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

By, Dave Altavilla
August 19, 2002

Taking risks is a way of life for people as well as companies, if there is a desire to achieve and be the best at what they do.  If you look at the patterns and modus operendi of the average "over achiever", you'll note that taking chances and educated risks is standard procedure.  Often times an individual, if they are to expand their scope of influence or grow, needs to take themselves "out of their element" and take the risk of something totally new, foreign or innovative.  Likewise, one certainly could draw a conclusion on the pattern and run of enormous success, that NVIDIA has achieved over the past few years, to that of their ability to pioneer new frontiers and take risks with new technologies in the 3D Graphics arena.  However, along with risk comes the obvious downside of possible failure, at least on the first attempt where one hopes to learn from their mistakes.

Earlier this year, NVIDIA's CEO Jen-Hsun Huang announced to the press that future generation GPU products coming from NVIDIA, will be based on .13 micron fab process technologies.  Most likely at some point earlier in the year, during the NV30's architectural design phase, the R&D team at NVIDIA made the decision to take an educated risk and move to this next generation process geometry with their fab partner TSMC.  Unfortunately this time, the company that had been so successful pioneering new 3D Graphics technologies, took a risk that ultimately cost them a valuable product introduction cycle and afforded their primary rival ATi, a huge advantage in next generation competitive products.   There has been plenty of speculation on who was at fault with respect to the delay of the NV30, TSMC or NVIDIA but that's not the point really, is it?  The position that ATi is in today, with the introduction of the Radeon 9700 Pro, is a direct result of the company making the decision to stick with a significantly more mature .15 micron process for their R300 VPU. 

Mass production ready and with a core clock of 325MHz, the Radeon 9700 Pro is ATi's "Big Gun" pointed directly at NVIDIA's GeForce 4 product line, in this battle for PC 3D Graphics supremacy.  It boasts full DX9 compliance before the API is even officially released by Microsoft and it's here today in our lab, as well as arriving to retail shelves around the globe.  The Radeon 9700 Pro looks to be the proverbial "leapfrog" for ATi.  We're here to show you all the gory details as ATi releases their alleged "GeForce 4 killer".  As the saying goes, "the numbers don't lie".  So let's dig in, shall we?

Features of the Radeon 9700 Pro
A GeForce 4 Ti4600 Killer

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GRAPHICS TECHNOLOGY

RADEON 9700 Visual Processing Unit (VPU)
325MHz Core Clock

MEMORY CONFIGURATION

  • 128MB of double data rate SDRAM
    310MHz DDR (620MHz)

3D GRAPHICS FEATURES

  • Eight parallel rendering pipelines process up to 2.6 billion pixels per second

  • Four parallel geometry engines process up to 325 million transformed and lit polygons per second

  • High precision 10-bit per channel framebuffer support

  • 256-bit DDR memory interface

  • AGP 8X support

-SMARTSHADER 2.0

  • Full support for Microsoft DirectX 9.0 programmable pixel and vertex shaders in hardware

  • 2.0 Pixel Shaders support up to 16 textures per rendering pass

  • 2.0 Vertex Shaders support vertex programs up to 1024 instructions with flow control

  • New 128-bit per pixel floating point color formats

  • Multiple Render Target (MRT) support

  • Shadow volume rendering acceleration

  • Complete feature set also supported in OpenGL via extensions

-SMOOTHVISION 2.0

  • State-of-the-art full-scene anti-aliasing

  • New technology processes up to 15.6 billion anti-aliased samples per second for unprecedented performance

  • Supports 2x, 4x, and 6x modes with programmable sample patterns

  • Advanced anisotropic filtering

  • Supports up to 16 bilinear samples (in performance mode) or trilinear samples (in quality mode) per pixel

  • 2x/4x/6x full scene anti-aliasing modes

  • Adaptive algorithm with programmable sample patterns

  • 2x/4x/8x/16x anisotropic filtering modes

  • Adaptive algorithm with bilinear (performance) and trilinear (quality) options

  • Bandwidth-saving algorithm enables this feature with minimal performance cost

-HYPERZ III

  • Hierarchical Z-Buffer and Early Z Test reduce overdraw by detecting and discarding hidden pixels

  • Lossless Z-Buffer Compression and Fast Z-Buffer Clear reduce memory bandwidth consumption by over 50%

  • Fast Z-Buffer Clear

-TRUFORM 2.0

  • 2nd generation N-patch higher order surface support

  • Discrete and continuous tessellation levels per polygon for dynamic LOD

  • DirectX 9.0 displacement mapping

VIDEO FEATURES

-VIDEOSHADER

  • Seamless integration of programmable pixel shaders with video data

  • High quality, hardware accelerated de-blocking of internet streaming video

  • Noise removal filter for captured video

  • Integrated MPEG-2 decode

  • Hardware accelerated iDCT, motion compensation, and color space conversion

  • Top quality DVD and all-format DTV/HDTV decode with low CPU overhead

  • Back-end scaler delivers top quality playback

  • Upscaling and downscaling with 4-tap horizontal and vertical filtering

  • Filtered display of images up to 1920 pixels wide

  • Unique per-pixel adaptive de-interlacing feature combines the best elements of the bob and add-field (weave) techniques

FULLSTREAM video de-blocking technology

  • Noise removal filtering for captured video

  • MPEG-2 decoding with motion compensation, iDCT and color space conversion

  • All-format DTV/HDTV decoding

  • YPrPb component output

  • Adaptive de-interlacing and frame rate conversion

  • Dual integrated display controllers

  • Dual integrated 10-bit per channel 400MHz DACs

  • Integrated 165 MHz TMDS transmitter (DVI and HDCP compliant)

  • Integrated TV Output support up to 1024x768 resolution

  • Optimized for Pentium 4 SSE2 and AMD Athlon 3Dnow!

  • PC 2002 compliant

DISPLAY FEATURES

  • Dual integrated display controllers

  • Drive two displays simultaneously with independent resolutions and refresh rates

  • HYDRAVISION software provides complete control over multi-display configurations with a user-friendly interface

  • Dual integrated 10-bit per channel palette DACs operating at up to 400MHz

  • Integrated 165MHz TMDS transmitter supports resolutions up to QXGA (2048x1536) and complies with DVI and HDCP specifications

  • Integrated TV-Out support up to 1024x768 resolution

  • YPrPb output for direct drive of HDTV monitors

DISPLAY SUPPORT

  • 15-pin VGA connector for analog CRT

  • S-video or composite connector for TV/VCR

  • DVI-I connector for digital CRT or flat panel

  • Independent resolutions and refresh rates for any two connected displays

GENERAL FEATURES

  • Comprehensive 2x, 4x, and 8x AGP support

  • High performance quad-channel DDR memory interface supports 64/128/256MB configurations

  • Fully compliant with PC 2002 requirements

  • Optimized for Pentium 4 SSE2 and AMD Athlon 3Dnow! processor instructions

  • Supports optional THEATER 200 companion chip for NTSC/PAL/SECAM video capture

  • Highly optimized 128-bit 2D engine with support for new Windows XP GDI extensions

 


We covered much of the feature detail of the R300 GPU in our initial preview of the card back in July.  However, we'll go through a few of the key architectural enhancements, again for you later in this article.  For now let's look at things strictly from a hardware perspective.

The Card:

The Radeon 9700 Pro is actually somewhat smaller than a GeForce 4 Ti card but a little larger than a Radeon 8500 or 9000 board.  In addition on the back end of the board, as you'll note in the front faced shot above, there is a 4 pin floppy drive power connector that feeds an additional 12V supply to the card directly from the systems power supply.  Since the R300 VPU draws so much power, it may actually stress the capability of some systems to deliver enough power through the AGP connector.  This additional power source to the board ensure cross platform compatibility.  We did try powering up with the connector unplugged and the system indeed would not post.

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There are also dual output connectors, one standard VGA and one DVI, with an included DVI converter for dual VGA output if desired.  Finally, in addition to a large heat sink and fan assembly, the Radeon 9700 Pro comes equipped with 350MHz DDR SDRAM from Samsung.  This is essentially 700MHz capable memory but the Radeon 9700 Pro runs the interface at a stock speed of 620MHz (310MHz DDR).  Also, the memory controller on the R300 VPU is capable of utilizing DDR II memory when it is available for even more aggregate bandwidth in future products.  Speaking of which let's take a look at the speeds and feeds of the R300 VPU as well as its new Smartshader 2.0, Smooth Vision 2.0 and Video Processing engines.

 

Architecture and Features