A few weeks ago I sent a long series of questions to ATI about their new graphics cards for Macs. (Including the new Radeon 8500 AGP 64MB DDR retail graphics card), as well as a few questions about driver updates for previous Mac ATI graphics cards like the original Radeon and VR128. Today I received the answers, which are noted below.
Q: When will the Radeon 8500 AGP be shipping to retail stores?
A: We expect to be able to ship in volume by mid to late February
Q: Does the Radeon 8500 AGP require a 4xAGP Mac?
A: No. Both 2X and 4X AGP are supported.
Q: How does performance of the 8500 Radeon compare to the GeForce3?
(in 2d, games and 3d apps)
A: The RADEON 8500 Mac Edition delivers up to 25% better performance than the NV GF3 board that Apple was shipping on the Apple Store until recently. We used Quake 3 on Mac OS X as the basis for comparison with the latest high-end G4 configuration and software from Apple. This is pretty representative of our comparative 3D performance, particularly at higher resolutions, but there's more to the RADEON 8500 than what this Quake benchmark shows. We also offer dual display and a raft of other features that are not supported by the other guys. Our 2D performance is exceptional due to the high clock speed, fast memory and overall efficiency of the GPU and drivers, but we do not have any recent benchmarking tools to use as a competitive reference.
Q: Will FSAA be supported in OS 9 and OS X with the 8500's drivers in the box?
A: Yes, the shipping drivers will support FSAA for both 9 and X but without user controls. FSAA will be is something that's directly enabled by the user options within the games themselves.
Q: What Apps and Games support FSAA (now or via updates planned in the future)?
A: There's a list of fifteen or sixteen games we know of that are either supporting or planning to support FSAA in the near future and they include some of the most popular games on the Mac. I'm not sure I'm at liberty to disclose the titles since the publishers themselves may have their own announcement plans. Otto Matic, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Red Faction, and Black & White are some that come to mind that are fairly open about their plans.
Q: Will there be a FSAA enabled driver for the first Radeon cards?
A: Yes. FSAA will be available for the original RADEON cards and the new RADEON 7000. An update including this feature will be released around when the 8500 ships.
Q: How does ATI's FSAA differ from Nvidia's?
A: I can only comment on what ATI is offering with respect to FSAA.
Q: How much of a performance impact is there with FSAA enabled on the 8500?
(will vary by mode/resolution, etc. but any typical/estimates?)
A: The performance impact is proportional to the degree of super-sampling chosen by the developer or user at a given resolution. Going to a 2X or 4X super-sample is equivalent to increasing the resolution at the same color density by 2 or 4 times respectively. Using 4X FSAA at 800 x 600 resolution is roughly equivalent to running at 1600 x 1200 resolution without FSAA. As you probably know, full scene anti-aliasing is most effective at reducing the visual artifacts in lower resolution modes. The finer detail of images displayed at higher resolutions actually diminishes the need for FSAA in those modes. Since RADEON 8500 is able to deliver extremely fast frame rates at higher modes such as 1280 x 1024 or 1600 x 1200, using FSAA at lower resolutions to improve the visual quality is equally practical from a performance standpoint. Using Quake 3, for example, on a dual 800 MHz G4 you might expect a 1600 x 1200 x 32 configuration to yield around 90 frames per second w/o FSAA and you could expect the same performance at 800 x 600 x 32 with FSAA on full. (We haven't run the 8500 scores with Dual 1GHz yet so I'm not sure what those results will be.)
Q: What are the plans for expanding OpenGL support for the 8500's advanced features? (in OS 9 and OS X)
A: Apple likes to keep its plans private but we are definitely working with them and with the rest of the OpenGL developers to incorporate support for things like SMARTSHADERS. It can be a bit of a dance at times in the OpenGL Architecture Review Board due to differing technical approaches, priorities and business motivations, but we feel that by promoting our advanced support for programmable vertex and pixel shaders in the hardware, game developers will have an enhanced opportunity to develop and port games to the Mac platform that utilize these experience enhancing capabilities. Other features such as TRUFORM (N-Patch Higher order surfaces) and SMOOTHVISION (Full Scene Anti-Aliasing) are already supported in our drivers for both MacOS 9 and X. I believe most of the OpenGL advancements going forward are going to take place on MacOS X rather than 9 since that's where the future is and that's where the investment tends to be going.
Q: Will all of the features of the Radeon 8500 be supported in the first driver release?
(in OS 9 and in OS X)
A: Yes, with the important exception of SMARTSHADERS. Programmable vertex and pixel shader support need to be implemented in OpenGL before game developers can take advantage of them and deliver the benefit to users. We hope this to happen within the next few months.
Q: How do the Shaders of the 8500 compare to Nvidia's GF3?
A: The RADEON 8500 is the first and only GPU with hardware support for the Pixel Shader 1.4 specifications that are part of Microsoft's latest Direct X 8.1 API. Though DirectX is a Windows standard, it is relevant to the Mac because many games that are ported to the Mac platform are developed using that API or OpenGL extentions that leverage the DirectX specifications. The basic advantages of Pixel Shader1.4 over what the GF3 offers is our ability to render 6 textures per pass, rather than 4, and the ability to use longer and more detailed instructions with an instruction set of 22 versus 12 in the older specification. As a result RADEON 8500 can support more complex and detailed rendering and texture effects in hardware without degrading performance. Example include multiple light sources, self shadowing textures, interactive bump maps and other effects that will contribute to improved realism in the next generation of 3D games.
Q: Does the 8500 offer advanced DVD playback features?
[compared to other cards]
A: Yes, RADEON 8500 Mac Edition includes ATI's VIDEO IMMERSION II technology which is a 2nd generation suite of DVD enhancement features including motion compensation, adaptive per pixel de-interlacing, temporal filtering, iDCT decode acceleration, sub-picture overlay, and others that deliver unsurpassed DVD playback performance and visual quality. These features are actually quite complex and they exemplify ATI's strengths in a way that doesn't relate to Quake performance. When you buy a premium graphics card you don't want dropped frames and unsightly screen artifacts to affect DVD playback. VIDEO IMMERSION II eliminates these things.
Q: What are the options/controls available with the Radeon 8500?
(Does the control panel offer any options for enabling/disabling advanced features, etc.)
A: We actually don't offer a whole lot of controls. We recognize that a lot of enthusiasts like to have buttons to push and dials to turn but our software team basically felt that a lot of the potential user controls might simply detract from optimizations that developers themselves use in their games. I should mention that this is not a universal view within our team and we are looking at ways to deliver more control to users. We do include controls for certain features such as brightness and colour adjustments for TV-out, an adaptive de-interlacing toggle for DVD and so on.
Q: The 8500 can drive dual monitors I believe, what are the maximum resolutions possible on each with both monitors active?
A: You can drive 2 CRT's at 2048 x 1536 x 32 simultaneously or the 2nd display can be a digital flat panel at up to 1600 x 1200 (or even higher depending upon the frequency of the panel and some other parameters).
Q: Does the card ship with a DVI-I adapter to allow running two VGA monitors at once?
A: YES, There are several adapters contained in the package, including DVI-I to VGA, VGA to Apple 15 pin, S-video to composite as well as S-video and composite cables.
Q: Does the 8500 and 7000 have native support for wide-screen modes of the Sony FW900/W900 CRTs?
A: We do support wide screen modes and have tested them with Apple Cinema Displays and some others. I assume we the support Sony displays but I don't know whether we have tested these specific models. We test on a wide variety of vendor's displays including Sony but there are just too many models to test everything.
Q: Will there be a 8500 trade-up/loyalty program for previous ATI retail card owners?
A: The details are not finalized but we are planning something along these lines.
Q: The Mac Radeon 8500 is said to be clocked slightly slower than the PC version.
Why was this done?
A: The slightly lower core clock speed helps ensure that we have a more consistent supply of components for the Mac boards. The difference in performance is negligible so we opted for a more pragmatic choice. I'm trying to avoid an intermittent supply situation that occasionally affected the RADEON PCI card in the past.
Q: Are there any plans for a BTO option (w/ADC) of the 8500 or the 7000 cards?
A: It's up to Apple if they want to offer it. ATI can't comment on Apple's plans.
Q: Has ATI considered an ADC Retail version?
(I realize it's costlier and the market is smaller, but ADC is compatible with prev. Apple DVI displays)
A: ATI has not ruled out selling an ADC retail card. I'm curious to know whether there is significant demand for one. The primary reason we chose not make the RADEON 8500 an ADC card was to enable customers to attach the widest variety of display types and ensure that customers could conveniently attach two CRT's if they want to do so. Though Apple's Cinema and Studio displays are cool, non-Apple displays are still predominant among Power Mac users. Dr. Bott and Gefen make adaptors that enable our RADEON 8500 to support ADC displays so the capability is there. The new RADEON 7500 for Apple is an ADC card so we could theoretically offer a version of it as a retail product but we do not have plans to do so at the present time.
Q: Are there any plans for an "All in Wonder" Mac ATI graphics card in the future?
A: This is a very popular question. We are actively investigating the possibilities but there are several hurdles that need to be overcome. We have not ruled it out but we have nothing to announce at this time.
Q: Has ATI tested the 8500 and 7000 with DrBott's DVIator to allow use of an Apple ADC LCD display?
(some past reports here of noise in the display with this adapter and the 17" apple LCD, due to the adapter/Pwr Supply I suspect.)
A: We bought a whole bunch of DVIators in San Francisco for Macworld Expo to lend to game developers and other partners who were showing off our RADEON 8500 and RADEON 7000 boards with Apple displays. They work great!
Q: ATI's Radeon drivers currently note OS 9/QT 5 is required, yet some readers have used them with OS 8.6. Can you explain why OS 9/QT 5 is required?
(this is a common question for older Mac owners considering ATI PCI card purchases.)
A: Our drivers have numerous dependencies on Open GL and QT5 which necessitated this requirement. It is unfortunate but it is tough to add new features and maintain existing functionality for older versions of the OS.
Q: In the past, there's often been long periods between driver updates. (Two so far this year however.) Will there be more frequent updates this year? Has ATI considered offering beta versions to end users for testing/bug reporting/feedback?
(This is one of the most popular wish lists from ATI owners - even without official support, frequent beta driver releases would be a huge plus in my opinion, as I have discussed with various ATI people in the past.)
A: This is something that the ATI Mac team has been talking a lot about recently. We are definitely planning more frequent updates. In fact we have already done a couple so far this year.Apple's MacOS X softeware updates will probably necessitate more frequent update releases from us, plus there are feature and enhancement updates that we are considering as well.
Q: Are there any plans for a software update for previous cards like the VR128 to allow using all its features in OS X?
A: With all of the other projects we have on the go, including, a continual stream of Apple's software updates which we contribute to, our new retail and OEM products, new GPU's coming out all of the time and supporting current products with driver updares it is really hard to contemplate doing that kind of project. We are aware of the demand for X support for our older products, thanks to your site and others, so we are evaluating our ability to deliver some solutions there but I'd be lying if I didn't say it was a big challenge.
I didn't ask ATI about the 7500 Radeon Mobility (notebook) graphics chip being used in future PowerBooks, since I know they can't comment on any unannounced Apple products (although I suspect it will happen eventually). I recently ran some Quake3 tests on a PC notebook (1.2GHz Mobile PIII) with a 64MB DDR (128bit) 7500 Radeon Mobility and was floored at the performance. It delivered 45FPS rates in Quake3 at 1600x1200 32bit mode with HQ settings (no config file tweaks). That's higher than the GeForce4MX AGP card delivers in a Dual 1GHz G4 system at that resolution (which is 40FPS as noted in this graph).
That depressed me a bit, since I bought a new PB G4/667 last fall and I can't really afford (and stay married ;-) to buy a new PB G4
when/if the 7500 Mobility appears in a future PowerBook. I really wish Apple offered
some sort of trade-up or upgrade program for things like
this. (Or like Dell, had the graphics card in notebooks
mounted on a replaceable module - this would be a huge plus and I'd gladly pay a bit more for a PowerBook that had upgradeable component modules.)
For more info on ATI's Graphics cards including the Radeon 8500 (AGP) and 7000 (PCI) Mac editions, see their website.
For previous reviews of ATI and other Mac graphics cards, driver feedback and others graphics card reviews/articles - see the Video topics page.