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Sapphire Atlantis
RADEON 9700 &
RADEON 9700 PRO Ultimate Edition Video Cards Review

February 11, 2003






Contents

  1. General information
  2. Peculiarities of the video cards
  3. Test system configuration
  4. Test results: 3DMark2001 SE game tests 
  5. Conclusion

As you know, new ATI's products are expected approximately in the middle of spring, and now we are still going with the RADEON 9700 and 9700 PRO as they are in product lists of a great number of companies. 

As you know, Sapphire Technologies is actually the main partner of ATI in the video card sphere. This company produces the broadest line on the ATI's processors. The company is based in Hong Kong but is a daughter enterprise of PC Partner which is the greatest Chinese components manufacturer and an old partner of ATI (today all video cards "Built by ATI" are produced at the PC Partner's plants). 

Today we have two senior models from this firm. One of them - Atlantis RADEON 9700 PRO - was already reviewed before. By the way, here is the list of the video cards based on the RADEON 9500/9700 which were also already reviewed. 

Now we return to the RADEON 9700 PRO, namely to a new revision of this card - Ultimate Edition - which is equipped with a fanless cooler from Zalman. This is a big device meant to provide proper cooling for the card (RADEON 9700 PRO heats much) and letting a user rest from noisy fans.  

In the tests you will see the Sapphire's RADEON 9700 card which was the first to have a black PCB. This is actually a standard reference based card. 

Cards

Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9700 
The card has AGP X2/4/8 interface, 128 MB DDR SDRAM located in 8 chips on both PCB sides. 

The Hynix's memory chips have 3.6ns access time which corresponds to 275 (550) MHz, but the memory runs at 270 (540) MHz. The GPU works at 275MHz which is typical of RADEON 9700.
 




Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9700 PRO 128MB Ultimate Edition 
The card has the same AGP X2/4/8 interface and the same 128 MB DDR SDRAM. 

The Samsung's memory chips have 2.8ns access time which corresponds to 350 (700) MHz, but the memory runs at 310 (620) MHz. The GPU works at 325MHz.





 
 
 
Comparison with the reference design, front view  
Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9700  Reference card ATI RADEON 9700 









Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9700 PRO 128MB Ultimate Edition  Reference card ATI RADEON 9700 PRO 










 
 
 
Comparison with the reference design, back view 
Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9700  Reference card ATI RADEON 9700 






Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9700 PRO 128MB Ultimate Edition  Reference card ATI RADEON 9700 PRO 









 

These are the entire copies of the reference design, and such cards were much spoken about before. Just note that the PCB's black color would go better with a silvery big heatsink than with a red one. According to Sapphire, all new RADEON 9700/Pro based cards will have a black PCB. 

The most noteworthy feature of these cards is the coolers. 
 
 
 

Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9700 
This is an egg-shaped heatsink with the spiraled fins. In the center is a fan. Note that there were some complains about a too high noise level of such coolers. In this particular case the cooler didn't make much noise in the tests. 


Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9700 PRO 128MB Ultimate Edition 
The principle of operation of this cooler is as follows. The graphics processor is cooled down with a small heatsink which is connected with a massive plate made of aluminum alloys. A pipe is placed between the heatsinks, and all couplings are covered with thermo grease. The pipe carries low-boiling liquid which transfers heat to a massive heatsink located on the back. So, the joint efforts of the heat-dissipating heatsinks make the core cooler. 

Note that it's quite possible that the card can overheat in a tight PC case because even such big heatsinks burn when working intensively in 3D. But we have no complains about instability of the card. 











 
 
  And now look at the processors themselves. 

RADEON 9700: 
 




RADEON 9700 PRO Ultimate Edition: 
 




We have the same chipset just working at different frequencies. By the way, it's also the same on the RADEON 9500, - only it has half of its pipelines locked on the software level. 

Overclocking

Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9700  275/540 -> 355/610 MHz 
Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9700 PRO 128MB Ultimate Edition  325/620 -> 350/694 MHz 
 

The overclocking is not bad taking into account the originally low frequencies of the RADEON 9700 and a missing cooler on the Ultimate Edition. 

Note that: 

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



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

Test system and drivers

Testbeds: 

  • Pentium 4 3066 MHz based computer: 
    • CPU: Intel Pentium 4 3066 MHz; 
    • Mainboard: ASUS P4G8X (iE7205); 
    • RAM: 1024 MB DDR SDRAM; 
    • HDD: Seagate Barracuda IV 40GB; 
    • OS: Windows XP SP1; 
    • Monitor: ViewSonic P810 (21") and ViewSonic P817 (21"). 
    • ATI Drivers v6.255. 

VSync is off in the drivers, the texture compression is off in applications. The texture detail level is set to High Quality. 

The results of the following video cards are given for comparison: 

  • Albatron Medusa GeForce4 Ti 4600 (300/325 (650) MHz, 128 MB, driver 42.86); 

Test results

Before we start examining 2D quality I should say that there is no a complete technique of objective estimation of this parameter because:

  1. Almost all modern 3D accelerators can have 2D quality much dependent on a certain sample, and it's impossible to trace all cards; 
  2. 2D quality depends not only on a video card, but also on a monitor and a cable; 
  3. Besides, certain monitors do not get along with certain video cards.

As for the tested samples, together with the ViewSonic P817 monitor and BNC Bargo cable the cards showed excellent quality at the following resolutions and frequencies:

Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9700  1600x1200x85Hz, 1280x1024x120Hz, 1024x768x160Hz 
Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9700 PRO 128MB Ultimate Edition  1600x1200x85Hz, 1280x1024x120Hz, 1024x768x160Hz 

In 1280x1024@75Hz there were some ripples on the monitor with the  RADEON 9700 card which depended on what a user was doing. At other resolutions and frequencies such artifact wasn't noticed. I think Sapphire should respond to it. 

3D graphics, 3DMark2001 game tests

3DMark2001, 3DMARKS




3DMark2001, Game1 Low details









 

3DMark2001, Game2 Low details









 

3DMark2001, Game3 Low details









 

3DMark2001, Game4








Until there is no GeForce FX 5800 Ultra on the market, all RADEON 9700 PRO cards take leading positions, and the RADEON 9700 competes successfully against the GeForce4 Ti 4600. Of course, such cards must be estimated in tough modes with AA and/or anisotropy. 

Both cards performed excellently and worked stably. Remember that the RADEON 9700 PRO Ultimate Edition card worked at its rated frequencies without additional cooling. 

But there is a downside: the first PCI slot's place is occupied by the massive cooling system of this card. Besides, the heatsink significantly projects on the back, that is why before buying such card make sure your mainboard doesn't prevent installation of such sandwich. 

Conclusion

We have tested two cards based on the ATI's reference design which showed ordinary results in their classes. Note that the price for the Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9700 is very low (about $230-240). Due to its uniqueness and the expensive Zalman's cooler, the Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9700 PRO Ultimate Edition will be dearer by $20-30 than its counterparts with a usual cooler (by the way, the card will be supplied with a usual cooler just in case). 

Highs:

  • Excellent performance in 3D; 
  • Nice build quality of the cards; 
  • Reliability and stability; 
  • No overheating of the Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9700 PRO Ultimate Edition at the rated frequencies; 

Lows:

  • Pickups and ripples at a definite resolution on the RADEON 9700; 
  • The sandwich of the Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9700 PRO Ultimate Edition won't suit all solutions. 

 
 

Andrey Vorobiev (anvakams@ixbt.com



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