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Reviewed: Radeon 9700 Pro
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: February 20th, 2002
Page: 2

Since this is a new card, the first thing to do is go back and look into benchmarks; not much, because I don't want to be an over-technical place with 50 pages of tests. Therefore, I go for the basic two: Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament 2003. Quake 3 is a decent benchmark, even when you pass its limits on some marks, because there are so many games based on it available (plus all the online gamers/mods still Deathmatching away). Unreal Tournament 2003, being the latest UT game, is a great indicator for Direct3D performance, and also has two tests that act slightly differently so as to give a well-rounded report.

My system specs for the test:

Athlon 2100+ Processor
51MB PC2700 DDR
Game Theater XP Sound Card

Originally, I'd planned all sorts of nice graphs for the Quake 3 testing. However, it's patently obvious that any Q3-based game will have NO play trouble on this card. Why? 1600x1200x32, with ATi's 6x (full up) anti-aliasing and all graphical goodies turned up yields a nice score of 67 FPS, and at 1280x1024 this jumps to 96.8. Short version: you'll never notice it and might as well turn on vsync for playing.

Unreal Tournament 2003, thankfully, is a slightly different story, with the results below:

These benchmarks can be read pretty well with a small understanding of the two demos. UT2k3's "Flyby" demo is just that; a graphical bypass of an arena. This stresses the video board, but doesn't include a huge processor performance hit. Botmatch, on the other hand, is closer to in-game performance as it runs a simulated 'Bot match, with the camera following from player perspective. With AA turned off, my system hit 55 FPS in each Botmatch test, indicating that that's all my processor would push. AA was usable, mildly so, only at 1024x768 resolution. If you're planning to run newer games on the Radeon 9700, the point is to have a beefy, beefy processor to go with it.

Of course, there were other games I wanted to test, to really analyze this card. One of the things most users intuitively know, but are either unwilling or just scared to admit, is that benchmarks are great as a marketing tactic but have very little to do with the user's gameplay experience.

That's why I went all-out, preferring to analyze the performance of new, up-to-date games. I was also hoping to be able to reference some benchmarks of NVidia's new GeForceFX line, but as of my finalizing this article on February 20th the cards still aren't on the shelves, and the reports on their performance versus the noise factor and design concerns with the overly large cooling system required to run them, for performance that beats the 9700Pro but not by much despite a vastly higher core clock speed, aren't encouraging.

So, here's the games:

MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries 

This one's the latest in the Mechwarrior line, coming with a slight upgrade to the Mechwarrior 4 engine that Microsoft pushed out the door. This is a great indicator for what the Radeon 9700 Pro can do with slightly older games you still love to play, and is similar to the results from Quake 3 tests that I ran. It's possible to punch the details up in Mercs at 1600x1200 and still play the game smoothly, which is about as stellar a performance as one could ask for. 

Asheron's Call 2 

The Asheron's Call 2 engine is a complete remake, carrying none of the original's baggage, and it's completely gorgeous. Forums report some graphical flaws concerning brightness with this game and Radeon-series cards, so be warned, but personally I haven't been able to cause them on my machine. The other issue here is that framerate on many online games, especially MMORPGs, is tied to the speed of your connection as well as the performance of the game engine itself. That being said, the trick with Asheron's Call 2 is to leave your resolution down (somewhere between 1024x768 and 1280x1024) and crank the visual options, such as fringe grasses, all the way up to see exactly how gorgeous this game can be.

Unreal 2 

Unreal 2 is the current pinnacle of graphics, at least until Doom 3 hits the market. Therefore it's a great test of how the Radeon 9700 Pro will do with upcoming games to showcase what they look like. Much to my surprise, the game was actually playable in 1280x1024x32, though its sweet spot for my system seems to have been 1024x768 for optimal framerates. Unreal 2 has taken a bit of ragging by most of the press, and rightfully so for its short gameplay, short plotline, and lack of multiplayer, but its graphical strength isn't suspect. It takes full advantage of the Radeon 9700 Pro's capabilities, delivering stunning weapon effects, absolutely gorgeous shadows, texturing, and reflections from shiny surfaces, and let's not forget the effects from weapons like the Flamethrower. For those who haven't seen, I picked out a nice open-air shot from the beginning of the game.


The one flaw in the 9700 Pro isn't drivers, but a little checkbox that recent games have been popping up with, to set AA from within the game. Turning this on with a Radeon 9700 will result in a DirectX error about trouble initializing the video system, so until that bug is fixed (and I'm not sure if it's an ATi or DirectX bug) you'll have to live with manually setting the levels before starting the game.

It's a wonderful, powerful card with only a few minor headaches. On to the ratings!

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Added:  Wednesday, February 20, 2002
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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