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ATI Radeon 64MB DDR

The Radeon almost makes up for the lame performance of previous ATI boards.

 After a string of near misses, ATI ( finally scored a winner with the Radeon 64MB DDR. With a full feature set-including an advanced T&L implementation and some nifty z-buffer enhancements-the Radeon is the first card to hold its own against the mighty GeForce 2 GTS.

Not only does the card boast awe-inspiring frame rates, it also offers superb visual quality, putting nVidia cards to shame and rivaling the Matrox G400, the current visual-quality champ.

So how did ATI finally get 3D acceleration right? First, the chipset employs new z-buffering techniques (dubbed HyperZ), which optimize the memory bus. Second, each of the Radeon's two pixel pipelines can apply three textures every clock cycle. This allows for complex multitexturing and blending operations in a single pass (GeForce 2's two pixel pipelines can apply only two textures each cycle). Third, the Radeon has an advanced T&L engine (called Charisma) that is capable of pushing 30 million triangles per second, and supports advanced character modeling features such as four-matrix vertex blending.

As 3D chipsets become more and more powerful, onboard video memory has more and more trouble keeping up with the pace of rendering. ATI's HyperZ techniques mitigate this bottlenecking by applying lossless compression to z-buffer information. Using HyperZ, along with a few other tweaks, ATI has been able to turbocharge the Radeon's memory bus with 20 percent more performance. When that performance increase is combined with 183MHz DDR SDRAM (which is about 10 percent faster than the 166MHz DDR RAM found on standard GeForce 2 cards), the Radeon performs with aplomb at resolutions up to 1280x1024.

So the memory bus is theoretically 20 percent faster-that's just dandy. But what kind of performance boost does that give us in the real world? We found the Radeon performed as well as, or better than, GeForce 2-based cards in every benchmark. With a score of 66.4fps in our Quake III demo001 benchmark, the Radeon easily surpassed its closest competition. And we expect to see performance improvements as the driver gnome at ATI further tweaks the drivers.

Visual quality was superb as well. While running our Quake III benchmarks in the Lab, even the most jaded lab monkeys did a double-take at the rich, vibrant colors that the Radeon was pumping out in full 3D glory. See our screenshots in the Videocard section of the site, by clicking on Visual Quality.

Our only real gripe with the Radeon is its lackluster 2D performance. Regardless, even "slow" 2D is pretty damn fast, and it's possible that driver revisions will help improve 2D application performance in the future. We also had some problems when testing the Radeon on our Athlon test system, but they were solved by downloading the 4-in-1 driver from VIA's web site. The Radeon is a total package, combining blazing-fast, spectacular-looking 3D with excellent DVD playback. We're thrilled that there's finally competition for the GeForce 2.