A few months ago the PC graphics industry was turned upside down as ATI stole the performance crown from NVIDIA with their R300 graphics core. Making the move to a .13 micron manufacturing process may have caught up with NVIDIA as they failed to meet a six month self imposed deadline of bringing a new graphics chipset to market. As such, ATI was pesented with a golden opportunity to re-establish their reputation as a high performance vendor. With the marked improvement in the performance of the R300 over previous ATI offerings, it's possible that ATI is reaping the benefits from its acquisition of ArtX. By having purchased ArtX for $400 million in early 2000, ATI found themselves with former engineers from Silicon Graphics and MIPS Technologies who designed the graphics processor in the Nintendo GameCube.
After spending a year outside the spotlight making graphics cards for ATIís OEM channel, Sapphire Technology has decided to use their experience to succeed in the retail section of the market. Armed with the brand new R300 core, they set about designing a 9700 Pro which would secure their place as a top graphics card vendor.
The retail bundle comes with a number of bonus components so every feature can be used out of the box. Along with the card are S-Video and Composite adaptors, as well as a handy S-Video to Composite converter. Those looking to run dual monitors can utilize the DVI to 15-pin VGA converter to run two CRT monitors from the card. The ever popular PowerDVD software is provided, as well as a disc that contains the software drivers for the product.
Not wanting to introduce too many variables with their initial product based upon the 9700 Pro, Sapphire chose to mimic the stock ATI reference design. One will find the same blood red printed circuit board (PCB) armed with 2.8 nanosecond BGA memory modules as seen in the standard ATI model. However, Sapphire did manage to introduce one unique characteristic. Choosing to lose the rather plain black heatsink found on the reference model, the Atlantis Pro comes equipped with a silver ORB style heatsink assembly.
Sapphire Radeon 9700 Atlantis Pro
Looking from the side of the card, one can see the moderate height of the cooler and the relative orientation of the fins. Overall, this assembly proved to be a good balance of performance and noise level.
With the introduction of the R300 core, ATI unveils a number of enhancements which help contribute to its exceptional performance. Designing the chipset around the upcoming DirectX 9 applications programming interface from Microsoft, ATI has taken the first steps towards cinematic-like quality effects.
Although the Matrox Pahrelia was the first graphics chipset to offer four programmable vertex shader pipielines, its subpar triangle setup engine crippled its ability to fully take advantage of this feature. On the other hand, ATI has boosted the triangle throughput rate high enough to provide ample headroom for its four vertex shader pipelines. In addition, the Radeon 9700 Pro supports the Vertex Shader 2.0 specification, which allows for smaller and more efficient subroutines. Furthermore, ATI has also provided support for the Pixel Shader 2.0 specification which offers additional flexibility for developers.
Radeon 9700 Pro Architecture
Combining the increased throughput with their own HyperZ occlusion culling technology, the Radeon 9700 Pro establishes a significant performance advantage over its competitors. In this case, the majority of the advantage is due to higher clock speeds and the lossless compression within the Z-Buffer, which is highly efficient when compared to conventional compression methods.
Perhaps the largest contributor to the performance of the Radeon 9700 Pro is the 256-bit wide memory bus, which is matched with eight floating point pixel pipelines. The decision to move towards a floating point approach allows for greater rendering precision.