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What's Inside
A look at the ups and downs of the hottest products one can find in the graphics acceleration market today. A comparison between the different products made by ATI, NVIDIA and 3dfx, not just in terms of performance, to help you pick out which one's the best choice for your needs.

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ATI
The Beauty of the Beast

Quick Breakdown
Current card lineup: Radeon256 32MB SDR, Radeon 256 32MB DDR, Radeon All in Wonder 32MB DDR, Radeon256 64MB DDR with Vivo

Est. Street Price Range: ($135-$350 USD)

Pros: More DirectX 8 features than any other card, Very fast at all levels especially high resolution w/ 32-bit colour. 2D image quality close to Matrox's. Superior DVD acceleration and quality. Optional Video-In and Video-Out. Most well rounded features in group of video cards.

Cons: ATI's past driver problems (read that "total screw up"). Some 16-bit colour problems. Problems with some VIA KX133 Athlon boards.

Future Cards: Radeon Maxx?

Recommended User: Gamer, Professional User, Amature/Quasi Professional Video or if you know you're not going to buy another video card for the next three years.

ATI Technologies LogoATI, Baron of the OEM Market, largest video card maker in the world has never been known for having incredible high-end products, but due partially to NVIDIA creeping into their territory, they're fighting back--hard. The Radeon easily has the best balance of features, longevity, and speed of all cards available, but since ATI's driver reputation is so poor, many people opt for NVIDIA on that fact alone.

That's unfortunate because the Radeon and its Charisma Engine currently has the greatest support for tomorrow's games (of course in the graphics market that means maybe a six month advantage). When new games (That's spelled "Tribes II" and "Halo") come out you'll see an incredible performance advantage over it's current competitors in speed and visual quality.

The Radeon made this possible by adding a third texture unit, and supporting nearly the whole lineup of DirectX features. So in many of today's games the Radeon is beaten by the Geforce2 GTS, but in many future games the Geforce2 GTS will have it's effective fill rate cut in half by it's need to make two passes to render each frame thereby making it slower, and DirectX features such as EMBM (Environmental Mapped Bump Mapping) used in Tribes 2 make this the ultimate "Eye Candy" video card (Though the quality of its FSAA falls well short of the Voodoo 5).

One of the Radeon's key advantages is a little something they call HyperZ. HyperZ, simply put, reduces the amount of bandwidth needed by determining what needs to be rendered and what doesn't. For example, if you look at the front side of a house, with a Geforce/Geforce2 or Voodoo Card all you see is the front side, but your video card sees the inside and back and renders them all, creating a tremendous amount of extra work for the card. HyperZ (I'm not going into very great detail here as HyperZ could fill all the room I've allotted for ATI in this article) determines what needs to be rendered and what doesn't, saving you some much needed bandwidth (This is why the Radeon performs so well at High resolutions)

That's not all; ATI also has near perfect DVD acceleration with the following features:

  • Hardware Motion Compensation
  • IDCT / DCT
  • Subpicture
  • 4x4-tap Horizontal and Vertical Filtered Scaling
  • Adaptive Per-Pixel De-Interlacing
  • 8-bit Alpha Blending of Video and Graphics
  • Direct Support of All DTV formats in their Native Resolution, Up to 1920x1080

If you don't understand the above let me break it down for you, the Radeon provides the lowest CPU utilization score for any video card while playing a DVD, while providing image quality near that of a dedicated hardware decoder. Of course this only helps you if you actually watch DVDs on you computer (I do because my monitor is bigger than my TV).

The Hard Stuff
The Radeon has far too many features to be covered in-depth in this article. Try this article for a more in-depth review of each individual feature, but here's a quick run-down:

  • Supports 3D resolutions (32-bit color) up to 2048x1536
  • Integrated Transformation, Clipping and Lighting
  • Twin Cache Architecture
  • Superscalar Rendering
  • Single-Pass Multi-texturing
  • True Color Rendering
  • Triangle Setup Engine
  • Texture Cache
  • Bilinear/Trilinear Filtering
  • Line & Edge Anti-aliasing
  • Texture Compositing
  • Texture Decompression
  • Specular Highlights
  • Perspectively Correct Texture Mapping
  • Mip-Mapping
  • Z-buffering and Double-buffering
  • Emboss, Dot Product 3 and Environment bump mapping
  • Spherical, Dual-Paraboloid and Cubic environment mapping
  • Fog effects, texture lighting, video textures, reflections, shadows, spotlights, LOD biasing and texture morphing

ATI RadeonThe Radeon hard three texture units each with 2 rendering piplines, and was created using .18 Ám Process Technology. It has a core/memory clock of 166/166MHz for 32MB and OEM and 183/183MHz for the 64MB retail version. ATI had originally set their sights on a 200/200MHz core memory clock but was forced to scale back due to a worldwide shortage of high-speed memory. This gives the Radeon up to 1.1-GigaTexels/s (or theoretically 1.5-GigaTexels/s when using their HyperZ technology), 366-MPixels/s theoretical fillrate and 30-million triangles/s

Overclocking
ATI has never been overclocker friendly. They still do not now, or have any plans to ever include software to change the core/memory clock. The Radeon runs cooler than most other video chips in its class, despite having more than 30 million transistors (ATI says the fan is merely cosmetic and the cool design is for the eventual transition of the chip to pc notebooks where ATI still has no real competitors for OEM sales) which you think would be a boon to overclocking, but since ATI locked the core and memory speeds together for data transfer optimization, you're overclocking performance is limited by the memory's tolerance, not the video chip. Powerstrip will allow you to change the core/memory but because of the hefty optimizations made by ATI, overclocking has small benefits in game play (but it sure can make your numbers go up in 3DMark2000).

Bottom Line
If you like eye candy and are getting a card now there is no better card for you; the Radeon does it all, and it does it all with style. If you want to brag about your 3DMark scores, this is not the card for you. ATI has a smart, well designed card that will make your computer shine. Though the card is very fast, you may find yourself waiting some time to truly see what it is capable of since, as of this writing, no game really takes advantage of its true capabilities.

On to: NVIDIA

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