The ATI Radeon PCI debuts on the Mac platform in a curious position – one so unique that the only other card in a similar state was the Voodoo 1 when it was introduced on the Mac for the first time. Because of the recent demise of 3dfx (and the removal of their products from public sale and support), the Radeon PCI is literally the only high-end PCI gaming card on the market for Mac OS users, just as the Power3D was once the only gaming card for the Mac, period.
Furthermore, because the high-end market on the PC side moved to AGP long ago (even midrange cards are now AGP) it is likely that the Radeon may be the very last PCI graphics card to appear on the Mac platform, unless Formac decides to produce another generation of products.
So who needs a PCI Radeon? Anyone with an AGP Mac will undoubtedly get the AGP version of the Radeon, after seeing the benchmarks in this article unless they are adding a second monitor. Those with a Rage 128 Pro or Voodoo3 card in a lower-speed G3 won’t see a outrageous boost in speed, because their games lag due to lack of CPU horsepower, not graphics card performance. However, they will see a tremendous increase in visual quality, as they will be able to run resolutions up to 1024x768 at very playable frame rates, something a stock Rage 128 could never do.
Those who will be most interested in the PCI Radeon will be those with Voodoo3, 4 or 5 cards who wish to move to Mac OS X, those with lower-performing cards such as a Rage 128 VR, or those who want the TV-out and S-Video out features of the card itself. And as noted, the Radeon PCI makes a smashing second video card to add to an AGP G4 system.
As for the actual specs and features of the card, they are identical to the AGP Radeon Mac edition. I hope you don’t mind, but I don’t plan to repeat that information here; if you need a detailed analysis of the card, just refer to the earlier review of the Radeon AGP.
I have included Voodoo5 benchmarks as a reference, but these are an academic comparison; these cards are no longer for sale, and as they have no technical support we cannot recommend them as an option.
The 2D performance of the Radeon PCI seems identical to the AGP version, which is identical to the ATI Rage Pro. There’s no surprise there; all three share the same 350 MHz RAMDAC. All the strengths of the Radeon AGP are there – excellent MPEG movie playback acceleration, blazing scrolling, crisp images and excellent color fidelity. Again, see the Radeon AGP review for details, as the PCI model is identical in all respects.
Ah, now here is a curious puzzle. If you are installing the Radeon PCI in a G3 system that shipped with a DVD-ROM drive, such as a Blue and White G3, and you move or remove the stock ATI card, you lose DVD playback. Or do you? Believe it or not, you can download Apple’s DVD player version 2.2 and “patch” it with an unauthorized, unsupported application and it will use the Radeon PCI for playback. Furthermore, the image quality and performance is ASTOUNDING. It looks far better, in fact, than the software-based playback I get on my G4 with the Radeon AGP. Why Apple or ATI didn’t include a working DVD playback app with the Radeon card or make it available for download is a totally mystery to me – but Apple often works in mysterious ways, and the handling of their DVD playback app has been one of the best (or worst) examples of Apple head-in-the-sand engineering: write bad code, and then just hope it goes away. In any case, I can’t tell you where to find these unsupported patchers, but a simple search of the Internet for web pages relevant to Mac DVD players should do the trick.