The ATi Radeon 9700 Pro Full Release Review
ATi Technologies Overtakes NVIDIA's Flagship GPU

By, Dave Altavilla
August 19, 2002

Comparatively, the Radeon 9700 Pro offers over 2X the processing power of the GeForce 4 Ti 4600, along with other optimizations in areas such as anti-aliasing, that also offer orders of magnitude in performance increase.

15.6 billion AA samples per second, as compared to the 1 billion samples per second with a Radeon 8500, will also give you an idea of what this card can do in the benchmarks when all the eye candy is turned on.  It's safe to say that the Radeon 9700 Pro should yawn at 4X AA requests but we'll prove that out in the benchmarks to follow.

Architecture quick take of the R300 VPU
Looks good on paper and in the lab
 

Here we have the R300 system block diagram with all the major engines represented.  As you can see, ATi has revamped it's HyperZ Compression engine which can offer nearly a 10:1 ratio in savings in total memory bandwidth. 

SmoothVision 2.0 - Now with gamma correction and Anisotropic Filtering for free
 
In addition, ATi has improved on their SmoothVision engine for Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering.  SmoothVision 2.0 utilizes a 2X, 4X or 6X Multi-Sample AA approach but also includes a new gamma correction technique.  In addition to sampling jagged image pixels in a given scene, the Radeon 9700's SmoothVision engine also adjusts gamma correction for those samples when they are applied and it determines the best color uniformity for each pixel.  ATi claims this will produce superior AA image quality compared to anything on the market.

Finally, ATi has brought forward the same great anisotropic filtering techniques from their Radeon 8500 line,  In addition the Radeon 9700 Pro has the ability to drive Trilinear Anisotripic Filtering .  Now however, up to 64 tap aniso filtering can supposedly be enabled with little or no performance penalty.  Again, this is another claim that we'll just have to look into with our benchmarks that follow.

 

256 Bit Memory Controller - Bandwidth rules

None of the Radeon9700's special features could be utilized fully without the capabilities of this component in the R300 architecture.  Memory bandwidth continues to be the main limiting factor for achieving 3D Graphics performance.  With the limitations on modern memory technology and memory controller latency, as clock speeds scale, ATi decided to design the R300 with "fatter pipes".  Current generation GPUs have 128 bit memory interfaces running at 650MHz.  The Radeon 9700 Pro and it's R300 VPU has a 256 bit memory interface running at roughly that same speed.  You guessed it, twice the bus width affords twice the bandwidth, clock for clock.

DX9 Shader Units - Ahead of the curve

The Radeon 9700 has version 2.0 Programmable Pixel and Vertex Shaders.  These are next generation programmable engines that now have floating point precision and can support hundreds even thousands more instructions for more complex and realistic renderings. 

     Real-time Fur Rendered With SmartShader 2.0
 Click image for full view

     
  

The Radeon 9700 will be able to take full advantage of the enhancement brought forth by the DX9 Shader Language, once developers have begun to release game titles that take advantage of the new API.  Incidentally, DirectX 9 is rumored to be coming out in the October time frame, right around corner.

 

The VPE - An ATi strength from way back


  

To close out our quick take on the Radeon 9700 Pro's architecture, we have a look at the card's Video Processing Engine.  Incorporated in the R300 VPU is ATi's legacy of well rounded digital video processing prowess.  Hardware support for motion compensation, IDCT (inverse discrete cosine transform), scaling and adaptive de-interlacing are all still very much a part of the architecture.  In addition, ATi added the "FullStream" de-blocking filter, that we told you about here back in July.  This feature allows for the smoothing over of pixels during video playback from lower quality sources.  The result is a significantly clearer image during playback.  With the Radeon 9700 Pro board we received, ATi bundled an enhanced version of the RealOne Player that supports FullStream.  We've experienced the effect first hand and it does make quite an improvement.

On the DVD playback front, we are of the opinion around the HotHardware Lab that ATi's DVD playback has always been a notch or two above anything on the market.  The Radeon 9700 Pro was more of the same for us, displaying some of the cleanest DVD output on our VGA monitor, that we have ever seen.

A note on desktop image quality and The Radeon 9700 Pro's Display Interface:

Finally, the display interface of the R300 VPU and Radeon 9700 Pro we tested, has been goosed up a notch or two as well, with dual 400MHz DACs for super sharp output at high resolution.  We were able to crank the resolution on our 22" Mitsubishi monitor all the way up to 1600X1200 at 85Hz with excellent clarity.  Desktop color saturation and sharpness was not quite up to Matrox Parhelia levels for us.  However, it was completely acceptable at high resolutions and drove slightly better desktop image quality than what we have seen on Radeon 8500 of GeForce 4 boards.

 

Drivers, AA and Screenshots