ATI's Radeon 9800, 9600 & 9200: Still Fighting Strongby Anand Lal Shimpi on March 6, 2003 1:33 AM EST
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ATI's first 0.13-micron GPU - The RV350
If the R350 is the successor to the R300, then the RV350 makes sense as the clear successor to the RV300 - what eventually found its way into the Radeon 9500 Pro. To understand the inspiration for the RV350 you have to understand that the Radeon 9500 Pro was absolutely a very hurried project for ATI; the number of successes people had in turning their Radeon 9500 Pros into Radeon 9700 Pros is evidence enough that ATI didn't really make the RV300 a new core. With the RV350, ATI had the opportunity to start anew, since they moved to a new manufacturing process (0.13-micron vs. 0.15-micron). The base of the RV350 remains the same as the Radeon 9500 (non-Pro): DX9 support, 4 pixel pipes, 1 texture per pipe, and 2 x 64-bit memory controllers.
Moving to a new manufacturing process is never a simple task, as it requires a re-layout of the chip, as well as a good amount of analog engineering to make sure that everything works at the lower voltages with the smaller, lower power transistors. Since ATI was going to have to redo the layout of the core, they took it upon themselves to make improvements where necessary.
The biggest performance bottleneck of the Radeon 9500 Pro was the fact that the memory interface was still basically half of a 9700 Pro, meaning that all the buffers were still optimized for a 4 x 64-bit memory controller layout and not the 2 x 64-bit configuration that the 9500 Pro actually used. With the RV350, the entire memory interface is optimized and tuned for a 128-bit memory interface, thus extracting a bit more performance out of the core.
The RV350 doesn't stop there, and actually features a superior Hyper-Z engine to what is found in the R350; the reason being that with a 0.13-micron chip you've got more room to play around with and ATI wasn't as constrained with the design of the RV350 as they were with the R300. The end result is that the RV350 features a higher Z compression ratio (8:1 vs. 6:1) and an overall more efficient memory controller; we will have to wait until the 0.13-micron successor of the R350 before see an improved version of the RV350 memory controller in ATI's flagship line.
The RV350 will be made available in two forms - the Radeon 9600 Pro and the Radeon 9600. The Pro will feature a 400MHz core clock and 300MHz DDR memory (effectively 600MHz), while the non-Pro will be clocked at 325/200DDR (effectively 325/400). Note that both of the engine clocks are higher than the Radeon 9500 Pro (45% and 18% for the Pro and non-Pro, respectively), but only the Pro features more raw memory bandwidth. Remember that the Radeon 9500 Pro will enjoy higher fill rates courtesy of its 8-pipe design, but the Radeon 9600 Pro's higher clock rate and significantly improved memory controller should be able to eat into that advantage.
Both 9600 products will be shipping in April and will carry price tags of $149 - $169 for the non-Pro and $169 - $199 for the Pro.
The Radeon 9200 - A Rebadged Radeon 9000
The final product of the day is ATI's Radeon 9200, based on the RV280 core. The Radeon 9200 is nothing more than an AGP 8X version of the Radeon 9000, yet it carries a higher model number; marketing at its best, go figure. There is a chance the Radeon 9200 Pro could be higher clocked than the Radeon 9000 Pro, but we'll have to wait until April before confirming that.