2004 was a great year for ATI. They sat on top of the performance crown most of the year, and had plenty of hardware to go around. While NVIDIA was pecking away at their performance crown, eventually passing it with their NV40 line, but the release of the X850 Platinum Edition pretty much kept them on top for the rest of the year as far as single card performance is concerned.
Things began to change a little as we moved into 2005. NVIDIA's SLI was already getting to be pretty big as 2004 ended, and by the start of the year ATI needed an answer fast. CrossFire was finally released, but it was a matter of too little, too late. Add to this pain, the R520 family was also running late (not according to ATI, but it was in the enthusiast mindset).
The All-In-Wonder family was not exempted from these delays. While the AIW parts tend to be released a little behind the desktop VPUs, the delays of the AIW X800 XT and AIW X800 XL were almost comical. They delivered when they arrived, but major steps needed to be taken for their next generation of parts.
The ATI All-In-Wonder X1800 XL
Today, about seven weeks after the previews of the X1000 family, we're ready to show our readers ATI's latest AIW. Based on the R520, the ATI All-In-Wonder X1800 XL is now officially ready for primetime. Will it be a hit, or sent to hiatus?
The ATI All-In-Wonder X1800 XL is massive card. As shown above, there are no problems fitting into most ATX cases, though depending on the arrangement of certain components (typically the hard drive or hard drive cage), the fit gets pretty tight.
The AIW X1800 XL is strictly a PCI Express part, and is currently their only offering from the X1000 family. We can expect various SKUs to address certain market segments, but it's nice to see the AIW team come out of the gate right away with a high end part.
As with their desktop counterparts, the AIW X1800 XL's VPU is built on the 90nm manufacturing technology, with full support of Shader Model 3.0 (Ultra-Threaded) and clocked at 500MHz with eight vertex shader processors and 16 pixel shader processors. This support was omitted with their last generation and ATI needed to do some catchup with NVIDIA in this department. This is an AIW X1800 XL review though, so we don't want to go too deep into the X1000 featureset, but here are some of the highlights:
Shader Model 3.0 - NVIDIA has supported SM 3 since the 6800 series, so it was time for ATI to step into the game. Touted as Ultra-Threaded, ATI claims their method of SM 3 support is better and more efficient. This is done in a few ways. First, they are reducing the amount of idle time and latency and generally improving their memory controller for better memory access.
The next step is there dynamic flow control, which essentially allows different paths through the same shader to run on neighbouring pixels. Therefore, if similar shaders are called, the hardware can merge them into the same thread. The hardware is capable of 512 threads per cycle.
Basically, instead of trying to do more faster, ATI is trying to do more smarter. Still, it doesn't mean they are getting lazy with speed. 128-bit Floating Point Processing is now in effect, so all shader calculations use 128-bit Floating Point precision at full speed.
Ring Bus Memory Controller - The memory controller gets a major overhaul with the X1800 XL. The new controller is capable of supporting GDDR3, high memory clock scaling and features a new cache design, improved Hyper-Z, and Programmable Arbitration Logic.
Like it sounds, there are two rings (256-bit each) that run in opposite directions to reduce latency. Fro each memory channel, there is a ring stop which allows a direct link to the memory interface. Overall, this makes for a less complex design and gives ATI more options for memory speeds.
Better Image Quality - Image quality takes a step forward with the X1000 family. High Dynamic Range is really a complex subject and would take pages to explain, but to make a very long explanation short, HDR does a great deal in improving visual quality in almost any scenario where lighting has an effect on the environment.
The X1800 XL's HDR supports 64-bit floating point color formats which is capable of 65 000 levels of brightness and a dynamic range of 2.2 trillion. Furthermore, along with the tradition AA options, HDR is supported with three new AA levels, Adaptive, Temporal, and Super AA (CrossFire only).
While it's shared by all the X1000 products, a big feature where the AIW X1800 XL is concerned is .
Avivo is ATI's technology for improving the image quality of almost anything that is displayed, from pictures and videos to HD content. A full whitepaper , but we'll do our best to sum things up.
There are basically five key stages to a video pipeline. Avivo makes improvements to the analog capture with automatic gain control, 12-bit analog-to-digital conversion (ADC), 3D comb filtering and noise reduction.
The automatic gain control works by dynamically boosting the signal to maximize the brightness and contrast without over-saturating the picture.
Do it too much and everything washes out, so the key is it keeps the image vibrant. The 12-bit ADC works by cleaning up some of the noise associated when converting an analog stream. 3D comb filtering separate the colour and brightness signal from a feed, and adds the third dimension of time to determine the best way of separating these signals. Noise reduction is pretty self explanatory, but basically it removes "snow" from the video to make it cleaner.
In the encoding stage, Avivo brings to the table hardware based MPEG-2 compression. Your processor could be pumping out 30% load while processing a MPEG-2 (basically, this happens during playback) stream, but Avivo's encoder in theory can reduce that number down to 3-4%.
Avivo decode is optimized for a number of codecs, including WMV9, MPEG-2 and H.264. The latter may not be a household name for most of you, but basically there will be hardware decode acceleration for both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD.
Vector adaptive de-interlacing falls under the Post Processing stage and maintains a properly reconstructed (progressive) image which is important given almost all displays, be it TV or monitor are progressive. There is also an advanced scaling engine which reduces the amount of aliasing seen when resizing video for a display.
For the display, there are new 10-bit analog and digital connections. This ensures that the image displayed is done so at the best possible setting for the display.
There's really a lot more detail to everything Avivo has to offer, so we encourage you hit this link for . Let's continue now with the AIW X1800 XL review.