Final Words & ATI’s Roadmap

There’s a new king in town, and it’s the Radeon 9700. There’s nothing NVIDIA could have done to prevent ATI from winning with the R300, there’s no driver they could ever release that would give the GeForce4 the power it needs to topple the Radeon 9700; no, with the Radeon 9700 it will take the NV30 and no less to outperform it.

Based on the current specs of NV30, believe it or not, it will be faster than the Radeon 9700. Since both ATI and NVIDIA must support DirectX 9, you can already guess at a lot of the specifications for NV30. It will obviously have support for Pixel and Vertex Shader 2.0; you can expect it to have 8 pipes and with ATI and Matrox both sporting a 256-bit DDR memory bus, you can also expect it to have one too. The one benefit NVIDIA will have with NV30 will be that it will be manufactured on a 0.13-micron process. Not only does that mean that NVIDIA’s chip will be smaller but it also means that they can run at higher clock speeds, which can give it the edge over the Radeon 9700.

ATI is well aware of this, and the one thing they have going for them is that NV30 won’t be out anytime soon. The 0.13-micron chip has been delayed a bit and the current word is that a November release can be expected, with boards shipping shortly thereafter. The folks over at ATI are banking on NV30 being a 2003 part, so that the Radeon 9700 can close out this year with a bang. If you want the absolute fastest graphics card available, the Radeon 9700 fits the bill better than any GeForce4 or Parhelia; and it will continue to do so for months to come.

The performance you’re paying for with the Radeon 9700 also buys you a card that will last you down the road. ATI has been running Doom3 on the Radeon 9700 for a while now, and Carmack has publicly thrown his support behind the card; keep in mind that it wasn’t too long ago that Carmack wouldn’t even touch the Radeon 8500 because of poor drivers. And for those of you that are wondering whether a 128MB card will be necessary, Doom3 will use at least 80MB of textures.

Our benchmarks from Unreal Tournament 2003 speak for themselves; the Radeon 9700 makes 1600x1200 a playable resolution and 4X AA something you can enable in any currently available game.

ATI has finally done it; they have finally got all of their moons in alignment and released a GPU that’s not only a leader in performance, but in technology as well and they’ve done it months before NVIDIA. Congratulations guys, you’ve done a tremendous job but now a much greater task lies ahead, how to respond to NV30?

Rumors of a 0.13-micron R300 before the end of the year are plentiful, but the likelihood of such an event happening is low. ATI will have a refresh of the R300, most definitely a 0.13-micron part but not between now and December. A 0.13-micron R300, potentially shipping with DDR-II would be a perfect match against NV35 due out next Spring. With ATI’s current lead in development time, we could even see an R300 refresh before NV35.

ATI will release a new product between now and the end of the year however, a couple new products to be exact. There’s the All-in-Wonder Radeon based on the R300, which will finally bring hardware MPEG-2 encoding to an All-in-Wonder card. And then there’s the Radeon 9500, to fill the gap in ATI’s product line. With the Radeon 8500 and 8500LE gone and the Radeon 9000 priced below $149, ATI has nothing to offer between $150 and $399. The Radeon 9500 will be a scaled down version of the Radeon 9700, priced somewhere in between $200 - $300. Our current theory is that the Radeon 9500 will be feature-identical to the Radeon 9700 but with only 4 rendering pipelines and lower clock speeds. ATI hasn’t said much publicly about the Radeon 9500 other than it will be out in Q4 of this year.

And looking towards next year, the RV250 won’t be able to hold it’s own against what NVIDIA has planned for the GeForce4 MX; but after seeing what ATI has been able to pull off with the R300 we can’t wait to see what else they’ve got up their sleeves.

When all is said and done, there’s a reason why ATI and NVIDIA are the two leaders in this market right now. Both companies have figured out the right way of doing things and are currently hard at work bringing the absolute fastest hardware to the market. These two are driving the industry and with the R300 ATI put to rest any speculation that had ever existed about their worthiness as a competitor.

ATI won’t go the route of 3dfx, they’re going the route of NVIDIA and today they just entered the passing lane.

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