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PC Buyers Guide - September 2002 - Video Cards

We're at it again. With all the new toys hitting the marketplace, it was time to update the TweakTown Buyers Guide. There are some mighty hot tickets that have been added to the list so come join Nick Swan as he tells you what is hot... and what is not!

| Guides | Posted: Sep 2, 2002 4:00 am

Video Cards

 

- ATI Radeon 9700 PRO

 

Times on list: New

 

ATI's website for this product

 

 

The Radeon 9700 PRO (from now on referred to as the R9700) has only just (i.e. a few days) been released at the time of writing, so at first this card is going to prove very difficult to find, but if you can get one, you certainly wont be disappointed!

 

The R9700 has replaced the Radeon 8500 and 8500LE as ATi's high performance cards, and has turned out to be a very worthy competitor to the nVidia juggernaut and its upcoming NV30 video card. In the past, ATi has often tried to sell its video cards based upon special features they have, which in the end hasn't really worked for ATi as the mainstream consumer market has no reason for this fancy stuff. This time, ATi has gone for a more brute force approach, and the R9700 doesn't have obscure features, but instead ones that are more than likely going to be used to full advantage in upcoming games.

 

While we're on the topic of features, I'll have a quick(ish) rundown of them. Firstly off the block is the nice fact that the R9700 is about the same size as the GeForce 3 - no video cards covering DRAM slots! Importantly, while the actual chip that runs the R9700 hasn't gone up bit-wise, the DDR RAM has doubled in bits to 256-bit. While this may not seem special, if you look at the Memory Bandwidth equation:

 

Mem Bandwidth = Memory Speed * Memory Bus Width / 8

 

On a Ti4600 (the previous card here), this then becomes

 

10.4Gb/s=650MHz*128-bit/8

 

However! The R9700 looks like this: 19.8=620MHz*256-bit/8

 

As you can see, the move to 256-bit DDR RAM has resulted in the bandwidth being nearly double the Ti4600, but still having a slower memory speed! As well as supporting the new 256-bit DDR RAM, it also supports AGP 8x, which is a new AGP standard running at 0.8V and is being released on the newest motherboards from now. At the present time only the KT400, SiS648 and P4X400 support this. AGP 8x allows the AGP card to access system memory at 1066MB/s, which is double the AGP 4x limit, but unfortunately, it doesn't give much more performance, but it does help! (Remember that the card only accesses the memory when its run out of its own memory, so it won't be helpful all that often). While on the topic of memory, the card supports 128MB, and can have 256MB (I believe - I have only seen 128MB versions so far) of 2.86ns RAM, which is good for a theoretical 700MHz. The memory controller on the card is the Hyper Z III, which is an evolution of the Hyper Z II on the R8500 and the new R9000. Chip wise, the R9700 has a handy 100-110 million transistors on a 0.15 micron die, which is about 40 million over the Ti4600, which is also on a 0.15 micron die. The R9700 has some other handy new features like the inclusion of 4 vertex shaders, 8 pixel pipelines, which are both double the Ti4600. While that won't mean anything to most people, it firstly means increased performance, and secondly, the inclusion of things like that, as well as upgrades to the Vertex and Pixel shaders, means that the R9700 is DX9 compliant, even though DX9 isn't out yet! The card also supports multisampling instead of supersampling, which is said to improve FSAA performance, and after seeing its FSAA performance, I'd have to believe them.

 

Now that I've rambled on about the R9700's great features, you'd expect that it performs rather well. The card is faster than the Ti4600 by around 150% in most tests. In the 3DMark 2001SE section of the THG R9700 review, the R9700 is able to score 10000 points at 1600*1200/32-bit/85Hz in 3DMark 2001 SE. That score is enough said on the performance!

 

Price wise, it's quite steep, at US$399 RRP, so its only for the ones with deep pockets, but hey, this is the top of the line card section. If your after the best card, bar none, take this, if you can find it!

 

- Find the best price on ATi Radeon 9700

 

- Any (decent) brand GeForce 4 Ti4200

 

Times on list: One

 

nVidia's website for this product

 

 

While the GeForce 4 has been on the market for quite a while now, the cards on the market were based on the high/middle end versions of the chipset and were thus quite expensive. Fortunately, the prices of these two cards (the Ti4400/4600) have come done markedly and now you can buy a quality Ti4600 for less than the original price of the Ti4400. However, the Ti4400 is still more than AU$500 in most shops, which is a lot of money. However, nVidia released the GeForce 4 Ti4200, which is designed to slot into the budget high performance market (if you can have such a thing). The Ti4200 is essentially the same as the two cards above, but has some slight, but nevertheless important, changes which should be looked at.

 

Firstly, the card is not based on the same PCB (printed circuit board) design as the Ti4400 and 4600. The PCB is only 6 layers instead of the 8 on the Ti4400/4600 and is a lot smaller (around the R9700 size). I believe this is because the card has a far lower power requirement than the Ti4400/4600's and thus needs less space to fit the capacitors. Most importantly, this reduction in size means the Ti4200 will fit in boards the Ti4400/4600's won't; the EPoX 8KHA+ being an example.

 

The other important difference between the Ti4200 and the Ti4400/4600 is the choice of two different types; either 64MB or 128MB. The different memory configurations also come with different memory speeds, but they have the same core speed of 250MHz. The 64MB version has 250MHz DDR RAM (500MHz) and the 128MB version has 222MHz DDR RAM (444MHz). The Ti4200 doesn't use BGA RAM like the Ti4400/4600's either.

 

Performance wise, they are obviously not as fast as the other GeForce 4's, but they will beat all of the GeForce 3 models comfortably, which is impressive considering many GF3Ti500's still sell for more than these boards. The overclocking of the Ti4200 is also very good and is certainly one of the biggest selling points. For 65% of the price of a Ti4400 you are almost certain to be able to overclock your card to a similar level of performance and there is also a good chance that you will be able to obtain higher. I certainly wouldn't be complaining with a cheap Ti4400 (mind you, you're not guaranteed to get to Ti4400 speeds, but I would consider you very unlucky not to). The question that remains is what memory size to buy and what brand. Basically, if you are after a short term upgrade before the NV30 (next nVidia card) and the R9700 when its price drops, then I would go for the 64MB version. It has faster memory, will (or should) overclock better due to lower ns RAM and currently only one popular game really makes use of the 128MB of RAM; Jedi Knight 2. Having said that, future games will make use of 128MB of RAM, so if you're looking to keep the card for a while, I would definitely get a 128MB version. Brand-wise, I would go for a Triplex Ti4200 with 3.3ns RAM if you are getting the 64MB version (because it will overclock better), and the ASUS or SUMA Ti4200 128MB, because they also feature 3.3ns RAM, which will make overclocking that much better.

 

- Find the best price on GeForce4 Ti4200 graphics card!

 

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