ATI’s RADEON 9x00 series: Attacking on all fronts
Earlier this summer ATI’s RADEON 9000 series stole the show in the value segment, besting NVIDIA’s GeForce4 MX line. While RADEON 9000 PRO wasn’t the first DirectX 8 accelerator to sell near the $100 price point (that honor falls to the SiS Xabre 400) as ATI claims, it was the first to offer the right combination of features, performance, compatibility, and visual quality to dethrone GeForce4 MX. The Xabre 400 got off to a shaky start largely due to its drivers. Game compatibility issues were present that were eventually solved, but they had left a sour feeling in the minds of many consumers. Distribution was also a problem here in North America.
In any case, while RADEON 9000 has been busy serving the budget-minded consumers, RADEON 9700 PRO has been an even bigger success for ATI. Practically every gamer and hardware enthusiast in the know is aware that ATI’s RADEON 9700 PRO is the new king of the hill in the 3D market, NVIDIA’s GeForce4 doesn’t even come close. However, with its $399 price tag, the RADEON 9700 PRO’s cost is simply out of the reach of most consumers. You can purchase a 2GHz-class processor, motherboard, and memory for the same price as one RADEON 9700 PRO – which do you think is the better value?
Because of this, NVIDIA has been largely unaffected by the release of the RADEON 9700 PRO up to this point. Sure, they’re no longer considered the market leader from a technology standpoint, but in terms of market share NVIDIA is still on top, they actually gained a few percentage points over ATI last quarter. But now ATI plans to change the status quo, as their RADEON 9500 line is aimed squarely at NVIDIA’s bread-and-butter product: the GeForce4 Ti 4200.
9500 versus 9500 PRO
In particular, two variants of RADEON 9500 are available, the RADEON 9500 and RADEON 9500 PRO, so keep this in mind when shopping for a 9500 card. The key difference between RADEON 9500 and RADEON 9500 PRO lies in the number of pixel pipelines supported. RADEON 9500 PRO contains eight pixel pipelines, while RADEON 9500 is limited to four. As a result, the fill rate of RADEON 9500 is half that of RADEON 9500 PRO, sapping performance.
ATI will rely solely on its board partners to produce RADEON 9500 cards, while it focuses on RADEON 9500 PRO cards like the one we’re reviewing today. Third party manufacturers will also be producing RADEON 9500 PRO boards of their own, which means we should see some aggressive pricing on RADEON 9500 PRO cards once they become readily available.