ATI RADEON 9500 Pro Performance Analysis
Seriously Powerful Mainstream Graphics

By: Dave Altavilla
November 27, 2002

As you probably are aware, High End / Enthusiast 3D Graphics cards, make up a relatively small slice of the overall TAM (Total Available Market) in the Graphics Card arena.  What is perhaps the largest portion of this market, is what some would call "mainstream" graphics, or the value segment.  That is to say that graphics cards, that are priced below $200 or so, make up the largest percentage share of all retail and OEM business in the marketplace.  So, as you can surmise, although it is important to have that all-powerful King of the Hill 3D Gaming product, it is perhaps even more important to have a highly competitive product that the average consumer can acquire, without having to justify its relative value to their spouse, parents, or significant other.

ATi Technologies certainly made a splash with the introduction of their Radeon 9700 Pro back in August of this year.  However, what perhaps may be an even more powerful blow to their arch rival NVIDIA, would be the follow on mainstream or value products, that will spin out of ATi's core VPU, that drives their high end card.  This is exactly what we intend to show you today, with the formal launch of ATi's Radeon 9500 Pro.  Will this new R300 powered mainstream graphics card be able to take the price / performance lead over NVIDIA's hugely compelling, GeForce 4 Ti4200?  We'll cover that and more in the pages ahead.

Features of the RADEON 9500 Pro
Big Competition for the GeForce4 Ti 4600, 4400,  and 4200

GRAPHICS TECHNOLOGY

R300 Visual Processing Unit (VPU)
Core Clock Speed 275MHz

MEMORY CONFIGURATION

  • 128MB  of Double Data Rate DRAM

  • 270MHz DDR for 540MHz total bandwidth

  • 128 bit DDR Memory Interface

3D GRAPHICS FEATURES

  • Eight parallel rendering pipelines process up to 2.2 billion pixels per second

  • Four parallel geometry engines process up to 275 million transformed and lit polygons per second

  • High precision 10-bit per channel framebuffer support

  • 128-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

 

   

The RADEON 9500 Family
DX9 Capable with horsepower to spare

We're not going to spend a lot of time on the architecture or features of the Radeon 9500 Pro.  Frankly, we were a little time constrained with this article and we wanted to focus more on the benchmarks, since those are "the proof in the pudding", so to speak.  However, we will point out that the Radeon 9500 Pro is a slower clock speed derivative of the R300 VPU that powers the Radeon 9700 Pro.  Specifically, this new Radeon has a core VPU clock speed of 275MHz and Memory clock speed of 540MHz DDR.  Additionally, the memory bus has been taken down to a narrower 128 bit architecture, which does allow for additional cost efficiencies, beyond the higher yield rates, that can be achieved at the lower Core VPU speed.


Other than that, not much has changed for the 9500 Pro version, as you can see in the above diagram.  ATi will also be introducing, via their 3rd Party OEM partners, a Radeon 9500 variant (sans the "Pro").  This card has the same clock speeds for VPU and memory but has 4 less pixel pipes on chip than the "Pro" version.  Again, we're covering the performance metrics of the Radeon 9500 Pro here, which as the numbers show, by all rights should be a real head-ache for the GeForce 4 Ti 4200.

More Close-Ups, Test Setup and Benchmarks