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Reviewed by: Ed Lau [07.29.03]
Manufactured by: Hightech Information Systems

Est. Street Price: ~$350-370

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Since the debut of the 9700 Pro, ATi has sat at the top of the hill with nVidia unable to touch their success which wasn't too surprising since the FX 5800 was a blowdryer worthy of John Romero's locks. Due to several delays and shortcomings, the media world didn't quite see the GeForce FX 5800 as much of a 9700 Pro killer and it looked as though nothing could dethrone it for quite some time.

No one would really blame ATi if they just sat on their success and twiddled their thumbs for a little while before getting to work on the next big thing but none of us would put it past the Ontario-based company to deliver another crushing blow to their competitors by releasing a card to push their own king off the top.

Enter the 9800 Pro, the young successor to the ancient 9 month reign of the 9700 Pro and still arriving sooner to consumers than any GeForce FX cards in the same class. With improved technology compared to the previous generation, the expectations are high so let's see what the R350 can do.

That's right, the R350. As you know, the 9700 was powered by the R300. Certain significant improvements have been made by the core architecture is the same, such as the 0.15-micron process. The R350 is basically a boosted R300, running a 256-bit DDR memory interface at 680MHz
DDR, allowing for a whole two GB/s more memory bandwidth than the R300 (21.8GB/s and 19.8GB/s).

The improvements to the core are similar to the benefits to tuning a car. ATi has increased the clock speed of the core from the 325MHz seen in the 9700 Pro to a beefy 380MHz. Antialiasing rendering has been improved due to optimizations with the memory controller as well so we should see smoother rendering in games.

The Bees and the... Bees.

The graphics industry is one filled with buzzwords for various features that the manufacturer
wants to distinguish from others in the field when in fact, the features do pretty much the same
thing.  Sometimes, these things get confusing so let me get a little Webster here and explain


Short for FIFO buffer, the F-buffer is what gives the 9800 Pro the capability to do multi-passes
inside the pixel-shader engine instead of over the entire pipeline. With the 9700, the card had
to do the entire rendering proceedure with each pass. The 9800 Pro's F-buffer streamlines this
so that you do each step only once per pixel, making the card a lot more efficient.

While this is all fine and dandy, it is unlikely that games in the immediate future will take
advantage of the F-buffer but as DirectX 9.0 and OpenGL 2.0 become more of a requirement,
more support for the F-buffer and long shaders will emerge.

Smoothvision 2.1

This is about the same antialiasing technology used in the 9700 Pro but we still get the usual
".1" because of the memory optimizations ATi has made that I mentioned above.

HyperZ III+

And ATi buzzwords wouldn't be complete without an update to their posse of bandwidth and
rendering efficiency optimizations. This time around, most of the improvements made involve the
Z-Cache which is now built for stencil-buffer data and will be essential to the 9800 Pro's
ability to play the next generation of games, such as DOOM III.

That Dog Has A Fluffy Tail!

While the pictures show that the card in our possession is identical to ATi's reference design, it is actually made by Hightech Information Systems (HIS), a company based in Hong Kong. Established in 1987 with production plants in China, HIS was one of the first to license ATi's graphics technology back when third party ATi cards sprung up, if I remember correctly.

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