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Hercules' 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE graphics card

It's Canadian, eh

Model3D Prophet FDX 8500LE

THE RADEON 8500'S RELATIONSHIP with the enthusiast community got off to a rocky start. First there was the initial clock speed debacle at the card's release, and who can forget the shady driver optimizations that killed image quality for performance in Quake III Arena? At last year's Comdex, ATI made a commitment to improve, and we're starting to see some changes. For one, we're just starting to see more frequent official and "unsupported" driver releases. ATI has also been a lot more forthcoming about the clock speeds of its retail and OEM products.

Hercules, on the other hand, has always done quite well with the enthusiast community. Last year, we were quite taken with their Kyro II-based 3D Prophet 4500, an excellent mid-range graphics solution at the time. NVIDIA can't have been happy with Hercules for its use of the Imagination Technologies Kyro II chip. Now Hercules has turned to ATI for the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE, which features ATI's Radeon 8500LE graphics chipset.

The Hercules 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE is easily the highest profile third-party Radeon offering to date. What happens when Hercules and ATI, two Canadian companies, get into bed together? Do the socks stay on? Let's find out.

The card
It's a little odd to see a Canadian graphics card, built with a Canadian graphics chip, on a blue PCB. Blue has been Hercules' color for a while now, but in this case, the patriot in me wishes they had a red and white version. I can only hope Hercules will come out with some sort of tricked-out limited edition card. *nudge nudge*

Hercules: obsessed with the color blue

It looks like heat sinks for memory chips aren't going to be making it to mid-range cards like the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE. The lack of memory chip cooling may limit your overclocking, but you'll be more constrained by the card manufacturer's memory chip choice than anything else.

Half the RAM goes on the back of the card

When graphics cards had only 32MB of memory, it was easy to fit it all on one side of the PCB. Now, with 64MB cards permeating even the low end of the performance spectrum, almost everyone is putting RAM chips on both sides of their graphics cards.

DVI, VGA, and S-Video outputs grace the backplane

Hercules gives you plenty of output choices with the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE. There are S-Video, VGA, and DVI outputs. ATI's new Hydravision multi-monitor utility is apparently quite flexible, but the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE's multi-monitor potential is limited by its single RAMDAC. You can run multiple outputs by using the available backplane connectors, but I was a little disappointed that you can't throw a DVI-to-VGA adapter on the DVI output and run two analog monitors.

Hynix chips rated to 250MHz

The 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE's DDR memory chips are made by Hynix, and the chips on our review sample are only rated up to 250MHz. Speaking of which, oddly enough, Hercules doesn't have any other high end ATI-based cards, like a full-blown Radeon 8500. Could more ATI-based Prophets be coming?

Full disclosure, sort of

As you may recall, there was a bit of confusion surrounding the core clock speeds of retail, OEM, and third-party ATI Radeon 8500 cards. Hercules tries to alleviate some of this confusion with some very clear box art that tells you exactly what the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE's core clock speed is. You'll notice, however, that there's no mention of the memory clock speed. More on that later.

Rage Theater for the S-Video output

ATI's Rage Theater chip handles the TV output, and its picture quality is almost as good as the quality of the picture I was able to snap of the chip. (Quite good to my eyes, in other words.)