Game and 2D PerformanceIdeally, I would have liked to set up a side-by-side comparison between the Radeon 9000 and 8500 to compare performance in various games, but I didn't have that luxury. Instead, I had to rely on my keen sense of sight and smell. (Smell?)
I played through a few levels in Ghost Recon, Jedi Knight 2, Soldier of Fortune 2, Medal of Honor, and Return to Castle Wolfenstein. As far as I could tell, the performance was indistinguishable from the Radeon 8500 using identical settings (1024x768 resolution, most detail options at high). To confirm my results, I subjected my neighbor to several cruel minutes of experiments using the "blind taste test" methodology. I switched between the Radeon 9000 and 8500 while he was absent from the "labs" and he too, was not able to tell the difference. But then again, this is someone who actually believes Miller Lite is less filling.
The average framerate varied between each game, but they were all very playable, though Medal of Honor and SOF2 were their usual demanding selves. Of course, you will need to have a fast processor to push the Radeon 9000, but even with a slower processor, you will able to play games at higher resolution with a smaller performance hit.
I briefly tested a few games in Mac OS 9 (make sure you install the proper drivers first); namely Deus Ex, Deep Space 9: The Fallen, and Escape from Monkey Island; and they all ran perfectly.
2D image quality is on par with the Radeon 8500 — sharp and vibrant. I detected no fringing or blurriness on my 21" Trinitron, which I usually run at 1600x1200 resolution with a refresh rate of 85 Hz. DVD playback is good, but I've been spoiled by the image quality of stand alone players. As noted in previous articles, DVD playback is less processor intensive than on NVIDIA cards.
I'm happy to report that I didn't encounter any bugs or compatibility issues during any of my testing and to be honest, I didn't expect any. ATI's drivers have matured markedly in terms of performance and features since the debut of the Radeon 8500.
Display OptionsThe Radeon 9000 Pro has several output options and the type of display you own (or plan to own) should factor heavily into the upgrade path you follow. Apple’s LCDs are very popular, but their use of a proprietary connector severely limits one's upgrade options. If you own a or plan to own a monitor with ADC, then the Radeon 9000 is your best (and only) choice. After that, connecting anything other than a DVI monitor will require an adapter (either DVI-to-ADC or DVI-to-VGA).
The Radeon 8500 is a more cost effective solution if you don't own any ADC-equipped displays. Although it retails for $30 more, the additional cost of purchasing adapters for the Radeon 9000 will even out the cost.
Final ThoughtsATI has delivered another solid product in the Radeon 9000 Pro. While it is aimed toward a specific market segment, it is still a very capable gaming card for the price. Games will definitely run faster (provided you have the CPU power) if you are upgrading from a Radeon or NVIDIA's MX line. If you still have a Rage 128/Pro, you will see additional benefits from Quartz Extreme acceleration in Mac OS X 10.2.
Some people may not think that $169 (MSRP) is a "fair" price, especially when the PC equivalent has dropped to under $100, but you need to realize that the Mac board is a custom design with a small production run. It is still $30 cheaper than the Radeon 8500 and offers similar performance, although the 8500 has attractive features in it's own right. The Radeon 9000 Pro should be able to handle your current library of games, as well as many next-generation ones. Well, until DOOM3.