256MB vs. 512MB - The Real World Performance Difference

More local GPU memory is never a bad thing, but it must be taken advantage of to be worth its high cost.  That means we need games with larger textures and higher detail levels to truly require 512MB cards, but given that the majority of gamers still have 64MB or less on their graphics cards - it's going to be a while before 512MB is necessary.  Game developers are notorious for developing "for the masses" and thus, will spend very little time on that which can only be taken advantage of by owners of $500+ graphics cards, today's 512MB card included. 

ATI's own marketing literature claims that the X800 XL 512MB offers up to a 40% performance increase over the 256MB X800 XL...at 1600 x 1200, with 6X anti-aliasing and 16X anisotropic filtering enabled.  The problem is that at such high resolutions with AA/AF cranked up, the X800 XL doesn't have the fill rate or the memory bandwidth to offer reasonable frame rates in most games, which is why we find the X800 XL 512MB to be more of a mismatch than anything else.  A faster GPU with more memory bandwidth would be able to offer more real world benefit when coupled with 512MB of memory than the X800 XL. 

That being said, let's look at the performance breakdown for the X800 XL 256MB vs. X800 XL 512MB at 1600 x 1200 with 4X AA and 8X AF enabled - pretty aggressive settings for the X800 XL to begin with.

As you can see, there is less than a 1% performance advantage to having 512MB with the X800 XL, even at these aggressive settings in four of the five benchmarks.  In Half Life 2, the 512MB card actually offers a fairly reasonable 11% increase in performance, but in the other games, the performance advantage is nothing.  The other thing to keep in mind is that 1600x1200 with 4X AA and 8X AF enabled is not the sweet spot for the X800 XL. In Chronicles of Riddick, for example, the performance offered at these settings just isn't smooth at all. 

The Half Life 2 performance boost is particularly interesting, but that was the only game we encountered where the performance boost was not only reasonable, but the game was also fairly smooth in actual game play.  However, at the price of the X800 XL 512MB, you are better off just purchasing an X850 XT and getting better performance across the board, including Half Life 2.

Although the single graph on this page pretty much tells the story of the X800 XL 512MB, we've included performance results from both X800 XL cards, the X850 XT as well as NVIDIA's GeForce 6800GT and 6800 Ultra on the coming pages, if you want to see things in perspective.  We included the X850 XT and 6800 Ultra in the comparisons because it is priced similarly to the X800 XL 512MB's suggested retail price.

The Test

AMD Athlon 64 Configuration

Athlon 64 4000+ Socket-939 CPU
2 x 512MB OCZ PC3200 EL Dual Channel DIMMs 2-2-2-10
ASUS nForce4 SLI Motherboard
ATI Catalyst 5.4 Drivers
NVIDIA 71.89 Drivers

Index Doom 3 Performance
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  • Rawz - Thursday, May 19, 2005 - link

    One game that could benefit from a 512 MB VRAM board is Everquest II. Currently, it is stated that no system setup avail. today can run the game, playble, with all its settings at maximum.
    I know mine can't(P4 2.8HT, 1GB PC3200 2.5 Corsair, Abit AI7 and MSI Radeon 9800Pro 128 - R360). No OC there.
    Could you set a test with that game? (There is a free trial for it, as it is a MMORPG )
    Reply
  • melgross - Sunday, May 08, 2005 - link

    Son of a N00b, none of these game cards work well as workstation cards.

    The $500 workstation cards from both ATI and Nvidia are two to three times fast with most operations than the equiv. price game cards.

    But they are much slower playing games.
    Reply
  • Murst - Sunday, May 08, 2005 - link

    Reading these posts was kinda funny.

    First of all, ATI wouldn't market a card just to test it. If ATI wants to test something, they can either evaluate it on a theoretical basis, or just develop several cards for their own use.

    There is a possibility that longhorn could take advantage of 512 MBs of vram. Especially with dual core processors coming out, multi tasking *may* compeletely change. Get 2 monitors, play two games on the same computer at the same time. Of course, GPUs will still need to advance more before playing 2 graphically intense games is possible on the same computer with a single graphics card (dual gpu maybe? =p ). Well, with that said, although longhorn may need 512 MBs, this card will certainly not be able to handle it.

    However, I bet this card will sell great. When some kid's mom will go to a store to buy the brat a brand new graphics card, she doesn't know what to pick. 9800, 6800, 5900, 6600, X800... that means absolutly nothing to MOST buyers. However, they see on the box that one card has 256MBs and another card has 512MBs. I'm sure most people will assume that more memory is better performance (hell, generally that is the case). So they'll buy this card, because that is the ONLY thing on a graphics card box that the general public can understand. Its a great tactic by ATI, and it will make them money. Its all about the labels on the box. 99.99% of the population has never seen or heard of benchmarks.
    Reply
  • Son of a N00b - Saturday, May 07, 2005 - link

    which there is, so there will be plenty of ppl that buy this card. Reply
  • xsilver - Friday, May 06, 2005 - link

    if there are people that buy the 9550 256mb and fx5500 256mb over a 9800pro/6600gt 128mb there will be people that buy this card Reply
  • Myrandex - Thursday, May 05, 2005 - link

    This makes sense from a manufacturing and business aspect. X800XLs are cheaper and easier to produce than X850XT's, and of course someone will buy the card. I don't know why y'all don't get on nvidia's case more for the FX5200 having 256MB in some cases (and derivatives of it, like the 5500). That is wayyyy more rediculous than 512MB on an X800XL. Heck about the only thing 3D that the 5200 card is made for running an OpenGL screensaver :P Reply
  • Peanya - Thursday, May 05, 2005 - link

    I do see a reason for this card, although I'd have to test it. I believe it's designed for specific games such as some popular on-line games like SWG and EQ. For the average gamer, this won't benefit at all. Oh well, I'm still happy with my 6800GT and my AMD64. I've never been a fan of ATI's drivers. Reply
  • PrinceXizor - Thursday, May 05, 2005 - link

    Also, oodles of VRAM is useful for multi-monitor use. Some testing scenarios that involve that would be much appreciated too.

    Workstation performance (Alibre Design is a MCAD package that is DirectX based not OpenGL optimized), multi-monitor support, multi-tasking video operations, Longhorn.

    Mostly though, I would like to see some multi-monitor and gaming benchmarks as these are the most likely to see performance gains. Just my $.02

    P-X
    Reply
  • Son of a N00b - Thursday, May 05, 2005 - link

    any benchmarks of these cards from a workstation standpoint? If ati was that dull enough to release a 512 X800 why not accidently release a card that can preform okay in workstation progs, without the hefty price of a worksation card? Hmm (especially with the nvidia cards, isnt the 6800ultra 512 the same as a quadro on the hardware end?) a soft mod BIOS flash could prove to be interesting?

    what do you think Anand?
    Reply
  • civilgeek - Thursday, May 05, 2005 - link

    This review tested games that are explicitly made for this round of 256 meg cards. Try games that our made for future cards... like several of the MMOs. For example EQII would be a prime example as I have not heard of a single machine being able to run the game on extreme settings with reasonable frame rates, even with 2 6800 gt cards in SLI. You need textures that are beyond todays round of games. Reply

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