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ATI RADEON 8500/8500LE Video Cards Roundup

April 2002:
Joytech Apollo Devil Monster II
RADEON 8500LE 128 MBytes
and
Hercules 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE 64 MBytes

April 4, 2002



Why did NVIDIA decide to release a new processor, GeForce4 Ti, in the middle of the winter? Traditionally, all new products are launched at the end of spring or even in summer. At worst, at the beginning of autumn. After summer holidays purses are usually thin, but by X-mas people earn enough money to buy new super cards.

And this time the performance takes place in winter. ATI also hurries up to release its old-new RADEON 8500 with 128 MBytes of memory which is still difficult to reach. Well, let it be winter, I just wish games kept pace with innovations in 3D accelerators. After the expositions where new products were savored and discussed users started wondering when all those nice things were going to appear on the market. Well, Joytech which is very popular today for its OEM products has just released its card on the ATI Radeon 8500. Hercules has also decided to offer a cheap version of a card on this accelerator.

Theoretical materials and reviews of video cards which concern functional properties of the ATI RADEON 8500/7500 GPU

Earlier we examined several video cards on the RADEON 8500/8500LE, and all of them were based on the ATI's reference design except the Gigabyte card. And today we will take a gander at different samples. First of all, we have Joytech Apollo Devil Monster II RADEON 8500 128 MBytes card which has in common only the graphics processor :-). On the contrary, the Hercules 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE has a design identical to the reference one except just one thing.

Cards

All cards have an AGP x2/x4 interface. The Joytech Apollo Devil Monster II RADEON 8500 has 128 MBytes DDR SGRAM, the Hercules 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE comes with 64 MBytes DDR SDRAM. But both have 8 chips located on both sides of the PCB.

Joytech Apollo Devil Monster II RADEON 8500 128 MBytes
Hercules 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE 64 MBytes


Joytech Apollo Devil Monster II RADEON 8500 128 MBytes
Samsung 4ns memory chips. The card operates at 250/250 (500) MHz. But there are identical cards which run at 250/230 (460) MHz.
Hercules 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE 64 MBytes
Hynix 4ns memory chips. The card operates at 250/250 (500) MHz.


Comparison with the reference design, front view Reference card ATI RADEON 8500
Joytech Apollo Devil Monster II RADEON 8500 128 MBytes
Joytech Apollo Devil Monster II RADEON 8500 128 MBytes without cooler
Hercules 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE 64 MBytes


Comparison with the reference design, back view Reference card ATI RADEON 8500
Joytech Apollo Devil Monster II RADEON 8500 128 MBytes
Hercules 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE 64 MBytes



The Joytech card has SGRAM memory in lieu of SDRAM which means that the PCB was redesigned considerably. As a result, we have three connectors (VGA, DVI, TV-out) and an internal one for a VGA connector on a separate bracket:

This adapter replaces a traditional DVI-to-VGA one, that is why potentially it is possible to connect the card right to three signal receivers (not counting a TV set) simultaneously. However, the drivers do not allow it, and the RADEON 8500 supports only two signal receivers. The second RAMDAC is located on the back of the card. Besides, the card is bundled with a massive cooler, and the PCB is traditionally green-blue.

Unlike the reference card, the Hercules 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE lacks for the second RAMDAC! That is why you can't use two monitors to display an image. Probably this is because it's named 8500LE instead of 8500 (we got used to the fact that ATI's cards working at 230, 250 and 275 MHz have the same name). The PCB is also traditionally of marine color.

And now let's look at the cooling devices.

Joytech Apollo Devil Monster II RADEON 8500 128 MBytes
The cooler is huge and consists of several parts. Small heatsinks are installed on the memory chips on the back, and one big heatsink with a fan seats on the front side. All parts of the heatsink are glued to the memory and chipset and also fastened with clips. That is why such device provides reliable and effective cooling. Note that Samsung modules usually do not overclock well and hardly work at their rated speed. But these chips worked excellently at 290 (580) MHz with the heatsinks provided.
Hercules 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE 64 MBytes
The cooler of this card is typical of the 3D Prophet series.



Now let's see what the packages include apart from the cards.

Joytech Apollo Devil Monster II RADEON 8500 128 MBytes
Apart from a heap of foam-rubber and the card the huge box has a brief user manual, a CD with drivers, an S-Video extender and a VGA connector. An S-Video-to-RCA adapter is lacking.
Hercules 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE 64 MBytes
There are several user manuals (including the one concerning PowerDVD installation), 2 CDs with drivers and PowerDVD XP 4.0, an S-Video-to-RCA adapter and Hercules' stickers.



Both cards come in the retail package.

Joytech Apollo Devil Monster II RADEON 8500 128 MBytes
Well, the box is big enough and can house almost two mainboards:) The photo shows how much it is larger than the video card. Well, I think they just wanted to impress users with the box's dimensions. The card itself is fixed inside the box in the center of the cardboard support.
Hercules 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE 64 MBytes
Traditional colors, as well as the design. Only the image was slightly changed.



That's all I had to say about peculiarities of the cards.

Overclocking

Joytech Apollo Devil Monster II RADEON 8500 128 MBytes 250/500(460) -> 300/580 MHz
Hercules 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE 64 MBytes 250/500 -> 275/550 MHz


The Joytech holds a record in overclocking among RADEON 8500LE cards thanks to the new design (the company didn't set the same memory voltage as ATI) and effective cooling. Though 275 MHz for the 8500LE is also a good result (I mean the Hercules 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE).

Note:

  • in course of overclocking you must provide additional cooling, in particular, for the card (first of all, for its memory):

  • overclocking depends on a definite sample, and you shouldn't generalize the results of one card to all video cards of this mark or series. The overclocking results are not the obligatory characteristics of a video card.

Test system and drivers

Testbed:

  • Pentium 4 based computer (Socket 478):
    • Intel Pentium 4 2200 (L2=512K);
    • ASUS P4T-E (i850) mainboard;
    • 512 MBytes RDRAM PC800;
    • Quantum FB AS HDD, 20 GBytes;
    • Windows XP.

  • AthlonXP based computer:
    • AMD Athlon XP 2000+ (1666 MHz);
    • EPoX 8KHA+ (VIA KT266A) mainboard;
    • 512 MBytes DDR SDRAM PC2100;
    • Fujitsu HDD, 20 GBytes;
    • Windows XP.

The test system was coupled with ViewSonic P810 (21") and ViewSonic P817 (21") monitors.

In the tests we used ATI's drivers of v6.043. VSync was off, S3TC was off.
6.043.

For the comparative analyses we used the following cards:

  • Chaintech A-G320 GeForce3 Ti 200 (175/200 (400) MHz, 64 MBytes, driver 28.32);
  • Chaintech A-G321 GeForce3 Ti 200 SE (175/200 (400) MHz, 128 MBytes, driver 28.32);
  • ABIT Siluro GF3 Ti500 (NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti 500, 240/250 (500) MHz, 64 MBytes driver 28.32);
  • ATI RADEON 8500 (275/275 (550) MHz, 64 MBytes);
  • Manli RADEON 8500 (RADEON 8500LE, 250/250 (500) MHz, 64 MBytes).

Test results

2D quality of the Hercules is incredible, including the 1600x1200x85 Hz mode. The Joytech has it a bit worse, but at 1600x1200x75 Hz it's good enough. Note that this parameter can depend on a monitor.

For estimation of 3D quality we used:

  • Serious Sam: The Second Encounter v.1.05 (Croteam/GodGames) - OpenGL, multitexturing, Grand Cathedral demo, test settings: quality, S3TC OFF, Trilinear;
  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein (MultiPlayer) (id Software/Activision) - OpenGL, multitexturing, Checkpoint-demo, test settings - maximum, S3TC OFF, the configurations can be downloaded from here;
  • 3DMark2001 SE (MadOnion) - a synthetic test which demonstrates operation of a card in DirectX 8.1;
  • Comanche4 Benchmark Demo (NovaLogic) - DirectX 8.1, multitexturing, test settings - maximum, S3TC OFF;
  • Code Creatures DEMO (CodeCult) - DirectX 8.1, pixel and vertex shaders, over 350,000 polygons in a scene;

Serious Sam: The Second Encounter

Grand Cathedral, quality mode

The tests were carried out in a 32-bit color mode.

The 128 MBytes RADEON 8500LE card works faster than the 64 MBytes one, though it's not typical of GeForce3 Ti 200 cards (we mentioned that earlier). ATI Technologies said that new 128 MBytes cards allowed for a 15% gain relative to the 64 MBytes ones. Well, ATI doesn't break its word. Why does it happen? Maybe, they made tricky drivers? Included optimization for 128 MBytes? Or a new revision of the chip of the Joytech card? When we took off the cooler we saw that both cards had the same chip revision - A13:

The situation with the drivers will be clarified later. And now we see that the Joytech's card stomps the GeForce3 Ti 200 in the ground.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein (Multiplayer)

Checkpoint, High Quality Modes

The tests were carried out in 32-bit color mode at the highest detailing and quality level of textures.

The situation is similar; the Joytech working at 250 MHz catches up with the ATI's card running at 275 MHz and coming with 64 MBytes of memory.

Comanche4

High Quality Modes

This benchmark was released not so long ago, that is why first of all let's look at its screenshots:

The game is much dependent on a processor frequency. Even the most powerful cards show a quite low performance. The President of NovaLogic (company that develops this game) said that to load modern powerful 3D accelerators entirely it's necessary to have a CPU at least 3-4 GHz.

Note that this test was carried out for two reviews, and here we used also the most powerful GeForce4 Ti accelerators.

The new game was tested on two platforms, that is why it's well seen for which the game is better optimized.

The Joytech Apollo Devil Monster II RADEON 8500 128 MBytes performs much better than the 64 MBytes card, and the other competitors! The card has caught up with the GeForce2 Ti500. At 1600x1200 the 64 MBytes cards fell considerably behind the 128 MBytes sample! Well, in the Direct3D 128 MBytes memory brings much gain.

Code Creatures

CodeCult created an engine which draws realistic 3D images, primarily landscapes. The scenes included in the demo version are quite complicated. A year ago we sighed looking at the X-Isle with 200,000 polygons and shader effects, and now we have a new demo version:

This product uses DirectX that is why it can work on all DirectX 8.1 compatible accelerators (unlike the X-Isle which was made for the OpenGL where specific extensions for NVIDIA are used, that is why this demo can work only on GeForce cards).

I didn't take resolutions higher than 1024x768, because playability of even the NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4600 is not sufficient. However, the 128 MBytes card from Joytech outscores the 64 MBytes versions, and its performance is almost equal to that of the card working at 275 MHz.

I think that the layout of the performance will add some details, and on the whole one can see that such photorealistic landscapes are quite difficult for the today's cards.

3DMark2001 SE, Game1, Low details

The first test of this popular suite gave no favor to the 128 MBytes card on the RADEON 8500LE. Though there is some gain with the anisotropy enabled.

3DMark2001 SE, Game2, Low details

This time the additional memory helps the Joytech card. Besides, it wallops the more expensive GeForce3 Ti 500 card.

3DMark2001 SE, Game3, Low details

The third test looks very similar to the first one: 128 MBytes of memory doesn't help the RADEON 8500LE card chalk up. And the anisotropy didn't render any help.

3DMark2001 SE, Game4

Well, here the Joytech Apollo Devil Monster II RADEON 8500 128 MBytes is above all! Especially when overclocked :-).

So, what caused the difference between the RADEON 8500LE cards with 64 MBytes and 128 MBytes of memory? If the drivers did it, the situation would be the same in all tests. But it differs. The 128 MBytes cards perform better in the tests which are greatly dependent on the memory bandwidth. Maybe, it is explained by the ATI's memory controller which didn't help the GPU to realize its full potential in case of 64 MBytes of RAM. And only with 128 MBytes this bottleneck disappears.

Here is one more interesting test:

3DMark2001 SE, Advanced Pixel Shader Test

Do you remember that in the Gigabyte Maya RADEON 8500 review in this test activation of the DXTC of the RADEON 8500 cards gave a strange effect? With the texture compression the speed grew several times. Without the DXTC the cards on the ATI's chips fell behind by the NVIDIA's ones by a great margin although the latter executed it in two passes instead of one like in case of the PS 1.4).

Now, with more memory the RADEON 8500 speeds up significantly. It's not a narrow bandwidth. Nor a low throughput. Maybe, the controller has some bugs. Or maybe operation with the AGP via the ATI's drivers suffers.

Anyway, it's clear that 128 MBytes of RAM boosts up the performance of even the junior RADEON 8500 card.

Conclusion

So, we just examined two production cards based on the RADEON 8500LE. The Hercules' model follows the reference design (just except the fact that it lacks for the second RAMDAC), and the Joytech's one differs much.

First of all, the Joytech's design allows using cheap SGRAM memory in the old package that is why such card costs less than the reference one. Besides, it has a normal dual-head support. Thirdly, 128 MBytes of memory provides a considerable performance gain. And at last, the given sample overclocks excellently.

However, the Hercules 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE works nicely at the frequencies of its elder brother - RADEON 8500 275 MHz.

The complete characteristics of video cards of this and other classes can be found in our 3Digest.

Highs:

  • Excellent performance in modern 3D games;
  • High quality of the tested samples;
  • Original design and accessories of the Joytech;
  • Relatively low prices of both cards (below $140-150 for the end of March);
  • Their overclocking potential turns them into normal 275 MHz cards.

Lows:

  • Lack of the second RAMDAC of the Hercules card;
  • Lack of an S-Video-to-RCA adapter of the JoyTech card.

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