Summary: Sporting DVI and VGA connections, ATI's ALL-IN-WONDER X800 XT is a multimedia powerhouse. The board features ATI's X800 XT AGP graphics core and is outfitted with a new silicon tuner from Microtune for TV tuning. As an AIW board, the AIW X800 XT also supports VIVO, and can act as a personal video recorder, just like a TiVo, and with its single slot cooler, it's ready for use in an HTPC. See what other improvements ATI has incorporated into what may be their last AGP-based AIW board in today's review!
It has been over 18 months since we last reviewed a high-end ALL-IN-WONDER card, the ALL-IN-WONDER 9800 PRO, which was first announced in June 2003. Over the year and a half since the ALL-IN-WONDER 9800 PRO was first launched, ATI has announced other high-end DirectX 9 VPUs, such as the RADEON 9800 XT, but ATIís multimedia division passed up this opportunity, opting instead to tackle other concerns.
First ATI addressed critics by providing dual display capability in the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO. The AIW 9600 PRO was the first WONDER product to support two display connections, by providing two VGA connections on an external video dongle. ATI then followed that product up with the less expensive ALL-IN-WONDER 9600. The AIW 9600 shipped with many of the same features found in AIW 9600 PRO, including dual display capability, only it shipped at slower clock speeds and with ATIís older REMOTE WONDER remote control unit, rather than the newer, more advanced REMOTE WONDER II found in the AIW 9600 PRO. ATI also produced an even lower cost AIW card, the ALL-IN-WONDER 9200, and ultimately replaced the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO with the faster ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XT, but even as these new cards were being released, the ALL-IN-WONDER 9800 PRO remained unchanged at the high-end of ATIís ALL-IN-WONDER lineup.
It was beginning to look as if ATI had forgotten the high-end market.
Then, last September ATI announced a new ALL-IN-WONDER product to replace the aging ALL-IN-WONDER 9800 PRO at the high-end of the WONDER lineup, the ALL-IN-WONDER X800 XT. The AIW X800 XT was the worldís first 16-pipeline multimedia card, but that wasnít the only first for the AIW X800 XT. It was also the first AIW card to feature DVI and VGA capability, resolving one of the major criticisms of the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 products, and features TV tuning and FM radio capability. ATI also updated the cardís software suite by including a copy of Pinnacle Studio 9, previous AIW cards shipped with Pinnacle Studio 8. The ALL-IN-WONDER X800 XT essentially combined the best of both worlds for hardware enthusiasts. You had the cutting-edge performance of ATIís X800 VPU merged with the multimedia and DVD playback capabilities ATI is well known and respected for.
This all sounds good donít you think? The only problem is, like the desktop divisionís X800 XT products, the multimedia team at ATI announced the AIW X800 XT well before cards were actually available at retail. October passed and not a single card could be found on store shelves. Then November. And December...Youíre beginning to get the picture right? It was beginning to look as if the ALL-IN-WONDER 9800 PRO was never going to be replaced.
Then, around the beginning of this month, the first ALL-IN-WONDER X800 XT cards began to appear at retail stores online. Finally things were beginning to look up for multimedia enthusiasts.
ATIís ALL-IN-WONDER X800 XT shares the exact same R420 core that is found on the desktop X800 XT. No compromises are made in performance, as the graphics core shares the same 16 pixel pipeline architecture as the X800 XT running at 500MHz, while the board ships with 256MB of GDDR3 memory also operating at 500MHz.
The X800 XT also incorporates ATIís 3Dc normal map compression technology, as well as support for ATIís newer 2.0b pixel shaders. The chief improvement in shader model 2.0b is increased instruction count, which goes from 160 instructions in RADEON 9800ís 2.0 shaders to 1,536 in 2.0b. ATI has also increased the number of temporary registers to 32 (from 12 in 2.0) and added a facing register. We saw the benefits of 2.0b shaders in Part 4 of our 3D Performance with Far Cry series of articles, where enabling the new shader instructions yielded performance improvements of up to 10-20% in some cases.
Like the X800 XT AGP, the ALL-IN-WONDER X800 XT is made available for the AGP interface only. So far, ATI hasnít announced plans for a PCI Express-based X800 XT or X850 XT ALL-IN-WONDER part. This is actually pretty surprising to us considering the multitude of PCI Express products ATI has announced lately.
ALL-IN-WONDER X800 XT boards will retail for $499, $50 more than a more conventional desktop RADEON X800 XT AGP. When you consider the extra features ATI provides with the ALL-IN-WONDER, such as the FM and TV tuning capabilities, REMOTE WONDER II remote control unit, VIVO, and additional software, this $50 premium is a pretty trivial amount.
Just below the AIW X800 XT lies the ALL-IN-WONDER 9800 PRO, whose MSRP has been dropped from $399 to $299. Considering the performance this board delivers, this isnít a bad price, but with ATI recently selling RADEON 9800 PROs for $199, the premium you pay for AIW functionality is a little higher in comparison to the AIW X800 XT at $100. Just below the ALL-IN-WONDER 9800 PRO is the AIW 9600, which retails for $199, while the AIW 9200 is ATIís baseline ALL-IN-WONDER product at $149 MSRP. TV WONDER products range from the TV WONDER PRO at $69 to the THEATER 550 PRO-based TV WONDER ELITE at $149. Also priced at $149 is the HDTV WONDER.
On the PCI Express side, ATIís sole offering is the ALL-IN-WONDER X600 PRO, which retails for $249. The AIW X600 PRO supports many of the same features that are found in the AIW X800 XT, such as DVI and VGA display capability, TV and FM tuning, and ATIís new silicon tunerÖ
New silicon tuner
If youíve seen previous ALL-IN-WONDER cards, youíve no doubt noticed the huge Philips TV tuner ATI typically integrates on their cards. The old tuners didnít generate a lot of heat, and were quite responsive, switching channels quite rapidly, but they took up an enormous amount of real estate on the AIW board, swamping the entire upper portion of the PCB in most cases.
The ALL-IN-WONDER X800 XT was the first AIW card ATI announced to use a new silicon tuner from Microtune, the MT2050, which sits underneath a gold-plated casing. The new tuner requires minimal external components, and contains fewer parts -- in turn allowing it to consumer less power and generate less heat. According to ATI, the MT2050 is able to generate a power saving of 11% over older tuners, while requiring 20% less surface area.
With graphics cores constantly running faster and requiring more power, larger, more elaborate cooling is often required, as you can see on todayís high-end graphics cards. They also require more power circuitry. By implementing a smaller, more power-efficient tuner into the AIW line, ATI can integrate more features on their AIW cards, even as they continue to scale to higher clock speeds with more memory. For instance, both DVI and VGA connectors are available on the back plate of the AIW X800 XT and AIW X600 PRO, both of which use the new Microtune tuner.
The new tuner delivers good visual quality, although we did notice that it isnít as responsive as the Philips tuner ATI used previously. Whereas the old tuner was flick-of-a-light quick when changing channels, thereís a definite two second pause when you change channels with the MT2050. If youíre familiar with older ALL-IN-WONDER and TV WONDER products that used the Philips tuner, youíll definitely notice the difference in performance.
First launched with the ALL-IN-WONDER 9700 PRO nearly four years ago, the THEATER 200 chip is now a staple of ATIís WONDER products, and is the backbone of the AIW X800 XTís multimedia capability. The THEATER 200 chip receives the signals from the Microtune tuner chip, where it is then passed through one of the the THEATER 200ís two 12-bit analog-to-digital converters (many competing solutions use 9-bit ADCs). From the ADC, the signal is passed to the THEATER 200ís 2D 3-line comb filter, through the video scaler, and ultimately passed on to your monitor. The chip also handles all audio duties, performing audio demodulation and stereo decoding.
The input/output dongles look similar to dominos, and have black plastic feet, these feet allows the dongles to be stacked on top of one another, saving desk space. The input dongle provides 1 S-Video connection, 1 composite, and 2 RCA stereo audio connections, while the output connection dongle features 1 S/PDIF, 1 S-Video, 1 composite, and 2 RCA stereo audio connections.
Finally, for HDTV users, ATI also includes a third dongle with component video output connections (1 Y, 1 Pr, 1 Pb, 1 S/PDIF, 2 RCA stereo) for hooking your ALL-IN-WONDER X800 XT up to a high definition display.
As an added backup, ATI also ships the ALL-IN-WONDER X800 XT with conventional S-Video and composite video cables.
REMOTE WONDER II
ATI bundles the ALL-IN-WONDER X800 XT with their newer REMOTE WONDER II remote control unit. The most obvious difference between the two remotes is obviously size Ė REMOTE WONDER II is considerably larger Ė but there are also numerous differences underneath the skin of the newer ATI remote.
For starters, REMOTE WONDER II has greater range than the original REMOTE WONDER, ATI claims that distances have been increased to over 60 feet. Like the original REMOTE WONDER unit, REMOTE WONDER II is a radio frequency remote, so line-of-sight isnít required to change channels, or any of the remoteís other functions (which are numerous), the remoteís signal can even penetrate walls! Because of this, those of you in dorm rooms or apartments with other AIW users nearby can program the remoteís signal for your specific PC.
The new REMOTE WONDER II chassis is longer than REMOTE WONDER, yet thinner. In addition, the buttons are much less spongy, one of our chief criticisms with the original REMOTE WONDER unit. ATI has also added four auxiliary buttons, these buttons can be used to control whatever devices the user defines and, as an added bonus, are backlit for viewing in the dark. ATI has made a number of changes to the button layout, some we like, and some changes we donít. For instance, the programmable buttons C, D, E, and F, are located awfully close to the rewind, play, and fast forward buttons Ė you could easily hit the wrong button by mistake. On the other hand, the new thumbpad used on the REMOTE WONDER II for mouse control provides more tactile feedback, making controlling the mouse slightly easier.
Arguably the biggest downside to REMOTE WONDER II however is its new USB controller: itís massive! Whereas the original REMOTE WONDER featured a fairly small pod, REMOTE WONDER IIís USB pod is quite large and will eat up more space on your desk. On the top of the unit is a short, yet sturdy antenna.
For starters, the ALL-IN-WONDER X800 XT departs from ATI tradition, trading ATIís trademark red PCB for a purple one. We actually like the new color the board is decked out in. Youíll also note the boardís gold-colored aluminum heatsinks for the VPUís heatsink and power circuitry, as well as the gold-plated Microtune TV tuner.
The VPUís heatsink is larger than the stock heatsink ATI uses on their desktop RADEON X800 cards, covering both the VPU and the cardís memory (although the memory modules on the underside of the card arenít cooled), ATI then tops the heatsink off with a mean-looking Gryphon.
If you look on the top right corner of the board, youíll notice that due to space constrictions, the 4-pin Molex power connector ATI uses on their X800 cards is swapped out for a floppy drive connector, just like the ALL-IN-WONDER 9800 and older RADEON 9500/9700 cards. If you recall, ATI switched to Molex power connectors for enhanced durability, one downside of the floppy connectors that were used is that they can be damaged when the power cable is pulled out. For instance, one of the four pins can be bent off. Based on the amount of space ATI uses for their Molex connector on the X800 XT AGP, our guess is that ATI simply ran out of space for the AIW X800 XTís power connector.
A quick glance at the back plate of the AIW X800 XT reveals the boardís DVI and VGA connections. The lack of a DVI option for AIW 9600/9600 PRO/XT was a big disappointment for a lot of enthusiasts, as flat panels are really growing in popularity. ATIís argument was that the mainstream and value users that the AIW 9600 family was targeted for likely donít have a pricier DVI-capable display, obviously this argument couldnít be used for a $500 AIW X800 XT card, so weíre glad to see ATI incorporate connections for both displays. Strangely enough however, ATI doesnít include a DVI adapter in the ALL-IN-WONDER X800 XTís packaging.
Upon opening the ALL-IN-WONDER X800 XTís box, youíll be greeted by a plethora of cables, and of course the input/output dongles we mentioned previously, but donít let this intimidate you, as installation of the card and getting it up and running for TV watching is a snap. Simply plug the card in, hook up the mini AV out cable (the connector rests just above the DVI connector), plug in your coaxial connections for the FM tuner (the FM antenna is provided in the box) and your cable provider, and hook up the appropriate input/output dongles, as well as the pass through cable for audio. Once thatís done, boot up the computer, load all drivers and software programs included on the CATALYST CD, reboot, and youíre all done! The whole process shouldnít take more than 15 minutes from beginning to end (depending on the speed of your computer), once youíre done, ATIís TV tuner software will automatically scan for all your available channels, while Gemstarís GUIDE PLUS software will download local TV listings for your area.
All the multimedia hardware in the world means nothing if you donít have a well thought out user interface to interact with it. ATIís Multimedia Center 9.0x is that critical piece, with dedicated applications for TV viewing, listening to the FM radio, timeshifting, DVD/CD/VCD playback, and of course the TV listings. The feature most end users talk about first though is the TV player.
Watching TV on your PC
Arguably the feature that has probably earned ATIís TV player the most press is THRUVIEW. With THRUVIEW, you can set your TV playback as a transparent desktop: television stations literally appear underneath the application youíre working on! The level of transparency can then be set to any level you wish, to make it more comfortable for your eyes.
Like previous AIW products, the AIW X800 XT can receive up to 125 television stations or 70 antenna channels, and is highly flexible. For instance, with the channel surf feature, you can browse through multiple television channels simultaneously at the click of a button. A number of thumbnails are presented, each representing a different channel; these thumbnails take snapshots of each station, and are updated regularly. To select a channel, simply click it to appear in your display.
Another feature the TV player supports is mulTView. With this feature, you can record television programming on one channel, while watching another, or watch two distinct stations at once for picture-in-picture support. Just drop in a second compatible TV tuning card (like ATIís TV WONDER) and mulTView kicks in.
Concerned parents will also be glad to know that the ALL-IN-WONDER X800 XT offers parental controls in the form of channel lockout. With this feature you can block out specific programs at certain times, which you can later unlock with a password. This provides peace of mind for parents that canít monitor their children at all times.
Multimedia Center also has built-in personal video recording capabilities (timeshifting), which allows end users to pause live TV, then rewind or fast forward through the broadcast, just like a TiVo. ATI refers to this feature as TV-ON-DEMAND. This feature is integrated effortlessly into the REMOTE WONDER II remote control unit, simply press the record button and step away for a few hours. Once you get back, you can watch the portion you missed, or fast-forward to skip to another section of the programming. If you wish to jump straight to the live broadcast you can do that as well. All major file types are supported, including MPEG-1, MPEG-2, AVI, Windows Media, and ATIís own proprietary VCR format. You simply predefine the recording settings youíd like (a number of recording presets are available), and Multimedia Center does the rest. Timeshifting is also supported by the FM tuner as well, if thereís a show on the radio youíd like to record. The radio player itself supports up to 10 radio station presets. The FM player also comes with built-in alarm and sleep settings, just like your standard alarm clock in your bedroom.
Integrated seamlessly into ATIís MultiMedia Center software is Gemstarís GUIDE PLUS+ electronic programming guide. GUIDE PLUS+ provides all the programming data youíd associate with your local TV guide. Not only does GUIDE PLUS provide basic programming information such as date and time, it also provides data on the individual episodes (where available) such as the storyline and actors featured in that episode.
You can also use GUIDE PLUS+ to search for specific television shows, genres, or actors. Simply type in the show youíre interested in and GUIDE PLUS+ will show you all channels and times that show will appear for that week. With SCHEDULE+ you can then record all those episodes, or an entire seasonís worth of programming. GUIDE PLUS+ is integrated directly into the TV player, so if you want to record a particular show, simply press the record button and the show you selected will be recorded to your hard drive based on the quality level youíve predefined.
IL-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles (The Black Death track)
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB - OpenGL
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB - OpenGL
Far Cry Ė Direct3D
Far Cry Ė Direct3D
Far Cry Ė Direct3D
Far Cry Ė Direct3D
DOOM 3 Ė OpenGL
DOOM 3 Ė OpenGL
Half-Life 2 Ė Direct3D
Half-Life 2 Ė Direct3D
Performance: With ATIís RADEON X800 XT chip providing the AIW X800 XTís brawn and 256MB of GDDR3 memory running at 500MHz, the ALL-IN-WONDER X800 XT delivers more than enough performance to play all of todayís latest games with excellent performance Ė even when all the video options are cranked to their maximums with AA and AF turned on. Just look at our 1600x1200 performance results with cutting edge titles such as Half-Life 2, Far Cry, DOOM 3, and Chronicles of Riddick for proof. This card is up to the task of handling anything a gamer will throw at it.
TV tuner performance: The Microtune TV tuner ATI has implemented for the AIW X800 XT is considerably smaller than its predecessor; the difference in size between the two is actually pretty remarkable, but this does apparently come at a cost: performance. Whereas the old Philips tuner was crisp and responsive (faster than the tuner used in many TVs), the new Microtune TV tuner is definitely a little on the slow side. If youíve grown used to the speed of your TV WONDER or ALL-IN-WONDER card, youíll immediately notice the difference in performance between the two tuners. This is really the only major weakness of the AIW X800 XT.
|© Copyright 2003 FS Media, Inc.|