It has been a long, long wait since September, but at last we bring you the next jewel in the crown of Mac 3D gaming with a hands-on preview of the ATI Radeon 8500 Mac edition. This 64 MB AGP-only card will join the NVIDIA GeForce 3 (and coming GeForce 4 Ti) in initiating the Mac platform into the next generation of gaming – the era of the programmable GPU and a new standard of visual realism. The 8500 also heralds the return of full-scene anti-aliasing to our platform, previously only available with the orphaned Voodoo 4 and 5 series from 3dfx.
IMG has already discussed the specs, features and new technologies of the 8500 in depth in two previous articles, so this hands-on preview will be more of a fast-and-dirty look at the advantages and potentials of the 8500 on our platform. While performance benchmarks are included, these are merely for the sake of curiosity – these are beta drivers and a pre-release card, and this is not intended to be a comprehensive review of the speed or features of the 8500. Again, this article is not intended as a review, just a glimpse of what the 8500 may have to offer the Mac gamer.
A Quick SummaryFor those who haven’t read the previous two previews, here’s a quick refresher: The ATI 8500 (developed under the code name R200) is ATI’s answer to NVIDIA’s GeForce 3 series of cards, which were the first to offer a programmable GPU. An all-new chip built with a .15-micron process, the R200 is a radical break from previous ATI chips, yet it builds on a strong legacy of card technologies and enhancements. Besides the obvious increases in clock speed, memory speed, internal bandwidth and fill rate, the new chip supports the programmable features of DirectX 8.1 and OpenGL 1.3 which allow game designers to literally add new effects and special features to a graphics card on-the-fly, without having to wait for a driver update.
While mainstream games that actually use programmable shaders may still be 8-12 months away (or more!), it is obvious that any forward-looking gamer will have to put a programmable GPU on the shopping list if they want to enjoy future titles to their fullest.
For a comprehensive look at the programmable features of the 8500, please refer to Ben Boffey’s excellent and in-depth article on the subject, entitled ATI Radeon 8500: In The Flesh. We miss you, Ben!
In summary, the ATI 8500 is a totally buzzword-compliant card, ATI’s attempt to recover lost ground in the high-end, hardcore gaming market. It also packs a huge suite of advanced 2D features (which ATI is renowned for) and has a tremendous amount of potential for future exploitation by games and applications.