ATI has taken the graphics card battle to Nvidia with the launch of its new Radeon 9700 Pro chip, previously codenamed R300. We’re looking at a reference ATI graphics card here, but ATI no longer sells graphics cards in Europe under its own name. Rest assured that the Radeon 9700 Pro cards on sale, from the Gigabyte Maya II R9700 Pro to the Sapphire Atlantis, are identical in all significant respects.
The timing of this new graphics chip launch is significant. ATI assures us that the Radeon 9700 Pro is fully DirectX 9 compliant, even though we won’t see the new games API from Microsoft until later this year. The Radeon 9700 Pro is, of course, also fully DirectX 8.1 compliant, which is just as well as there won’t be any DirectX 9 software for some time yet.
It’s a monster of a chip with 106 million transistors, which makes it more complex than a Pentium 4 processor. The card itself is smaller than an Nvidia GeForce 4 Ti4600 and the heat sink on the chip is large compared to previous ATI cards. This is necessary to dissipate the heat generated by all those transistors.
In fact, the Radeon 9700 Pro has an extra electrical connector just like the one you find on a floppy disk drive. The necessary cable is supplied with the card, and connection takes moments, but this is a sign of the power requirements of such an advanced chip. ATI recommends you have a power supply rated at 300W or more in your PC to handle the extra power drain.
The card has outputs for VGA, DVI and S-video. The core chip runs at 325MHz and is supported by a huge 128MB of DDR memory running at 310MHz. The Radeon 9700 uses a 256-bit DDR memory interface and has a massive peak memory bandwidth of 24.8GB per second.
We tested the Radeon 9700 Pro in 3D Mark 2001 using two configurations of Pentium 4 PC and were deeply impressed. We also saw the highest testing scores we have ever seen. At low resolutions and with few quality settings enabled, it is hard to separate the Radeon 9700 Pro and the GeForce 4 Ti4600.
As the resolution is increased, and with FSAA (full-screen anti-aliasing) and Anisotropic filtering enabled (translation: stuff that makes games look better), the Radeon 9700 Pro shines. Frame rates stay high and the quality of the display is simply excellent. Ultimately, then, the whole point of using a Radeon 9700 Pro is to benefit from the eye candy in current games. You can turn all the effects on, yet you suffer a negligible performance hit.
It is worth pointing out the ATI’s new Catalyst drivers worked well and supported the Radeon 9700 Pro very ably. This is a welcome change from previous ATI launches that inevitably suffered from buggy drivers.
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