The ATi Radeon 9000 and Radeon 9700 Preview
ATi 's Next Generation Products Unveiled

By, Jeff Bouton
July 18, 2002


 

We asked ATi to give us a rundown on the main differences between the Radeon 8500 and 9000s and we've listed their responses below:

  • The 9000 has a single DX8.1 programmable vertex shader pipeline (vs. two in the 8500), but has a faster triangle setup engine.  This means the 9000 is slower than the 8500 when handling complex vertex shaders or TRUFORM, but equal or slightly faster than the 8500 when handling lots of simple polygons. 
     

  • The 9000 can process one texture per clock cycle per rendering pipeline (like the 9700), whereas the 8500 could process two textures per clock cycle per pipe.  However, both chips can still handle the same number of textures per pass (i.e., six), and the DX8.1 pixel shader units of the 9000 are much more efficient than those in the 8500, providing significantly higher performance in pixel shader-intensive applications. 
     

  • The 9000 adds support for higher precision 32-bit texture formats (10 bits per color channel vs. 8 in the 8500).  The 9000 supports the ability to combine programmable pixel shaders with video streams, allowing applications like our FULLSTREAM video de-blocking.
     

  • The 9000 includes dual integrated 400 MHz 10-bit per channel DACs, whereas the 8500 required an external secondary DAC for dual display.

As you can see, the 9000 and 8500 have their similarities, but the 9000 series does have an identity all it's own, offering several advantages over the veteran GPU.  Next we'll highlight several of the technologies incorporated into the Radeon 9000 series and identify their key roles.

Key Technologies of the Radeon 9000 Series
Something Old, Something New.

Normally we like to take a look at the driver package included with a new piece of hardware.  However, since the Radeon 9000 series is using the Catalyst driver package, we feel we covered them sufficiently when they were first release in June.  If you would like to take a look at the Catalyst drivers in more detail, please head on over here for a closer look.  Instead we thought we would touch on a few of the key technologies that are incorporated into the Radeon 9000 Series...

  • CHARISMA ENGINE II and SMARTSHADER:  This is the second coming of ATi's TCL (Transform, Clipping and Lighting) and Programmable Vertex Shader Engine.  This geometry engine is DirectX 8.1 compliant, as was the Radeon 8500's. The main strength of their SMARTSHADER Technology is to accelerate Vertex and Pixel Shader effects, rendering environments, characters and animations that appear more natural.  As more game developers take advantage of these news features, realism will be increased, allowing 3D worlds to appear more lifelike.  Below is an example of how Pixel Shaders can affect imagine quality and realism.  Note the difference in the quality of the water in each image.

Pixel Shaders in Action

Before
After

     

  • QUAD PIPELINE ARCHITECTURE:  A Quad Pipelined Architecture is nothing new to the Radeon 9000.  ATi is simply branding this architecture now, and as we have seen with the Radeon 8500, it certainly has its merits.  The architecture allows the the video card to process up to 6 textures per pass, per pipeline.  Processing more textures per pixel in a single pass, allows for higher performance in the heavily detailed scenes generated by next generation game engines.  ATi has always shown strength in heavy texture detail benchmarks, like Serious Sam, and the R9000 should continue that trend.
     

  • SMOOTHVISION:  This is ATi' s AA and Anisotropic Filtering Engine.  The Radeon 9000 performs a Super Sampling Anti-Aliasing algorithm on the geometry details of a given scene and smoothes the jagged edges or "stair step" effects at the edge pixels.  This method is a Full Scene Anti-Aliasing approach.  Anisotropic Filtering with the Radeon 9000, is a method of sampling texture detail more rapidly, thus producing sharper image surface detail.  The Radeon 9000 supports up to 16X Anisotropic Filtering.  Here are examples of both AA and Anisotropic Filtering effects. 

Effects of Anti-Aliasing

Before
After

     

Effects of Anisotropic Filtering


 

  • FULLSTREAM:  Fullstream is a filtering method that is implemented at the hardware level to improve the overall quality of streaming video.  This allows users to view a lesser quality MPEG in full screen mode by minimizing the blocking effect or pixilated look that can normally occur.  The R9000 makes use of Pixel Shaders to produce this smoothing effect.  Notice how the image on the right looks clearer than the one on the left?  That is the effect Fullstream has on the image.

The Radeon 9000 Pro brings a lot of the powerful features we've seen in the Radeon 8500 family and added a few new tweaks and optimizations as well.  By all rights, these changes should give the card a lot of flexibility to suit the needs of a wide range of users.

Let's take a quick peek at what the 9700 has to offer. 

The Radeon 9700, a Quick Look