We’ve said it before, but we may not say it again; ATI display cards have tended to lag behind some rivals in terms of ultimate 3D game performance. Now we can report that ATI has stormed the 3D gaming world with its new-generation Radeon 3D graphics family.
Radeon technology is a real challenger to nVidia’s all-conquering GeForce platform. ATI has included compatibility with most of the latest 3D graphics technologies, including hardware environment bump mapping for more realistic 3D quality, a transform and lighting (T&L) engine for relieving the PC’s own processor of complex geometric calculations and then there’s full screen anti-aliasing (FSAA), for smoothing out the jagged edges in ordinary graphics. Radeon rivals, like GeForce or 3Dfx’s Voodoo 5 have some of these features but only Radeon has them all.
In reality, few games yet support T&L and hardware environment bump mapping and FSAA slows the graphics down dramatically. However, the inclusion of these features is a useful way of extending the life of the card as more advanced games eventually make use of them in the future.
Performance-wise, Radeon is superb at dealing with highest-quality 32-bit colour graphics modes. You can make the card go slightly faster in 16-bit modes, but that boost trick isn’t as impressive as with GeForce cards. A traditional forte of ATI cards is movie playback performance and there is no break with that tradition with Radeon; it also supports video capture and has a built-in TV tuner.
Of the new Radeon range, we tested a mid-range 32MB model fitted with double data rate (DDR) memory. This has a 166MHz processor compared to the faster 183MHz unit fitted to the top 64MB model. Despite being slower, the 32MB card still out-guns first-generation GeForce cards.
One problem some Radeon users might experience to start with is immature software drivers. There is a depressingly long list of popular games that exhibit problems with the Radeon card on ATI’s Web site, though this isn’t unusual for such a new platform. These will almost certainly be fixed in time.
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