Summary: With its powerful 325MHz core and 620MHz memory subsystem, the RADEON 9700 PRO is the most powerful graphics card we've tested. But how has ATI's driver development matured and what about the AGP 8x issues that have been reported? We discuss these topics, overclocking, and more in our RADEON 9700 PRO review, check it out!
It has been just over two months since we brought you our initial preview of the RADEON 9700 PRO with benchmarks, as you can imagine quite a few developments have occurred since then.
Most importantly, RADEON 9700 PRO boards have hit retail shelves. Some of you reading this article may already have your RADEON 9700 PRO, or perhaps it’s on the way. In fact, not only are ATI RADEON 9700 PRO boards hitting stores, third-party manufacturers boards are also available. We’ll be bringing you reviews of these boards in the coming weeks.
However, the key reason we held off on reviewing the RADEON 9700 PRO back in August was because we wanted to test the board under multiple system configurations. Back in August AGP 8x platforms weren’t available to test the RADEON 9700 PRO’s prowess and compatibility, now we’ve got AGP 8x platforms based on chipsets from VIA and SiS, with Intel’s AGP 8x chipset “Granite Bay” on the brink of release. We also wanted to test the RADEON 9700 PRO extensively on the Athlon platform. We explored this aspect last month when we tested the RADEON 9700 PRO on Athlon and Athlon XP processors ranging from 1-2GHz.
Now that we’ve spent more time with the RADEON 9700 PRO, we feel it’s time to address all of these topics and more in an official review. Lets get started.
First, we’ve already covered the features of the RADEON 9700 PRO core in greater detail in our preview article, so if you’d like to read up on what makes it so special, please refer back to that article as we devoted a considerable amount of time to that topic. We’ll still go over the features in this article as well but we’d rather devote more time to the RADEON 9700 PRO experience itself, rather than discuss specs.
SIDEBAR: ATI RADEON 9700 PRO Product page
As the world’s first DirectX 9 graphics accelerator, it goes without saying that the RADEON 9700 PRO is in a class of its own. However, with DirectX 9 still nonexistent, it’s also very apparent that we won’t be seeing any DirectX 9 titles shipping this year. With this in mind, ATI has designed the RADEON 9700 PRO to be the ultimate DirectX 7/8 graphics card. This will likely make it amongst the last of the “hybrid” cards that fuse the fixed function pipelines needed for pre-DirectX 8 games (Quake 3 being one of the most popular) with the programmable pixel and vertex shaders we’ve come to know and love so much.
We’ve included this handy chart that sums up pretty succinctly how RADEON 9700 PRO compares to NVIDIA’s GeForce4 Ti 4600 on paper, we’ll see how it performs a little bit later in our actual benchmark tests:
The key specs that really stand out on the RADEON 9700 PRO is its eight-pixel pipeline architecture, double that of anything else currently available on the market. When combined with the RADEON 9700 PRO’s 325MHz core, this gives the RADEON 9700 PRO a fill-rate of 2.6 billion pixels per second, over twice that of GeForce4 Ti 4600. Equally impressive is its 256-bit memory interface, another industry first. As a result, memory bandwidth tops out at just under 20GB/sec, another doubling in comparison to GeForce4 Ti 4600.
What does this mean to today’s games? With so much bandwidth available to the RADEON 9700 PRO’s powerful 3D core, gamers should have no problems cranking up the screen resolution while at the same time turning on eye candy goodies such as anisotropic filtering and anti-aliasing. Even with the screen resolution cranked up to 1600x1200, we were still able to break 100 frames per second in Quake 3 with 4x AA enabled and 8x anisotropic filtering in our tests.
Again, this is just a small selection of what makes the RADEON 9700 PRO so special, particularly relating to today’s games. It also supports next generation features such as 2.0 pixel and vertex shaders, and 128-bit floating-point data precision, resulting in scenes with high-fidelity, vibrant color ranges. We know the cliché gets used a lot, but the end result is extremely lifelike images, rivaling those found in the movie industry. In fact ATI has already demonstrated RADEON 9700 PRO rendering scenes from the movie Lord of the Rings.
SIDEBAR: ATI has also posted pictures from their RADEON 9000/9700 launch event in San Francisco on their website.
That brings us to our next topic of discussion, visual quality. For those of you who are no doubt wondering, in terms of 2D visual quality, the RADEON 9700 PRO surpasses the GeForce4 Ti 4600 reference board. Text is considerably sharper and colors are livelier, resulting in a clear, sharp desktop.
Keep in mind that this is entirely subjective, but in our opinion it doesn’t take a magnifying glass or a 24” monitor to see the difference. Even with the 17” Samsung SyncMaster 700NFs that we use on the test beds (that are capable of resolutions up to 1600x1200) we could see the difference at resolutions as low as 1024x768. Therefore we can say with a fair amount of certainty that end users will appreciate the 2D visuals the RADEON 9700 PRO brings to the table.
In terms of 3D visuals, the RADEON 9700 PRO is just as eager to please. For anti-aliasing (AA), ATI has responded to consumer requests by offering two forms of anti-aliasing with the RADEON 9700 PRO: multi-sampling and super-sampling. If you recall, the RADEON 8500 employed the latter method, super-sampling, specifically rotated-grid super-sampling and programmable jittered super-sampling.
One area where ATI does have a distinct advantage over NVIDIA however is in its anisotropic filtering (AF). Not only is ATI’s AF implementation more powerful (supporting modes of 2, 4, 8, or 16 texture samples per pixel) it’s also more flexible: for end users who want the ultimate in visual quality, trilinear samples are taken at the expense of some performance when anisotropic filtering is running with the “quality” setting enabled. If more performance is desired, the “performance” setting is also available, which uses bilinear samples.
SIDEBAR: Quality is the default AF setting
ATI’s driver development team has made tremendous strides the past 12 months. It wasn’t too long ago that the RADEON 8500’s drivers were preventing it from keeping up with GeForce3, now we’re truly seeing the card’s potential, as it outperforms GeForce3 in most cases.
With 110 million transistors (twice that of Intel’s Northwood Pentium 4 CPU) packed inside a 0.15-micron core, it’s no surprise that the RADEON 9700 PRO core can get pretty hot. ATI utilizes flip-chip packaging to help combat this, but heat is still very present. It isn’t just the graphics core itself that gets hot, it’s the entire card: the 9700 PRO chip, the memory chips, the PCB, and especially the heat spreader on the back of the board.
We test our systems in an open-air environment and even in this surrounding we could feel the warm air lingering around all sides of the RADEON 9700 PRO board. Therefore those of you with cramped system cases may want to optimize the airflow within your case to ensure reliable operation of your RADEON 9700 PRO.
As one of the world’s first AGP 8x accelerators, we were eager to test the RADEON 9700 PRO with VIA’s KT400 chipset for the Athlon platform and the SiS 648 chipset for the Pentium 4. While the KT400 motherboards we tested worked flawlessly with RADEON 9700 PRO, we can’t say that we encountered the same results with our motherboards based on the SiS 648 chipset, even SiS’ own reference motherboard refused to run reliably with RADEON 9700 PRO.
Regardless of the motherboard BIOS/driver combinations we attempted, we couldn’t get the system to run with the stability we’d consider satisfactory, much less reliable. Again, we witnessed this with multiple SiS 648 motherboards, not just the ASUS P4S8X (which has many documented cases of being incompatible). Therefore, we can’t recommend this particular hardware combination to our readers at this point.
3DMark 2001 - DirectX 8
GeForce4 Ti 4600 trails RADEON 9700 PRO by six percent at low resolutions in 3DMark 2001, but by the time the screen resolution is increased to 1280x1024, the RADEON 9700 PRO is able to open up the gap to 14% thanks to its greater memory bandwidth.
3DMark 2001 - Car Chase
3DMark 2001 - Dragothic
3DMark 2001 - Lobby
3DMark 2001 - Nature
Serious Sam 2 - OpenGL
Lower resolutions tend to favor the other graphics cards in Serious Sam, RADEON 9700 PRO finishes dead last. But of course, if you’re intent on purchasing a RADEON 9700 PRO, you won’t be held to 800x600, you’ll be gaming at 1600x1200. And at that resolution, the RADEON 9700 PRO outperformed GeForce4 Ti 4600 by 11%.
Quake III - High Quality
With its greater fill-rate and memory bandwidth, RADEON 9700 PRO is able to outshine GeForce4 Ti 4600 at high resolutions. At 1600x1200, the RADEON 9700 PRO outran the Ti 4600 by 21%.
Jedi Knight II
Jedi Knight II is more CPU-bound than the other games we’ve tested with, from resolutions of 800x600 to 1600x1200 the frame rate hardly changes! We do see the RADEON 9700 PRO outgunning the GeForce4 Ti 4600 by 12% at 1600x1200.
Unreal Tournament 2003 demo - flyby
Unreal Tournament is a little more demanding than the other games we’ve tested with, and as such it’s able to separate itself from GeForce4 Ti 4600 a little more than in other tests. The margin is 29% at 1600x1200.
Quake III – High Quality
Under the greater demands of 2x anti-aliasing, RADEON 9700 PRO is able to pull away from GeForce4 Ti 4600 even more than in Unreal Tournament; the cards are separated by 35%. RADEON 9700 PRO runs over 1.5 times faster than GeForce4 Ti 4600.
Quake III – High Quality
It’s amazing to see the RADEON 9700 PRO dishing out over 100 frames per second at 1600x1200 with 4x AA enabled; that is 2.5 times more performance than GeForce4 Ti 4600! Finally 4xAA can finally be considered playable regardless of screen resolution.
Quake III – High Quality
The performance hit of 2x anisotropic filtering is considerably smaller with RADEON 9700 PRO than GeForce4 Ti 4600. At 1024x768 we see a performance hit of less than one percentage point at 1024x768 (compared to 13% for GeForce4 Ti 4600) and opens up to three percent at 1600x1200.
Quake III – High Quality
Going up to 8x anisotropic filtering, the performance hit at lower resolutions is marginal in comparison to 2x aniso. The margins stay the same until we hit 1600x1200, where the performance impact is 6%. In comparison, GeForce4 Ti 4600 loses 36% of its performance.
Quake III – High Quality
With 4xAA and 8x aniso turned on, we’re still getting very playable frame rates out of the RADEON 9700 PRO at 1600x1200. RADEON 9700 PRO boasts 2.5 times more performance than GeForce4 Ti 4600.
Teething problems aside, we still can’t help but be excited about ATI’s RADEON 9700 PRO. Not only is it the fastest graphics card on the planet, it also boasts the best-looking image quality.
The biggest complaint most of you probably have with the RADEON 9700 PRO is its $399 price tag. Fortunately, ATI hears you. While we can’t reveal much today, soon we will be able to unveil ATI’s plans to address this topic. We can tell you that RADEON 9700 and RADEON 9500/9500 PRO cards will be released shortly at very aggressive price points and offering very compelling feature sets. NVIDIA’s GeForce4 Ti 4200 and Ti 4600 are priced in a class of their own today, but ATI won’t leave these segments to NVIDIA alone for much longer.
|© Copyright 2003 FS Media, Inc.|