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Sapphire Technology RADEON 7500, 8500, 9000, 9000Pro, 9700Pro Video Cards,
Anisotropic Filtering of the RADEON 9700 Pro

October 6, 2002






CONTENTS

  1. General information 
  2. Peculiarities of the RADEON 7500, RADEON 7500 VIVO, RADEON 8500LE, RADEON 8500, RADEON 9000, RADEON 9000 Pro, RADEON 9700 Pro video cards of the Atlantis series 
  3. Test system configuration
  4. Test results: briefly on 2D 
  5. Test results: information from 3Digest 
  6. Test results: detailed examination of quality of anisotropic filtering of the RADEON 9700 
  7. Conclusion

Today we will embrace the whole line of products of ATI Technologies of different generations, starting from RADEON 7500 to the latest RADEON 9700 Pro. All of them are produced under the Atlantis trade mark of Sapphire Technology. The RADEON 9700 Pro based card will be a dominant today as it's the latest solution. The other cards will be given a short description, and their performance is shown in our 3Digest

Sapphire Technology deals with video cards (as well as mainboards) only on processors (or chipsets) from ATI. It's not difficult to understand why they have taken this direction: 

The headquarters of Sapphire are in Hong Kong. This company is a branch establishment of PC Partner, it has two plants measuring 250 feet square in Donguan (China). The company has been cooperating with ATI for 10 years already and it has been producing graphics cards based on ATI's chips for 5 years. Sapphire is not just the largest official partner of ATI (its facilities are enough for monthly production of 1.8 M video cards), it also manufactures video cards for ATI which sell in North America and are marked as Build by ATI. Sapphire covers all market sectors starting from value solutions to mainstream-perfomance monsters. It uses both the ATI's reference design and its own.
If you saw first Sapphire's products you must remember that ATI's own cards and those of this Hong Kong's company were indistinguishable. But this company also uses its own design which will be shown later, and you can read about them at its site. 

But the attention will be paid primarily to the RADEON 9700 Pro as an important new-comer for the beginning of Autumn 2002. It's certainly manufactured by Sapphire (which is a copy of the reference sample). Below you will see a list of reviews related with the RADEON 9700. 

Theoretical materials and reviews of video cards which concern functional properties of the VPU ATI RADEON 9700 (Pro)

Today we will mostly speak about anisotropic filtering because the performance was studied last times and the 3Digest for September is ready. But first of all let's take a look at the cards manufactured by Sapphire. We have chosen several typical samples of the Atlantis line. Here they are: 

Cards

 
Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 7500 64MB DDR (front)Reference card ATI RADEON 7500 64MB (front)





Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 7500 64MB DDR VIVO (front)



Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 7500 64MB DDR (back)Reference card ATI RADEON 7500 64MB (back)





Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 7500 64MB DDR VIVO (back)



Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 8500LE 64MB DDR (front)Reference card ATI RADEON 8500 64MB (front)





Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 8500 64MB DDR (front)



Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 8500LE 64MB DDR (back)Reference card ATI RADEON 8500 64MB (back)





Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 8500 64MB DDR (back)



Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9000 64MB (front)Reference card ATI RADEON 9000 64MB (front)





Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9000 64MB (back)Reference card ATI RADEON 9000 64MB (back)





Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9000 Pro 64MB (front)Reference card ATI RADEON 9000 Pro 64MB (front)





Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9000 Pro 64MB (back)Reference card ATI RADEON 9000 Pro 64MB (back)





Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9700 Pro 128MB (front)Reference card ATI RADEON 9700 Pro 128MB (front)





Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9700 Pro 128MB (back)Reference card ATI RADEON 9700 Pro 128MB (back)





 
Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 7500 64MB DDR
The card has AGP x2/x4 interface, 64  MB DDR SDRAM located in 8 chips on both PCB sides. The memory chips are from Hynix, 5.5 ns access time. The memory works at 183 (366) MHz, the core at 270 MHz. 


Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 7500 64MB DDR VIVO
The card has AGP x2/x4 interface, 64  MB DDR SDRAM located in 8 chips on both PCB sides. The memory chips are from Hynix, 5.5 ns access time. The memory works at 183 (366) MHz, the core at 270 MHz.
 



Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 8500LE 64MB DDR
The card has AGP x2/x4 interface, 64  MB DDR SDRAM located in 8 chips on both PCB sides. The memory chips are from Hynix, 4 ns access time. The memory works at 250 (500) MHz, the core at 250 MHz. 


Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 8500 64MB DDR
The card has AGP x2/x4 interface, 64  MB DDR SDRAM located in 8 chips on both PCB sides. The memory chips are from Hynix, 3.6 ns access time. Both the memory and the core work at 275 (550) MHz. 


Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9000 64MB
The card has AGP x2/x4 interface, 64  MB DDR SDRAM located in 8 chips on both PCB sides. The memory chips are from Hynix, 4 ns access time. The memory works at 200 (400) MHz, the core at 250 MHz. 


Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9000 Pro 64MB
The card has AGP x2/x4 interface, 64  MB DDR SDRAM located in 8 chips on both PCB sides. The memory chips are from Hynix, 3.6 ns access time. Both the memory and the core work at 275MHz. 


Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9700 Pro 128MB
The card has AGP x2/x4 interface, 128 MB DDR SDRAM located in 8 chips on both PCB sides. The memory chips are from Samsung, 2.8 ns access time. The memory works at 310 (620) MHz, the core at 325 MHz.
 



So, we have found out that: 

  • Both RADEON 7500 based cards follow the Sapphire's own design and differ noticeably from the reference card. Although both have the fastest chip among RADEON 7500 (270 MHz), they are equipped with too slow 183MHz memory which could be seen yet on previous RADEON 64MB DDR cards. As before, VIVO is implemented via the Rage Theater. The card with VIVO is very similar to the earlier mentioned RADEON 64MB DDR which had the same coprocessor and the same connectors for video cables. 
  • Both RADEON 8500LE/8500 based cards are copies of the reference sample. They differ in the memory chips and frequencies of the memory and core. 
  • The RADEON 9000/9000Pro based solutions are also identical to the reference model. But the difference in their frequencies - 250/200 MHz of the RADEON 9000 and 275/275 MHz of the RADEON 9000 Pro - affected the PCB layout and components considerably. I don't know why the developers have made so complicated PCB of the RADEON 9000 Pro having a much cheaper model of the RADEON 9000, but it must affect badly the prime cost (the retail prices reflect it already). 
  • The Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9700 Pro is in fact a reference card (with the ATI's sticker). Apart from a proprietary cooler there are no more differences from other cards based on this VPU. 
Apart from these cards Sapphire produces other RADEON 7500/8500 based models which differ both in frequency and in VIVO support. 

Test system and drivers

Testbed: 
  • Pentium 4 based computer (Socket 478): 
    • Intel Pentium 4 2530; 
    • ASUS P4T533 (i850E); 
    • 512 MB 32bit RDRAM PC1066; 
    • Seagate Barracuda IV 40GB; 
    • Windows XP. 
  • Athlon XP 2000+ based computer: 
    • AMD Athlon XP 2000+ (1666 MHz); 
    • Soltek 75DRV5 (VIA KT333); 
    • 512 MB DDR SDRAM PC2700; 
    • Seagate Barracuda IV 40GB. 
The test system was coupled with ViewSonic P810 (21") and ViewSonic P817 (21") monitors.

In the tests we used the penultimate ATI's drivers 6.166. VSync was off, texture compression was off (in games, not in driver settings), all texture detail settings were set to maximum (High Quality) both in Direct3D and in OpenGL

Test results

2D graphics

Coupled with the ViewSonic P817 monitor and BNC Bargo cable the tested sample performed brilliantly at the following resolutions and frequencies:
Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 7500 64MB DDR 1600x1200x75Hz, 1280x1024x100Hz, 1024x768x120Hz 
Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 7500 64MB DDR VIVO 1600x1200x75Hz, 1280x1024x100Hz, 1024x768x120Hz 
Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 8500LE 64MB DDR 1600x1200x75Hz, 1280x1024x120Hz, 1024x768x120Hz 
Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 8500 64MB DDR 1600x1200x85Hz, 1280x1024x120Hz, 1024x768x120Hz 
Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9000 64MB DDR 1600x1200x75Hz, 1280x1024x120Hz, 1024x768x120Hz 
Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9000 Pro 64MB DDR 1600x1200x85Hz, 1280x1024x120Hz, 1024x768x160Hz 
Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9700 Pro 128MB DDR 1600x1200x85Hz, 1280x1024x120Hz, 1024x768x160Hz 

 

Test results, taken from 3Digest

The following benchmarks were used to estimate the performance: 
  • 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

  •  
  • Comanche4 Benchmark Demo (NovaLogic) - Direct3D, Shaders, Hardware T&L, Dot3, cube texturing, highest quality

  • Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo (+Patch 1080) (Digital Extreme/Epic Games) - Direct3D, Vertex Shaders, Hardware T&L, Dot3, cube texturing, default quality
     

  • 3DMark2001 SE Pro (MadOnion/Remedy), Game2 "Dragothic" - DirectX 8.0, Hardware TCL, multitexturing, LOW Details, DXTC OFF, double buffering, 24-bit Z buffer

  •  
  • 3DMark2001 Pro (MadOnion/Remedy) - DirectX 8.0, Hardware TCL, Game1, Game2, Game3, Game4, Low, High detailing levels

  •  
  • RightMark Video Analyzer v.0.4 (Philip Gerasimov) - DirectX 8.1, Dot3, cube texturing, shadow buffers, vertex and pixel shaders (1.1, 1.4). 

4. Summary performance diagrams of the video cards on the latest driver versions, September 2002

The overclocked cards are marked with red color, the sign o/c (overclocked) is followed by the frequencies reached.

3D quality: detailed examination of quality of anisotropic filtering of the RADEON 9700

Today we will study anisotropic filtering closely. I must say we noticed some artifacts in quality, but they do not spoil the general look taking into account high quality of 16x anisotropy of the RADEON 9700 compared to the ANISO 8x of the GeForce4 Ti and a small performance drop of the former against a considerable one of the latter. 

Some time ago we wrote that quality of anisotropic filtering of the RADEON 9700 improved much in comparison with the RADEON 8500. The former simultaneously supports trilinear filtering and doesn't have problems with angles of 45 degrees (at this angle the anisotropy didn't work in the RADEON 8500). That was proved with many screenshots from various games. 

But the algorithms of anisotropy in the RADEON 9700 remained artless regarding direct application of filtering. It was shown through figures which demonstrated a relatively small performance decrease with the anisotropy enabled. 

In the detailed examinations we noticed that in some conditions the anisotropy degree was lower. Let's take a gander at the Serious Sam: TSE.


No ANISOGF4,8xR9700,16xQR8500,16x
Example 1











Example 2











Example 3











Example 4











Example 5











Example 6











Example 7











 

In all cases except Example 7 the anisotropy of the RADEON 9700 is the best. And only at the angle of approximately 30 degrees its quality is worse and gets closer to the level 4. At greater angles the image gets better again: 




The previous review of the PowerColor RADEON 9700 card showed that such flaws were not frequent, and the higher-quality anisotropy of the RADEON 9700 and a relatively lower performance drop caused by anisotropy made up for those disadvantages of that function based on the RIP-mapping. 

However, there is one serious drawback. Andrei Nikulin AKA Can from Upgrade Magazine found one place in the Return to Castle Wolfenstein where the anisotropy of the RADEON 9700 didn't work at all or worked badly. I walked a lot at that level but couldn't find such a great difference between the GeForce4 and RADEON 9700. But, here it is: 


GF4,8xR9700,16xQ







 

I already requested the technical support of ATI about that. Why does this game show the anisotropy typical of the RADEON 8500? Well, let's wait for their answer. 

Although the overall impression is spoiled, implementation of anisotropy of the RADEON 9700 Pro card is much improved compared to the RADEON 8500 and is equal to the GeForce4 (the higher quality of the 16x and a small performance drop make up for the defects). 

Conclusion

So, what can we say about the Sapphire's line? First of all, this company is a main partner of ATI, and its products can be considered ATI's own ones, because this factory also produces graphics solutions marked as "Built by ATI", - they have top quality and are carefully tested. Besides, the range of video cards produced by this company is much wider than that of ATI. The only downside is that frequencies are not written on the cards. That is why before purchasing something go to the Sapphire's site to find out information about the cards. Or you should buy cards in Retail packages as frequencies must be indicated there. 

The RADEON 9700 Pro card of Sapphire is a pure copy of the reference model. It seems that all the cards are produced at the same factory, or even on the same production line, hence such a similarity. Well, it is an ordinary good graphics solution (though still very expensive :-). 

Secondly, the algorithm of anisotropic filtering implemented in the RADEON 9700 has some loopholes when texture modules are not burdened with the highest degree. Sometimes it results in quality degradation. Fortunately, there are not so many cases, compared with the RADEON 8500. Besides, here the anisotropy can work together with the trilinear filtering. Finally, the performance drop caused by the anisotropy isn't so great as in case of the GeForce4 Ti. 

We have shown all aspects of implementation of anisotropy in the RADEON 9700 with a heap of screenshots (see also the previous reviews), revealed defects and voiced our opinion. Of course, it's for you to choose. But I must say that anisotropy of NVIDIA becomes incomplete. In the drivers 29.* and higher, distant textures are not processed (as it's done in the OpenGL). I suppose they will bring in some more "optimization" to make the performance drop smaller. Well, every approach has its strong and weak points. The choice is after you.   

Andrey Vorobiev (anvakams@ixbt.com
 


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