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PC Buyers Guide - October 2002 - Video Cards

You've all been waiting for it and now its here! Come join Nick Swan as he gives us the newest edition of the TweakTown Buyer's Guide. With some very interesting additions to the PC world this past month, it is time to see what was worthy to be added to the ranks of the best. Come see for yourself!

| Guides | Posted: Oct 12, 2002 4:00 am

Video Cards

 

- ATi Radeon 9700 PRO

 

Times on list: 1

 

ATi website for this product

 

 

The Radeon 9700 PRO (from now on referred to as the R9700) has now been on the market for about a month and its sales have been at such high levels that companies like Gigabyte have had to order more R9700 PRO cores from ATi to fill the demand.

 

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 GeForce3 - 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 it's run out of its own memory, so it won't be helpful all that often. However, there have been a lot of issues with the AE2 stepping R9700, which lead to it not being able to run AGP 8x on a lot of boards. New versions don't have this problem, and if you bought an AE2 R9700, I believe that you can send it back to ATi to get it fixed. Memory-wise, 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 four vertex shaders, eight 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, but has recently started to come down quite a bit. In Australia you can get some Powercolor R9700's for AU$750, which is about 350 American dollars. If you're after the best card, bar none, take this, if you can find it!

 

- Find the best price on ATi Radeon 9700

 

- Any (decent) brand GeForce4, based on any GeForce4 Ti chipset

 

Times on list: In different forms - every guide

 

nVidia's website for this product

 

 

The GeForce4 chipset has been on the market for quite a long time now, and while it has no doubt been surpassed by the ATi Radeon 9700 Pro video card, it still packs a very big punch in the performance stakes. Originally, the GeForce4 Ti4600 retailed at about AU$950, but the card has now fallen to about AU$550 in quite a few shops, which makes it a very tantalizing purchase. On the same note, the Ti4400 has also fallen quite a bit in price and can now be bought for less than AU$440. The Ti4200 on the other hand hasn't fallen in price as much as the Ti4400/4600, which is partly due to its already low price and partly due to the fact it was released a fair while after the Ti4400/4600.

 

If you look at the features of the GeForce4 and then compare them against the Radeon 9700 Pro from ATi, the GeForce4 looks like an old style card only worthy for web browsing, but you have to remember that many of the features of the R9700 are very advanced, and won't be supported in games for quite a while to come. The GeForce4 Ti cards are based on the NV25 chipset, which brought quite a few improvements over the previous card, the GeForce3. The GeForce4 has two vertex/pixel shaders, up from one on the GeForce3, but only half the number of shaders on the R9700. The cards also support LMA II - Light Speed Memory Architecture II - which was one of the main reasons the GF4 had a nice speed boost over the GF3. Accuview and nView are also on the GF4's, which allow you to have two different monitors running off the same card, although I am told ATi's Hydravision is a much better method of running two monitors. If you're after a dual monitor setup, Matrox or an ATi Radeon 8500 might be for you.

 

The GF4 Ti4400/4600's come in 128MB sizes, with the memory running at 550MHz for the Ti4400 and 650MHz for the Ti4600. The core speeds are 275 and 300MHz respectively. The Ti4200 on the other hand comes in either 64MB or 128MB sizes, running at 444MHz for the 128MB and 500MHz for the 64MB cards - the core on both runs at 250MHz. The choice between 64MB or 128MB really comes down to how long you will be keeping the card. If its not for too long, i.e. you're looking to get either the NV30 (nVidia's next chipset) as soon as it comes out, or if your going to get an R9700 in the future, say at Christmas, then 64MB will be perfect. However, if you're going to keep the card for a while, I would look at getting a 128MB card. While the memory may run slower, newer games will start to use more than 64MB of textures, which means the video card will have to access the system memory, which will give a large performance drop. You could try and avoid this by getting the Asus Ti4200 128MB Deluxe, which has 3.3ns RAM, good for 606MHz theoretically, and 550MHz default. If you're just going for the 64MB version, try and get Triplex's Ti4200, which also comes with 3.3ns RAM.

 

The choice of which GF4 to get will come down to price, but the price drops have made the Ti4600 very affordable. However, if you're going to spend more than about AU$600, then I would save up and grab the R9700 Pro instead.

 

- Find the best price on GeForce4 graphics cards!

 

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