ATI Technologies has launched its next-generation X800 graphics processor, giving gamers and PC enthusiasts another choice for advanced PC graphics technology.

The Radeon X800 chip is available in two graphics cards, the high-end Radeon X800 XT Platinum and the Radeon X800 Pro. The X800 XT Platinum is scheduled to ship later in May for a suggested retail price of $499 (£278), and the X800 Pro is available now from ATI and through retailers for a suggested retail price of $399 (£222).

The new graphics cards will support GDDR3 (graphics double data rate 3) memory and offer a greater number of pixel pipelines and faster clock rates than their predecessors, according to ATI. The X800 XT Platinum runs at 520MHz and offers 16 pixel pipelines, while the X800 Pro runs at 475MHz and offers 12 pixel pipelines.

Most PC users don't require the high-end graphics performance provided by ATI's X800 chips and rival Nvidia's new GeForce 6800 chips. But the gaming community is a highly influential group of PC users, and both PC and graphics processor companies compete vigorously for market share within that group.

Nvidia announced the GeForce 6800 chips in April, but graphics cards with the chips are not expected to ship until later in May. A number of third-party reviews were released on Tuesday comparing ATI's new chips with Nvidia's products. While most reviewers declared performance of the two products similar depending on the game or benchmark, several reviewers such as and The Tech Report gave the nod to ATI's technology.

However, Nvidia's chips support Shader Model 3.0, an advanced method of rendering life-like fleshtones and other complex graphics. Shader Model 3.0 is part of Microsoft Corp.'s DirectX 9.0 graphics applications programming interfaces, and several games are under development that will take advantage of the performance enabled by Shader Model 3.0 when they are released, according to Nvidia.

ATI's new chips support Shader Model 2.0, which is the standard for high-end graphics performances in currently available games and games that will be released in the near future. Games that take advantage of 3.0 won’t appear for at least another nine months. By that time, ATI expects to have released yet another graphics chip.