A.T.I. First generation Radeon graphics cards

A. T. I. One word, three letters. I have seen the future and it shaped like that little red and white logo thingy they use..! A friend recently bought the kick ass, pint in glass, 64MB DDR Radeon; I never saw it, he'd put it into his machine as soon as he got it (duuhhh.!). We ran the 'test program' showcasing what the card will and can easily do, it took ages to load (very big file?) but when it did, OH... MY... Giddyness..!

I'm not usually easily impressed with technology but this! I wasn't expecting this... The clarity of the showpiece animation was amazing, it really was pixel sharp, reflective surfaces were fantastic, you really did get a sense that you were looking at a 'real' shiny metal surface and not just some clever graphics and GLscripting.

Bump mapping impressed me the most (for those that don't know what this is, it's like showing a picture of a brick and 'physically' texturing it with the roughness that a brick has, it really does 'look' and 'feel' like a brick!), my Voodoo3 2000 don't do it! The Radeon added this peculiar texture to the metal surfaces, which made them 'look' real. Breathtaking!.

Then we loaded Quake3Arena. One word; WOW (capital letters bold AND italic).

The graphics were pin sharp and using the default fps setting (85fps I think) it was through the roof, and I'm talking 120-150fps in, wait for it, 1280x1024 (the 19" monitor we were using doesn't support the higher resolutions). This may not seem too impressive until you try the 'firefight' and 'gibfest' test ('firefight' = plasmagun fight at close quarters; always a real hog on the CPU. 'gibfest' = when you frag targets at close quarters, blood and guts everywhere; a real CPU hogger, blood especially), it didn't even blink, cough, spit or stutter, it played through these 'tests' like skates on ice, smooth as a baby's bum, we might as well have been playing in 640x480 (which we did try incidentally). It really was 'impressive' (said with deep quake-like voice, 'Impressive').

At that resolution and clarity (all the graphics settings were turned up) you didn't even need to 'zoom' into the target to see it, you looked and there it was, crystal clear. I can now see how those 'RailKings' are so good with that weapon - get a fast PC, fast graphics card and fast connection to the net and your 'Unstoppable' (oh wait that's Unreal Tournament!) :-)

The odd thing though is this. We did drop screen res. to 640x480 but the performance was more or less the same, fps still very high (maxed out at 150), graphics very sharp and clear, we did kind of expect performance to be even better but it wasn't, not by much anyway.

Apparently, reading an article at Hardware Central (I think!), ATI have made the Radeon perform best at the higher screen resolutions - as opposed to the GForce Ultra which has better performance at lower screen res's (most gamers play at lower screen res. - so NVidia are reported to say).

We also loaded Unreal Tournament to see what that would be like. The change wasn't as dramatic as with Quake because the game engine works in a very different way, but it was seriously good to look at and fast as buggery with all the graphics settings turned up to the max!.

My friend later on in the week loaded up StarWars Pod Racer and made an interesting observation, he said game play was too fast and responsive (he loaded his previously saved game settings) he kept crashing into the wall (not a comment on his bad driving...!) so the card also 'accelerates' game handling and responsiveness, actually now that I think about it I did have to turn the mouse sensitivity down a fair whack in Q3A, so yes it speeds that up as well!. Wow this really is a top notch card!.

Over all if you've got some money to spend (and I do mean quite a bit of it as well!) and want to treat yourself then go get one!. Phorrrrrrrrrhhhhh!

Test system spec.

  • PIII 500

  • 256mb

  • RAM (PC100)

  • 19" monitor

  • ATA66 hard drive

It was compared to

(which was sitting next to it)

  • PII266

  • Voodoo3 2000 - 16mb

  • 160mb RAM

  • 15" monitor

  • UDMA33 hard drive

[addendum Aug 04] Well with Doom 3 basically in the process of taking over the globe at the moment it looks like the graphics card war between ATI and nVidia has restarted with a vengeance.!

Right now, it seems, nVidia are the top dog for this particular game and the main reason appears to be the drivers; nVidia wrote their current driver set to work directly with some of the features of Doom 3, ATI, possibly due to a little shortsighted-ness on their behalf, haven't so the game is outperforming ATI chipset cards. There is news in the pipeline of a new set of ATI drivers that has been built directly around Doom 3 but these are still in beta test.

Personally, whilst I've got a crappie old Belinea 19" monitor (over 5 years old) I'll use ATI cards as they're not fussy about screen dpi in order to give sharp images, nVidia cards are. Having said that, the monitors you buy these days (and in the last 2 or so years) are going to be good quality enough to produce sharp images on screen. Something else to be taken into consideration when looking at ATI/nVidia.