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The New Breed of Radeon from ATI Can the Radeon 8500 and 7500 Threaten nVidia’s Grip on High-Performance 3D Graphics?

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The New Breed of Radeon from ATI
Can the Radeon 8500 and 7500 Threaten nVidias Grip on High-Performance 3D Graphics?

For several years now in the realm of 3D graphics, ATI has played second fiddle to nVidias GeForce series. While blessed with excellent business-app performance and outstanding features for DVD playback, ATIs Radeon was a strong challenger to nVidias mid-range GeForce2 series, but no threat at all to the much newer top-of-the-line GeForce 3. Now, however, ATI has struck back with new, improved Radeons: its top-of-the-line Radeon 8500, mid-range Radeon 7500 and the notebook-oriented Mobility Radeon 7500. How do these new cards and chipsets compare to ATIs previous products, and to archrival nVidias GeForce3?

Radeon 8500 Improvements, not Just Imitations

The Radeon 8500 chipset powers, naturally enough, the new ATI Radeon 8500 video card. The Radeon 8500s outputs are the same as those used on the low-end Radeon VE: VGA, DVI-I, and TV-out. Thus, Radeon buyers no longer are forced to decide between 3D performance and dual-monitor convenience. But, Radeon 8500s benefits dont stop with better output connectors. Its no surprise that the Radeon 8500 GPUs (graphics processing unit) design is inspired by both Microsofts DirectX 8 gaming API (application program interface) and ATIs archrival, the GeForce3. Heres whats new with the Radeon 8500:

  • Reduced die size CPUs such as the Intel Pentium III and AMD Athlon arent the only chips which switch to smaller processes to improve speed; the Radeon 8500 GPU uses a .15 micron core, compared to the .18 micron core of the original Radeon.

  • Truform This is ATIs term for DirectX 8s N-patches, which calculates how to use triangles to create a curved surface. Truform goes beyond the plain-vanilla N-patches feature of DirectX 8 by allowing adjustments to the number of triangles used to create a curved surface. By using more triangles, the surface of a curved object can look more realistic. If youre wondering how good Truform can be, check out the eerily realistic "talking Rachel" demo on the ATI Radeon 8500 showcase page at http://www.ati.com/na/pages/technology/ hardware/8500showcase/index.html. If it werent for ATIs use of the annoyingly artificial ViaVoice text-to-speech engine, youd swear "Rachel" was real, especially when you see her move her head and blink. ATIs goal with Truform was to bridge the previously-huge gap between computer-generated animation (as in last summers Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within movie) and game animation. After watching "Rachel" for a couple of minutes, you wont doubt that ATI has done it. Unlike a lot of 3D improvements, which require extensive changes to game code to take advantage of them, Truform is easy to add to games. Many game developers have pledged support for Truform either by developing patch files for current games or building in native support for it in future games.

  • SmartShader With SmartShader, ATI tips its hat to GeForce3s programmable vertex processor and pixel processor features, and surpasses them. SmartShader can handle longer and more complex programs than GeForce3s pixel shader, and has direct support for Microsofts latest DirectX variant, DirectX 8.1. SmartShader handles even very complex 3D effects such as fur and skeletal animation.

  • SmoothVision The first full-scene anti-aliasing, which smooths rough edges of on-screen objects, came from 3dfxs last gasp, the Voodoo 5. nVidia later followed suite with anti-aliasing schemes in both their GeForce2 and GeForce3 products. ATIs latest version, SmoothVision, puts control of the anti-aliasing patterns into the game developers hands for the first time. By allowing the game developer to select the best pattern for a particular scene, the developer can use the minimum amount of data needed to produce the desired anti-aliasing effect. Less data equals more performance!

The Radeon 8500 also brings back improved versions of features found in the original Radeon chip, including:

  • Charisma Engine II A much faster version of the hardware transform and lighting (T&L) pipeline combined with a new programmable geometry pipeline, Charisma Engine II enables the Radeon 8500 to produce 62.5 million triangles per second, over double the performance of the original Radeon.

  • HyperZ II HyperZ IIs faster and more efficient compression of data and discarding of hidden surfaces enables the Radeon 8500 to do well with games which have a lot of overlapping objects.

  • Pixel Tapestry II The Radeon 8500 features four programmable pixel pipelines and six textures per pipeline. ATI claims this will give the card much better high-speed performance than the original Radeon. This means almost three times faster pixel fill rate (1,000 versus 366 Megapixels per second) and almost double the texel fill rate (2,000 versus 1,098 Megatexels per second) according to ATI benchmarks available at http://www.ati.com/na/pages/technology/hardware/8500showcase/ radeon8500_white_paper.html.

  • Video Immersion II The Radeon 8500 adds better de-interlacing logic and frame-rate conversion techniques to what was already the best DVD-playback video card on the market. You may also see a low-cost ($40 or less) component video (Y Pr Pb) adapter for the DVI-I connector in the future to allow you to output to a component-input TV.

  • Hydravision Just as with the current Radeon VE, Radeon 8500 users can use any two outputs (DVI and VGA, VGA and TV-out, DVI and TV-out) and use different resolutions and color depths on each display. The difference is that Radeon 8500 users no longer need to sacrifice performance for display flexibility.

How the Radeon 8500 Compares to the GeForce3

Since the Radeon 8500 will just be reaching store shelves at the end of September, early benchmarks available on Toms Hardware (www.tomshardware.com) and Anandtech (www.anandtech.com) Web sites are comparing relatively immature ATI drivers to the GeForce3s newest Detonator 4 drivers (nVidia is the undisputed champion of driver efficiency). Since ATI has been known to have driver problems in the past, it isnt surprising that benchmark tests run in August with preview hardware give GeForce3 a slight to significant lead in most tests. However, if ATI can improve the efficiency of their drivers to the Radeon 8500 could catch or even surpass GeForce3 cards in many areas. Then again, nVidia is readying the release of Titanium versions of their GeForce 3 line that will surely impact the 3D graphics landscape yet again.

The Radeon 7500, or Radeon, Act II

The Radeon 7500 GPU is essentially a "die-shrink" version of the original Radeon GPU, running on a smaller process. Like the Radeon 8500 card, the Radeon 7500 card also offers VGA, DVI-I, and TV out features, making it a better choice than the Radeon VE (which omitted hardware T & L and a rendering pipeline) if youre looking for a less-expensive multiple-monitor video card that still has decent 3D performance.

Early benchmarks show the Radeon 7500 running at speeds comparable to the nVidia GeForce2 Pro (top of the GeForce2 line) and considerably faster than the GeForce2 MX400, which is nVidias current dual-display solution.

Take Radeon with You: the Mobility Radeon 7500

The Mobility Radeon 7500 provides the graphics features of the Radeon 7500 in a small chipset package for notebook computer users. The Mobility Radeon 7500 supports up to 64MB of on-board RAM, and features ATIs new Powerplay power and performance management technology, which adjusts the video clock speed and voltage to match the power type in use (AC or DC) and the performance requirements of the current software in use.

The most comparable chip to the Mobility Radeon 7500 is (no surprise) the nVidia GeForce2 Go, but in Quake 3 Arena and 3D Mark 2000 benchmark tests performed by InQuest Market Research, the Mobility Radeon beat the GeForce 2 Go chip on otherwise identically-configured notebook computers. Performance improvements ranged from 30% to over 100%, with most test results ranging between 50% and 80%. This shouldn't be any huge surprise given that ATI does have much more experience in producing graphics chips for the notebook market.

For More Information

Get product shots and a series of head-to-head benchmarks for both the Radeon 8500 and Radeon 7500 from Anandtech.com at

Toms Hardware covers the Radeon 8500 in particular at

See the details of the Mobility Radeon 7500 versus nVidia GeForce 2 Go test at:

ATIs official Radeon 8500 technology showcase is at:

Copyright©2002 Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

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