Q1 2004: Calm before the Storm
ATI Remains Unbeatable
It was all calm and quiet at the beginning of 2004. Although ATI and NVIDIA had been hastily getting ready their new-generation processors codenamed R420 and NV40, respectively, there were no special events in the 3D graphics market. Just all kinds of fantastic rumors were being spread about the upcoming chips, but few things were certain. Both solutions were expected to have high-speed GDDR3 memory, 12-16 pixel pipelines, and clock rates up to 500-600MHz. Not all of these rumors came true, though.
ATI’s RADEON 9800 XT processor kept its crown throughout the first quarter. In fact, the RADEON 9800 family had no rivals since GeForce FX cards would show a lower performance in games, especially when encountering many sophisticated pixel shaders. The NV38 (GeForce FX 5950 Ultra) processor, released late in 2003, couldn’t save the day – it was the very GeForce FX architecture that couldn’t cope with the increasing demands of modern computer games.
End of 2003 NVIDIA introduced its new technology of a dynamic compilation of pixel and vertex shaders, intended to increase the performance of NVIDIA’s products. The new ForceWare driver that came instead of the earlier Detonator and featured that compiler did add up to the performance of the GeForce FX, but didn’t solve the problem completely. NVIDIA’s fans had to wait for the upcoming graphics architecture and hope it would be free from the drawbacks of the older one.
As for the mainstream sector of the market, ATI’s RADEON 9600 and NVIDIA’s GeForce FX 5700 families were grappling there. The latter could roughly match the former, save in pixel-shader-free applications, and even beat it at geometry processing (the GeForce FX 5700 Ultra had three vertex processors).
NVIDIA had a steadier standing in the low-end market with its GeForce FX 5200. Although not much in terms of speed, this card fully supported DirectX 9, while ATI’s RADEON 9200 could only support DirectX 8.1.
Late in 2003 XGI expressed its claim on the high-end graphics market, and in early 2004 said it was going to boost the chip shipment volume in 20 times, from 200 thousand to 4-5 million items. That was a brave claim indeed, but the attempt failed. Our tests of the top model of the Volari series, equipped with two Volari V8 processors, proved the card was nonviable in the way it was: its performance was comparable to that of the RADEON 9600 PRO, it had problems with the image quality and, as we found out later, with compatibility.
For more details see our article called Club3D Volari Duo V8 Ultra Review: XGI Volari Family Coming to Graphics Market.
S3 Graphics also doesn’t give up its attempts to have a slice of the market for itself and announces the new DeltaChrome S8 Nitro on March 3. The new graphics card is fully analogous to the earlier announced DeltaChrome S8, but is clocked at higher frequencies and delivers somewhat more performance. For more details see our article called S3 DeltaChrome S8 Gets Nitro Acceleration: Review of the Revamped S8.
It turns out later that these graphics cards are not going to make it to market, though.