Amidst all the rumors and prospective feature sets of ATi’s upcoming product we’ve seen in the past few months nothing could have caught us more off guard than the board that finally made it to our doorstep. We expected somewhat of a brushed up Radeon, with some new features thrown in to get ATi back in the race with Nvidia. What we got, the Radeon 8500, is a genuine next generation product that is set out to take on the likes of GeForce3 from day one, and not by a tiny margin, but potentially by a huge leap in features and performance.
Fig 1. ATi's Radeon 8500, the successor to the original Radeon that was released over a year ago.
I guess we can all still remember the doubts many expressed with the launch of the original Radeon, especially whether ATi would be able to offer regular driver updates that’ll address issues and increase performance. For the current line of Radeon products we can safely say that things are improving. Performance across all supported operating systems has been more or less moved to a similar level, whereas compatibility with games and applications has been improved tremendously. But ATi is not out of the woods yet, Nvidia is notorious for its frequent driver ‘leaks’ that hint at the performance increases offered by its next official driver release, and judging by the Detonator4 drivers they released a few days ago Nvidia is ready to go head to head with ATi.
ATi however has another card up their sleeves, our contact at ATi mentioned they’d be moving to a unified driver architecture too and would be putting a whole team of programmers behind it to get them on par with Nvidia, both in driver quality and performance but also in more frequent releases of new drivers. This at least addresses some of the concerns many of us have had about the competitiveness of ATi’s Radeon when it was released a little over a year ago. We’re hoping that ATi will be able to follow through on it and actually provide some competition for Nvidia. The chipset and board engineers have laid the foundation of a great product with lots of new, next generation features and fill rate and bandwidth to spare, it is up to ATi’s programmers to make it all work and extract every last bit of performance from it.
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