A Fistful of Radeons

ATI’s spring lineup rounds out the 9000 series from top to bottom

Jason Cross

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This article originally appeared in Computer Games Magazine #150

It’s been half a year since ATI unveiled its Radeon 9700 Pro, and since that’s the equivalent of 20 years in video card time, enter the new generation. This spring, that means a whole slew of new products in both the desktop and mobile markets.
On the desktop side, the new big boy of the Canadian company’s lineup is the Radeon 9800 Pro. This is essentially a tweaked version of the 9700 Pro, operating at higher clock speeds. One significant change is the addition of what they call the “F-buffer” or fragment buffer, which allows the card to run infinitely long pixel shader operations, albeit not without reading and writing to main memory a lot. We’re assured this requires an actual change in silicon and it’s just some driver tweak, so it’ll only be on the 9800 cards. Some of the internal buffers have been tuned up as well, making 6X anti-aliasing modes faster and compression has been beefed up, too. In a couple months, there will even be a 256MB version of these cards, but expect to pay even more than the $399 the 128MB model will cost.
Then there’s the 9600 Pro. This is ATI’s first desktop chip to be manufactured using a .13 micron process (the others still use the older .15 process). This allows the chips to be smaller, cooler, and cheaper to produce. With four pixel pipelines instead of eight, it’s certainly going to be slower than the 9700, but it retains all the same features and should only cost about $169-199. Non-"Pro" cards running at slower clock speeds should cost about $30 less.
Then there’s the Radeon 9200 Pro. This continues ATI’s misleading recent naming practices by offering up a DirectX 8 class card, essentially a tweaked Radeon 8500, and giving it a number in the 9000 range. To add insult to injury, it might even be slower than the unpopular Radeon 9100, which is basically a reduced-clock Radeon 8500 as well. At around $129-149 for the Pro version and as little as $99 for the basic model, these might be great budget cards, but don’t be fooled into thinking you’re getting more speed or features than the Radeon 8500.
One of ATI’s most exciting new products will be the Mobility Radeon 9600. Appearing in notebooks real soon now, this brings full DirectX 9 support to laptops. In fact, it’s essentially the same as the desktop 9600, and should be just as fast, too. ATI is using new “GDDR2-M” memory to keep speeds up and power consumption down, and one additional new feature is a thermal diode on the chip itself that can monitor temperature and automatically overclock the chip when it’s not running too hot. All of this with promised power consumption equal to their last high-end mobile chip—it’s perfect for taking your laptop to the LAN party. This summer, a faster Pro version will be available.

This article originally appeared in Computer Games Magazine #150