The GPU itself isn’t the only advantage; the entire card architecture has been enhanced. This R200 chip connects to four pixel “pipelines” (vs two in the original Radeon) that are in turn hooked to six texture units per pipeline. Translated, this means that each pixel pipeline can draw six textures in a single pass, an ability that eclipses any and all cards currently on the market.
ATI has also of course maintained and developed their 2D feature set as well, known as the Video Immersion Engine II. Adding to their widely-acknowledged superior image quality in this area, this latest revision of the VIE features “walk/weave” video deinterlacing; this allows for an analog video signal (or interlaced video such as DVD streams) to be drawn on the screen with greater sharpness and fidelity even when there is fast motion or high-contrast imagery. This engine features true HDTV support, and you can connect directly to a digital television via an adapter and the card’s DVI port. The card supports the staggering max resolution of 2048x1536 at 85 Hz, in both 2D and 3D – it can do 1600x1200 at 120 Hz, if your monitor supports it, via the 400 MHz RAMDAC. And the card ships with build-in dual monitor support, known as Hydravision.
ATI hasn’t entered the arena with merely a faster chipset design. Following NVIDIA’s lead, ATI has included their own versions of the pixel and vertex shading technologies, now known as Smartshader. They have added to this Truform, a unique feature that allows for on-the-fly enhancement of a game’s level of polygon detail, including older games that were designed when low-poly models were a requirement. And they have capped off the next-generation feature set with Smoothvision, a version of full-scene anti-aliasing which claims to be a jump ahead of both what 3dfx offered and what NVIDIA now ships. These new gaming technologies are quite complex to explain, and thus we have wrapped them up in a separate feature so we can concentrate on the card hardware in this preview.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of all in regards to the 8500 chip is that this will be the first chip ATI will license to third-party card makers to create their own cards, much the same way NVIDIA sells chips and designs to third parties rather than makes boards themselves. Not only should this drive costs down quickly, it might even open the door to a third-party Mac OS-compatible card -- though we have heard nothing of this at present.
OK, so let’s break down the new hardware features one at a time.