Unless you’ve been living in a cave the past six months, chances are you’re pretty aware of ATI’s dominance of the 3D graphics market on the desktop PC. In the mainstream and high-end segments ATI was first to market with DirectX 9 parts in the form of the RADEON 9700 and RADEON 9500, while ATI’s DX8 compliant RADEON 9000 PRO is the best solution available in the value space.
NVIDIA meanwhile has struggled with GeForce FX, supply of GeForce FX 5800 Ultra cards has been at best, limited. BFG Technologies is the only manufacturer to ship retail products, and in their case it was only a limited number of consumers who pre-ordered the card in early 2003. Our conversations with other manufacturers have been very vague when it comes to ship dates, suggesting that NVIDIA’s Comdex 2002 projections for GeForce FX were extremely optimistic. In addition, performance of GeForce FX 5800 Ultra has been fairly lackluster.
In our testing
we found that while it offers good performance overall, when scene complexity is increased by factors such as anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering, it quickly falls to the incumbent RADEON 9700 PRO. Making matters even more difficult is the heat output of the core and memory, and the extreme noise level of the FX Flow cooling solution. We also ran into clock throttling issues, but those may be the cause of a bug in the current GeForce FX drivers.
With so much going for them, you’d think ATI would grow complacent and rest on its laurels. However, today’s launch of the RADEON 9800, 9600, and 9200 family proves that this isn’t the case. Today we’re going to focus on ATI’s new product for the high-end segment, the RADEON 9800 PRO.
Formerly known under the codename R350, RADEON 9800 PRO builds on the RADEON 9700 architecture that has been so popular with gamers since it was launched last summer. Like RADEON 9700, RADEON 9800 PRO is built off a 0.15-micron manufacturing process and utilizes a 256-bit DDR memory subsystem.
With RADEON 9800 PRO, ATI’s engineers have gone over the R300 core and tweaked it a bit. Optimizations have been made to improve timings and signal integrity, allowing the RADEON 9800 PRO to scale to higher clock speeds than its predecessor without generating an excessive amount of heat. As a result, the RADEON 9800 PRO ships at a core clock frequency of 380MHz (versus 325MHz in RADEON 9700 PRO), while the memory clock has been boosted to 340MHz (680MHz effective). RADEON 9700 PRO memory was clocked at 310MHz. These changes boost fill rate by 14% and memory bandwidth by 2GB/sec.