The ATI Radeon Experience
ATI's new 3D Graphics powerhouse may just be the new King of The Hill

By Marco "BigWop" Chiappetta
7/17/00

    
Specifications / Features Of ATI's Radeon
Look out NV and 3dfx a sleeper just woke up...

All of the demonstrations and meetings were very compelling but we were there for the Radeon.

         

The Radeon product we were shown was a 64MB DDR Video-In Video-Out (ViVo) board clocked at 183MHz. core and 183MHz. memory (pictured above).  Initial announced specs were for a 200/200MHz clocked product but DDR memory available today in quantity simply cant run at that speed reliably, so the decision was made to lower the shipping speed.  Our initial tests show the Radeon core can easily handle (and surpass) 200MHz., so when higher speed DDR memory is readily available, the possibility of a Radeon Ultra is there. (No official word from ATI on this though just our speculation). 

There will be a whole line of Radeon powered products coming down the assembly line.  Initially, starting today (July 17, 2000), the 64MB DDR ViVo product we were shown and a 32MB DDR variant clocked at 166/166 will be shipping, with a 32MB SDRAM and an All-In-Wonder product to follow later in the year (no official date was given, but a late Q3 2000 / early Q4 estimate was given).

ATI's Radeon

  • 30 million transistors, in a .18 micron technology, giving it a higher transistor count than CPUs such as the Pentium III and Athlon.
  • 183 MHz & 166MHz. Core Clock (potentially higher) 
  • First chip to support up to 128MB of double-data rate (DDR) memory at 200MHz. (shipping at 183MHz. & 166MHz.)
  • Scalable Core Architecture Supporting ATI's "MAXX" Multiple ASIC Technology
  • Hardware T&L Support
  • Full Scene Order Independent Anti-Aliasing via 4X Super Sampling
  • ATIs Charisma Engine, which incorporates a 30 million triangle per second geometry engine as well as radical new 3D character animation techniques.
  • Single chip break through of the Gigatexel barrier with an awesome 1.5 Gigatexel per second rendering engine.
  • First with hardware support for 3D shadows.
  • First with all DX7 bump mapping effects (emboss, dot product 3 and EMBM). 
  • First with advanced DX8 pixel shader effects. 
  • First with 3D texture support for new volumetric effects. 
  • First PC graphics chip to include an on-chip hardware HDTV decoder.
  • High quality video filters capable of operating at full HDTV resolutions.
  • On-chip HDTV decoder which eliminates the requirement for separate HDTV decoder cards which add cost and reduce picture quality. 
  • On-chip HDTV display interface for new HDTV displays. 
  • On-chip transport stream interface to connect directly to HDTV tuner boards.
  • Improved DVD Playback support
  • Patent pending adaptive de-interlacing algorithms which result in unparalleled video quality for interlaced TV and HDTV video streams.

Pricing will be as follows:

  • 64MB DDR ViVo (183/183) MSRP=$399  (estimated street price $349)

  • 32MB DDR (166/166) MSRP=$279  (estimated street price $249)

  • 32MB SDRAM (166/166) MSRP=$199

  • All-In-Wonder 32MB DDR (TBA) MSRP=TBA (this new All-In-Wonder will ship with a new "tweaked" version of ATI's TV Tools that will offer a "live pause" feature and downloadable local channel listings.  The card will also scale image quality to capture mpeg-2 video without dropped frames on as low as a PII 300.)

The Radeon chip is the most feature rich product currently available.  Our initial editorial covers most of the specifications, but this chart tells more of the story

 


New Features For  "Today"

The great thing about the new features the Radeon brings to market is that they will all be integrated into DirectX8 or are already available in OpenGL.  There will be no proprietary coding required on the part of Game Developers.  We viewed 2 video taped conversations between ATI and John Carmack and between ATI and Tim Sweeny.  When asked about the Radeons new features both were excited and already had ideas in mind about implementing them into future products.

A demo called Radeons Ark was run to showcase the Radeon's new features (covered in depth in our Charisma Engine preview 3/2000)

The demo was run using the 64MB ViVo board on a 900mhz system.  Radeons Ark uses over 100MB of textures, and throughout the entire demo there was very little perceivable slow-down.

Update 7/17 -  "Radeon's Ark"

You can see a Quick Time clip of this movie here (8MB), which we have made available on the "H.H. Speed Server". 

There are also other pieces of the "Radeon's Ark" clip for you here (5MB) and here (11MB)

Radeons Ark demonstrated the high-polygon models the Radeon chip is capable of using with its 2nd Generation T&L engine.  It also shows the more realistic animation achievable using 4-Matrix skinning:

All models and the fish you see in the above picture were made using this technique. These new features are already being implemented into some games, which will be available soon.  "Dungeon Siege" will be among the first games using 4-Matrix skinning.

The interior of the fish tank is using 3 textures.  The 3 texture units per pipeline allow the Radeon to map all 3 textures in a single pass.  Rendering the above scene on a competitors high-end product would require a second pass resulting in a substantial performance hit.  A third texture unit also allows for the addition of something called a "detail texture" on a normally dual-textured model.  When you walk right up to a wall in Quake 3, you'll notice things start to "wash out" and get blurry.  If a detail texture is used, as you get close to the wall, another texture will get mapped that shows the detail in the wall.  Technically this can be done with other cards but again with a performance hit.  The capabilities of this third texture unit per pipeline will be exploited in the upcoming games Tribes 2 and Team Fortress 2.  Radeons Ark show us features we can realistically expect from future games, not just what a specially created demo can do.

The Radeon also supports virtually every form of bump mapping currently in use.  Reading through our Charisma Engine preview you will see what a few types of bump mapping look like.  Besides what you see there, the Radeon can also do Cube Environment Mapping:

And Dual Parabolic Mapping:

Front Texture                                       Back Texture

Final Output

The list of features is impressive indeed but all the features in the world mean very little if the performance is not there.  After a few hours of conversation and demonstrations, we were allowed to break off into a separate room and test the Radeon privately.

 Our test system was as follows...

A command performance from the Radeon