ATI Radeon 9700 grabs graphics top spot

ZDNet Labs' benchmarks show ATI's latest graphics processor has grabbed back the performance lead from rival Nvidia - but for how long?

ATI has decisively grabbed the top spot in PC graphics from arch-rival Nvidia with the upcoming launch of its Radeon 9700 Pro graphics processor.

ZDNet Labs' benchmarks show ATI's Radeon 9700 Pro has a big performance advantage over the GeForce4 Ti 4600. The Radeon 9700 Pro also shows how little innovation there is in the GeForce4 compared to the GeForce3.

In some tests -- for instance, MadOnion's 3Dmark 2001 SE Benchmark -- the GeForce4 Ti 4600 stands up reasonably well against the Radeon 9700 Pro. This benchmark shows less than 20 percent gain for ATI over its competitor, and with the older 3DMark 2000 test, the GeForce4 is actually 3 per cent faster than the Radeon 9700 Pro.

However, when image quality is increased by more features, the picture changes. When both chips were tested with the maximum possible quality settings, the Radeon 9700 Pro's 3DMark 2001 score was 175 per cent better than that of the GeForce4 Ti 4600.

Read the full review here.

A glance at 3DMark 2001's individual game and synthetic tests shows in detail how badly the GeForce4 loses out against the Radeon 9700 Pro. Depending on the particular game test, the ATI chip's performance is between 86 and 254 percent better, and in one case -- where all the features are switched on -- is six times faster.

With some 110 million transistors, the Radeon 9700 Pro has double the number of electronic circuits compared to Intel's current Pentium 4 processor. By contrast, Nvidia's flagship GeForce 4 Ti 4600, with 63 million transistors, is well behind the new ATI chip. The Radeon 9700 Pro's chip and memory clock speeds are 325MHz and 310MHz respectively. Together with the memory interface, which has been doubled to 256-bit, the new ATI chip offers bandwidth of over 20GB per second (the GeForce4 Ti 4600 manages 9.7GB/sec).

The result? ATI has made a quantum leap in current graphics chip technology, setting a new yardstick as far as 3D performance and video playback quality are concerned.

The benchmarks back up ATI's own recent claim that the Radeon 9700 Pro would deliver twice the performance of anything else on the market, and will lay a new foundation for cinematic 3D graphics.

Peter Glaskowsky, editor in chief of influential industry newsletter Microprocessor Report, said at the time that this is ATI's "strongest opportunity in some years to retake the lead." The chipmaker, which led the market as recently as 1999, has seen its market share eroded to just 24 percent according to Jon Peddie Research. Most of ATI's lost market share has gone to Nvidia, which by the first quarter of 2002 had 44 percent of the market.

Most major graphics board vendors have announced plans to make Radeon 9700 units, including Creative Labs Asia, Gigabyte Technology, Hercules Guillemot and Tyan.

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