ATI's latest RADEONs
Designing an entirely new graphics core from the ground up is an expensive, time-consuming process that involves an extensive amount of planning, talented engineering, good timing, and a little bit of luck. Design teams can be established years in advance of shipping the final product and must rely on accurate simulators to accomplish much of their work.
Because of these factors, the introduction of a true next generation graphics core only occurs roughly once every 15 months (although this widely varies for each manufacturer); weíve all witnessed the 24-month delay between GeForce3 and GeForce FX just recently.
To bring new products to market more quickly, interim updates are introduced. NVIDIA in particular is famous for these incremental products: the GeForce3 for example had two refreshes (the GeForce3 Titanium family and later, GeForce4) before an entirely new core was introduced in the form of GeForce FX. These updated products can range from a simple clock speed increase to a product thatís based on an enhanced design and built with a new manufacturing process.
Up until the ArtX acquisition, ATI had pretty limited experience with this business model. ATIís Rage Fury MAXX fused two Rage Fury 128 Pro cores together, but its high price tag and mediocre performance prevented it from gaining widespread acceptance in the market. Under the direction of current President Dave Orton however, things rapidly changed. The RADEON 7500 was introduced as a follow-up to RADEON but since it launched with RADEON 8500, it wasnít a highly visible launch. And while rumors of a RADEON 8500 refresh with higher clock speeds were rampant, RADEON 8500LE was the only product that ultimately surfaced.
Then summer 2002 arrived and ATI launched a slew of new products. On the high-end, ATI had the RADEON 9700 PRO. By now, we all know how this product turned out. ATI was first to market with 2.0 pixel and vertex shaders; RADEON 9700 PRO also boasted support of 128-bit floating-point data formats for increased precision and visual fidelity. ATIís refresh part for the summer was the RADEON 9000 family, essentially a cost-reduced version of the RADEON 8500 that was introduced to bring DirectX 8 to the value segment of the graphics market. From top to bottom, ATI was king.
This brings us to 2003. NVIDIA still hasnít shipped sufficient quantities of its GeForce FX 5800 family, leaving its partners to find new ways to sell what are essentially 12-month old GeForce4 products. GeForce FX 5600 and FX 5200 have just recently hit retail shelves, but until GeForce FX 5900 arrives, NVIDIA still doesnít have a product in the high-end segment to compete with RADEON 9700 PRO. To further strengthen its position, ATI has introduced its product refresh, the RADEON 9800 PRO. The RADEON 9800 PRO boasts higher clock speeds and a few internal improvements to further increase its performance.