I've never dealt with an ATI video card before. You can say that I've been a true nVidia fan. I've used and owned a TNT2, GeForce2 MX, GeForce 2 GTS, GeForce 3 Ti 500, and the GeForce 4 Ti 4600. I had no idea what to expect when I put that ATI 9700 Pro card into my AGP slot, except from what I heard from reviews. I expected to get a powerful, realistic gaming experience with the card. Read on to find what I found and how the card surpassed my expectations.
I've never seen such a powerful card in my entire life, the ATI video card is the most powerful card at the time of writing and is packed with features. This card provides any gamer with a true experience of how a game should be played, packing realism and power in a card that is about 7 inches long. There is no question that the ATI Radeon 9700 Pro is simply the most powerful card out there at the moment so we will move on to the impressive features of the card, such as Frame Scene Anti-Aliasing and Antistrophic Filtering. All the things needed to give the gamer a completely realistic experience while gaming.
On top of looking at the incredible features of the card, we'll also review it like any other product, but rather than compare it to the competition we will concentrate on its features and performance as we believe that the ATI Radeon 9700 Pro is currently the graphics champion.
So, let's take a look at the king of video cards, the ATI Radeon 9700 Pro.
Before I get to the actual benchmarks, I'd better take you through the specs of the ATI Radeon 9700 Pro.
ATI revolutionizes the world of graphics technology with the RADEON™ 9700 Visual Processing Unit (VPU). Featuring fast 3D graphics performance, coupled with sophisticated real-time visual effects, unsurpassed image quality and cutting-edge video features, RADEON™ 9700 provides you with an amazing PC entertainment experience.
First to fully support DirectX® 9.0
With its new SMARTSHADER™ 2.0 technology, RADEON™ 9700 supports DirectX® 9.0 and the latest OpenGL® functionality to give developers the freedom to create more complicated and realistic visual effects than ever before.
First 8-pixel pipeline architecture
RADEON™ 9700 is the first graphics technology capable of processing 8 pixels simultaneously - twice as many compared to any existing product. This highly optimized design provides top 3D performance for both Direct3D® and OpenGL® games and applications.
256-bit DDR memory interface
The high-bandwidth memory interface of the RADEON™ 9700, utilizing the latest HYPER Z™ III bandwidth-conserving technology, removes a key performance bottleneck and provides end users with faster graphics performance.
Support for AGP 8X specification
RADEON™ 9700 supports the new AGP 8X standard, which allows large volumes of texture and vertex data to be transferred faster from system memory to the chip (2.0 GB/sec).
First to use pixel shaders to accelerate video
With ATI's new VIDEOSHADER™ technology, RADEON™ 9700 continues the tradition of providing industry-leading video and DVD playback. RADEON™ 9700 also offers FULLSTREAM™ - a new technology that removes blocky artifacts from video and provides sharper image quality.
Fastest* 3D Gaming Performance
128MB DDR memory accelerates the latest 3D games
256-bit memory interface removes hardware performance bottleneck and provides end users with faster 3D graphics
Industry's first 8-pixel pipeline architecture, providing twice the rendering power of any currently competing product.
Supports the new AGP 8X standard, providing a high-speed link between the graphics board and the rest of the PC (2.0 GB/sec)
Highest Level of Realism
First to fully support DirectX® 9.0 and the latest OpenGL® functionality
New SMARTSHADER™ 2.0 technology allows users to experience complex, movie-quality effects in next-generation 3D games and applications
SMOOTHVISION™ 2.0 technology enhances image quality by removing jagged edges and bringing out fine texture detail, without compromising performance
128-bit floating-point color precision allows for a greater range of colors and brightness
Revolutionary New Video Features
Unique VIDEOSHADER™ engine uses programmable pixel shaders to accelerate video processing and provide better-looking visuals
ATI's new FULLSTREAM™ technology removes blocky artifacts from Streaming and Internet video and provides sharper image quality
There are many different versions of the card that are made by 3rd-party-manufacturers, such as Sapphire and PowerColor, but I decided to go with the bland "Built by ATI" version. There are not too many differences from version to version. Usually, all they change on the card is the fan and most likely the software bundle.
In my standard Retail Box I found quite a bit of stuff. Of course, there was the actual card, which was actually smaller then a GeForce4 Ti 4600, despite the fact that it is more powerful. I also found an instruction manual, a DVI to VGA adaptor (for dual-monitor displays if you have two VGA monitors), an S-Video cable, a Component Cable, a Driver CD, and finally, a piece of paper warning me to plug in the card to the power supply. It would have been nice for ATI to include a game or two, but I'm happy with anything that keeps the costs down.
The card setup was like any other video card, except for the fact that the card requires a connection to your PC's power supply, very similar to the Voodoo 5. It's not too complicated, just plug in a power cable from your computer's power supply into the card. When I booted up the computer for the first time, everything went well. For some reason, Windows XP could not find the name of the card, but, it didn't matter because ATi's manual told me to skip all of the Windows XP dialog boxes.
I decided to use the 3.1 drivers from ATI.com instead of using the CD to set up my card. I've read in a lot of places that the 3.1's are better, especially when using DirectX 9.0, which was my situation. However, I had one minor issue installing version 3.1. The installation completed correctly, and at the end of the setup, a dialog told me my computer was going to restart, and then a one-minute testing program will load. My computer restarted, but a testing program was nowhere to be found. I didn't worry about it, however.
I went to my Display settings to set up my dual displays and change the resolution on my monitors. Everything was there, and it was all working correctly. So far so good.
I must say that ATI has done an excellent job with all of their drivers, as soon as I got them working. There were many settings available to change, and it looked like there was a lot more then nVidia's Detonator drivers that I have previously used. Everything was extremely simple to set-up and use, and I experienced no problems with them. ATI updates their drivers VERY frequently, and this is great for people who want top of the line performance.
The Direct3D and OpenGL tab's offer a lot of different settings that can be easily changed, such as Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic filtering. The display's tab make's it very simple to configure a dual-display setup, like mine.
Before I get to the actual benchmarks, I'd better share with all of you the test setup of the system. Although my system is not top of the line, it provides an accurate representation of a computer that the majority of gamers have, not top of the line, but still pretty powerful.
Alienware Aurora DDR
AMD Athlon XP 2200+
Asus A7N266-C (nForce) Motherboard
ATi Radeon 9700 Pro
256MB Crucial DDR2100 and 128MBx2 Samsung DDR2100 RAM
1x Seagate 40GB 7200rpm HD
Samsung 16x DVD-ROM Drive
Compaq 48x CD-ROM Drive
Sound Blaster Live! 5.1
Phillips Magnavox 17" CRT display and NEC MultiSync LCD400V 15" LCD (Disabled during testing)
Catalyst 3.1 Drivers
Windows XP Home
SE: Patch 330
Return to Castle Wolfenstein:
Checkpoint MP Demo
Little Trouble Demo
Unreal Tournament 2003:
When testing, as shown above, I used the ATI Catalyst driver's version 3.0. I had a problem however, when I needed to decide whether to benchmark with DirectX9 or DirectX 8.1. Since 3DMark03 was just released, and required DirectX 9, I decided to go with DX9. Keep in mind, however, that people have reported seeing benchmarking result decreases with DX9 installed, but better image quality in games.
In this review, as I said earlier, I am not comparing this card with any other video card. It's very clear that the 9700 Pro is the champion as of performance in computer gaming. Instead, I'll show how much performance is sacrificed when Full Scene Anti-Aliasing and anisotropic filtering is activated at various levels.
Unfortunately, at this time, my monitor does not support 1600x1200, therefore making it impossible for me to be able to benchmark using this resolution. The only exception to this was with Unreal Tournament 2003. For some reason, when using the Unreal Tournament 2003 benchmark program, it let me benchmark using 1600x1200 with no problems, giving me accurate results.
My ability to carry out this review was limited by my current monitors a Phillips Magnavox 17" CRT display and NEC MultiSync LCD400V 15" LCD (Disabled during testing). I did the best that I could with my trusty old hardware but if there are any monitor suppliers out there that are happy to pit their gear against the wrath of Daniel, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
3DMark2001SE is probably the most known benchmark around, as well as the most widely used, despite FutureMark's (3DMark's creator company) release of 3DMark03.
Since 3DMark2001 SE is based on Direct3D, results are severely affected when FSAA and AF is turned on, and this is shown below very clearly. If you've read other reviews on the 9700 Pro, you'll notice that I am receiving much lower 3DMarks then others. This is most likely due to the fact that my hardware is limiting higher performance.
3DMark03 will probably be the latest standard of computer graphics benchmarking, like its counterpart, 3DMark2001 SE. Although I am personally not crazy about it, I've decided to include it in this review. Since it takes advantage of DirectX 9 features on the Nature test, the 9500/9700 Pro cards are (as of writing) the only cards that will run this test. As with every new version of a benchmark, results will plummet drastically, and that is exactly what is shown here. While achieving 12689 points in 3DMark 2001 SE at 1024x768, I achieved just 4447 points when running 3DMark03.
Comanche 4 is a relatively new game, and was advertised for use with the GeForce4, since it supported advanced features such as pixel shaders. We tested it at 1024x768 and 1280x1024. Strangely, I received fairly low results, but the culprit is most likely my CPU, which is holding back the 9700 Pro. However, gameplay was smooth, and looked excellent. Direct3D games take a pretty big performance drop when AA and AF is turned on, and this is clearly showed in the chart below.
Quake III has been around for a long time now; I still don't understand fully why people still include it in reviews on video cards and gaming systems. However, since it is a standard for benchmarking, I've decided to include it. Yet again, just like Comanche 4, I received lower then normal results from benchmarking. This is also most likely due to my CPU holding back the 9700 Pro. The frame rates that the game does achieve, however, are all playable with no lagging, even with 4x AA and 16x AF turned on at both 1024x768 and 1280x1024. Since this is a Direct3D game, it takes a big performance hit when AA and AF is turned on. If it is on too high, performance will start to severely suffer.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a first-person-shooter based on the Quake III engine, and also experiences lower performance then normal with a 9700 Pro! Once again, this most likely has to do with my CPU holding the 9700 back, but it shows performance that many people with similar configurations will receive. But, it is fully playable with all settings on high and with AA and AF on at 1024x768 and 1280x1024 smoothly. Like most Direct3D gamers, it takes a pretty big hit when AA and AF is turned on, but still performs better then any other video card.
Serious Sam: The Second Encounter
Serious Sam: The Second Encounter is another First Person Shooter, and yet again, resulted in lower-then-normal benchmarking results. And once again, this is most likely due to my CPU holding the card back. And like RTCW, Quake III, and Comanche 4, it is fully playable with no lagging at 1024x768 and 1280x1024 with all settings on high and AA/AF on, so it shouldn't be a problem for most gamers. Since it is a Direct3D game, the AA and AF take a major hit on performance when it is turned on, but like I said, it is still playable with no problems.
Unreal Tournament 2003:
Our final benchmark was done using Unreal Tournament 2003's built-in benchmark program. Unreal Tournament 2003 was released last year, and has some of the best graphics ever seen on a computer, and really pushes the video card. The game's built-in-benchmarking program does not support 1280x1024, so benchmarking at that resolution was impossible.
Once again, since it is a Direct3D game, performance was affected severely when AA and AF was turned on, and at some points to the point where lagging made it very difficult to play the game. The best we could do to make the game playable but to also have quality was setting it at 1280x1024 with 2x AA and 8x AF. Anything higher and the game would become very slow, making it almost unplayable.
The 9700 Pro, like I said, is no doubt the most powerful video card on the market right now. But also, as I said, this review was meant to focus on anti-aliasing and antistrophic filtering.
The 9700 Pro was tested with 2x AA and 8x AF, as well as 4x AA and 16x AF. Any video card will lose performance when advanced features are enabled like this are enabled. The question that needs to be asked is; how much will it lose?
The 9700 Pro lost a lot of performance when the above advanced features were enabled. But, it lost much less (percentage-wise), then any other video card out there, making it the best choice for a video card when you are looking at performance with AA and AF enabled.
But, I was still confused about my low performance in many of the benchmarks. Although it is probably my hardware holding the card back, my results in many of those tests were very low, something that should not happen. But, since not many people experienced this problem, I cannot hold it against the card. I'm still trying to find out what the problem is, however.
Not only did it perform extremely well compared to other cards during AA and AF tests, but it also performed remarkably during tests when these features were not enabled, providing gamers top-of-the-line performance, no matter whether AA/AF is enabled or not.
We've made it clear that the 9700 Pro is the king in both AA/AF performance, but also performance when these features are enabled. The next question to ask is whether it's worth the money or not.
I'd have to say no at this point, for now. There's no question that this card is excellent, and if I were reviewing it 3 months ago, I'd give it a 9.5/10. But, that's not the situation. With the upcoming releases of the ATI R350 and the GeForce FX, I can't see a big reason to upgrade now, with these new cards that will be costing the same price as the 9700 Pro Retail version, but performing drastically better.
As soon as the new R350 and GeForce FX are released, the 9700 Pro will plummet in price, making it a great value. There's no reason for anyone to have the most expensive, highest performing video card all the time. It simply doesn't make sense to shell out $400+ every 6 months when a new video card comes out. The 9700 Pro is sure to last for quite a while, and I'd recommend picking it up after the release of the R350 and GeForce FX. It's not as if the card will not work in a year. Its DX9 capabilities will make sure it lasts for quite some time, considering there's not one DirectX9 game out yet.
Overall, I was impressed with the 9700 Pro and its performance with AA and AF enabled, and significantly out-ran any other video card out right now, making it a great card, no matter what the benchmark was. But, yet again, I have to stress the point that the card is simply not worth purchasing just yet. Waiting two months makes all the difference.