The feature list of ATi’s new beast seems endless and although many of the new features only bring small increments in performance, the pure bulk of them makes the Radeon 8500 competitive and above all future-proof as it has support for a lot of features that aren’t even used in any other product just yet. More importantly though is that fact that ATi took the time to sit down with a number of developers, both in games and applications, to note down their preferences and what features they’d welcome most.
On the hardware side of things, the Radeon 8500, is manufactured in a 0.15-micron process and features close to 60-million transistors. As expected, ATi is quick to point out that the new Radeon therefore is more complex than some of Intel’s microprocessors. But we’ll be taking that with a grain of salt, microprocessors and graphics accelerators aren’t exactly the same thing, thus comparing them directly would be rather difficult. The core of the Radeon 8500 will be clocked at 250MHz, which is quite a step up from the 183MHz the original Radeon was clocked at. Memory will be clocked at 275MHz DDR, which offers 8.8GB/s of peak memory bandwidth, and contrary to some of the data sheets we’ve looked at before, the Radeon 8500 doesn’t have a memory controller that is much different from that found in the original Radeon. The new Radeon still uses a single channel 128-bit DDR memory bus, similar to that of the original Radeon and does not implement any other features such as Nvidia did with their GeForce3. One other thing did get improved and that’s the HyperZ feature that was first debuted with the original Radeon. In the new Radeon 8500 it has been improved to conserve memory bandwidth and to allow the Radeon 8500 to reach higher fill rates.
What else? Well, ATi also stepped into the DualHead, TwinView, whatever you call it, dual display arena with the HydraVision feature that’s implemented into the Radeon 8500’s core. In case you’re not familiar with the term ‘hydra’ it’s a mythological beast with more than one head. Matrox and Nvidia offered support for dual displays before and now ATi joins their ranks, and does so on a high-end product rather than on a low-end, such as Nvidia’s GeForce2 MX. We’re happy to finally see such a feature on a high-end card as we’d rather not revert back to a GeForce2 MX in a high-end workstation just to be able to use two displays.
Other features include a SmartShader, which basically combines the Pixel and Vertex shaders as found on the Nvidia GeForce3. However ATi made sure we understood that their shader was indeed smarter than Nvidia’s because they took the time to sit down with and listen to the wishes and complaints of the developers. One of the complaints addressed is the fact that many developers didn’t think that the GeForce3’s pixel shader packed enough punch. As a result ATi’s Smartshader has a larger number of texel-inputs per pixel shader program, six versus two on the GeForce3, adds a new whole new instruction set and allows longer shader programs, a total of 22 instead of 12 instructions per program on the GeForce3. Furthermore ATi’s Smartshader programmable pixel processor features are implemented into DirectX 8.1 and thus should be able to run out-of-the-box. All in all the Smartshader looks like it has some ‘smart’ features that makes it more robust than Nvidia’s solution and therefore it will certainly be welcomed by developers.
Naturally ATi didn’t do away with the great features that made the Radeon a competitive product. Once more we see the Charisma Engine, the Pixel Tapestry return albeit with a ‘II’ added. In essence these are the same features as found on the original Radeon, they’ve more or less been spit-shined, brushed and polished to offer even better performance.
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