MWNY: ATI Unveils Radeon 9000 Pro and 9700 [Updated]
9:57 AM | Jason Sims | Comment on this story
ATI today took the wraps off two new video cards--the Radeon 9000 Pro and Radeon 9700. We've updated our initial report to clarify the key differences between the two cards.
The Radeon 9000 Pro Mac Edition is based on ATI's R200 graphics processor (the heart of the Radeon 8500 card) The 9000 is basically a clocked-up Radeon 8500. It ships with 64 MB of DDR memory, and support for dual digital displays via its ADC and DVI connectors.
The Radeon 9700 takes it to the next level with ATI's brand new R300 graphics processor and 128 MB of memory.
We spoke yesterday with Chris Bentley--leader of ATI's Mac 3D development team--about the launch of the new R300. He showed us some impressive demos of the new technology. Some of the highlights included:
Each channel: Red, Green, Blue and Alpha (masking channel). The highest possible color mode is actually only 32-bit, but the extra 8 bits per channel allows the R300 to deliver oversaturated colors, which translates to a glare/glow effect that is not possible in normal 32-bit color. The demo showed a large glass sphere surrounded by several smaller, colored metallic spheres, with amazing refraction, reflection and a glowing effect when the light hit the sphere just right. Chris showed us a half-and-half split screen mode of the display with the 32-bit color version on the left, and the 64-bit version on the right, and the difference was astounding. The 32-bit version looked flat and dull alongside the 64-bit version.
Advanced Bump Mapping
The next demo showed a sports car rotating in a showroom, with the left half of the screen showing the previous method of bump mapping vs. the new method. On the right side, the car actually looked like a more detailed model, with some impresive extra details such as stylish air intakes in the hood that were completely absent on the left side of the display. Chris enabled the wireframe overlay and showed that the actual 3D model itself was exactly the same on both sides, and that the extra detail on the right hand side was entirely a product of the R300's advanced bump mapping done by the vertex shader. This is essentially a "free" feature (i.e. should not have an effect on the performance) because the model itself is the same and the bump mapping is part of the process whether used in this manner or not. From an engineering/development standpoint, this is a great thing.
The R300 also features a method to render realistic-looking fur. The effect is achieved via a combination of two techniques--one to draw the fur on the edges of the 3D object, and another to render the fur on the rest of the model. We saw a couple of different demos--one featuring a bear and the other showing a gorilla with a butterfly--and the effect is quite impressive.
ATI's press release, issued this morning, states that the Mac Edition of the new cards are expected to ship in late summer or early fall. Based on the conversation we had with Chris, this estimate should be realistic for the Radeon 9000 Pro, but it's likely that the Mac drivers for the newer Radeon 9700 may require a couple months longer.
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