ATI Technologies: At the Crossroads
The necessity of splitting the RADEON 9500/9700/PRO series into two independent branches is long felt. So, on March 3, 2003, ATI Technologies announces two new graphics processors – RADEON 9800 and RADEON 9600 (R350 and RV350).
The first of the chips, RADEON 9800 (R350) was a true heir to the R300 combining the best from its ancestor with some innovations capped with the capacity to process infinite-length shaders. This made it King of 3D Graphics for long. ATI was still clinging to the 0.15-micron tech process for this chip, so its frequency was relatively low, only 380MHz. This fact, as well as the “moderate” 680MHz memory frequency, didn’t prevent the RADEON 9800 PRO with 128MB and later 256MB memory to work as fast as the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra and outperform even the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra for a change.
The RADEON 9600 (RV350), the first 0.13-micron VPU from ATI Technologies, met an ambiguous reception. With its plans of creating a mainstream graphics processor, the company walked the road of reducing the number of the pixel pipelines. As a result, the RADEON 9600 (RV350) had only four of them, while the older RADEON 9500 PRO had eight (the RADEON 9500 had four pipelines, too).
Thanks to the new technological process, the frequency of the RADEON 9600 PRO easily notched 400MHz, while the energy consumption went down – the chip didn’t require any additional power. RADEON 9600 PRO-based cards were simple and compact. Regrettably, the memory on such cards is never clocked above 300(600DDR)MHz. Notwithstanding all the innovations, the RADEON 9600 PRO loses to the eight-pipelined RADEON 9500 PRO across a majority of tests provoking some misunderstanding from the part of the users. At the same time, its R300 architecture allows it to easily leave both variants of the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra behind.
Q2: 3DMark03, Cheats, SARS, GeForce FX 5900
NV35 Coming to Replace NV30
The virus of atypical pneumonia is rampaging around the world. Asian countries bear the main blow, although the computer industry feels the outcome of the epidemic a little later. So far, NVIDIA finds itself beaten on all fronts (at least, as concerns technological superiority), for the first time in history. The sales falling after the publication of the performance results for the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra, the company tries to stem the tide by launching a competitive top-end graphics processor. It is quick to appear. On May 12, NVIDIA announces the launch of the NV35 to be officially named GeForce FX 5900.
The GeForce FX 5900 resembles the NV30, but without a number of flaws of the latter. Particularly, it is much faster at floating-point calculations and the memory controller received the 256-bit bus, at last.
The flagship of the new line, GeForce FX 5900 Ultra works at 450/850MHz (GPU/memory), and the heat dissipation is much lower due to the use of the ordinary DDR-I memory. GeForce FX 5900 (without “Ultra”) cards became much popular among the fans of the NVIDIA products as they only differed from the “Ultra” in a smaller amount of memory (128MB) and a 50MHz-lower GPU frequency.
Alas, although the performance of the NV35 GPU and NV35-based cards is higher than that of the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra, the intrinsic disadvantages of the NV3x architecture never allow the new product to reach the level of the RADEON 9800 PRO in demanding applications. NVIDIA has to run after the leader again.