MSI RX800 XT Review

The software package included with the RX800 is second-to-none and simply the best on the market.
The software package included with the RX800 is second-to-none and simply the best on the market.
The software package included with the RX800 is second-to-none and simply the best on the market.

Highs

  • Excellent software package
  • solid performance
  • quality construction

Lows

  • Expensive and difficult to find

DT Editors' Rating

Home > Product Reviews > Video Card Reviews > MSI RX800 XT Review

Summary

The question everyone has been asking is which graphics card is the best, the Nvidia 6800 Ultra or the ATI X800 XT. There is no real answer to this. The differences in performance between the two chips are so small that it is rarely noticeable by the average gamer, but Nvidia appears to hold a slight lead.  If you have a beefy power supply that puts out more than 480-watts of power, go with the MSI NX6800 Ultra which is based on the Nvidia 6800 chip. But if you are a loyal ATI fan or you are worried about not having enough power to run the Nvidia based card, then the MSI RX800 is the card for you. Either way, you will not be disappointed by what you get.

If you are a die-hard gamer and prefer to stick with the PCI-Express based motherboards, you might want to consider getting two Nvidia 6800 Ultra cards and running them in SLI-mode via Asus’s A8N-SLI Deluxe motherboard. While the cost of two video cards and a dual PCI-Express motherboard is expensive, the reward means frame rates that are nearly double what any single ATI or Nvidia card can produce.

Once again MSI has gone over-the-top and provided a product that has exceeded our expectations. The RX800 is an incredible video card and one that should last for quite some time. The software package included with the RX800 is second-to-none and simply the best on the market. You will not be disappointed spending the premium price for this PCI-Express video card.

Introduction

Our readers are probably going to hang us for reviewing this card so late in the year, but nonetheless we have finally gotten around to reviewing the latest and greatest from ATI and MSI. ATI’s “X” series of graphics cards are based on the company’s new R420 chip and competes directly with Nvidia’s 6800 series of graphics cards. Using ATI’s X800 XT chip, the MSI RX800 we are reviewing today utilizes Intel’s new PCI-Express interface which, when used at its full potential, can theoretically double the bandwidth of the AGP 8X graphics bus. Video card reviews can become quite redundant because there are so many manufacturers repackaging the same reference board and branding it as their own. MSI on the other hand has taken this theory to the next level by literally transforming a standard video card into a package that makes it feel like you are getting a complete gaming machine.

Last year ATI was able to get a one up on Nvidia with their 9000 series of graphics cards. This includes their popular 9800 and 9600 product lines. Nvidia’s 5900 series cards simply could not compete with ATI on the same level. This year things have changed and the competition is hotter than ever before. Literally racing neck-to-neck, Nvidia and ATI both have cards on the market promising even greater speeds for gamers. Because the MSI RX800 is designed to work on new PCI-Express motherboards, there are fewer being produced which equates to a higher price. You can expect to pay between $500 and $600 for the RX800 using the popular comparison shopping sites.

Features and Design

The PCI-Express version of the RX800 is powered by ATI’s R420 chip running at 500MHz and uses 256MB of Samsung GDDR3 memory. Video In and Video Out (VIVO) are provided by the ATI Rage Theater 200 chip allowing you to output the video signal to either a television using S-Video or a DVI/VGA enabled monitor. If you have an AGP based system, then you might want to consider the MSI RX800XT Platinum Edition which features a faster 520MHz core and AGP 8X support. Unfortunately the Platinum Edition is only limited to the AGP version of this card. MSI is currently selling four video cards based on the ATI R420 chip. This includes the X800 PRO (AGP), X800 Platinum Edition (AGP), X600XT (PCI-Express) and the RX800 (PCI-Express).

Unlike MSI’s Nvidia based NX6800 video card, the RX800 does not come with dual DVI outputs; instead the card comes with a VGA and a DVI output. CAD and workstation users will most likely be turned off by this, although we are fairly certain this is more of a limitation of the board design and not MSI’s choice.

MSI RX800 XT
Image courtesy MSI

Until the latest crops of video cards were introduced, power requirements were not much of a concern to most of us. Our older 250-watt power supplies did just the trick. That has changed and both ATI and Nvidia are requiring larger power supplies if you want to use their video cards. We were astonished to find out that the Nvidia 6800 Ultra video card wanted a 480-watt power supply just in order to work. This forced most users to have to spend an extra $100 bucks on a new power supply just to use the Nvidia graphics cards. Luckily the power requirements of the RX800 are not so bad, although 350-watts is probably more than what most people currently have in their systems. Another major advantage the RX800 has over its Nvidia based brethren is the fact that it only requires a single slot in your computer chassis versus the two slots the Nvidia cards need. This means you can possibly even use the RX800 in a SFF (Small Form Factor) based system or any other system where you will need more room.

While the ATI X800 has its advantages over its competition in the power consumption ring, it also has some disadvantages. First of all, the RX800 does not support DirectX 9.0c. This means that you will not be able to take advantage of games that support Pixel Shader and Vertex Shader 3.0. “So what?” you might be saying? Well the list of games supporting DirectX 9.0c is growing and includes Far Cry, Battlefield Vietnam, Pain Killer, Serious Sam 2, Tribes Vengeance and more. For most people this is not that big of a deal, but for hardcore gamers, it can mean a huge loss in sales for ATI. Only time will tell.

As with MSI’s other video cards, the RX800 comes with a fantastic package that includes 14 CD’s worth of games and utilities, and a large box to help you get excited about the product inside. It makes you feel like you are getting a lot for your money, not just another run-of-the-mill video card. MSI has gone to great lengths to make you feel like the RX800 is worth the purchase. Of the games included you get XIII, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, Prince of Persia, URU plus 15 other games. Surely this has to cut into some of MSI’s profit margins, but we aren’t complaining.

Performance

Compaq GX5000Z

Windows XP Professional; AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 @ 2.41GHz; 1GB PC3200 RAM; Nividia Geforce FX 6800 Ultra, (2) 140GB Western Digital Raptor 10,000 RPMSATA hard drives in RAID stripe array, Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS

Designtechnica Test System

Windows XP Professional; Intel LGA 775 3GHz CPU; 1GB Crucial Ballisitx DDR2 533MHz RAM; MSI ATI X800 XT video card; Western Digital 7200RPM SATA 80GB hard drive

Setup and Testing

The first thing you will notice about the RX800 is that it will require a separate power supply connector. We recommend that you use a connector that is not attached to other peripherals such as an optical drive or a hard drive. This will help to ensure a more stable gaming system. While we were happy to see an actual paper manual (everyone wants to throw a PDF manual on a CD), the instructions were difficult to find because the instruction manual was not specific to the RX800 and includes all of the video cards MSI sells. So make sure you take the time to find the instructions specific to the RX800. Installing the RX800 in our test system was very easy and did not require anything out of the ordinary. We are happy that the RX800 only takes up one slot in the system versus the two slots the Nvidia based cards require.

The RX800 is a very quiet running video card, with the onboard fan putting out very little noise; but do not let its quiet demeanor fool you, this is a very fast card. Our tests are a little bit skewed because we had to compare the PCI-Express RX800 video card to the AGP based NX6800 card which runs on a completely different system. So do not take our results as the end-all of video game benchmarks. In our 3DMark 2003 and 2005 benchmarks, the RX800 edged out the NX6800 by a considerable margin of no less that 2000 points. While that is very impressive, the 3DMark programs are only synthetic benchmarks meaning that actual games may show a different result. Far Cry and Unreal Tournament proved that distinction by giving the performance lead back to Nvidia in both gaming tests. What we did find odd was that the Nvidia 6800 Ultra capped out at around 60 frames per second on our Call of Duty tests. At first we though this was a problem with out test systems until we did more research on the Internet. Apparently the latest Nvidia drivers have a problem running OpenGL based games which is why the FPS is being cut so short. So if Call of Duty is a game you love to play, ATI will have the definite edge here. Our Doom3 tests showed the RX800 as having a 9 FPS lead over the NX6800, which is a considerable difference for hardcore gamers. For complete results please click on the performance links above and below this review.

Conclusion

The question everyone has been asking is which graphics card is the best, the Nvidia 6800 Ultra or the ATI X800 XT. There is no real answer to this. The differences in performance between the two chips are so small that it is rarely noticeable by the average gamer, but Nvidia appears to hold a slight lead.  If you have a beefy power supply that puts out more than 480-watts of power, go with the MSI NX6800 Ultra which is based on the Nvidia 6800 chip. But if you are a loyal ATI fan or you are worried about not having enough power to run the Nvidia based card, then the MSI RX800 is the card for you. Either way, you will not be disappointed by what you get.

If you are a die-hard gamer and prefer to stick with the PCI-Express based motherboards, you might want to consider getting two Nvidia 6800 Ultra cards and running them in SLI-mode via Asus’s A8N-SLI Deluxe motherboard. While the cost of two video cards and a dual PCI-Express motherboard is expensive, the reward means frame rates that are nearly double what any single ATI or Nvidia card can produce.

Once again MSI has gone over-the-top and provided a product that has exceeded our expectations. The RX800 is an incredible video card and one that should last for quite some time. The software package included with the RX800 is second-to-none and simply the best on the market. You will not be disappointed spending the premium price for this PCI-Express video card.