The new value graphics chip from ATI, code-named "RV250", hit the graphics card market in two variants. Cards based on them differ by the working frequencies of both: chip and graphics memory:
- ATI RADEON 9000 PRO - 275MHz / 500MHz (275MHz DDR);
- ATI RADEON 9000 - 250MHz / 400MHz (200MHz DDR).
Quite naturally, the performance of graphics cards based on the two variants will differ. Moreover, the cards themselves may differ by the size of the onboard memory: there are 64MB and 128MB versions. Therefore, we've got four variants of new graphics cards that differ in working frequencies and graphics memory size.
In this review we are going to compare the performance of all the four mentioned variants with one another and with the most dangerous rivals: ATI RADEON 8500 LE based cards with 128MB graphics memory and NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti200 based cards.
ATI RADEON 9000 based graphics card with 64MB graphics memory was represented by Sapphire RADEON 9000 Atlantis 64MB. Here it is:
The graphics memory of the card is 128-bit DDR SDRAM from Hynix with 4ns access time. The graphics card works at 250MHz chip and 400MHz (200MHz DDR) memory frequency.
128MB variant of an ATI RADEON 9000 based card is represented by Sapphire RADEON 9000 Atlantis 128MB:
It has 128MB of 5ns DDR SDRAM from Samsung onboard. The chip and memory frequencies are 250MHz and 400MHz (200MHz DDR) respectively.
Note that the graphics chips on these cards are cooled by very simple heatsinks. Well, ATI RADEON 9000 may have such a low heat dissipation that no active cooling is needed. During the tests, the heatsinks warmed up to 50..70oC, but these temperatures didn't lead to any freezing of the system or other unpleasant effects. So, the cards from Sapphire deserved their first point now: they produce no noise. And ATI RADEON 9000 chips themselves do not require any active cooling at all.
ATI RADEON 9000 PRO with 64MB graphics memory is the Sapphire RADEON 9000 Atlantis Pro 64MB card:
The graphics memory here is 128bit 3.6ns DDR SDRAM from Hynix. The working frequencies are 275MHz for the chip and 550MHz (275MHz DDR) for the memory.
As a 128MB version of an ATI RADEON 9000 PRO based graphics card we took Hercules 3DProphet 9000 Pro 128MB:
This solution is equipped with 3.6ns DDR SDRAM from Samsung working at 550MHz (275MHz DDR). The chip frequency makes 275MHz.
Both ATI RADEON 9000 PRO based graphics cards feature active chip cooling. Actually, there's no big difference in frequencies between ATI RADEON 9000 and RADEON 9000 PRO: 250MHz against 275MHz, so passive cooling might be quite enough even for the faster graphics chip. But here we have the "prestige" factor: ATI RADEON 9000 PRO cards are more expensive and they simply cannot retain their "expensive" image without an active cooler :).
Testbed and Methods
We ran all the tests in the following system:
- AMD Athlon XP 2000+ CPU;
- MSI K7T266 Pro2 v2.0 (VIA KT266A) mainboard;
- 2 x 256MB PC2700 CL2.5 DDR SDRAM by Crucial;
- Fujitsu MPF3153AH HDD.
We used the following software:
- Detonator 30.82 driver for NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti200 based graphics cards for Windows XP;
- 220.127.116.1118 driver for graphics cards based on ATI chips;
- Windows XP;
- 3DMark 2001 SE build 330;
- Quake3 Arena v 1.30;
- Serious Sam: The Second Encounter;
- Unreal Tournament 2003 DEMO v.927;
- Codecult Codecreatures benchmark;
- Comanche4 benchmark.
We ran the benchmarks with the following settings:
3DMark 2001 SE:
We set 32bit frame buffer; 32bit textures, 32bit (24bit) Z-buffer, D3D Hardware T&L / Pure Hardware T&L.
32bit screen and textures color depth. Maximum graphics quality settings. Tri-linear filtering and texture compression enabled.
Serious Sam: The Second Encounter:
Quality mode: 32bit screen color depth. "Quality" graphics quality settings.
Unreal Tournament 2003 DEMO v.927:
Default graphics quality settings.
Codecult Codecreatures Benchmark:
Anti-aliasing and sound are off, all other settings are default.
64MB vs. 128MB
In the next section we'll see the results shown by the 64MB and 128MB graphics cards. But let me get a bit ahead and disclose that in most tests 128MB cards based on both ATI RADEON 9000 and RADEON 9000 PRO are a little slower than their 64MB counterparts.
Why can things like that take place? There may be several reasons for this phenomenon and all of them are connected with the graphics memory. let's try to figure out what these reasons might be:
- The graphics memory works at slightly higher frequencies in 64MB cards.
- Makes no sense, as 64MB and 128MB variants based on both chips have exactly the same working frequencies for the memory.
- Higher latency in 128MB cards.
- Doesn't work, as all the memory chips we've got here have the same latency (CL = 3 clocks), according to official specs.
- Different time required for the electronic signal to pass through, i.e. different electronic layouts.
- No, as 64MB and 128MB cards based on ATI RADEON 9000 PRO have identical layouts as well as those based on ATI RADEON 9000.
- Difference in physical structure of the graphics memory - different number of physical lines (banks). E.g. 64MB Kyro II has one physical 64MB bank while 128MB Kyro II has 2x64MB banks.
- No way, as all the graphics cards have one physical bank. 64MB cards are equipped with 8 chips (1MB x 16 x 4 banks), 128MB ones also have 8 chips (2M x 16 x 4 banks).
There's only one reason left that can explain lower performance of the 128MB cards: they have larger address space so the decoding of the address takes more time.
For your reference, here's the documentation on the graphics memory chips:
Sapphire RADEON 9000 Atlantis 64MB: Hynix HY5DV641622AT-4
Sapphire RADEON 9000 Atlantis PRO 64MB: Hynix HY5DV641622AT-36
Sapphire RADEON 9000 Atlantis 128MB: Samsung K4D28163HD-TC50
Hercules 3DProphet 9000 PRO 128MB: Samsung K4D28163HD-TC36
So, it seems we have found out the explanation for this weird behavior of the graphics memory.
Of course, 128MB cards lose to 64MB ones not always, but only when the task doesn't require data exchange via AGP. Some tests have come over the 64MB barrier and 128MB cards do much better in them than their 64MB mates.
The ATI RADEON 8500 LE 128MB graphics card is ahead of all.
Although the ATI RADEON 9000 PRO based cards work at higher frequencies than ATI RADEON 8500 LE (275MHz chip and 550MHz (275MHz DDR) memory against 250MHz and 500MHz (250MHz DDR) respectively), they leadership still belongs to ATI RADEON 8500 LE. The latter owes its victory to the fact that its rival features weaker T&L and vertex shaders units and twice as low texturing speed. ATI RADEON 9000 / 9000 PRO have only one texturing unit per pipeline while ATI RADEON 8500 / 8500 LE boasts two of them.
Only ATI RADEON 9000 PRO cards proved capable of competing with NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti200. In 800x600 they were falling quite noticeably behind the leader while the higher was the resolution, the smaller turned that gap. The ATI RADEON 9000 based cards working at lower frequencies lose about 10-15% to their faster mates and quite naturally arrive the last.
There's no advantage of the 128MB cards over their 64MB analogues. Moreover, they even perform a little worse. Evidently, the benchmark doesn't use up the additional memory capacity of 128MB cards, which is exactly what we have just discussed in the previous section.
Here ATI RADEON 8500 LE 128MB is leading again, although the gap between it and NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti200 is smaller at higher resolutions.
RADEON 9000 / RADEON 9000 PRO perform the same way. In 800x600 they are ahead of the NVIDIA chip, but in higher resolutions they fall behind. Low fillrate may be the cause as well as less effective use of available graphics memory bandwidth (compared with NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti200).
And again, there's no advantage of the 128MB ATI RADEON 9000 / RADEON 9000 PRO based cards over the 64MB ones.
ATI RADEON 8500 LE 128 MB is the leader as usual.
ATI RADEON 9000 PRO based cards perform as fast as NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti200, their slower counterparts fall 10-15% behind and take the last positions again.
ATI chips feel traditionally at home with the Nature test. Today is not an exception as well. ATI RADEON 8500 LE 128 MB is the first, ATI RADEON 9000 PRO based cards win the second prize, and even the slower ATI RADEON 9000 based cards show equal results with NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti200.
Once more, ATI RADEON 9000 / 9000 PRO cannot boast any advantages of that much memory they have.
At last, the big amount of onboard graphics memory starts telling on the results. And to tell the truth, this is a rather great advantage: in 1024x768 the results are limited by the CPU performance and differ just a little, but in 1600x1200, the 128MB ATI RADEON 9000 / 9000 PRO cards outperform their 64MB fellows by over one and half times!
It seems like 128MB of graphics memory provide a significant performance growth only in games and benchmarks that use a lot of textures and are intended for cards with so much memory.
The results here appeared pretty predictable: ATI RADEON 8500 LE 128 MB turned the first. It was followed by NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti200. And only then come the cards on the new ATI chips.
The results in Quake3 Arena depend mostly on the fillrate value and graphics memory bandwidth. Fillrate of ATI RADEON 9000 / 9000 PRO chips is lower than that of ATI RADEON 8500 LE and NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti200, so they end up losing. Lower graphics memory working frequency by ATI RADEON 9000 left this chip 20-25% behind ATI RADEON 9000 PRO.
The 128MB versions of ATI RADEON 9000 PRO based cards are again a little behind the 64MB ones.
The ATI RADEON 9000 PRO graphics cards win the laurels here, ATI RADEON 8500 LE 128MB follow them. The ATI RADEON 9000 cards come slightly behind.
NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti200 graphics card couldn't compete with the ATI based cards because of the poor anisotropic filtering implementation.
NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti200 proved the best in Unreal Tournament 2003 demo. The leader is followed by ATI RADEON 8500 LE 128MB and the RADEON 9000 PRO based cards, which performed almost equally fast. The cards on ATI RADEON 9000 working at lower clock rates are in the back.
The workload proved to be very high here, so I decided to stick only to the test in 1024x768 resolution. Anyway, the results of all cards were quite low.
Well, the old buddies NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti200 and ATI RADEON 8500 LE 128MB are still pretty strong and don't want to give up their positions.
ATI RADEON 9000 PRO based graphics cards were slower than ATI RADEON 8500 LE 128MB in nearly all benchmarks and showed about the same results as NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti200 or a bit higher.
The slower ATI RADEON 9000 based cards were about 15-20% slower on average than those on ATI RADEON 9000 PRO and a little slower than NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti200. The reasons are evident: lower graphics memory working frequencies (400MHz (200MHz DDR) against 550MHz (275MHz DDR) by ATI RADEON 9000 PRO, which is 27.2% lower). The lower chip frequency (250MHz against 275MHz, that is 9.1% difference) affected the results less drastically.
As a result, ATI RADEON 9000 would perform 9.1%-27.1% slower than ATI RADEON 9000 PRO depending upon the specific application. Of course, the loss would be less evident in systems with slow CPUs or when the graphics card performance is not crucial.
The advantage of 128MB of graphics memory over 64MB is hardly noticeable in most tests. I would prefer the 128MB variant of an ATI RADEON 9000 / 9000 PRO based card only if it cost just a little more than the 64MB one.
Why so? Well, in fact, there is no real need in 128MB for now. Game developers are not eager to use up all the 128MB of local memory in graphics cards as well as involve DirectX8 capabilities. On the one hand, it's rather sad, as it proves that the chip developers have gone too far ahead of the gaming industry, but on the other hand, it's rather good as you can be happy with the same ATI RADEON 9000 PRO for a long period time. Besides, it looks as if the games eating up the entire potential of these solutions were still too far away.
But let's get back to our cards.
If we compare the functionality of the graphics cards considered and not their performance, there will be no great difference between ATI RADEON 8500 LE 128MB and ATI RADEON 9000 / 9000 PRO. At the same time, if we compare the new ATI chips with the NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti200 we will reveal both: advantages and drawbacks. Here they are:
- Fast anisotropic filtering, something like RIP-mapping;
- Dual-display configurations support;
- 1.4 version pixel shaders and ability to lay up to 6 textures per pass.
- Slow full-screen anti-aliasing implementation (supersampling);
- Some problems with anisotropic filtering quality.
Overall, all the reviewed cards proved to be equally functional. They all feature full DirectX8 support and show almost the same performance. Therefore, I guess the main determinative when choosing a card would be the price.
Watch the prices, as it's up to you to decide: to buy or not to buy!