||FIC A98P RADEON 9800 PRO Review
June 04, 2003 Brandon Bell
Summary: Based on the RADEON 9800 VPU, FIC's A98P RADEON 9800 PRO is built for the gamer who wants maximum performance! In today's article, we pit the A98P against ATI's own RADEON 9800 PRO card as well as NVIDIA's GeForce FX 5900 Ultra. See how the cards perform in this review!
| Introduction||Page:: ( 1 / 12 )|
It has been roughly three months since ATI originally announced the successor to their highly successful RADEON 9700 PRO VPU, the RADEON 9800 PRO, and already we’ve received the first crop of retail boards from ATI’s add-in board partners. This is a pretty remarkable achievement considering that ATI strictly followed the direct sales model for over a decade.
In just over a year ATI has signed a dozen board partners and launched multiple products at price points ranging from $100-$500. It’s hard to believe that just over a year ago ATI was a company that was known for being one step behind NVIDIA and launched roughly one new product (with less expensive variants based on that technology) per calendar year.
Today NVIDIA is struggling to keep up with ATI, conceding the high-end market to ATI for nine months. ATI has literally taken NVIDIA’s six-month product cycle and perfected it to a razor-sharp edge. As a result, the 3D graphics market hasn’t seen competition like this since the days of 3dfx versus NVIDIA. Gamers and hardware enthusiasts have several viable graphics cards to choose from: “Should I get a RADEON 9600 or GeForce FX 5600?” “How much faster are the PRO and Ultra variants of these graphics cores?” And in the high-end segment the most popular question we receive (besides GeForce FX 5900 Ultra versus RADEON 9800 PRO emails) is “128MB or 256MB?” Choosing from the various choices has never been so difficult.
That’s why we’ve brought you as much coverage as we can – RADEON 9500 versus RADEON 9500 PRO benchmarks, 128MB versus 256MB RADEON 9800 PRO scores – the real test won’t come however until the first crop of next generation games debuts later this year. That’s when the real benchmarking will begin!
Until then, ATI’s add-in board partners (AIBs) have been keeping us pretty busy. Today we’re taking a look at another company that is making its debut video card review with us, FIC’s RADEON 9800 PRO-based A98P graphics card.
FIC: From motherboards to graphics
When you hear the name “FIC” you traditionally think of motherboards. After all, motherboards have been a cornerstone of FIC’s business for decades, having established deals with multiple OEMs over the course of their history. However, FIC has been quietly producing graphics cards for years now (they were actually one of ATI’s first board partners), showing us products ranging from the RADEON VE to the RADEON 8500 at Comdex two years ago. FIC is really hoping to turn things up a few notches for RADEON 9800. Traditionally FIC has been a bit slower than ATI’s other AIBs at bringing ATI’s flagship products to market at retail, but now they’re making a more concerted effort to change things.
Lets see what they have on tap for the RADEON 9800 PRO!
SIDEBAR: FIC A98P RADEON 9800 PRO Product Webpage
| The card||Page:: ( 2 / 12 )|
9800 PRO specifications
We won’t bore you with a million details on the inner workings of the RADEON 9800 PRO, chances are by now that you’re already intimately familiar with those details. Just in case though, we will provide you with the Cliff’s Notes.
The key improvements ATI has incorporated in the 9800 PRO are the improved clock speeds, 380MHz core/340MHz memory for the RADEON 9800 PRO, versus 325MHz core/310MHz memory in the RADEON 9700 PRO. On the shading side of the equation, ATI has incorporated a new F-buffer in the 9800 PRO core, acting as an enhanced form of cache memory that allows the 9800 PRO to support fragment shader programs of unlimited length as well as enhancing its effective memory bandwidth.
ATI has also enhanced the 9800 PRO’s memory controller and introduced an improved Z cache that has been optimized for use with stencil buffers. This will boost performance in games that use shadows extensively. For more details on the rest of the changes, please refer back to our RADEON 9800 PRO review.
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FIC’s RADEON 9800 PRO
Taking a look at FIC’s A98P card, we see that it’s built entirely on ATI’s reference design. To be honest, this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, producing a card as complex as the RADEON 9800 PRO is an expensive process in the first place. In fact, many card manufacturers don’t have the infrastructure to build their own RADEON 9800 PRO cards, relying on ATI or another third party instead. When you factor in the added development time to engineer a card superior to ATI’s reference board (and the fact that ATI’s product cycle is now just six months) it’s no surprise to see the first generation of cards simply stick with the implementation ATI has already developed.
A quick glance of FIC’s A98P webpage reveals that they also offer another RADEON 9800 PRO card that ships with a gold-plated heatsink and what appears to be a slightly different fan. Technically, since the core and memory speeds remain identical, performance of this board should be the same as our card. The only differences will be heat and noise level.
Besides the 128MB A98P we’re reviewing today, FIC will also be producing a 256MB variant of this card. Non-PRO cards will follow as well, although we can’t give you an ETA on these cards as ATI hasn’t shipped them to board manufacturers.
As usual, we’ve included numbers at stock clock speeds as well as the A98P overclocked to 432/374MHz -- that’s higher than the core clock frequency we got from ATI’s own RADEON 9800 PRO cards!
SIDEBAR: Also included in the A98P packaging is an extra long power cable, DVI converter and S-Video cable.
| Test Systems||Page:: ( 3 / 12 )|
Intel Pentium 4 2.8GHz
MSI 845PE Max2-FISR
256MB OCZ Technology EL DDR PC-3200 (operating at DDR333) SDRAM
ATI RADEON 9800 PRO – 128MB
ATI RADEON 9700 PRO
ATI RADEON 9600 PRO
FIC A98P RADEON 9800 PRO – 128MB
Driver version Catalyst 3.4
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900 Ultra – 256MB
30GB IBM Deskstar DTLA 307030 ATA/100 Hard Drive
Windows XP Professional
Quake III: Arena version 1.17
Serious Sam: The Second Encounter (Elephant Atrium demo)
Unreal Tournament 2003
SIDEBAR: One of FIC's OEM customers was Comaq.
| Serious Sam 2||Page:: ( 4 / 12 )|
Serious Sam 2 - OpenGL
SIDEBAR: FIC was actually ATI's launch partner for their IGP line of integrated motherboards for the Athlon CPU.
| Splinter Cell||Page:: ( 5 / 12 )|
Splinter Cell - DirectX
SIDEBAR: FIC is one of the few manufacturers that produces NVIDIA and ATI-based products.
| Quake III||Page:: ( 6 / 12 )|
Quake III - High Quality
SIDEBAR: FIC stands for First International Computer.
| Comanche 4||Page:: ( 7 / 12 )|
Comanche 4 demo
SIDEBAR: FIC isn't done with the SFF market, after the launch of their ICE-Cube earlier this year, they're now working on their 2nd generation SFF products.
| Unreal Tournament 2003||Page:: ( 8 / 12 )|
Unreal Tournament 2003 - flyby
Unreal Tournament 2003 - botmatch
SIDEBAR: FIC should include an overclocking tool in their video cards in the future.
| UT 4x AA/8x Aniso||Page:: ( 9 / 12 )|
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby
Unreal Tournament 2003 Botmatch
SIDEBAR: That gryphon on the FIC box looks pretty intimidating huh?
| 4x AA/8x Aniso||Page:: ( 10 / 12 )|
Quake III – High Quality
SIDEBAR: May was one VERY busy month for hardware releases.
| Ballistics Report||Page:: ( 11 / 12 )|
Performance: When your graphics card is based on ATI’s RADEON 9800 PRO VPU, it goes without saying that it’s going to be fast. Its 380MHz core packs a fill rate of just over 3 Gigatexels/sec, giving you the pixel-pushing horsepower you’ll need for maximum frame rate. And thanks to its 256-bit memory interface that operates at 340MHz, you can crank up the screen resolution and turn on such features as anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering without sacrificing smooth game play.
This combination makes the RADEON 9800 PRO one of the fastest graphics cards on the market today.
Superior visual quality: We’ve said it in the past and we’ll say it again. If you want the best visual quality, ATI’s DirectX 9 offerings are the best around. ATI’s anti-aliasing engine looks sharper than NVIDIA’s, some have even likened ATI’s 2x AA to NVIDIA’s 4x AA implementation. And with sample rates as high as 6x available, even the most discriminating gamer should be in heaven.
As far as anisotropic filtering goes, ATI has a very compelling solution. Their offerings are more flexible than NVIDIA’s and look just as good if not better. Another important advantage ATI’s AF solution has over NVIDIA’s is their reduced performance hit (which you can see in our GeForce FX 5900 Ultra preview article). As an added bonus, you lose very little texture quality when going from ATI’s “performance” mode for AF to “quality” (the default setting).
DX9 compliant: Unlike a lot of hardware out there that claims DX9 compliance
GeForce FX 5200 the RADEON 9800 PRO really has the hardware to back this up. It’s the only true 8-pixel pipeline architecture on the market, and it sports full floating-point precision for increased visual fidelity. As a result you’ve got a card that should play the first crop of next generation titles at enjoyable frame rates without sacrificing much, if any, visual quality. Bring on Half-Life 2!
Price (in relation to ATI): The jury is still a little out on this one, as we’ve only found one online retailer so far with A98P cards in stock (Newegg), and it’s priced at $399, ATI’s MSRP for the RADEON 9800 PRO. However, FIC’s products have typically sold for a little less than ATI’s, we have a feeling this will also hold true for the A98P once supply catches up to demand for these cards, right now all of Newegg’s 9800 PRO cards are priced within $10 of each other.
Overall Price: $400 is a lot to pay for a graphics card, relegating the A98P to the high end of the market. Over time board prices will come down, but the RADEON 9700 and RADEON 9700 PRO are better values.
Availability: FIC lists nine online retailers on their website. As of this article’s writing, Newegg.com is the only one of these e-tailers with A98P cards in stock. Fortunately their products are distributed through Fry’s, one of the larger US retailers, but this still makes FIC products difficult to find. Don’t expect to find the FIC A98P at your local mom-and-pop computer outfit down the street.
SIDEBAR: FIC was founded in 1980.
| Final Verdict||Page:: ( 12 / 12 )|