iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Part 2: Hercules RADEON 9000/9000 Pro 128MB Video Card

July 24, 2002


  1. Peculiarities of the Hercules 3D Prophet 9000 Pro 128MB video card 
  2. Testbeds and driver settings 
  3. Test results: briefly on 2D 
  4. Test results: 3DMark2001 SE game tests 
  5. Test results: Quake3 ARENA 
  6. Test results: Serious Sam: The Second Encounter 
  7. Test results: Return to Castle Wolfenstein 
  8. Test results: Comanche4 DEMO 
  9. Test results: Unreal Tournament 2003 DEMO 
  10. 3D quality in general
  11. 3D quality: Anisotropic filtering
  12. Conclusion

The new-born RADEON 9000 and 9700 are still in a maternity hospital, though we have already got acquainted with one of them. Although it wasn't a child of ATI but a twin from Gigabyte (the system of cloning of its children was established by ATI over a year ago, that is why today one can find all kinds of RADEONs on the shelves from various manufacturers. 

Unfortunately, the second child - RADEON 9700 - turned out to be prematurely born, though the boy is quite weighty. However, it will live some more time in the maternity hospital, probably up to September. And we are continuing our acquaintance with the RADEON 9000 (former RV250). 

So, last time we studied peculiarities of the new ATI's product released for the mainstream market. The RADEON 9000 has some limited capabilities as compared with the RADEON 8500 and is meant to replace the RADEON 7500, thus, bringing functions and capabilities of the DirectX 8.1 (and OpenGL 1.3) into the sector of cards priced at about $100. In the Gigabyte RADEON 9000 Pro Video Card Review with 64MB of memory we studied all details concerning the new product from ATI and we were pleased that such new capabilities appeared on the Low-End market. However, the harsh reality makes us correct our emotions. 

First of all, there are two RADEON 9000 types: a pure card and its Pro version. They differ only in frequencies: 250/200 (400) against 275/275 (550) MHz. Last time we studied only the Pro version, and today we will take a look at both models, or rather, their 128MB versions. We also will estimate necessity of such memory size, because when the RADEON 8500 128MB was released it boosted its performance considerably. 

So, let's turn to the card in question. 


This is not a preproduction sample, but a Hercules 3D Prophet 9000 Pro 128MB production card. 

The card has an AGP x2/x4 interface, 128 MBytes DDR SDRAM located in 8 chips on both sides of the PCB. 

Hercules 3D Prophet 9000 Pro 128MB
Gigabyte RADEON 9000 Pro 64MB

The card comes with Samsung memory modules of 3.6ns access time which corresponds to 275 (550) MHz; the memory works at this frequency. The GPU runs at 275 MHz as well.

Last time we saw that the Gigabyte's solution corresponded to the ATI's reference design entirely, that is why we will use its photo again for comparison. 

The Hercules's card has the same design. On the whole, the PCB of the RADEON 9000 is less sophisticated than that of the RADEON 8500, though it has more different elements; but such PCB must be cheaper. 

The card possesses DVI, VGA and TV-out connectors. The TV-out support of the RADEON 9000 is integrated right into the GPU. We examined its TV-out and made sure it was of high quality and able to display images up to 1024768 inclusive. 

Now the card can't be deprived of the dual-monitor support as it was before - earlier some firms didn't provide a second RAMDAC for the RADEON 8500 cards. Both RAMDACs are now also integrated into the GPU. The features are the same, the details can be found in our reviews of RADEON 8500 based cards. 

Under the cooler is the graphics processor of the same dimensions as the RADEON 7500: 

Although it has frequencies typical of the RADEON 7500, the complexity of the chip makes problems with its temperature mode, that is why it has a metallic lid. 

Hercules can't help using its proprietary roundish cooler with a logo in the center. 


Unfortunately, the potential of the card allows it to function properly only at 285/290 MHz, which is a very inconsiderable boost. 

Test system and drivers

  • Pentium 4 2200 MHz computer testbeds: 
    • Intel Pentium 4 2200 (L2=512K); 
    • ASUS P4T-E (i850); 
    • 512 MB RDRAM PC800; 
    • Quantum FB AS 20GB; 
    • Windows XP. 
  • Athlon XP 1666 MHz (2000+): 
    • AMD Athlon XP 2000+ 
    • EPoX 8KHA+ (VIA KT266A); 
    • 512 MB DDR SDRAM PC2100; 
    • Fujitsu 20 GB; 
    • Windows XP. 
The test systems were coupled with ViewSonic P810 (21") and ViewSonic P817 (21") monitors. 

In the tests we used ATI Catalyst drivers 6.118. VSync was off. 

For comparison we used the following cards: 

  • Leadtek WinFast A170T (GeForce4 MX 440, 270/200 (400) MHz, 64 MB, 29.42 driver); 
  • MSI GF4MX460 (GeForce4 MX 460, 300/275 (550) MHz, 64 MB, 29.42 driver); 
  • ATI RADEON 7500 (290/230 (460) MHz, 64 MB); 
  • ATI RADEON 8500LE (250/250 (500) MHz, 64 MB);. 
  • ATI RADEON 8500LE (250/250 (500) MHz, 128 MB);. 
For this review we took one more card based on the GeForce4 MX 460 processor because, as I found out, the RADEON 9000 Pro will be primarily priced not at $100 but about $120-130, which is comparable to the above mentioned cards on the GeForce4 MX 460. Besides, 128 MB won't favor price cuts for the RADEON 9000 Pro. 

The tests of the RADEON 9000 were fulfilled by reducing a frequency of the Hercules 3D Prophet 9000 Pro to 250/400 MHz. 

Driver settings

In the Part 1 you can learn about settings of the Catalyst drivers. 

Test results

2D graphics

As expected, the negative result obtained last time is entirely through the fault of the sample, because the current card from Hercules showed excellent quality in resolutions up to 1600120085Hz and 12801024100Hz. 

However, estimation of 2D quality is a subjective thing. Such cards will be produced by a lot of firms that is why quality will depend on a certain sample and a card-monitor tandem, especially on quality of a monitor and a cable. 

3D graphics, 3DMark2001 - game tests


3DMark2001, 3DMARKS

The RADEON 9000 (not Pro!) bests the GeForce4 MX 440 as before, also offering a really low price and DirectX 8.1 capabilities. Besides, it has a dual-head support, while the GeForce4 MX 440 is deprived of it. 

Comparison of the 64MB and 128MB cards revealed no speed difference between them. 

3DMark2001, Game1 Low details

Well, here we have an interesting correspondence of the performance levels: RADEON 9000 - GeForce4 MX 440, RADEON 9000 Pro - GeForce4 MX 460. And surely, all of them lag behind the sweet couple of the RADEON 8500 64 and 128 MB. 

I guess that how the scores of the 64MB and 128MB cards relate needs no comment. 

3DMark2001, Game2 Low details

The same. 

3DMark2001, Game3 Low details

And in this test both RADEONs 9000 outpaced their own competitors. There is still no difference between the 64MB and 128MB cards. 

3DMark2001, Game4

The 128MB outedges its 64MB sibling, but by an inconsiderable margin. 

3D graphics, game tests

For estimation of 3D performance in games we used the following tests: 
  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein (MultiPlayer) (id Software/Activision) OpenGL, multitexturing, Checkpoint-demo, test settings - maximum, S3TC OFF, the configurations can be downloaded from here

  • Serious Sam: The Second Encounter v.1.05 (Croteam/GodGames) - OpenGL, multitexturing, Grand Cathedral demo, test settings: quality, S3TC OFF 

  • Quake3 Arena v.1.17 (id Software/Activision) - OpenGL, multitexturing, Quaver, all settings - maximum: detailing level High, texture detailing level 4, S3TC OFF, smoothness of curved surfaces is greatly increased with variables r_subdivisions "1" r_lodCurveError "30000" (at default r_lodCurveError is 250!), the configurations can be downloaded from here

  • Comanche4 Benchmark Demo (NovaLogic) - Direct3D, Shaders, Hardware T&L, Dot3, cube texturing, highest quality
  • Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo v.927 (Digital Extreme/Epic Games) - Direct3D, Vertex Shaders, Hardware T&L, Dot3, cube texturing, default quality


Quake3 Arena, Quaver



The well-debugged OpenGL driver is a pride of NVIDIA, but it provided just a little benefit for the GeForce4 MX over the respective RADEON 9000. It is interesting that in this test the 128MB RADEON 9000 Pro has fallen behind its 64MB tweedledee. However, the gap is tiny and can be just an error of measurement or on account of the memory chips with different timings (by the way, our review of the RADEON 8500 128MB showed that memory chips can greatly affect performance). 

Serious Sam: The Second Encounter, Grand Cathedral

The screenshots with the settings are given in the Part 1
The ability to work with 4 textures at a pass helped much, and both RADEONs 9000 outperformed their competitors which yielded even to the RADEON 7500 (the latter has 6 texture units). 

It is again unclear why the 128MB card runs slower than the 64MB one. I think it is again because of the memory from Samsung; some time ago we compared a card supplied with memory from this company (the card itself was from Hercules as well) with a card coming with the Hynix memory). 

Return to Castle Wolfenstein (Multiplayer), Checkpoint



It's high time for the GeForce4 MX either to retire or to fall in price. 

As for comparison of the 64MB and 128MB samples, this time the card with a greater RAM takes the palm. 

Comanche4 DEMO


The higher the resolution, the greater the gap between the GeForce4 MX and RADEON 9000 cards. Behavior of the 64MB card on the RADEON 8500 is still vague. If such a great performance drop is affected by a memory size, then why didn't the same thing happen with the RADEON 9000 Pro 64MB? 

Unreal Tournament 2003 DEMO

This test likes to turn a lot of 3D things upside down. It is well seen in our 3Digest. It is the fault of either the ATI's drivers (it's funny to see that the RADEON 7500 performs better than the RADEON 8500), or the DEMO is far imperfect. 

3D quality in general

Last time I hadn't enough time to analyze quality of graphics of the new RADEON 9000. Surely, I mean 3D games. Unfortunately, there are flaws, in particular, in the Elders Scrolls III: Morrowind. 

Look at the water. This is how pixel shaders of the RADEON 9000 work, whose increased speed was so much spoken in Part 1! Note that there are no problems in the 3DMark2001. For example, the Matrox Parhelia has no problems in the Morrowind. By the way, the latest version of the patch for the game - 1.1605 - was installed. 

3D quality, anisotropic filtering

Details on operation of this function can be found in the respective part of 3Digest

This function is realized differently by different video-processor makers. Besides, speed characteristics of anisotropic filtering made by ATI and by 
NVIDIA differ much. 

The screenshot gallery from the above mentioned part of the 3Digest is completed with anisotropy quality samples of the RADEON 9000. 

  1. 3DMark2001 (Game1, Game2): 
  2. Serious Sam: The Second Encounter: 
  3. Return to Castle Wolfenstein: 
The RADEON 9000 uses the same anisotropy type - RIP-mapping. It consumes less resources but it doesn't process all surfaces either (for details go here).

However, let me remind it to you: 

Look at the stripe which wasn't processed by anisotropy. 


  1. Last time we mentioned that ATI successfully managed to release a budget product with new technologies brought into the low-end market. But I must correct it now, because these cards are not going to be cheaper than $100. The starting price will be $120-130. Taking into account that the market offers a lot of cards on the RADEON 8500LE at such prices, I don't understand what for the same stuff, but crippled in 3D, with added built-in TV-out and two RAMDACs was released, and at the same price? 
  2. 128MB provided for the RADEON 9000 doesn't bring an expected speed gain, that is why production of such cards is hardly profitable because a greater RAM makes the price higher. 
  3. ATI positions these cards instead of the RADEON 7500, that is why if we neglect the prices, the revolution will be noticeable. But full-frequency RADEONs 7500 are available at $100, which doesn't tallies with initial prices for the RADEON 9000. 
  4. I hope such unclear overpricing won't last long, and the RADEON 9000 will take its place near $100 or maybe even below. 
  5. Unfortunately, the RADEON 8500's core has some bugs right in those technologies (pixel shaders) for the sake of which a lot of users from the low-end market want such cards.  
  6. As for the Hercules 3D Prophet 9000 Pro, the card is of the highest quality and the trade mark is elite. 
I hope the RADEON 9000 will form not just a thin brook which is dried up before it turns into a river, but a powerful stream able to bring pixel and vertex shaders onto the low-end, and even low-end users will be able to see all the beauty of games using these technologies.
Andrew Worobiew (anvakams@ixbt.com

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