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Sapphire Atlantis
RADEON 9800XT 256MB,
RADEON 9800SE 128bit

November 16, 2003






CONTENTS

  1. Video cards features
  2. Testbed, test tools, 2D quality
  3. Test results: Quake3 ARENA
  4. Test results: Serious Sam: The Second Encounter 
  5. Test results: Return to Castle Wolfenstein
  6. Test results: Code Creatures DEMO
  7. Test results: Unreal Tournament 2003 
  8. Test results: Unreal II: The Awakening
  9. Test results: RightMark 3D
  10. Test results: TRAOD: Benchmarking in paris5_4
  11. Test results: TRAOD: Benchmarking in paris1c
  12. Test results: TRAOD: Benchmarking in paris2g
  13. Test results: HALO: Combat Evolved 
  14. Test results: Half-Life2(beta): ixbt07 benchmark
  15. Test results: Half-Life2(beta): coast benchmark
  16. Test results: Splinter Cell
  17. Conclusion


The New Year is near, and the X-mas sales have already started. So, what do NVIDIA and ATI have to offer 3D gamers? 

Trade companies offer a real mishmash! There are remains of the former RADEON 9700 PRO bestseller, new RADEON 9800/9800 PRO based solutions, a strangely controversial RADEON 9800SE, a great deal of 9600/9600 PRO cards and remains of the RADEON 9500. As to NVIDIA, it offers already obsolete GeForce FX 5800, various GeForce4 Ti products (who needs the FX 5600 that is slower than the GeForce4 Ti 4200 except for anisotropy?); the current bestseller is FX5200, which replaces the MX series, and the FX5900 doesn't sell well.

The new and old products got mixed. All previous mid-to-high processors had 8 texture units, and now this is a privilege of High-End solutions only, while the rest have only 4. The developers make up for it by increasing the clock speeds and even improving architectures to speed up calculations or improve texture operations caching. But judging by the test results the new models are often slower than oldies.

However, today we have the High-End RADEON 9800XT, which is definitely more powerful than its predecessors. In contrast, the RADEON 9800SE demonstrates careless attitude of developers and marketers. Before we proceed with the review have a look at the reviews devoted to the new R3XX/RV3XX architecture.

Theoretical materials and reviews of video cards, which concern ATI RADEON 9500/9700/9800 GPU functional properties

The RADEON 9800XT based card is made by Sapphire. As you will see, this is actually a copy of the reference card. 

As to the RADEON 9800SE, first of all I must say that ATI has no desire to discuss such cards. Probably because we blame it for using R350 cullage in less expensive products. But they will have to give their explanations. 

Firstly, because there are THREE (!) variations of such cards. One is officially approved by ATI (company partners obtained ATI's permission to produce such cards) - it's built on the RADEON 9700 256bit PCB. But unofficially ATI said that there's a couple of partners (including Sapphire) violating the semi-official specs of the RADEON 9800SE. 

If ATI is right, the Hong Kong partner behaves rather badly, especially because the memory interface and clock speeds, which are different in these cards, are mentioned nowhere (neither on the site, nor on the box). 256bit cards have the same clock speeds, as normal RADEON 9800 PRO has, but twice fewer rendering pipelines. The cards from Sapphire and some other partners have the clock speeds reduced to the level of the RADEON 9800 (plus, they have 128bit buses and twice fewer rendering pipelines).

I believe that Sapphire doesn't get such R350 cullage from ATI (otherwise the latter wouldn't blame Sapphire), but from the gray market. We might wonder how such chips get to this market anyway, because ATI says that ASUS, Gigabyte, C.P.Tech and other partners buy 9800SE chips from the Canadian company following all the recommendations.

However, in contrast to the RADEON LE, ATI's partners officially release RADEON 9800SE based cards, even in retail packages. On the other hand, ATI doesn't mention RADEON 9800SE on its site, as if it isn't in charge of this chip, as well as a mixture of cards based on it (what a smart move!).

The rumour has it that the shader version 3.0 is already complete. I'd like to know how it will be served? "Magical bubbles" again (ŠOleg Solodkov, FIDO)? Beautiful demos delivering exclusive advantages of the v3.0 and naturally not running on the v2.0?..

According to our research, it's clear that most users still have DX7 cards (the result of overpricing! Just look how many people actually need all these shaders). And look at the figures for supershader High-End. If manufacturers keep on raising prices, soon they will get 0.01% of sales instead of 0.1%...

A great deal of people use integrated graphics with weak 3D. But guys from ATI and NVIDIA pretend they didn't notice it, demanding $499 for their High-End! The market is overstocked! DX9 cards are hardly in demand... Users are tired of watching new solutions slower than the old ones...

Maybe it's not that painful for Europe and USA, but cards over $300 are far not affordable for many. Plus, remember that sellers try to make their own profit out of everything even if it's senseless (you can see the former High-End products still showcased in shelf dust, as they haven't been sold out because of the greed and now newer solutions cost cheaper).

However, guys at ATI and NVIDIA will just grin reading this review as they are sure that money is easy to make on users' long-suffering... That is why I'd better stop complaining and turn to the new cards. :)

Cards

The cards have AGP x8/x4 interface, the RADEON 9800SE has 128 MB DDR SDRAM, while the RADEON 9800XT has 256MB in 8 chips on both PCB sides.

Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800XT
Hynix 2.5ns memory chips (corresponds to 400 (800) MHz), memory clocked at 365 (730) MHz, GPU works at 412 MHz. 256-bit memory bus.


Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800SE 128bit
Infineon 3.3ns memory chips (corresponds to 300 (600) MHz), memory clocked at 270 (540) MHz, GPU works at 325 MHz. 128-bit memory bus.



 
Comparison with the reference design, front view
Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800XT Reference card ATI RADEON 9800XT






Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800SE 128bit Reference card ATI RADEON 9500 PRO










 
Comparison with the reference design, back view
Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800XT Reference card ATI RADEON 9800XT






Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800SE 128bit Reference card ATI RADEON 9500 PRO







 

The package indicates this is a RADEON 9800SE card (ATI not mentioned) and provides its brief specs (4 pipelines).




The Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800XT package has embossed symbols, which make it look effective.




The coolers are entirely identical to the reference.

Here are the processors:
 

RADEON 9800SE





RADEON 9800XT





And here are the retail boxes. 
 

Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800XT
ATI's partners finally made a different box for the High-End product. Sapphire was one of the first to develop a pretty good box with a window (the box is wrapped in polyethylene film).








Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800SE 128bit
This is a stylish black and red box, ATI's favourite colors. The marking is clear and distinguishable.



 
Note that the company now uses the "Fueled by Sapphire" or "Fueled by Atlantis" marks instead of "Powered by ATI".



It's also curious to look at the coupon bundled with the RADEON 9800XT card instead of Half-Life2:




According to this coupon, when the game is released, you should call the indicated phone numbers so they can send you the game. To activate it you will have to use the code hidden under the protection layer.

Here are the accessory packs:
 

Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800XT
User manual, software CD, RedLine CD, PowerDVD, Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, coupon for Half-Life2, TV extenders, S-Video-to-RCA and DVI-to-d-Sub adapters, external power supply adapter.


Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800SE 128bit
All the same except for the Half-Life2 coupon.



 
When we overclocked the card the RADEON 9800XT worked at 460/800 MHz, while the RADEON 9800SE performed at 370/600 MHz. I've naturally used an additional fan.
 

Testbed and drivers

Testbed: 

  • Pentium 4 3200 MHz based computer:
    • Intel Pentium 4 3200 MHz CPU;
    • DFI LANParty Pro875 (i875P) mainboard; 
    • 1024 MB DDR SDRAM; 
    • Seagate Barracuda IV 40GB HDD; 
    • Windows XP SP1; DirectX 9.0b;
    • ViewSonic P810 (21") and ViewSonic P817 (21") monitors.
    • ATI drivers v6.396 (CATALYST 3.9).

VSync off, S3TC off in applications. 

ATI's latest drivers starting from v3.8 have a number of bugs. It seems they were released in a hurry. The WHQL driver "forgets" to enable the OpenGL support in the whole All-In-Wonder family!

Today we are testing the cards, which reveal no bugs in all the benchmarks except the RightMark3D, so we'll leave our complaints for the 3Digest.

Video cards for comparison:

  • HIS RADEON 9500 (275/270 (540) MHz, 128 MB DDR, 128bit).
  • ASUS RADEON 9600XT (500/300 (600) MHz, 128 MB DDR).
  • ABIT Siluro FX 5600 Ultra (GeForce FX 5600 Ultra, 400/400 (800) MHz, 128 MB DDR2, 52.16 drivers).
  • NVIDIA GeForce FX 5700 Ultra reference card (475/450 (900) MHz, 128 MB DDR2, 52.16 drivers).
  • NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra reference card (475/475 (950) MHz, 256 MB DDR, 52.16 drivers).

Due to architecture similarity we compared the RADEON 9800SE 128bit to the RADEON 9500 128MB 128bit overclocked up to 325/540 MHz to see if such RADEON 9800SE would make sense at its price. 

Taking into account that the RADEON 9800SE 128bit costs $210-220 for the middle of November, it would be interesting to compare it with the FX 5700 Ultra as well, as the latter is expected to have similar price. 

Test results

Before we start examining 2D quality, I should say there are no complete techniques for objective 2D quality estimation because: 

  1. 2D quality might strongly depend on certain card samples for almost all modern 3D accelerators;
  2. Besides videocards, 2D quality depends on monitors and cables; 
  3. Moreover, certain monitors might not work properly with certain video cards. 

With the ViewSonic P817 monitor and BNC Bargo cable the cards showed excellent quality at the following resolutions and clock speeds: 

Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800XT 1600x1200x85Hz, 1280x1024x120Hz, 1024x768x160Hz
Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800SE 128bit  1600x1200x85Hz, 1280x1024x120Hz, 1024x768x160Hz

 

Test results: performance

Conventional signs: ANISO 8xP - Anisotropic 8x Performance (earlier it was called Balanced), ANISO 8xQ - Anisotropic 8x Quality, ANISO 16xQ - Anisotropic 16x Quality. 

Some time ago we decided not to compare ATI's maximum anisotropic quality (16x) to two NVIDIA's modes anymore. The ANISO 8x Quality mode delivered the real maximum quality with both trilinear filtering and anisotropy working to their full capacity. The ATI 16x Quality showed sharper images due to the 16th degree, but on some surfaces the filtering quality was lower. That's the way ATI's anisotropy works. That is why we thought it would be more correct to compare this mode with NVIDIA's Performance and Quality. 

But NVIDIA's optimization policy changes the things and we do not know anymore if there are applications where NVIDIA's anisotropy works to its full capacity. That is why we consider that it's correct to compare ANISO 16xQ (ATI) to ANISO 8xQ (NV). Both have their strong and weak points, but in general they compensate each other. 

Test applications: 

  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein (MultiPlayer) (id Software/Activision) - OpenGL, multitexturing, ixbt0703-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, ixbt0703 demo, test settings: quality, S3TC OFF 
  • Quake3 Arena v.1.17 (id Software/Activision) - OpenGL, multitexturing, ixbt0703 demo, test settings - maximum: detailing level - High, texture detailing level - #4, S3TC OFF, smoothness of curves is much increased through variables r_subdivisions "1" and r_lodCurveError "30000" (at default r_lodCurveError is 250 !), the configurations can be downloaded from here 
  • Unreal Tournament 2003 v.2225 (Digital Extreme/Epic Games) - Direct3D, Vertex Shaders, Hardware T&L, Dot3, cube texturing, default quality 
  • Code Creatures Benchmark Pro (CodeCult) - the game that demonstrates card's operation in DirectX 8.1, Shaders, HW T&L. 
  • Unreal II: The Awakening (Legend Ent./Epic Games) - Direct3D, Vertex Shaders, Hardware T&L, Dot3, cube texturing, default quality 
  • RightMark 3D v.0.4 (one of the test scenes) - DirectX 8.1, Dot3, cube texturing, shadow buffers, vertex and pixel shaders (1.1, 1.4). 
  • Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness v.49 (Core Design/Eldos Software) - DirectX 9.0, three demo scenes, maximum quality, Depth of Fields PS20 off. The settings are equal for all the cards tested.




If you need patch 49, which is not easy to find, email me. 
 

  • HALO: Combat Evolved (Microsoft) - Direct3D, Vertex/Pixel Shaders 1.1/2.0, Hardware T&L, high quality

  •  
  • Half-Life2 (Valve/Sierra) - DirectX 9.0, two demo scenes (ixbt07 and coast). Anisotropic filtering mode and AA+anisotropy mode.

  •  

     

    Attention! Since this is a leaked beta version, we won't consider scores obtained in this test.
     

  • Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell v.1.2b (UbiSoft) - Direct3D, Vertex/Pixel Shaders 1.1/2.0, Hardware T&L, Very High quality; demo 1_1_2_Tbilisi

  •  

    Besides, if you need demos we use, email me as well.

    The quality issues will be examined next time in the Hercules RADEON 9800XT review.

    Quake3 Arena

     

     
















    Light modes without AA and anisotropy: the R9800XT loses a little, the 9800SE is far behind its competitors.

    AA enabled: Sapphire's brainchildren look even worse.

    Anisotropy enabled: fiasco again.

    AA & anisotropy enabled: both cards lose the game.

    So:

    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800XT - defeat
    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800SE 128bit - bad defeat

    Serious Sam: The Second Encounter

     
















    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800XT - loses the battle
    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800SE 128bit - falls far behind its competitors

    Return to Castle Wolfenstein (Multiplayer)

     
















    Light modes without AA and anisotropy, and with AA enabled: both cards lose.

    Anisotropy enabled: the RADEON 9800XT takes the lead, but the RADEON 9800SE is still behind.

    AA & anisotropy enabled: all the same.

    So:

    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800XT - wins
    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800SE 128bit - loses

    Code Creatures

     
















    Light modes without AA and anisotropy, AA mode: both cards lose.

    Anisotropy enabled: R9800XT comes out a leader.

    AA & anisotropy enabled: the R9800XT catches up with its competitors, but the 9800SE looks bad.

    So:

    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800XT - parity
    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800SE 128bit - loses

    Unreal Tournament 2003

     
















    Light modes without AA and anisotropy: R9800XT looks equal to its competitor, the 9800SE is still behind.

    AA enabled: R9800XT leads

    Anisotropy enabled: FX5950U and 9800XT look equal.

    AA & anisotropy enabled: R9800XT wins.

    So:

    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800XT - wins
    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800SE 128bit - loses

    Unreal II: The Awakening

     
















    Light modes without AA and anisotropy: 9800XT turns out to be a leader

    AA enabled: 9800XT looks even better

    Anisotropy enabled: all the same

    AA & anisotropy enabled: 9800XT wins

    So:

    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800XT - wins
    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800SE 128bit - loses

    RightMark 3D

     
















    In this shader test (in spite of the awful quality) the RADEON 9800XT has a chance to win the competition while the 9800SE still underperforms...

    Light modes without AA and anisotropy: the victory goes to ATI

    AA enabled: defeat

    Anisotropy enabled: defeat

    AA & anisotropy enabled: all the same...

    So:

    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800XT - wins
    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800SE 128bit - loses. 

    TR:AoD, Paris5_4 DEMO

     







    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800XT - wins
    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800SE 128bit - wins, though it's unbelievable

    TR:AoD, Paris1c DEMO

     







    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800XT - wins
    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800SE 128bit - the leadership is not that strong, already lost to the FX5700U

    TR:AoD, Paris2g DEMO

     







    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800XT - wins
    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800SE 128bit - loses

    HALO: Combat Evolved

     










    Light modes without AA and anisotropy: the R9800XT and the FX5950U go on par, the 9800SE loses.

    The game doesn't support the AA mode.

    Anisotropy enabled: the 9800XT comes out a leader, the 9800SE is hopeless.

    So:

    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800XT - wins
    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800SE 128bit - loses

    Half-Life2 (beta): ixbt07 demo

     










    Half-Life2 (beta): coast demo

     










    Splinter Cell

     










    Light modes without AA and anisotropy: both RADEONs lose.

    AA is not supported in this game. 

    Anisotropy enabled: the R9800XT takes its leadership back, the 9800SE drags behind.

    So:

    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800XT - wins
    • Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9800SE 128bit - loses. 

    Conclusion

    As you can see, the RADEON 9800SE 128bit performs equally to the RADEON 9500 128bit, but its price is too high. It should be $150 at most. I had tried to unlock 4 pipelines, but the card couldn't perform flawlessly after that.

    The RADEON 9800XT is a pure leader. Today's test prove that such cards are the strongest. But remember about ATI's drivers. The CATALYST 3.9 will be examined in detail in the November 3Digest.

    However, NVIDIA's drivers are not sinless as well. By the way, the developers recently released the patch 340 for the 3DMark03, and according to some test labs the 52.16 drivers had cheats. They were disabled by this patch, and the speed of the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra fell down by 15-20%.

    Note that almost all RADEON 9800XT based cards (except ASUS') are made at the same factory by ATI's order. That is why such cards have absolutely identical features and quality despite different boxes. The designers at Sapphire successfully used the idea from Half-Life2 on package stickers.

    The RADEON 9800SE is the same RADEON 9500, only based on the R350 instead of the R300. The new processor hardly speeds up the performance, but the price is greatly increased.

    Note that the market offers several 9800SE kinds, so it's possible that such high prices are inherited from the 256-bit cards: traders simply play on identical names selling 128-bit 9800SE overpriced.

    In our 3Digest you can find the full feature comparison of video cards belonging to this and other classes.
     
     

    Andrey Vorobiev (anvakams@ixbt.com)
     

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