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Tuesday, October 10, 2000

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Radeon AGP Retail: First Impressions
6:00 AM | Michael Eilers | Comment on this story

Yesterday IMG received our review model of the ATI Radeon Mac Edition, a 32 MB AGP card that will retail in stores for as low as $230. This is just our quick first impressions of this card, and all facts and figures should be considered preliminary; a full review will follow next Monday.

This model differs significantly from the OEM card now shipping in Apple's Cube and G4 Tower systems in several ways: It has standard VGA and DVI (digital flat-panel) ports rather than Apple's ADC port, and it supports TV-out through an S-Video DIN.

The card itself is a handsome design and is surprisingly tiny, almost 1/3 the size of the monster 3dfx Voodoo5 5500. Featuring one small fan and no external power coupling, the card generates no significant power drain or change in CPU temperature as reported by Newer Tech's Gauge Pro even after several hours of heavy 3D benchmarking.

Initial first impressions are very positive. 2D support is crisp and blazing-fast; 1600x1200x85hz on the Apple Studio 21" is clear and readable. QuickTime acceleration is of course flawless; I haven't found a test MPEG that will drop frames at full screen with the AGP Rage 128 Pro, and the Radeon is even faster. DVD is of course supported as well, but as the G4 series uses software rather than hardware acceleration, there is no noticeable improvement. Some forum posts made by ATI staff we've read have indicated that support for true hardware DVD acceleration may return in a future DVD Player update from apple.

As expected, the 3D performance is simply amazing. ATI's primary strengths on the Mac OS have always been solid RAVE and more recently OpenGL support, and the card's solid support for these APIs really shines. The initial benchmarks are extremely impressive, not only due to the AGP version of the card but to ATI's Hyper-Z technology, which actively reduces the amount of information that needs to be streamed over the AGP bus by up to 30%. In a series of benchmarks I had a very tough time hitting the fill rate limit of this card, and in fact the majority of games were CPU-bound; their frame rate limit was caused by an inability of the G4/500 to feed the card fast enough rather than by the card itself.

The benchmarks below were done with the latest version of Quake 3 Arena, OpenGL 1.1.5 (as installed with the Radeon drivers) and a G4/500 with 384 MB of RAM, 128 assigned to Q3A. A minimal extension set was used. I began by throwing away the config.cfg file, and ran the first benchmark using the internal default Normal settings; then I moved to the High Quality settings. The 1024x768 and above benchmarks were obtained with the High Quality settings as the base, only the resolution was changed. Both cards are installed in the same machine, running simultaneously with 2 monitors. Note that with the Radeon, Normal defaults to 32-bit depth, while it was 16-bit depth on the V5.

Quake 3 Arena Benchmarks
Normal High Quality 1024x768 1280x1024
ATI Radeon 32 MB AGP 57.2 fps




3dfx Voodoo5 5500 PCI 64 MB





OEM ATI Rage 128 Pro





By playing around with the settings in Q3A, I was able to smash the fabled 60 fps barrier to pieces. 640x480 32-bit with vertex lighting turned on and all of the options under the Game Options menu turned off yielded 69.7 fps. The V5 with identical settings reached 58.1 fps. Note that it is unknown at this time if Q3A and Apple's OpenGL drivers are taking advantage of the Radeon's hardware transform and lighting support; if a future update includes this support, the benchmarks could possibly rise even further and become less CPU-bound.

I did not do any FSAA comparisons, as the current ATI drivers do no offer FSAA as an option. A FAQ included with the card notes that Apple's OpenGL drivers do not support FSAA at this time and must be revised before ATI can include this feature.

The card will boot under Mac OS X perfectly, and seems to run without a hitch. There is no hardware or OpenGL acceleration, but it is an improvement over the black screen you get with many third-party video cards.

All the games I tested under RAVE or OpenGL ran flawlessly. 4x4 Evolution doesn't have a frame rate counter, but it ran smoothly at 1024x768 with all options turned on, and was playable at 1280x1024. Descent 3 runs at 62.5 (the max FPS) at nearly all times. Unreal Tournament was also impressive, but as it uses RAVE there is no solid comparison to the V5, which uses Glide with this game. Over the next few days we will bring you more details, screen shots and information about this great addition to the Mac 3D card market.

ATI Radeon AGP 32 MB Mac Edition
Radeon AGP

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