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Radeon 8500 AGP Mac Edition Preview page 1Return to News Page

Radeon 8500 AGP Mac Edition
Preliminary Test Results/First Impressions
By Mike Breeden
Published: 3/4/2002
(added Software/TV/Video Controls page 3/7/2002)
(Added tests w/dual Displays 3/8/2002)

Comparing the Radeon 8500 to Other Mac AGP Graphics Cards
Intro | Apps & Game Performance | Benchmark Tests | Software/TV Controls


  • First card to support FSAA in OS X games
  • Some games (OS 9 and OS X) already have support for TRUFORM and FSAA
  • Supports dual monitors
  • Good 2D image quality (better than typical OEM cards)
  • Supports widescreen modes of Sony FW900 (including 16x9 modes)
  • 64MB of DDR video RAM (3.6ns)
  • Highest performance retail Mac graphics card. (Shipping soon, ATI is practically the only source of Mac retail graphics cards now.)
  • Superior DVD image quality and performance (lower CPU usage than Nvidia cards)
  • Video/TV out (Including OS X Support)
  • Use in 2xAGP Macs doesn't void warranty (unlike prev. Apple store GeForce3 cards)
  • Highest Quake3 framerate at 1600x1200/32bit (75FPS, faster than GeForce3, although the GeForce4Ti may be faster when it ships)
  • Advanced programmable Pixel/Vertex shaders (SmartShader), 2nd generation Charisma Engine and Pixel Tapestry design


  • ATI notes a wake from sleep issue with OS 9.2.1-9.2.2 with _certain_ G4/AGP systems (2001 Digital Audio and Quicksilver models made before Fall 2001 only). *Update:* This issue is solved by installing the Apple ATI 1.1 Update (which has only an AGP Update extension). (Never an issue in OS X.)
  • No retail graphics cards have an ADC port. For owners of Apple LCD displays made after Summer 2000, you'll need a Adapter such as Dr.Bott's DVIator or GeFen's DVI/ADC adapter. (NOTE: there are no DVI to ADC adapters for Apple's *CRT* 17" ADC display that was discontinued last spring.)
  • Performance was sometimes not what I expected from a card with a core/ram clock as high as the 8500. Granted OS 9 drivers were pre-release versions and the OS X drivers are just the first release. (Note - there's a dual display/OS X scrolling issue in the 1.0 drivers - already fixed in the next driver update expected to be released in April. There is also a problem in OS 9 if booting with the display set to 1152x864 mode, although 1152x870 and other resolutions are fine. I've reported this to ATI.)
  • Using the pre-release OS 9 drivers, opening and closing the ATI displays control panel took quite a long time (17 seconds). The same was true of opening the Monitors control panel from the ATI Displays control panel. I reported this to ATI who said this was due to the pre-release software basically doing a search on the hard drive (80GB in this case) to find the preferences, etc. This should be addressed in a driver update.

Requirements: Of course an AGP slot Mac is required. OS 9.2.1 or higher (OpenGL 1.2.2 required) or OS X 10.1 or higher. For a complete list of requirements for OS 9 and OS X, as well as known issues with the initial driver release, dual monitor notes and other important info, see the Radeon 8500 Readme file.

Reviewer's Tilt: The 8500 is the first card I've seen on the Mac since the Voodoo5 that actually has support in current titles for some of its advanced features. (I'm still waiting for support of my GeForce3's advanced features for instance. FSAA enabled drivers for the original Radeon AGP are said to be released soon, but not yet and it doesn't have the horsepower of the 8500.) Every graphics card I've seen so far is a compromise - none excel at everything, but the 8500 is as close as I've seen to having every feature I want (dual monitors, high performance, lots of video ram, good DVD support, video out, etc.). Although I think there's room for improvement in the drivers, considering the 8500's cost is only about $100 more than what the original Radeon AGP is selling for at some sources, it's by far the most attractive Mac graphics card to date. (The $399 GeForce4Ti is not set to ship until later this month, and I have not seen it available separately at Apple's store yet.)
For daily site readers that took advantage of the (now expired) $50 off coupon noted in last week's news page here and pre-ordered the card for $207 - that price is a steal in my opinion. (The Gateway accessories store price was $256.xx without the coupon.) The 8500 provides good 2d image quality, a wide range of resolutions with my favorite monitor (FW900), great DVD playback and (finally) supports FSAA in OS 9 and OS X with several games. Although FSAA has never proven to be the holy grail that many hoped it would be, ATI's TRUFORM is another plus this card offers and I hope it will be used in other games in the future. (I think TRUFORM has the potential to be far more beneficial to end users than FSAA.)

Driver Updates: On 4/9/2002 ATI released a driver update for the Radeon series and Rage128 series cards. This review used the previous drivers. (When I can I will update this review for tests with the updated drivers. I've been waiting for this update before running tests in other Macs, to avoid having to re-do tests/graphs etc.)

Radeon 8500 AGP

The first posting is a preview rather than a full review, as I would normally include a page showing all the software control panel settings, movie playback tests, TV out tests, etc. as done in my previous Radeon AGP review as well as providing tests in more than one Mac. [See the updates to this article for video out, software controls, etc. info.]

The 8500 Mac Edition AGP graphics card supports dual monitors and has connectors for Video out (S-Video and Composite video cables included), a VGA port and a DVI-I port for digital flat panel (LCD) displays. The retail boxed version is said to ship with a DVI-I to VGA adapter also, which would allow using two VGA displays with the card. (A VGA to Mac monitor adapter is also included.) For a complete list of resolutions seen with my Sony FW900 (22" widescreen) CRT in OS 9 and OS X, see the Apps/Game tests page. The Radeon 8500 graphics chip has many advanced features such as TRUFORM, their next generation Charisma Engine and Pixel Tapestry II, Video Immersion, and SmartShader programmable Pixel/Vertex shaders. For more info on these features, see ATI's 8500 Product Page and 8500 specs page. You may also want to read my late Jan. 2002 Q&A with ATI on the Radeon 8500.

Note: One important thing to consider is all the tests of the Radeon 8500 in this article used a pre-release driver set for OS 9, although the OS X drivers used were said to be GM (Gold Master, the same version as in the box of the first retail card shipments). For details on the test system and drivers used for other cards in this comparison test article, see the system details listing below.

The first posting of this article includes tests using only a Dual 1GHz G4 (with the 8500 Radeon, 7500 Radeon, original Radeon AGP, GeForce4MX, GeForce2MX and GeForce3). But I have both a DP500 (2xAGP) and DP533 (4xAGP) system that will be used for later tests of the 8500 compared to other cards. With all the restests of each of the cards used, I have not had time yet to test the 8500 in other systems, but will this week. (And hopefully with the final release OS 9 drivers.) I know owners of 2xAGP Macs would like to know how the Radeon 8500 compares to the GeForce3 and original Radeon AGP in pre-Quicksilver systems. I'll be updating this article with that info as soon as possible.

The initial release of the Radeon 8500 drivers includes FSAA (Full Screen Anti-Aliasing) support, although it requires the game/application to have an option to enable it. The following is a list of games that either currently support features like FSAA (and in some cases TRUFORM) or will have support in an update according to ATI.

  • Black & White (v1.1.3 update adds FSAA support)
  • Otto Matic (FSAA and TRUFORM support in update)
  • Red Faction 1.2 (2x and 4x FSAA option in setup)
  • Harry Potter
  • Return To Castle Wolfenstein
  • Myth 3 (update - TRUFORM to be supported?)
  • Torque Engine (FSAA and TRUFORM support)

Here's a comparison of TRUFORM On/Off in Otto Matic.

Otto Matic screenshot

The latest version of Otto Matic allows using command key combinations to enable/disable TRUFORM and FSAA on the fly. The screenshot above isn't the best example, but I can say from toggling the options on and off during play that they do improve the appearance of the game. For more information on TRUFORM, see ATI's White paper (ATI later moved/removed link) and original press release. Here's a clip that describes what TRUFORM is:

    " TRUFORM can take these 3D models with low polygon counts and generate smooth, highly detailed images, affording most users a greatly enhanced visual experience with no compromise in performance or compatibility.

    TRUFORM effectively amplifies geometric information, thereby enabling more visual detail while sending a smaller amount of data across the AGP (accelerated graphics port) bus, and affording a savings in graphics memory usage.

    Further, TRUFORM helps to overcome the increased bandwidth and memory requirements associated with having to transfer and store large numbers of triangles or polygons - the geometric basis of computerized 3D images. As more detailed and realistic 3D images are created, the number of polygons required to represent each image increases at a dramatic rate. TRUFORM effectively increases the memory bandwidth available to the GPU (graphics processing unit) by converting 3D images with low polygon counts to smoother, high polygon count versions in the graphics chip, a process known as tessellation.

    Finally, TRUFORM uses advanced N-Patch lighting techniques to provide 3D objects with highly detailed lighting effects. This greatly enhances the visual quality of images by providing realistic highlights on the surfaces of curved objects. "

In my opinion, TRUFORM has the potential to be far more beneficial to end users than FSAA.

ATI's "SmoothVison" refers to their implementation of full-scene anti-aliasing (FSAA). For complete details, download ATI's SmoothVision white paper (ATI later moved/removed link). I took screenshots in Red Faction 1.2 of FSAA on and off, but the screenshots in OS 9 with FSAA enabled were not complete screens (only a portion of the actual full screen image was captured). They also appeared to have a non-standard aspect ratio. Screenshots running OS X were fine, although they are highly compressed JPEG images (50-80K typically for a 1024x768 image), so they're not the best quality to illustrate the differences in the modes. I clipped portions of screenshots using OS X Red Faction v1.2, but the screenshots are never as good as the actual game image. I hesitated even posting the images below since they really don't appear to show any significant differences between the modes. (In retrospect I probably should have used 640x480 mode rather than 1024x768 mode where jaggies are less noticeable, but considering this is a high-end graphics card, most users will run at least 1024x768. If possible, I'll try to provide better examples comparing FSAA in a future update to this article, as the images below are very poor examples made worse by the jpeg compression in the original screenshots. Actual in-game screens look far better than the examples below.)

Red faction FSAA
(click for 800x597 pixel image)

Red faction FSAA
(click for 644x1018 pixel image)

Although I didn't notice as much difference in OS X, in OS 9 with 4xFSAA enabled at 1024x768 (the maximum resolution supported in Red Faction 1.2), you could feel there was some loss of performance in play - still smooth, but playing both modes back-to-back you could feel that 4xFSAA didn't have the same "zero-resistance/zero-lag" feel that the game had with it off. ATI commented in an interview here recently that 4x FSAA at 800x600 delivers approximately the same performance [framerate] as 1600x1200 non-FSAA mode. FSAA seems best suited to driving/simulation/flight games in my opinion, as with FPS [first-person shooter] games you're focused on the action (fast paced) rather than subtle improvements in object edges, etc.. Hopefully flight sims like Warbirds, XPlane, etc. and/or some future driving games will offer FSAA support.

This rest of this preview includes results of the following tests:

    2D Tests:
  • MacBench 5 Graphics/Publishing Graphics test results (at 1600x1200/millions colors)
  • Scrolling Tests in Photoshop 5.5 (OS 9.2.2) at 1600% Zoom
  • Scrolling Tests in Appleworks 6.2 (OS X) with 100 page newsletter (images+text)
  • Create/close 1000 windows in OS X

    3D Benchmark Tests:
  • Cinebench 2000
  • RaveBench (Speed and Image Quality RAVE tests)
  • Walker 1.2 (QD3D Spin Test)

    Game Tests:
  • Quake3 1.31beta4 (OS X) at 640x480 to 1600x1200 32bit/HQ modes
  • Unreal Tournament (v436, OS 9) UTbench min/max/average framerates

    Other Tests
  • DVD playback Image Quality and CPU Load
  • Listing of resolutions in OS 9 and OS X (w/Sony FW900)
  • Screenshots showing TRUFORM(tm) and FSAA image quality (see above)

This review is divided into the following pages:

  1. Apps & Game Performance: This page lists test results comparing the two cards in Photoshop 5.5 image scrolling, Appleworks 6.2 scrolling (100 page newsletter), Quake3 (OS X), and Unreal Tournament (OS 9). Also includes comments on DVD playback image quality and CPU usage and a list of resolutions/refresh rates available when using a Sony FW900 (widescreen)

  2. Benchmarks: Results of tests with G4Timedemo, Cinebench 2000, RaveBench, Walker 1.2.

As usual in my reviews, these page links are at the top and bottom of each review page.

Note to Cube Owners: Like the GeForce4MX, the Radeon 8500 AGP card is too tall to fit in the Cube. (There's also no end bracket that fits the Cube.)

Other Info on ATI's Radeon 8500 Mac Edition:

Test System Hardware Summary:

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

  • Apple 1GHz Dual Processor Quicksilver 2002
  • 512MB RAM (One CL3 DIMM)
  • Stock 80GB IDE Hard Disk (Seagate on this sample)
  • OEM IDE SuperDrive (Pioneer DVR-104, firmware ver. A212)
  • OS 9.22 (w/Multiple users and Speech extensions disabled)
  • OS X 10.1.3 (build 5Q48)
  • OpenGL 1.2.4
    (ATI OpenGL Renderer extension v1.3d1 for the 8500, v1.3 for Radeon 7500 and Radeon AGP tests.)
  • Pre-release OS 9 ATI 8500 drivers. OS X drivers used were said to be the GM (gold master) version that should ship in the retail 8500 box.
  • For Radeon AGP (first Generation) and Radeon 7500 tests - the ATI drivers that shipped on the Dual 1Ghz were used. For Nvidia card tests (GeForce2MX/4MX/GeForce3) - Nvidia extensions used were also the ones shipped with the Dual 1GHz. (Nvidia OS 9 drivers v2.5, ATI's extensions had various version numbers, as they do not number all extensions with the same ver.# as does Nvidia.)
  • ATI Radeon 7500 ROM: 113-91701-222
  • Nvidia GeForce4MX ROM: 1088
  • GeForce3 ROM: 1055

Related Links: For reviews of other graphics cards and related articles, see my list of graphics card articles.

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.

First Look at the Radeon 8500 Mac Edition

Intro | Apps & Game Performance | Benchmark Tests | Software/TV Controls

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