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Reviewed by: Carl Nelson [10.01.02]
Manufactured by: ATI

MSRP: $399.00

 

ATI's own features

HyperZ III is an incremental upgrade to ATI's HyperZ technology, which provides z-culling, as well as lossless compression to increase memory bandwidth.  It now includes a memory bus similar to NVIDIA's "Crossbar" controller, providing multiple individual, narrower busses for more efficiency.  These 4 separate busses are composed of 64 bits apiece and add up to a total bus width of 256 bits (twice that of NVIDIA's memory busses, even on the upcoming GeForceFX 5800).  That memory runs at 620 MHZ (310 DDR) for a mind-blowing total of 19.2 GB/s bandwidth to feed the 325 MHz R300 GPU.  Another introduction to the HyperZ system is EarlyZ, which subdivides the Z-buffer down all the way to pixel level, thereby increasing accuracy when invoking z-culling routines.

Smoothvision has been updated to version 2.0, and now contains more efficient "jittered grid" multisampling methods of anti-aliasing through 6X.  Anisotropic filtering, for those familiar with early RADEON cards, has finally been fixed as well, and supports up to 16X sampling in both Quality and Performance modes.

TRUFORM is an exciting-sounding technology that is still awaiting wider implementation in games.  It provides a way of implementing a combination of polygon and curved-surface technology for increased realism (curved-surface models were used in Pixar's Toy Story movies, as an example).  Since current computer 3D technology is limited to polygons, what TRUFORM does is take the polygon data from the game, put it into the engine and convert it into a curved surface, at which time, transform and lighting operations are performed on it.  This actual curved surface is then converted BACK to polygons for display purposes, but too many more polygons that were originally defined.  In some ways, this is similar to the description of an antialiasing engine, but for polygons instead of pixels. The idea is to "smooth out the jaggies;" in this case caused by flat-surface polygons attempting to create a curved shape. TRUFORM is also intended to increase lighting accuracy for these surfaces. We'll reserve judgment until we can enable the engine in our real-world tests later and see if it works, how it looks, and how much performance drop there is.  Supposedly, all of this happens in the T&L/Shader engine to produce as little performance loss as possible, but there MUST be SOME performance loss, due to the polygons that are added by the process. Although TRUFORM was introduced with ATI's original asskicker, the Radeon 8500, it has only recently been implemented in game engines.

Streaming Video Enhancement

Something new and interesting is the ability to insert full-motion video into the 3D pipeline, rather than just displaying it as an overlay.  The FULLSTREAM technology not only inserts the video into the 3D pipeline, it allows the GPU to OPERATE on the video, smoothing out blocky, low resolution video. Also, the VIDEOSHADER engine uses the GPU's shader programs to apply real-time noise filtering to video, further clearing up the output.

The Catalyst Drivers

ATI's drivers are excellent, as you can see here. They're beautiful to look at, and fairly easy to use, though there are a lot of different dialogs. The drivers actually consist of 2 components (possibly to avoid patent issues with NVIDIA's style of releasing drivers): the driver component and the interface component, so if you don't want all of the ATI configuration options, it's not necessary to install them.  However, we recommend installing them, because the advanced options that they give access to are most of the reason for owning a high-end card like this.

 

The Direct3D and OpenGL settings offer an incredible level of precision, with the ability to play with mipmaping, SMOOTHVISION, and texture quality individually.  We'll be testing several of the preset modes later on.  Just as a summary, SMOOTHVISION is ATI's anti-aliasing/ansiotropic filtering engine.  In 9700 Pro, only multisampling AA algorithms are used. The 2X, 4X, and 6X positions indicate the number of extra samples taken at different points.  The more samples are taken the more work the GPU must do, and therefore more performance is lost (but the more quality is gained). Ansiotropic filtering is used to blend individual textures together more smoothly, by combining multiple samples.  The more samples taken, the smoother things look, but the more performance drops.  The two options described above have a checkbox that allows whatever application is running to select these settings on its own, or override the application settings by unchecking it.

Texture quality just indicates the level of detail of the textures to use.  Higher quality textures use up more resources like GPU time and video RAM.  Mipmapping is what happens when a texture starts to zoom in; a higher-resolution texture is substituted for the previous one.  Adjusting mipmap quality adjusts the detail level of the base mipmap.  Higher quality base mipmaps take up more resources.

If all of this seems intimidating, then just go with using the predefined settings slider, which offers 5 settings from Performance to Quality.  Interestingly enough, both refer to the middle position as Balanced, and the rest of the settings have the same names.  But the rest of the settings in the...well, SETTINGS differ.  Here's how the various pre-defined modes in Direct3D and OpenGL stack up: 

Direct3D

Settings

Optimal Performance

High Performance

Balanced

High Quality

Optimal Quality

AntiAliasing

Application

Application

Application

2X

4X

Ansiotropic Filtering

Application

Application

Application

8X Quality

16X Quality

Textures

P1

Q1

Quality

Quality

Quality

MipMap

P1

Q1

Quality

Quality

Quality

Truform

Disabled

Disabled

Disabled

Disabled

Disabled

 OpenGL

Settings

Optimal
Performance

High Performance

Balanced

High
Quality

Optimal
Quality

AntiAliasing

Application

Application

Application

2X

4X

Ansiotropic Filtering

Application

Application

Application

8X Quality

16X Quality

Textures

Performance

P1

Q1

Q1

Quality

MipMap

P1

Q1

Quality

Quality

Quality

Truform

Disabled

Disabled

Disabled

Disabled

Disabled

As you can see, the Direct3D and OpenGL opinions of the various modes differ a little, and going beyond "Balanced" mode AUTOMATICALLY invokes the SMOOTHVISION AA and Ansio engine, overriding any application settings for AA and Ansio (important to keep in mind if you're running the latest, most stressful game of all time). If you want to increase quality without activating one or both of those options, it's necessary to override the defaults and manually choose the detail levels.

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