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Manufacturer: ATI Technologies
Min OS X: 10.2.5    Requires: Free AGP Slot

ATI Radeon 9800 Pro
September 18, 2003 | Lucian Fong

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As exciting as the Power Mac G5 announcement was at June's Worldwide Developer's Conference, Mac gamers had another reason to rejoice. Steve Jobs announced to a crowd of Mac developers, and an even larger crowd gathered in the Apple Retail Stores, that ATI's Radeon 9600 Pro would be shipping in the dual 2 GHz G5. The online communities began to buzz when the Radeon 9800 Pro quietly appeared as a Build-to-Order option at the Apple Online Store. Later that day, an ATI representative confirmed a retail Radeon 9800 Pro was planned for release, sending Mac gamers into a frenzy. It was announced and began shipping in limited quantities at the MacWorld Creative Pro in July, a welcome improvement in the announce-to-ship time over their previous products.

ATI designed the Radeon 9800 Pro from the ground up to be a pixel pushing monster and sought to improve on every aspect of the Radeon 8500, their last high end graphics card for the Mac. Along with the usual performance enhancements (HYPER Z III+), comes a slew of feature upgrades (SMARTSHADER, SMOOTHVISION, VERSAVISION), and major software improvements (ATI Displays 4). The nitty-gritty details of the technologies powering the Radeon 9800 Pro are beyond the scope of this review, but you can read all about them in the Technology Overview that was previously published on IMG.

Below is a chart listing the basic specifications of past and present graphics cards available on the Mac:

Radeon 9800 Pro Radeon 9600 Pro Radeon 9000 Pro Radeon 8500 GeForceFX 5200 Ultra GeForce4 Ti4600 GeForce3
Core Clock 380 MHz 400 MHz 275 MHz 250 MHz 325 MHz 300 MHz 200 MHz
Pixel Pipelines 8 4 4 4 4 4 4
Fill Rate 3.0 Gpixel/s 1.6 Gpixel/s 1.1 Gpixel/s 1.0 Gpixel/s 1.3 Gpixel/s 1.2 Gpixel/s 800 Mpixel/s
Memory Clock 680 MHz (DDR) 600 MHz (DDR) 550 MHz (DDR) 550 MHz (DDR) 650 MHz (DDR) 650 MHz (DDR) 460 MHz (DDR)
Memory Bus 256-bit 128-bit 128-bit 128-bit 128-bit 128-bit 128-bit
Bandwith 21.7 GB/s 9.6 GB/s 8.8 GB/s 8.8 GB/s 10.4 GB/s 10.4 GB/s 7.38 GB/s
Onboard Memory128 MB64 MB64 MB64 MB64 MB128 MB64 MB

The Radeon 9800 Pro's eight pixel pipelines and 256-bit memory bus give it an enormous advantage in both raw fill rate and memory bandwith. In all fairness, though, it is a full generation (or more) ahead of the other four graphics cards. (The Radeon 9600 Pro and GeForceFX 5200 Ultra are considered "current" generation products, as they are derivatives of more powerful GPUs.) ATI's only competition would be the GeForceFX 5900 Ultra, but NVIDIA has not indicated whether or not they will release a Mac version. So in a rather anti-climactic "battle", ATI is crowned the speed champion by default.

But even when there is only one choice, the decision to spend $400 (USD) may not be a simple one, which is presumably why you are reading this review. The fact that the Radeon 9800 Pro will yield the highest framerates in every benchmark is almost a certainty the real value will be determined on the merits of it's software package. After all, what good is the most powerful graphics card if you can't properly utilize it's power?


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