Summary: With online prices currently below $250, ATI's RADEON 9800 is gaining a quick following among gamers on a budget. It ships with a 325MHz core and 128MB of DDR memory operating at 580MHz. In fact, many of these cards shipped with the same memory modules as the RADEON 9800 PRO flagship! In this article we've rounded up ATI cards ranging from the RADEON 9500 PRO all the way to the 256MB RADEON 9800 PRO -- seven cards total. See how they stack up against each other right here!
Since publishing our Unreal Tournament 2003 performance article, we’ve received numerous requests for more RADEON 9800 benchmarks, it turns out quite a few of you are currently debating between the RADEON 9700 PRO, RADEON 9800 and RADEON 9800 PRO! Therefore, we decided to include this trio of cards, as well as the RADEON 9700 and the PRO variants of the RADEON 9500 and RADEON 9600 in one handy comparison article. This should give you a very clear picture of where ATI’s latest mainstream and enthusiast cards stack up in comparison to each other.
Like our previous article, we’ll be using a RADEON 9800 PRO that has been clocked to the RADEON 9800’s stock levels of 325MHz core and 290MHz memory to simulate the RADEON 9800’s performance, and 275MHz core/270MHz memory for the RADEON 9700.
The RADEON 9800’s 325MHz core clock frequency matches the specs of the RADEON 9700 PRO, but with its 290MHz memory (580MHz effective), it’s slightly outshined by the 9700 PRO in peak memory bandwidth. Interestingly enough, some early 9800 cards shipped with the same 2.8ns memory modules present on the more expensive RADEON 9800 PRO. This is important for overclocking, as 2.8ns modules are rated for operation at higher clock speeds than modules of 3.0ns or more. Those end users who were lucky enough to get a 2.8ns card essentially got a RADEON 9800 PRO at the price level of a RADEON 9800!
Pricing and production, RADEON 9800SE
Besides the traditional players, Sapphire, Gigabyte, Powercolor and others, ATI has also dropped its hat into RADEON 9800. Previously ATI stuck to production of PRO cards only, leaving non-PRO production to its board partners under the “Powered by ATI” brand. On ATI’s website you can purchase the RADEON 9800 128MB for $299 (MSRP), while Price Watch listings for third party cards start for under $250. This makes the RADEON 9800 one of the best values around in the 3D market, and arguably the best value among cards over $200.
Nascar Racing 2003 Season (Bristol custom demo)
Performance of the RADEON 9800 is largely identical to the RADEON 9700 PRO in NASCAR Racing 2003 Season. We’re looking at a separation of less than one frame per second across all resolutions. In fact, even the RADEON 9700 isn’t far behind the 9800.
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB
With the physics calculations necessary for accurate flight modeling, flight simulators like IL-2 Sturmovik tend to rely heavily on the host processor, as you can see we’re entirely CPU-limited at low resolution. Even at 1600x1200, performance among the 256-bit cards is pretty close, so if you’re a flight sim fanatic you can see that you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck from a card like the RADEON 9700 or RADEON 9800, and on the low-end, the RADEON 9600 PRO is pretty tempting considering the sub-$150 price point these cards can currently be found for.
Quake III - OpenGL
The RADEON 9800 trails the RADEON 9700 PRO by roughly 3% in Quake 3, giving its elder quite a run for its money all the way up to 1600x1200. Also note the disparity between the 128-bit (9500/9600) and 256-bit cards, we’re looking at a 26% margin at 1600x1200. With supply drying up on the RADEON 9500 PRO, board prices are slowly rising back towards the $200 mark, making the RADEON 9700 a very tempting upgrade if you can afford it.
Unreal Tournament 2003 – Direct3D
We’re looking at a virtual dead heat in Unreal Tournament 2003. The RADEON 9700 PRO outruns it, but not by a noticeable difference. We also see the added memory of the 256MB RADEON 9800 PRO yielding a performance advantage for the first time at 1600x1200, although its frame rate of 46.1 frames per second will still be unacceptable for many UT2003 players.
Splinter Cell – Direct3D
The 9800 trails the 9700 PRO by essentially 3%, although the margin adjusts depending on the particular resolution. We’ve found that Splinter Cell (which is based on the UT engine) is a little more dependant on fill rate than Unreal Tournament 2003, which is basically what you’re seeing here.
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB
Under the greater demands of AA/AF, the RADEON 9800 is still able to keep up with the RADEON 9700 PRO. Clearly this is not one of those titles that you must have ATI’s flagship 256MB RADEON 9800 PRO for.
Unreal Tournament 2003
As you saw in our benchmarks, the RADEON 9800 is quite competitive with the RADEON 9700 PRO. It didn’t win any tests, but it didn’t fall drastically behind in any of them either. ATI has done a good job on delivering a card that offers RADEON 9700 PRO-like performance, and the real plus is the lower price these cards are selling for. It’s no wonder why these cards are so highly sought after.
You’ve got the enhanced memory controller present in the RADEON 9800 PRO as well as the new F-buffer technology that encompasses SMARTSHADER 2.1. This brings support of fragment shader programs of unlimited length to the RADEON 9800 family. Another real bonus is the RADEON 9800 core itself. ATI has optimized the core for higher clock frequencies, so end users shouldn’t have any problems dabbling with higher clock speeds when overclocking. If you’re lucky enough to get a card with 2.8ns or 3.0ns memory, you’ll probably want to at least overclock the memory to the RADEON 9700 PRO level of 620MHz.
The RADEON 9800 is definitely a worthy successor to the RADEON 9700 PRO. Initially we were skeptical that ATI could produce an effective 9700 PRO replacement in the RADEON 9800, ATI had quoted us a list price of $350 for the RADEON 9800, only $50 lower than the 9800 PRO. But with MSRP now at $300, this card is priced to move.
As we said at the outset of this article, if you’re looking for cutting edge performance that won’t drain your bank account, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better deal than the RADEON 9800. ATI has delivered a package that combines the outstanding 2D and 3D visual quality of the RADEON 9800 family (not to mention DVD playback) with performance that should satisfy the needs of most gamers. It’s honestly a little surprising how little press these cards have received, as the RADEON 9800 is one of the hottest cards on the market right now.
SIDEBAR: Do you agree with Brandon’s comments, or would you rather have a different RADEON card? Voice your thoughts in the news comments!
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