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Review: ATI's Retail Radeon AGP Graphics Card
By Mike Breeden
Published: 10/16/2000

Note: This is an old review - for reviews/tests of later/faster cards, see www.xlr8yourmac.com/video.html
Jack of All Trades, Master of Many
Intro | 2D Performance | 3D Performance | Game Performance | Video/DVD | Software/TV Controls | Hardware Specs

Pros: Good 3D and Game Performance overall. Excellent DVD and movie playback. Video out, VGA and DVI monitor connectors. DVD to my projection TV looked great. DVI LCD scaling to full screen. Hardware Transform and Clipping support (lighting to be added in next driver release). Low power/cool running design with short card form factor. Overall the most advanced 3d and video graphics chip to date for the Mac. Close relationship with Apple a plus for future OS and OpenGL driver support. Supports G4 system deep sleep.

Cons: First driver release has 'sparkling' (white noise) in Deus Ex. Lower than expected 2D performance in some cases. Falcon 4 RAVE mode doesn't run (Fixed in Driver V1.11 released 1/20/2001.) FSAA not enabled yet (to be done in future driver release). As with Rage128, poor image quality in 16Bit modes, very noticable in 640x480 resolution. (32Bit modes are literally just as fast however and don't have the mesh dithering present in 16bit mode.)

Requirements: Apple G4 Tower system with AGP graphics card slot. (PCI version due at a later date). OS 9 or higher, Quicktime 3.0 or higher, Quickdraw 3D v1.5.4 or higher, OpenGL 1.1.5 or higher (supplied on CD)


Driver Updates: On 1/30/2001, ATI released a v1.11 driver update. This fixes many PCI Radeon problems but also fixes the Rave Falcon4 issue and adds slightly better performance for the AGP Radeon in some games. See the Game Performance page update that shows Quake3 117 results with the 1.1.1 drivers (up to a 16% boost seen).

Introduction


Due to ship to retail outlets today in AGP form (PCI version due 4-6 weeks later), ATI's new Radeon Mac Edition is one of the most eagerly awaited graphics cards for the Mac. While it's clear no graphics card is a 'magic bullet' as far as graphics/gaming performance (compared to a fast PC with the same card), the Radeon does offer a lot of attractive features in one card, with performance in most areas as good or better than anything available for the Mac to date. The Radeon addresses the fill rate/performance limitations of past ATI graphics chips (the 'achilles heel' of the Rage128) to deliver 1024x768 game performance about on par with anything you can buy currently on the Mac. For those that don't want to sacrifice DVD playback capability (including TV-output), but still want good 3D applications and Gaming performance - the Radeon Mac Edition deserves serious consideration. Considering overall performance (DVD/TV out/Movies/Games/3D OpenGL apps.), I have to saw the Radeon would be my pick of the current crop of graphics cards at the moment.

Until the PCI versions are released next month (based on estimates), the current AGP Radeon is limited to owners of G4/AGP (aka Sawtooth) systems. (As noted in the www.xlr8yourmac.com news previously, the retail Radeon AGP card is too tall to fit in the G4 Cube system. New buyers of the Cube should select the $100 Radeon BTO option. See my previous article comparing the Radeon OEM AGP vs. the standard Rage128 Pro AGP card for performance comparions of those cards in a new dual G4/500 system.)

The photo below shows the retail version of the Radeon AGP card. Unlike the OEM Radeon in G4 towers, there is small fan on the graphics chip (present on Cube Radeon BTO cards also). Based on tests in the G4 tower, this is probably conservative on ATI's part, but may be a plus should there ever be any clock speed tweaking utilities available for the Radeon. The other differences in the retail model compared to the BTO version is the addition of a Video out port (S-Video with composite adapter included), and a DVI LCD connector instead of the OEM card's ADC (new Apple display connector). For a photo of the output ports on the retail Radeon card, see the Hardware Specs. page of this review.

The retail card (like the BTO version) features 32MB of Double Data Rate (DDR) video ram (non-expandable) and a 166MHz core clock speed. With my Sony F400 display the max refresh rate available was 120Hz at 1024x768, with 85Hz at 1600x1200 and 75Hz at 1920x1440. (Modes will vary depending on your monitor.) As mentioned previously, owners of Apple DVI displays (previous Cinema display and 15" DVI Studio LCD models) will have support for both widescreen modes (Cinema display) and scaling to full screen of lower than native resolution modes (a plus for gaming at lower than the native resolution of the screen). The downside to LCD scaling is the loss of sharpness, since LCDs have pixels mapped directly to transistors, less than native resolutions result in some blurring and lower text quality. For gaming that's usually OK, however for other applications I suggest running the LCD display's native resolution.

Radeon Retail AGP Card Photo

For more info and a closer look at the card's features and output ports, see the hardware design page of this review. The Software Controls page covers every feature of the card's control software.

Review Pages: My video card reviews have always strived to provide you with the most detail possible - from performance in 2d, 3d, games, compatibilty, card features/specificaions, even showing samples of all the software control panel options. I do this to try and show you (as closely as possible) what it's like to own this card before you buy. The review is organized by topics pages covering each aspect of a graphics card's performance. You can choose to read all pages (recommended) or only those that cover areas most important to you.

Review Index:
The review covers the Radeon AGP's features and performance in each of the following categories:

  1. 2D Performance: MacBench 5.0 Graphics and Pub tests, plus scrolling tests in Photoshop and Word 98.

  2. 3D Performance: Tests in Walker, RaveBench, CineBench 2000 and Lightwave 3D v6.0

  3. Game Performance: GL Quake1, Quake2, Quake3, Unreal Tournament, peformance tests.

  4. Radeon Screenshots: (due to time constraints, only Radeon captures are shown)


  5. Video/DVD Performance: Covers QuickTime, Mpeg scaled movie image quality comparisons, DVD movie playback and TV/Video output image quality.

  6. Software/TV/Video Controls: Details and features of the ATI Control Panel. Each available panel/option is shown and explained. Includes a list of ATI extensions/control panel versions used.

  7. Hardware Design/Features: Info on the graphics chip, output ports and other hardware details.


Test Systems Hardware Summary:

Details of the test systems used for this review are listed below.

  • Apple Apple G4/500 AGP:
  • 256MB RAM (two 128MB Transintl DIMMS)
  • OEM WD 20GB Expert IDE Hard Disk
  • DVD ROM drive
  • G4 firmware update applied
  • OS 9.04, VM off, Multimedia update 1.0, QT 4.1.1, QD3D 1.6 [No Libmoto]
  • OpenGL 1.1.5 installed as part of the Radeon drivers

Note: The Voodoo5 card used for comparison had the latest firmware and driver updates applied (v1.10) as of the time of these tests.

For reviews of other graphics cards and related articles, see my list of graphics card articles. If you've bought a Radeon, Enter your performance results in our Mac Game/Video Card Performance Searchable Database

Other Radeon Reviews:



You can follow my preferred path through the review by continuing to the next page,
or use the links below to jump to a specific page.

Index of RetaiI Radeon AGP Review

Intro | 2D Performance | 3D Performance | Game Performance | Video/DVD | Software/TV Controls | Hardware Specs

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