are not comparing apples to apples here, this comparison has turned out to be a little bit like that. Please remember that several NVIDIA board partners do choose to increase the clocks on their video cards, so these are baseline settings for a reference-clocked GeForce 6800GT.
We'll mention distance clipping and aliased scenery in the background again, because this is something that really would bring the game up yet another level, to a level where literally no other game could compete with Half-Life 2 in any category. Right now, we feel that FarCry's image quality, certainly with HDR, is a step above Half-Life 2 - it's unfortunate, because the game play is absolutely fantastic. We're not reviewing the game here, but if you are having hesitations in purchasing this title, please don't - there are some really cool things you can do in the game with the aid of the fantastic physics engine, and also, lets not forget that the storyline is fantastic too.
Here, we are happy to pronounce the image quality battle a dead heat, because the minor differences we do see between the images are not worth considering because you will not notice them when you are actually playing the title. It is our duty to report driver bugs, and so on and so forth, but most image quality differences are subjective at best - we will leave you to make the decisions right now.
This battle proves to be even closer than we initially thought, with both video cards delivering the same average frame rate in our "Water Hazard" manual run through. However, the same hitch that happened on the Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition was apparent here again, albeit not quite as bad this time around - we only suffered a momentary drop to 18 frames per second. Aside from this hitch, the next lowest frame rate that was recorded during our manual run through was a respectable 28 frames per second. The GeForce 6800GT was capable of consistently hitch-free game play in the 'Water Hazard' manual run through, with a very solid 24 frames per second minimum frame rate.
In our second manual run through, the Radeon X800 Pro delivered a solid gaming experience with a minimum frame rate of 22 frames per second - again the drop in frame rates were where the auto save kicked in. The GeForce 6800GT was capable of delivering a solid 59 frames per second average and a 24 frames per second minimum frame rate, which ultimately gave us a fantastic gaming experience at 1280x1024.