ATi Radeon 9700 Pro Review

We've been hearing all kinds of good things so far concerning the new ATi Radeon 9700 series graphics cards, but can it possibly live up to all the hype? Come join Tio Chaharbaghi as he takes a look at this beast and tells us once and for all if it has what it takes to become the next champ, or the next chump!
Published Fri, Sep 13 2002 11:00 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:25 PM CDT
Rating: 95%Manufacturer: ATi

ATi 9700 Pro - Introduction

IntroductionOver the last few years, only one chipmaker has been able to dominate the market with their line of graphic chipsets, nVidia. The closest competitor they had was the Canadian based company ATi. As the GeForce 2 line was rolling out, ATi started getting serious by releasing the Radeon series. The result? The ATi Radeon coming up short.As the GeForce 3 line started hitting the market, ATi finally released their 8500 line of video cards. The Result? ATi coming up short again. Would a moment come where ATi would have at least a quarter of dominance?A month and a half ago, ATi finally came to the table with a graphic chipset that would blow the world away. On July 17th 2002, on display in San Francisco, CA, ATi showed off their new Radeon 9700 Pro based on the R300 core.nVidia releases there GeForce 4 Ti series, ATi releases the 9700/9000 Pro line a while later. The Result? A new king of performance has been crowned. ATi has finally grasped the graphic market by its hand, and won't be letting go for at least 4-6 months. Where is nVidia's answer?According to various sources, nVidia's "answer" has been delayed until late 4th quarter 2002/1st quarter 2003. These sources state that it seems nVidia is having trouble making the transition to 0.13 micron chips. Note that the 9700 is based on the 0.15 micron and ATi is still trying to squeeze out every MHz until they make their transition to the 0.13 micron chip in early Q1 2003.Today, in the newly opened Canadian Tweak Town Labs, we will be taking a look at ATi's newest creation; the ATi 9700 Pro. We will take you through information about the card, a technological background and of course benchmarks.

ATi 9700 Pro - Specifications

System RequirementsRadeon 9700 Pro requires connection to your PC's internal power supply for operation. A 300-watt power supply or greater is recommended to ensure normal system operation where a number of other internal devices are installed.Intel Pentium 4/III/II/Celeron™, AMD K6/Duron™/Athlon/Athlon XP or compatible with AGP 2X (3.3v), 4X (1.5V), 8X (0.8v) or Universal AGP 3.0 bus configuration (2X/4X/8X).128MB of system memoryInstallation software requires CD-ROM driveDVD playback requires DVD driveGraphics TechnologyRADEON™ 9700 Pro Visual Processing Unit (VPU)Memory Configuration128MB of double data rate SDRAMOperating Systems SupportWindows XPWindows 2000Windows MeDisplay SupportVGA connector for analog CRTS-video or composite connector for TV / VCRDVI-I connector for digital CRT or flat panelIndependent resolutions and refresh rates for any two connected displaysFeaturesEight parallel rendering pipelinesFour parallel geometry engines256-bit DDR memory interfaceAGP 8X supportSMARTSHADER™ 2.0
    Programmable pixel and vertex shaders16 textures per passPixel shaders up to 160 instructions with 128-bit floating point precisionVertex shaders up to 1024 instructions with flow controlMultiple render target supportShadow volume rendering accelerationHigh precision 10-bit per channel frame buffer supportSupports DirectX 9.0 and the latest version of OpenGL
    2x/4x/6x full scene anti-aliasing modesAdaptive algorithm with programmable sample patterns2x/4x/8x/16x anisotropic filtering modesAdaptive algorithm with bi-linear (performance) and tri-linear (quality) options
    3-level Hierarchical Z-Buffer with early Z testLossless Z-Buffer compression (up to 24:1)Fast Z-Buffer Clear
    2nd generation N-Patch higher order surface supportDiscrete and continuous tessellation levels per polygonDisplacement mapping
    Seamless integration of pixel shaders with videoFULLSTREAM™ video de-blocking technologyNoise removal filtering for captured video
MPEG-2 decoding with motion compensation, iDCT and color space conversionAll-format DTV/HDTV decodingYPrPb component outputAdaptive de-interlacing and frame rate conversionDual integrated display controllersDual integrated 10-bit per channel 400 MHz DACsIntegrated 165 MHz TMDS transmitter (DVI & HDCP compliant)Integrated TV Output support up to 1024x768 resolutionOptimized for Pentium 4 SSE2 and AMD Athlon™ 3DNow!PC 2002 compliantWarranty3-year limited warranty

ATi 9700 Pro - Architecture

Architecture9700 Visual processing unitThe foundation of the ATi 9700 Pro is the visual processing unit, also known as the VPU. According to ATi, the features of this newly designed VPU are: fully floating point pipeline, floating point precision needed to run equations of physics in the VPU, and raw performance to allow real-time effects. Before there were separate parts to ATi's cards that would process each section (graphics, video and image processing). The new VPU integrates all three into one VPU.AGP 8XThe Radeon 9700 Pro is one of the first cards to support AGP 8X. Using the AGP 8X bus, this allows a large volume of texture and vertex data to be transferred faster from the system memory to the chip. For those of you who don't know what an AGP bus does, let me sum it up for you. It basically carries a bunch of data between the video card and the computer. For example things like 3d models, textures, shaders etc. Below you will find the bandwidth differences of every AGP bus since 1x.
As you can see above, AGP 8X is around double AGP 4x, which you find on the last batch of video cards. Will we see a performance difference? That is a question that needs to be answered with an AGP 8X motherboard.Memory interfaceAccording to ATi, the new Radeon 9700 Pro video card has a new 256-bit DDR memory interface that supports up to 20 GB of bandwidth per second. It also includes four independent 64-bit memory channels which can all together write data to the memory or read data back to the main graphics processor (VPU).HYPER Z IIIDoesn't Hyper Z sound familiar? Ever since the Radeon series, this technology has been incorporated over three generations. Exclusive to ATi, this bandwidth saving technology is the main role that allows the 9700 Pro to reach high levels of rendering performance. In short terms, the goal of Hyper Z technology is to reduce the memory bandwidth consumed by the Z-Buffer, thereby increasing performance.Vertex processing engineIn general, a 3D scene is composed of interlocking groups of triangles that make up all visible surfaces. The vertex processing engine can place, orient, animate, color, and light every object and surface that needs to be drawn. According to ATi, the Radeon 9700 Pro features the most powerful vertex processing engine ever designed, incorporating four parallel vertex shader pipelines. It also seems that the 9700 Pro is the first chip capable of processing one vertex and one triangle per clock cycle.Truform 2.0Truform 2.0 is another exclusive technology to ATi. It is designed to smooth out the curved surfaces of 3D characters, objects and terrain by increasing the polygon count through a process ATi calls "tessellation". With the 9700 Pro, it is possible to have more natural looking 3D scenes without having to change any existing artwork.3D Rendering EngineThe Radeon 9700 Pro just keeps becoming the first for everything! Once again, the 9700 Pro is the first graphics card to be able to render up to eight pixels simultaneously. According to ATi, this is accomplished by eight parallel 128-bit rendering pipelines, each with its own independent texture unit and pixel shader engine. Basically, at the present time, the Radeon 9700 Pro is thus fully prepared for any game/application 3D environments you throw at it.

ATi 9700 Pro - The Visual Aspect

Smartshader 2.0Smartshader 2.0 is the second generation of ATi's programmable vertex and pixel shader technology. This new revision is designed to be much more powerful and flexible than the first generation of shader technology (found on the 8500 series). With Smartshader 2.0, it is possible for developers to take real time movie effects and incorporate them in games for a great looking 3D environment. Smartshader 2.0 also adds the ability to accelerate the very latest 2.0 vertex and 2.0 pixel shaders that are incorporated into a growing list of 3D game titles.
Above, you can see the Radeon 9700 Pro rendering an image using Smartshader 2.0. On the left is just the normal image and on the right you can notice it is using floating point calculations to implement much more realistic lighting effects.Smoothvision 2.0Smoothvision 2.0 is the second revision to ATi's exclusive Smoothvision technology. According to ATi, the new version, introduced in the Radeon 9700 Pro VPU, provides massive improvements in anti-aliasing performance while simultaneously producing superior image quality. As the original version of Smoothvision did, version 2.0 works with any 3D application (Direct 3D and OpenGL). You can control these options through your windows display panel or through your individual application settings.Full scene AA (FSAA) - Smoothvision 2.0FSAA is a sampling technology that basically makes your games look better and more realistic. According to ATi, high quality anti-aliased graphics are achieved with sub-pixel edge detection and color compression for greatly improved performance. There are three modes for FSAA on the 9700, 2x/4x/6x.
Above, you can see FSAA on the 9700 Pro in action using Quake III arena. As you can notice, the difference between No AA and 6x AA is huge. The lines and curves are all smoothed out. Does it affect performance greatly? Read on to find out!Anisotropic FilteringAF enhances the overall 3D quality of the picture by rendering sharp, detailed textures. Thus the more textures filtered, the better the image quality gets. Basically, without using AF, the 3D world you see will appear blurry and fuzzy, effectively degrading the level of realism.According to ATi, Anisotropic filtering improves image quality by sampling textures more frequently. This is particularly important for objects rotated at sharp angles relative to the viewpoint. For example, texture flat ground in the distance and scenes with rotating 3D objects in the foreground will both benefit from AF and are usually found in today's games. It seems that ATi's 9700 Pro filters more samples than any of the competition out there, with very low performance degradation. The AF modes are 2x/4x/8x/16x.
Above is an image created by ATi showing Smoothvision 2.0 - Anisotropic filtering in action. You can see how it is easier to make out the lines as the AF level increases.

ATi 9700 Pro - Video Aspect

FULLSTREAMATi's FULLSTREAM is the latest advancement in industry leading video processing technology. In a nutshell, FULLSTREAM is a hardware accelerated filter that helps improve the performance and visual quality of internet streaming video (Real Player feeds, Media Player feeds etc). Usually, traditional block based videos (e.g. MPEG) are encoded and delivered to their users with insufficient bandwidth and they also suffer from block artifacts. This is basically where FULLSTREAM comes in. According to ATi, FULLSTREAM intelligently detects the edge of these visible blocks and smoothes them over using a multi-tap filtering technique. The result to all this is a smoother, higher quality video and a much more enjoyable visual experience.
Note from ATI: FULLSTREAM will be implemented by Real Player and other 3rd party partners in the near future.

ATi 9700 Pro - Packaging/Layout

The Box
It seems ATi has basically kept the same layout/color scheme as the last generation of ATi cards. Basically, you have your big 9700 Pro sign on most of the front. On the left side you have a quick outline of a few features on this card. On the bottom of this box you have your system requirements needed to run this card.
The back of the box is quite interesting. Most of it is covered with Radeon 9700 features. The three things listed and described are: Fastest 3D gaming performance, highest level of realism and revolutionary new video features. On the right you see all the key features listed as well as what ATi offers when you purchase there products.The CardIs everyone expecting the same look, HSF, card layout etc. as the previous Radeon? Are you guys just going to skip this part because you thing it's the same old ATi story? You're wrong, read on.
I'm assuming everyone sees some differences already? One big change to the design of the card is the color. This makes it look much more rich and beautiful. Especially when you have a window in your case, it's nice to have a good looking card.One thing to notice is that little connector in the top right of the card. That is used to power this hungry 9700 Pro using your power supply. Doesn't this remind you of that Voodoo 5 series?
There is one big change ATi has made on their new line of graphic cards, the HSF. As you can see, this newly designed HSF has a bigger cooling surface, better fan etc. Is this because ATi is looking out for the overclockers out there? No it's because this 9700 Pro chip is still based on the 0.15 micron which creates quite a bit of heat when clocked as high as the 9700 is.
The 9700 Pro uses a new breed of memory chips. On past ATi cards, you were used to seeing Hyundai chips, but this time ATi has opted for Samsung. Samsung has some great memory and we all know how much they overclock!
The back of the card is just like your typical video card, just with that beautiful Red PCB. As you can see, memory chips are scattered on the left and top part of the card.
Above, you see the back panel of the card. Starting from the left you have your VGA 15-pin connector, your video out connector and finally your DVI connector.

ATi 9700 Pro - Testing

BenchmarksIsn't this what you all have been waiting for? It better be because I have a feeling everyone's jaw will drop.Test SetupPentium 4 2.53B GHz 533 FSBEPoX 4BDA2+ Motherboard512 MB DDR PC2100IBM 20 GIG DTLA 3050 ATA 100 Hard DriveATi Radeon 9000 ProATi Radeon 9700 PronVidia GeForce 4 Ti4600Windows XP ProfessionalDirect X 8.1

ATi 9700 Pro - AA/AF Performance

Quake III at 1024x768 32-bit will be used to test AA and AF performance. We decided to use this benchmark for AA since it is such a worldwide benchmark that everyone can relate to.Anti-Aliasing Performance
AF performance

ATi 9700 Pro - Conclusion

ConclusionIn conclusion, ATi has gone all out to prove to everyone that a new king has been crowned when it comes to graphic cards. It has out performed its rivals in almost every benchmark (other the Comanche 4) and has slaughtered them in terms of AF/AA.How much does this card retail for? It retails at a quite pricey MSRP US$399. This is the only down fall to this superb card. Unless you have $400 just lying around, don't even think of purchasing this card.Is it worth it? Myself, as an enthusiast, would definitely say it's worth it. It gives me all the performance I dreamed of in a graphics card. You get the best performance, awesome 2D quality and even Video output features. This is the card you want in your so-called "bad-ass" rig. Is it worth it for the occasional gamer? It's not at all worth it. Think of it this way, if you are an occasional gamer who plays at 800x600, do you really even need this card? Why couldn't you settle for a budget card? ATi also provides budget based cards for those who don't have that much loose change in there pockets and who only play games every once and while (Card such as the ATi Radeon 9000 Pro).ATi has definitely put their foot down in the graphics market. How long will it last though? That is a question that can only be truly answered by the only rival that ATi has...nVidia. So everyone enjoy these couple months of glory and expect a war when 2003 comes along.- ProsFast CardGreat Visual QualityAwesome AF/AA performance- ConsPriceRating - 9.5/10 and TweakTown's Editors Choice Award

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