Other 2D FeaturesPerhaps one of the coolest hardware features of the 8500 is Hydravision dual-head support, which allows you to attach a second monitor to the video card. I was able to connect my Apple 15Ē LCD through the DVI port (using a Dr. Bottís DVIator) in addition to my Apple Studio Display 21" connected to the VGA port. Not only does this save you a PCI slot, but it gives you AGP speed for 2D and 3D applications Ė essentially a second video card for free! Obviously this is not a gaming feature, as you can only play games on one monitor at a time, but a second monitor quickly becomes an invaluable piece of screen real estate.
While Mac OS X itself has its own troubles with dual-head display, this is a very worthwhile feature that ATI threw in "for free." I think many people who buy an 8500 will immediately start shopping eBay for a cheap second monitor. By the way, it is very easy to hook up a second VGA monitor via the DVI port -- just purchase a DVI to VGA adaptor (quite cheap and they don't degrade image quality).
ConclusionsAs you can see the 8500 is an amazing graphics powerhouse, and one that will have a long and productive lifetime for gamers. ATI earns extra kudos for being the first to roll out modern FSAA support on the Mac platform; NVIDIA certainly plans to do so as well, but has made no public announcements at this point. TruForm is also an interesting bonus, and I canít wait to see how it enhances future titles as support is added.
The most important detail to note about the 8500 benchmarks is the overall flatness of the results -- for almost every benchmark there is a less than 20 fps drop between lowest and highest settings. Not only does this indicate that the card never hits its fill rate or memory limit, it shows the card has tremendous potential to go much, much, faster as Apple CPUs and systems gain speed and power. This is a card for the future, not for today -- but it will be slightly cheaper than the original Radeon AGP Mac Edition was at its own launch.
It may be months before a title comes out on the Mac platform that really tests the feature set and performance of this card, and even then it will take a mightier CPU than mine to push it to the limits. Until Doom 3, Quake 4 or the Mac OS port of Halo actually ships, we wonít see this cardís true features (programmable shaders, shadow volumes, six texture units -- so much more!) in action at all! Recognizing this fact, ATI and Apple have yet to include pixel and vertex shader support in the drivers (or in OpenGL itself), and in fact such support may not appear until this Summer. I donít expect any game with pixel or vertex effects to ship for the Mac before 2003, personally, but I am willing to be surprised.
In the future we hope to bring you more benchmarks on much faster hardware, as well as a complete review of the final, shipping card and drivers. Until then, make sure you read through our other two previews for an idea of just how much power ATI has packed into this next-generation card. Check out the screen shot gallery for a sampling of gorgeous 4x FSAA images, including two from the amazing Unreal Tournament "assault" map Asthenosphere.