||PowerColor EVIL COMMANDO 2 Review
November 06, 2002 Brandon Bell
Summary: PowerColor's EVIL COMMANDO 2 sports the RADEON 9700 PRO and its 256-bit memory interface with 128MB of DDR memory at 620MHz. As such, we know the card is fast, but how does it compare against ATI's own RADEON 9700 PRO card and how well does it overclock? Read our review for the answers!
| Introduction||Page:: ( 1 / 15 )|
One of the keys to NVIDIA’s success has been its indirect sales approach. Rather than deal with the costs associated with developing, marketing, and manufacturing their own line of video cards, NVIDIA has essentially outsourced those functions to its partners. This way, NVIDIA can focus on developing and promoting its GPUs while TSMC products its chips and card manufacturers such as ASUS, MSI, Leadtek, and others produce graphics cards based on those graphics cores.
This keeps costs down to a minimum, while maximizing profits for NVIDIA. The greatest downside is that getting their product to market takes a little bit longer than the direct model, although consumers will definitely enjoy the increased price competition the indirect sales model brings.
Weighing the pros and cons of each method, ATI chose to incorporate features from both. While ATI produces its own line of retail RADEON products, it also relies on its own set of partners that also produce cards based on ATI chips. PowerColor is one such company and their EVIL COMMANDO 2 graphics card that we’re reviewing today is based on the RADEON 9700 PRO. In fact, the manufacture of components and their placement is identical to that of ATI’s own RADEON 9700 PRO card, but more on that later. Instead, lets discuss PowerColor.
PowerColor’s not so humble beginnings
PowerColor is a name that may not be familiar to you, but they’ve actually been in the graphics card business longer than many of ATI’s partners. Before signing on with ATI, PowerColor produced cards based on NVIDIA and 3dfx’s graphics chips. PowerColor was also one of a handful of graphics manufacturers to partner with ST Micro/PowerVR on its Kyro products. Before Hercules stepped in, PowerColor was one of their key customers.
To this day PowerColor still produces GeForce products as well as graphics cards based on the SiS Xabre, and overseas, the Kyro II. But now the company is focusing the majority of its efforts on its products based on ATI’s RADEON 9000, 9500, and 9700 lines. Their EVIL COMMANDO (RADEON 9000 PRO) and EVIL COMMANDO 2 (RADEON 9700 PRO) cards were among the first available on the market when these cores were made available largely due to their expertise in bringing their products to market quickly and at an inexpensive price.
Now that you’re more familiar with the company, lets take a look for what they have in store for the RADEON 9700 PRO.
SIDEBAR: EVIL COMMANDO 2 Product Webpage
| Card Specifications||Page:: ( 2 / 15 )|
RADEON 9700 PRO Visual Processing Unit (VPU) with core engine @325Mhz
Eight parallel rendering pipelines
Four parallel geometry engines
256-bit DDR memory interface
AGP 8X support
Programmable pixel and vertex shaders – 16 textures per pass
Supports DirectX 9.0 and the latest version of OpenGL
2x/4x/6x full scene anti-aliasing modes
2x/4x/8x/16x anisotropic filtering modes
Adaptive algorithm with bi-linear (performance) and tri-linear (quality) options
HYPER Z III
FULLSTREAM video de-blocking technology
Dual integrated display controllers
Dual integrated 10-bit per channel 400 MHz DACs
If you follow the PC hardware market closely, chances are you are probably already pretty familiar with the ATI RADEON 9700 PRO core that powers the PowerColor Evil Commando II so we’ll briefly go over some of the highlights. If you’re looking for more background information on the chip, please refer back to our original preview article of the technology from earlier this year.
One of the key aspects that allows’ the RADEON 9700 PRO to stand out from previous graphics accelerators is its next generation feature set. This includes the 128-bit floating-point pipeline that the RADEON 9700 PRO contains. By moving to 128 bits, color ranges can be much more vibrant, resulting in images that look much more lifelike. ATI’s natural light demo is a perfect example of the difference this can make, the dull hues of orange, brown, and gray come alive on RADEON 9700 PRO.
But it doesn’t stop there, 9.0 pixel and vertex shaders are much more powerful than their predecessors, and new commands such as loops and subroutines make life much easier for content developers. Rather than having to write multiple shaders to produce one effect (circa DirectX 8 days), one 9.0 shader can be written and repeated to create the same final effect.
Of course, DirectX 9 titles are still many, many months away from release at the soonest. With this in mind, the RADEON 9700 PRO core is built to drive existing games to new heights of performance.
For starters, RADEON 9700 PRO boasts a fill rate of 2.6 Gigapixels/second, just over twice that of GeForce4 Ti 4600’s 1.2 Gigapixels/second. It is also capable of pumping out 325 million vertices/second, nearly two and a half times that of GeForce4 Ti 4600. With such a powerful core, this would mean nothing if it didn’t have the memory subsystem to keep it fed with data. To accomplish this, ATI has implemented a 256-bit memory interface (an industry first) running at 310MHz (effectively 620MHz) resulting in a memory bandwidth peak of 19.2GB/sec.
This means that RADEON 9700 PRO owners can crank up the screen resolution, texture detail, anisotropic filtering, and even anti-aliasing without having to worry about poor frame rates in today’s games. Eye candy goodies such as these used to bring graphics accelerators to their knees, the RADEON 9700 PRO barely breaks a sweat in comparison.
SIDEBAR: PowerColor also has a “Gold” edition of the Evil Commando 2 that includes a copy of 4x4 EVO2 and six “lite” games.
| Board Design||Page:: ( 3 / 15 )|
As we discussed earlier, the ATI RADEON 9700 PRO and PowerColor’s Evil Commando 2 are virtually identical. The cooling unit on both cards is the same (which is held in place by push pins) as are the capacitors and other circuitry, even the VGA connectors themselves are of the same manufacture as ATI’s own RADEON 9700 PRO card.
We’ve heard from numerous sources that ATI produced many of the early third-party RADEON 9700 PRO cards themselves and simply sold them to their partners, based on our experience with the PowerColor Evil Commando 2, we don’t doubt this.
The only apparent difference between our ATI and PowerColor card is the “ATI” sticker on the ATI board. Other than that, we’d be hard-pressed to see the difference upon initial inspection of the cards. The PowerColor board is labeled as “Made in Taiwan” while the ATI card is clearly labeled as being manufactured in Canada. Therefore, if you’ve had reservations about purchasing a RADEON 9700 PRO board that isn’t manufactured by ATI themselves, you can be rest assured that the PowerColor Evil Commando 2 is about as close to ATI’s own RADEON 9700 PRO card as it’s going to get.
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PowerColor also includes S-Video and Composite video cables, a DVI-to-VGA adapter, as well as an S-Video-to-Composite adapter. Since the RADEON 9700 PRO requires an external power source, PowerColor also includes the necessary cable.
In terms of software, PowerColor keeps the bundle to a bare minimum – the Evil Commando 2 ships with merely the driver CD. To be honest, this is the way we like it. Adding retail games to the Evil Commando 2 packaging would boost the price of the final product. Often these game bundles are outdated or contain games of little interest to the hardcore gamer that’s going to purchase a video card based on the RADEON 9700 PRO VPU: are these consumers really interested in a game of “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire”? We don’t think so.
With 110 million transistors packed inside its 0.15-micron 325MHz core, we initially expected RADEON 9700 PRO cards would be tricky to overclock. Fortunately, that hasn’t been the case. In our experience we’ve found that the core itself is highly capable of overclocking, while the memory isn’t too constrained either. In the case of the PowerColor Evil Commando 2, we were able to overclock the core to 370MHz and the memory to 320MHz. The memory overclock in particular isn’t as impressive as we’ve seen on other cards, however we’re still looking at just over 20.4GB/sec of bandwidth that is now available to the core. As always, overclocking is by no means a science, results will vary from card to card.
SIDEBAR: We’ve actually seen a few pictures of a PowerColor EVIL COMMANDO 2 board with more exotic cooling than our board, but the design of the card was still the same.
| Test Systems||Page:: ( 4 / 15 )|
AMD Athlon XP 2600+
MSI KT4 Ultra-FISR
256MB Muskin PC3200 DDR SDRAM
ATI RADEON 9700 PRO
PowerColor EVIL COMMANDO 2
NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4600 reference card
NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4200 reference card
Detonator Driver Version: 40.41
30GB IBM Deskstar DTLA 307030 ATA/100 Hard Drive
Windows XP Professional
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: PowerColor is actually owned by another company, CP Technology
| 3D Mark 2001||Page:: ( 5 / 15 )|
3DMark 2001 - DirectX 8
SIDEBAR: The RADEON 9700 PRO really outperforms GeForce4 Ti 4600 in the nature demo. The butterflies wings flap so quickly they’re literally a blur.
| Serious Sam 2||Page:: ( 6 / 15 )|
Serious Sam 2 - OpenGL
SIDEBAR: A “lite” version of Serious Sam ships with the Golden Version EVIL COMMANDO 2.
| Quake III||Page:: ( 7 / 15 )|
Quake III - High Quality
SIDEBAR: PowerColor USA was founded in 1995.
| Jedi Knight II - OpenGL||Page:: ( 8 / 15 )|
Jedi Knight II
SIDEBAR: CP Technology also manufactures USB readers and other USB storage devices.
| Unreal Tournament 2003||Page:: ( 9 / 15 )|
Unreal Tournament 2003 demo - flyby
SIDEBAR: PowerColor’s RADEON 9000 PRO card has already been certified by ATI.
| 2x Anti-Aliasing||Page:: ( 10 / 15 )|
Quake III – High Quality
SIDEBAR: PowerColor is currently working on its RADEON 9500 card. No plans have been announced for a RADEON 9500 PRO board however.
| 4x Anti-Aliasing||Page:: ( 11 / 15 )|
Quake III – High Quality
SIDEBAR: Dell is expected to announced a PDA at Comdex next year.
| 8x Anisotropic filtering||Page:: ( 12 / 15 )|
Quake III – High Quality
SIDEBAR: Speaking of Comdex, it’s looking like this year’s show should be a little more exciting than last year, we’ll see.
| 4x AA/8x Aniso||Page:: ( 13 / 15 )|
Quake III – High Quality
SIDEBAR: The RADEON 9700 PRO VPU actually supports up to 256MB of memory.
| Ballistics Report||Page:: ( 14 / 15 )|
Performance: As a card based on the RADEON 9700 PRO, the Evil Commando 2 is obviously pretty fast. The fastest graphics chip currently on the market in fact. As you saw in our performance tests, with the Evil Commando 2, gaming in 1600x1200 is not only possible, it’s in fact quite enjoyable. And not only can you crank the screen resolution up, you can also turn on anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering.
Board Design: PowerColor has chosen to stick with ATI’s reference design for the Evil Commando 2, so if you have any reservations about buying a RADEON 9700 PRO card that isn’t produced by ATI, don’t. Visual quality with the Evil Commando 2 is just as good as ATI’s own card, in our performance tests it performed within a percentage point of ATI’s RADEON 9700 PRO card.
Price (in relation to other RADEON 9700 PRO cards): A quick scan of Price Watch reveals that the PowerColor Evil Commando 2 is among the least expensive graphics cards based on the RADEON 9700 PRO core that is currently available on the market.
One of the keys to keeping costs down was trimming the software bundle. The Evil Commando 2 doesn’t ship with a game bundle (unless you purchase the Gold edition) and utilizes the ATI DVD player included in the ATI multimedia center rather than a third party application such as PowerDVD. PowerColor then passes these savings on to consumers in the form of lower prices than other card manufacturers; including ATI’s own RADEON 9700 PRO, which also ships without a game bundle.
Price (in relation to other 3D cards on the market): Even though the Evil Commando 2 is one of the most inexpensive cards based on the RADEON 9700 PRO, $300+ is still a lot to pay for a graphics card. ATI’s recently announced RADEON 9700 boasts all of the same features as the RADEON 9700 PRO, but ships at a lower clock speed. We’d consider it to be a better value than the RADEON 9700 PRO, and a solid alternative if you can’t afford a card based on the 9700 PRO VPU.
Compatibility: The RADEON 9700 PRO has issues with AGP 8x chipsets from VIA and SiS. In the case of the SiS 648 chipset, we’ve encountered multiple lockups and crashes, and when the card does function properly, performance is lower than we’d expect from a RADEON 9700 PRO card. This occurs regardless of motherboard, BIOS revision, or ATI driver, and we’ve noticed this with all of the RADEON 9700 PRO cards we’ve tested, regardless of manufacture.
On the KT400 chipset, RADEON 9700 PRO performs more reliably, but we’ve noticed that the KT400/RADEON 9700 PRO combination performs slower than our KT333 systems equipped with the RADEON 9700 PRO. The margin varies from application to application and fortunately it’s minimal at 1600x1200, but it occurs regardless of motherboard manufacture, BIOS, or driver used.
Keep in mind that this isn’t PowerColor’s fault, rather the problem involves ATI, SiS, and VIA and is universal among all RADEON 9700 PRO cards. Quite simply, it appears that the three companies didn’t get together to verify that their AGP 8x products were optimized for each other. What makes this really baffling is the fact that many of ATI’s board partners are also motherboard manufacturers. You’d think someone would have noticed these issues beforehand.
SIDEBAR: PowerColor was actually ATI’s first add-in board partner, signing with the company in September 2001.
| Final Verdict||Page:: ( 15 / 15 )|