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Radeon 9700 Pro cards compared


A three-way Radeon round-up
— 12:00 AM on December 9, 2002

ATI'S RADEON 9700 PRO is currently the undisputed king of 3D graphics. That crown is probably going to stay put at least until NVIDIA releases its GeForce FX, which won't be until next year—and then probably not until February. If you're looking for the absolute best 3D gaming performance over the next few months, price being no object, the Radeon 9700 Pro is where it's at.

If you've already decided the Radeon 9700 Pro is the card for you, you're left with the daunting task of choosing a board manufacturer. Of course, ATI makes a certain number of Radeon 9700 Pro graphics cards itself, but there are a number of third parties and even variations within ATI's own line that add additional features to the Radeon 9700 Pro's 3D prowess.

Today, we've rounded up three distinctly different takes on the Radeon 9700 Pro. We have third-party cards from Crucial and Tyan, plus ATI's own All-in-Wonder version of the Radeon 9700 Pro. Despite the fact that the majority of Radeon 9700 Pro boards out there are virtually identical, each of the cards we're looking at today brings something unique to the table. Which one is right for you? Read on to find out.

Cole's notes on the Radeon 9700 Pro
Just in case you've been living under a rock for the last four months, here's a quick look at what you need to know about the Radeon 9700 Pro.

The Radeon 9700 Pro's claim to fame is its full DirectX 9 feature set, which includes version 2.0 pixel shaders. Although today's titles don't make use of DirectX 9's features or floating point data types, there's finally a beta version of DirectX 9 available that you can use in conjunction with ATI's DirectX 9 drivers. ATI's DX9 demos will give you an idea of the card's true capabilities. These demos are nothing short of breathtaking, and I shudder to think of the kind of in-game realism we'll be seeing in titles that full take advantage of DirectX 9's advanced features.

The fact that the Radeon 9700 Pro's DirectX 9 features aren't being exploited in current applications doesn't mean there isn't value to the card today. Even with today's DirectX 7 and 8-class applications, the Radeon 9700 Pro is capable of producing blistering frame rates with features like antialiasing and anisotropic filtering turned all the way up. Our chip table will put the 9700 Pro's capabilities into perspective...

Core clock (MHz) Pixel pipelines Peak fill rate (Mpixels/s) Texture units per pixel pipeline Peak fill rate (Mtexels/s) Memory clock (MHz) Memory bus width (bits) Peak memory bandwidth (GB/s)
GeForce4 MX 440 8X 275 2 550 2 1100 512 128 8.2
GeForce4 Ti 4200 8X 250 4 1000 2 2000 512 128 8.2
Radeon 9500 275 4 1100 1 1100 540 128 8.6
Radeon 9500 Pro 275 8 2200 1 2200 540 128 8.6
Radeon 9000 Pro 275 4 1100 1 1100 550 128 8.8
GeForce4 Ti 4400 275 4 1100 2 2200 550 128 8.8
GeForce4 Ti 4600

300

4 1200 2 2400 650 128 10.4
Radeon 9700 275 8 2200 1 2200 540 256 17.3
Radeon 9700 Pro 325 8 2600 1 2600 620 256 19.8
Parhelia-512 220 4 880 4 3520 550 256 17.6

Currently, the Radeon 9700 Pro chip is manufactured on a 0.15-micron process. The chip has eight pixel pipelines that can each lay down a single texture per pass, and each rendering pipe can "loop back" pixel data to lay down additional textures in a single pass. The eight-pipe design gives the Radeon 9700 Pro an obscene single-texturing fill rate, and its multi-texturing fill rate is surpassed by only Matrox's Parhelia.

In the memory bandwidth department, ATI has gone with a 256-bit bus that delivers a whopping 19.8GB/s of real memory bandwidth. The chip also employs color compression algorithms that should yield even more effective memory bandwidth under the right circumstances.

Perhaps the neatest thing about the Radeon 9700 Pro is its EarlyZ per-pixel occlusion detection, which all but eliminates overdraw without having to resort to a tile-based rendering architecture. But already I've said too much. If you want a more in-depth look at the Radeon 9700 GPU, check out our comprehensive review. Today we'll be focusing the differences between graphics cards using the Radeon 9700 Pro rather than the specifics of the GPU itself.