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Reviewed: Radeon 9800 Pro
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: September 4th, 2003
Page: 2

The Radeon 9800 Pro is to most extents an upgrade of the 9700 Pro, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. As generations of cards go, it's almost always the case that a new technology is followed up by higher-clocked versions as the product is refined.

To compare: The 9700 Pro's core clock is at 325MHz, while the 9800 Pro is clocked up to 380. While it's possible to overclock the 9700 Pro to this point, it's not advisable by any means. The memory hasn't taken the same boost, going from 620 MHz to 680, but it's still something of a boost.

When compiling information for this review, I was stymied by several historical problems.

Problem #1 -- Quake3 benchmarking was pointless. Every high-end card on the market can run this game with no slowdown, at 1600x1200 with all options cranked as high as they go. This made benchmarking Q3 kind of pointless, but it does mean that gamers get guaranteed performance for any Quake3-based game; my tests in Elite Force II bear this out.

Problem #2 -- Futuremark's 3DMark program, and the driver-cheating accusations between them and NVidia, followed by the makeup and NVidia rejoining their program. I would have, and was, running 3DMark bench tests the day I heard, and it set me back quite a bit. In the end, I decided that Futuremark's suite just can't be trusted as an objective benchmark, and until they prove otherwise I'm abandoning the 3DMark benchmark entirely.

The final problem... how do I test the card's performance? Back to basics, running in-game tests. 

Quake 3-Engine Games

As I mentioned previously, both Quake3 and Elite Force II were playable at highest speeds, and pretty much any Quake3 engine game can be assumed to run this way. That's not a bad thing; the Quake 3 engine is still pretty good, and nice graphical effects can be achieved in it. If you're buying a card just for these games, however, the 9800 Pro may be a bit of overkill.

Unreal Tournament 2003

My benchmarks of Unreal Tournament proved the point that the 9800 Pro's capabilities are very similar to the 9700 Pro. When I ran UT2k3's Botmatch on my rig, I once again hit about 55 FPS as the limit on my system, constrained by the limits of the Athlon XP 2100+ processor. Flyby, on the other hand, took advantage of the upgraded clock speeds to just go nuts.

Real-life performance is another matter, and Botmatch is what really matters for this. The trick isn't finding out the maximum your system can push, it's the maximum your system can push and still look good. With the 9700 Pro and no FSAA, the game was playable all the way up, but including 16x FSAA dropped the game to unacceptable levels around 40 FPS. On the 9800 Pro, it was a different story, as at 1024x768 I got 52 FPS with 16x FSAA turned on. At higher resolutions, you're still going to have to turn down the AA, but that could be related to the fact that the Radeon 9800 Pro I reviewed is the 128MB, and not the 256MB, version. Unreal Tournament 2003 is a great indicator for the current crop of DirectX-based games, indicating that only ridiculously system-intensive titles should have problems with this card.

Halo

The final trick for the review was finding a game that could really stress this card. I puzzled and waited, because my intended target -- Deus Ex 2 -- didn't show up, and Enter the Matrix was a resounding disappointment with other problems that make it unsuitable for a test game.

Then, Microsoft sent out the marketing beta for the PC version of Halo. Running through some tests, I noticed a few things that will undoubtedly be fixed by release date in the drivers. And, testing areas with high enemy count, it's obvious that having a powerful CPU is going to be an absolute must for this game. 

Graphically, however, Halo shows off quite well what the Radeon 9800 Pro is capable of. It's beautiful, all the enhanced weapon effects are gorgeous, and there's just something about being closer to the action that makes it a whole new experience on the PC.

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Added:  Thursday, September 04, 2003
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Score:
Page: 2/3

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