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Review: 'Connect3D' ATi Radeon 9800 Pro

by Tarinder Sandhu on 6 March 2003, 00:00 4.5

Tags: Connect 3D

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Connect3D ATi Radeon 9800 Pro (R350)

It's been seven months or so since ATi unveiled the impressive R300 graphics card to an eager public. Its eight rendering pipelines, massive bandwidth courtesy of a 256-bit memory interface, and excellent performance in multisampling anti-aliasing and adaptive anisotropic filtering made it almost the perfect card for the power user and novice alike. All this in a package far smaller than the gargantuan GeForce4 Ti 4400/4600 cards.

Add to that a card that had impressive 2D quality, whether it be on the desktop or in media playback, an impressive video-out option, and a GPU fan that was only audible in super-quiet systems, the card quickly established itself as the dominant performance leader and never looked back. Whilst that may sound like a little too much praise for a GPU, others came to the same conclusion. I could go on about new DirectX9 features that it brought to the hardware table, but I'd guess you'd be all to familiar with them already.

To counteract ATi's dominance in the performance sector, NVIDIA recently released the hugely anticipated GeForce FX Ultra 5800 video card (NV30). Whilst it was slated in the majority of the hardware press, one cannot help but respect the engineering that went into a card that, perhaps, won't realise its full potential until its newer features are utilised by programmers. The trouble with the FX, though, was that it barely matched the incumbent Radeon 9700 Pro in the performance stakes, and often fell behind once anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering were applied. The 128-bit memory interface did the powerful 500MHz GPU no favours. Limiting it to 16GB/s of bandwidth, the card seemed imbalanced. Further, the cooling apparatus used on the reference cards ensured that the card's acoustics were often discussed in more detail than the feature set on offer.

So the much-vaunted NV30, hyped up to unbelievable levels, disappointed those that thought it would crush ATi's offering. The FX Ultra is a good card, but not as good as it should have been.

The interim seven months since the widespread launch of the Radeon 9700 Pro (and subsequent models) have given ATi the opportunity to take all the best bits of out of the R300 design and make it even better. Seven months is an age in the graphics card industry. Let's now see just what ATI's engineers have come up with as we unveil the new king of the ATi stable, the Radeon 9800 Pro. We'll look at the card first, then discuss its merits, and finally benchmark it in the company of the FX Ultra and Radeon 9700 Pro cards.