Summary: Mobile gaming just got sweeter thanks to ATI's MOBILITY RADEON 9800. The chip is based on ATI's blazing X800 architecture and boasts an 8-pixel pipeline configuration running at 350MHz with 256MB of 600MHz DDR memory. But how does it compare to today's high-end DX9 cards in games like Call of Duty, DOOM 3, Far Cry, and Unreal Tournament 2004? Found out in this article!
Today’s high-end notebooks ship with cutting-edge hardware. You’ve got desktop Pentium 4 processors running at speeds of 3.4GHz (while mobile Athlon 64 tops out at 3400+), 7200 RPM hard drives, and high-end SXGA and UXGA displays. But many gamers would argue that the missing link has been graphics – the latest high-end desktop graphics processors are nowhere to be found in mobile systems, the power requirements and heat output have been too excessive for use in laptops. Until now that is. ATI’s MOBILITY RADEON 9800 brings the technology found in ATI’s flagship RADEON X800 to the mobile world.
We first previewed the MOBILITY RADEON 9800 a little over a month ago, so we won’t rehash everything again. The key points to remember are its 8-pixel pipeline architecture with four vertex pipelines, and 256-bit memory interface. While it may not have the 16 pipes found in X800 XT Platinum Edition, 8 pipelines is still an impressive figure that was only eclipsed recently. MOBILITY RADEON 9800 also supports 3Dc and SMARTSHADER HD, which features 2.0b shaders.
ATI clocks the MOBILITY RADEON 9800’s core at 350MHz. This is 25MHz higher than RADEON 9700 PRO and 30MHz shy of RADEON 9800 PRO. Meanwhile, its 256MB of memory operates at 300MHz (600MHz effective). Quad 64-bit memory controllers provide up to 19.2GB/sec of memory bandwidth.
Both of these figures are important, as most high-end notebooks sport hi-res 1600x1200 (and up) displays. Previous mobile graphics offerings just didn’t have the horsepower to run at these resolutions with adequate performance, but thanks to the MOBILITY RADEON 9800 PRO’s 8-pipe core providing up to 2.8 Gigatexels/second and its 600MHz memory, gaming at the native resolution of your notebook’s display is finally feasible; hopefully with a little anti-aliasing (AA) and/or anisotropic filtering (AF) as well.
That’s what we’re here today to find out. We recently got our hands on a fully-equipped
Dell Inspiron XPS notebook. This is Dell’s top-of-the line notebook with a desktop Pentium 4 “Prescott” 3.4GHz, 2GB of DDR400 memory, and a 1920x1200 display. Dell clocks MOBILITY RADEON 9800 at the full ATI specs of 350MHz core/300MHz memory, ensuring top notch performance. We paired it against a similarly-equipped desktop 865PE system
Lock On: Modern Air Combat (Mig-29 custom demo)
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB - OpenGL
Lock On: Modern Air Combat – Direct3D
Unreal Tournament 2004
Splinter Cell – Direct3D
Halo – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
DOOM 3 – OpenGL
Video Stress Test – Direct3D
Unfortunately we can’t provide comparison figures for the video stress test, as the numbers we took with the Inspiron XPS system before we sent it back to ATI were based on an older build of Half-Life 2. You can however see that we got very playable frame rates from MOBILITY RADEON 9800. We were able to back these numbers up in Counter-Strike: Source beta as well.
Thanks to its M18 graphics core and 600MHz DDR memory, ATI’s MOBILITY RADEON 9800 is the undisputed leader in mobile graphics performance.
In comparison to desktop graphics cards, in our testing MOBILITY RADEON 9800 performance lay somewhere between the RADEON 9700 PRO and RADEON 9800 PRO overall. Do keep in mind however that MOBILITY RADEON 9800 also supports 3Dc and 2.0b shaders. These additional features should give the MOBILITY RADEON 9800 a greater performance advantage over these cards in games that take advantage of these features. Unfortunately we couldn’t put this theory to the test running the 2.0b path in the recalled Far Cry 1.2 patch, as the 2.0b path didn’t properly recognize the MOBILITY RADEON 9800’s 2.0b shader support (this problem also occurs with desktop PCI Express X800 XT cards).
What does all this mean for gamers? Cutting-edge games like Half-Life 2 and DOOM 3 run with high frame rates on MOBILITY RADEON 9800. On older titles you can play at the native resolution of your notebook’s monitor with a little bit of AA or AF enabled. We did notice that MOBILITY RADEON 9800’s OpenGL performance was a little slower than ATI’s desktop cards, most likely due to variations in the CATALYST 4.8 build Dell provides for the XPS on their website. In any case, with most gamers still relying on RADEON 9600/GeForce FX 5700 class cards, or older GPUs like GeForce4, a notebook system with MOBILITY RADEON 9800 provides considerably more power.
The downside of course is price and availability. At the moment, Dell is the only manufacturer providing MOBILITY RADEON 9800, and it’s only an option on their high-end XPS and Inspiron 9100 line of notebooks. Existing owners of both these systems can also upgrade their current MOBILITY RADEON 9700 graphics to MR9800 for $399 including installation.
As exciting as this all is, we’ve heard that ATI isn’t done yet. Be on the lookout for high-end PCI Express mobile graphics in the near future. If this is ATI’s last AGP-based high-end mobile graphics solution, they’ve certainly chosen to go out with one last kickass product.
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