ATI RADEON 9700/9500 Series Preview October 24, 2002 Brandon Bell
Summary: ATI's RADEON 9700 PRO is an excellent video card, but there aren't many of you who are willing to pay $400 for a graphics card. Knowing this, today ATI has introduced three new graphics products, at prices ranging from $179 to $299. Read all about them in today's article!
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When ATI launched the RADEON 9000/9000 PRO and RADEON 9700 PRO earlier this summer, they were unanimously heralded as the best products in their class by the media. Not only was ATI the first to market with a DirectX 8 accelerator in the value space, they’d also grabbed the performance thrown from NVIDIA, a spot NVIDIA had held for years.
But while the value sector the RADEON 9000 competes in is a huge market, margins are slim and competition is cutthroat. The RADEON 9700 PRO is without a doubt the king of the hill in its market, but lets face it, there aren’t many consumers out there willing to dish out $400 for a video card. Therefore, as successful as both product launches were, it goes without saying that ATI had left a huge hole in the mainstream segment. Some would say the gap between both products was large enough to guide a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier through.
We can say that in the past tense because today ATI is unveiling three new products that are intended to address this market. And by the looks of things, it certainly appears that ATI has executed once again.
When the RADEON 9700 was initially unveiled, the specs for the board were not final. ATI would only say that they were shooting for a core clock frequency greater than 300MHz, while they were demonstrating boards running at 325MHz. Eventually it was decided that a RADEON 9700 PRO model would be added to the product lineup, with a 325MHz core clock paired with 620MHz memory.
At the time we guessed that the announcement was hinting that ATI was having poor yields at 325MHz, and would therefore offer a limited number of RADEON 9700 PRO boards at 325MHz, with the bulk of their shipments being RADEON 9700 cards at a slower clock speed. However, it’s now two months later and not only are regular 9700 cards still nonexistent, we’ve also discovered that the RADEON 9700 PRO core is an excellent overclocker!
However, ATI knows that its customers want to see the RADEON 9700 at a lower price point. The ultra high-end market just isn’t large enough for ATI and its board partners. Therefore ATI has decided to release the RADEON 9700.
Like the RADEON 9000 and RADEON 9000 PRO, the only difference between the RADEON 9700 and RADEON 9700 PRO lies in its clock speed. While the RADEON 9700 PRO boasts a 325MHz core/620MHz memory combination, RADEON 9700 sports a 275MHz core clock paired with 540MHz memory.
SIDEBAR: The RADEON 9700 offers a fill-rate of 2.2Gpixels/sec
RADEON 9700/9500 PRO
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PRO versus non-PRO production
Besides the slower clock speeds, another difference between the RADEON 9700 and RADEON 9700 PRO is that the RADEON 9700 won’t be offered from ATI themselves, rather their board partners will be the sole manufacturers. ATI has decided to stick solely with “PRO” production, while its board manufacturers will produce both “PRO” and regular models.
This means that the only cards ATI will be manufacturing will be the RADEON 9000 PRO, RADEON 9500 PRO, and RADEON 9700 PRO. If you want a RADEON 9500 or RADEON 9700 for example, you’ll have to rely on one of ATI’s board partners such as Gigabyte or Powercolor. From a business standpoint, this strategy is very easy to understand. As yields on the entire RADEON 9x00 series are so good that ATI must feel it would rather stick with the PRO models, which offer a higher margin of profit. Meanwhile, third party manufacturers have a bigger market to play in, but it is much more price sensitive.
From the end user’s perspective, the RADEON 9700 is a very tempting offering. With its $299 MSRP, the RADEON 9700 is officially priced $100 less than the RADEON 9700 PRO, but offers much of the same compelling experience. With the known overclocking prowess of the RADEON 9700 chip, these cards could become very popular among the enthusiast community. And if a board manufacturer chooses to equip its RADEON 9700 product with the 2.2ns memory currently used on the RADEON 9700 PRO, you’d have a pretty sweet package that would be hard for any hardcore gamer to pass up.
RADEON 9700 cards should begin shipping from third party manufacturers later this month. We’ll definitely be watching these boards closely to see if any gems pop up.
RADEON 9500 PRO
One of the keys to the RADEON 9700 PRO’s impressive performance is its 256-bit memory interface, an industry first. However, implementing a 256-bit interface is by no means inexpensive. Therefore, in order to bring the RADEON 9500 series to market at a $200 price point, ATI has decided to narrow the bus width to 128 bits. This product is known as the RADEON 9500 PRO.
By moving from 256 bits to 128 bits, memory bandwidth falls to 8.8GB/sec (the RADEON 9500 PRO utilizes 540MHz DDR SDRAM), which compares favorably to GeForce4 Ti 4200’s 8.0GB/sec of bandwidth, RADEON 9500 PRO’s primary competitor. Like RADEON 9700, the RADEON 9500 PRO core operates at 275MHz and features an 8-pixel pipeline architecture. As a result, fill-rate is 2.2 Gigapixels/sec, just over twice that of GeForce4 Ti 4200’s 1.0 Gigapixels/sec (and the same as RADEON 9700).
SIDEBAR: The RADEON 9500 was first revealed during ATI’s launch event for the 9700, but details were left out.
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Pricing and Availability
In terms of availability, the RADEON 9500 PRO should begin hitting retail shelves next month, just in time for the Holiday shopping season. Officially the board will sell for $219 but ATI will be offering a $20 rebate on RADEON 9500 PRO boards bringing the price down to $199.
With third party manufacturers also producing RADEON 9500 PRO boards, we’re hoping boards will be priced even lower. Already RADEON 9700 PRO boards can be found for under $320. If street prices on RADEON 9500 PRO cards can hit the $150 mark by the end of this year, we see ATI and its partners selling lots of RADEON 9500 PRO products this Christmas.
The final product ATI is introducing today is the RADEON 9500. The RADEON 9500 shares the same clock frequencies as the RADEON 9500 PRO; the main difference lies in its 4-pixel pipeline architecture. As a result, fill rate drops from 2.2 Gigapixels/sec in RADEON 9500 PRO to 1.1 Gigapixels/sec in RADEON 9500.
One other key difference lies in RADEON 9500’s memory size. While RADEON 9500 PRO ships with 128MB of memory, RADEON 9500 cards will contain 64MB. And while it appears card manufacturers may deviate from ATI’s spec by utilizing 550MHz memory (10MHz faster than reference) on their RADEON 9500 products, we don’t expect them to offer cards with more than 64MB of memory. Quite simply, it doesn’t make sense to offer the additional memory with RADEON 9500 boards currently listed for $179, $20 less than RADEON 9500 PRO.
Perhaps at some point we may see 128MB RADEON 9500 boards, but we wouldn’t be surprised if most manufacturers decided to skimp on features with their RADEON 9500 parts in order to keep the price as small as possible. After all, in the segment the RADEON 9500 is competing in, price is very important. Like RADEON 9700, RADEON 9500 boards are expected to begin shipping later this month; Gigabyte has already announced their GV-R9500 card that is based on the RADEON 9500 core.
Testing the RADEON 9700
While we don’t have a RADEON 9700 card to test with today, we do have ATI’s RADEON 9700 PRO. And since the RADEON 9700 utilizes the same core as the RADEON 9700 PRO, all we have to do is adjust the clock speeds of the RADEON 9700 PRO to simulate the performance of RADEON 9700, giving you a glimpse of what RADEON 9700 will offer once it’s available.
SIDEBAR: Then, in August the first reports regarding the 9500 architecture leaked on the web.
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AMD Athlon XP 2600+
MSI KT4 Ultra
256MB Muskin PC3200 DDR SDRAM
ATI RADEON 9700 Driver version 188.8.131.5293
ATI RADEON 8500 Driver version 184.108.40.20666
NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4600
NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4200 Detonator Driver Version: 40.71
3D Mark 2001 Second Edition Build 330 – 32-bit color
Quake III: Arena version 1.17 – demo 001
Serious Sam: The Second Encounter – Elephant Atrium demo
Unreal Tournament 2003 – Flyby average
Jedi Knight II – jk2ffa demo
SIDEBAR: Finally, earlier this week Gigabyte jumped the gun by announcing its RADEON 9500 products.
3D Mark 2001
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3DMark 2001 - DirectX 8
SIDEBAR: Boards that are manufactured by ATI are marketed under the “Built by ATI” branding scheme.
3D Mark 2001 – Frame Rates
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3DMark 2001 - Car Chase
3DMark 2001 - Dragothic
3DMark 2001 - Lobby
3DMark 2001 - Nature
SIDEBAR: ATI-based boards that are produced by third-party manufacturers are branded as “Powered by ATI”.
Serious Sam 2
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Serious Sam 2 - OpenGL
SIDEBAR: ATI is also a player in the system chipset market. Unlike NVIDIA, they have a Pentium 4 bus license.
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Quake III - High Quality
SIDEBAR: With today’s announcements, ATI has also lowered the price on RADEON 8500LE to $99
Jedi Knight II - OpenGL
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Jedi Knight II
SIDEBAR: OEMs such as HP, Gateway, Dell, and NEC have all announced systems powered by RADEON 9x00 graphics.
Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo
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Unreal Tournament 2003 demo - flyby
SIDEBAR: ATI claims that 44% of the 3D market is composed of sub-$99 graphics cards.
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Quake III – High Quality
SIDEBAR: Of course, in a recent FS poll we discovered that most of you are looking to spend between $150 and $200 on your next graphics purchase.
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Quake III – High Quality
SIDEBAR: The RADEON 9700 core was designed by the same team that worked on Nintendo’s GameCube.
2x Anisotropic filtering
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Quake III – High Quality
SIDEBAR: To reassure end users, ATI will begin certifying third-party boards. Already 7 RADEON 9000 products have been certified by ATI.
8x Anisotropic filtering
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Quake III – High Quality
SIDEBAR: ATI actually manufactured a lot of the early third-party RADEON 9700 PRO boards.
4x AA/8x Aniso
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Quake III – High Quality
SIDEBAR: ATI recently demonstrated graphics cards using DDR-2 memory
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With today’s product announcements, ATI has one strong lineup this holiday season. RADEON 9700 PRO already owns the high-end, and soon RADEON 9700 and RADEON 9500/9500 PRO will hit the mainstream segment.
As far as the cards are concerned, the ones we’re really looking forward to are RADEON 9700 and RADEON 9500 PRO. At $299 MSRP, we see RADEON 9700 giving GeForce4 Ti 4600 lots of competition. RADEON 9700 offers more performance than GeForce4 Ti 4600 and boasts considerably more features.
Sure, it costs a little bit more, but when you consider the greater performance and longevity you’ll get out of RADEON 9700 the extra $50 or so you’ll spend on RADEON 9700 will be well worth it to many gamers. And if the RADEON 9700 turns out to be the overclocking champ we think it will be, we wouldn’t be surprised if the RADEON 9700 cut into lots of RADEON 9700 PRO sales. Remember the days of the Celeron 300A? For those of you who don’t know, Intel’s Celeron 300A processors could easily be overclocked to 450MHz, and offered similar performance to Intel’s 450MHz Pentium III, the fastest Intel processor available at the time. We see the RADEON 9700 doing similar things as the Celeron 300A, but for video cards instead.
The RADEON 9500 PRO should be an interesting competitor to GeForce4 Ti 4200. On paper it has twice the fill-rate of GeForce4 Ti 4200, and slightly more memory bandwidth. We wish ATI had gone with faster memory than 540MHz, as high-resolution scenarios may show slim gains over GeForce4 Ti 4200, but we’ll have to wait for final cards to come out before we come to any definite conclusions. The RADEON 9500 should probably be avoided unless it’s priced extremely aggressively. But at only $179 we see little reason to go with RADEON 9500, gamers should save the extra $20 you’ll need to pick up the RADEON 9500 PRO, we have a feeling you’ll be glad you did.
In any case, who would have thought we’d have $200 DirectX 9 graphics cards so soon? It took eight months for DirectX 8 cards to reach that price point with the release of GeForce3 Ti 200. ATI has accomplished this task for DirectX 9 in less than half the time. That’s a pretty remarkable task, and ATI deserves tons of credit for reaching this.
SIDEBAR: Are you lusting for a RADEON 9700 or RADEON 9500 PRO? Perhaps you’d like to get a RADEON 9700 PRO instead? Talk with others in the news comments!