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Radeon 9500 Pro Battle Sapphire vs. Gigabyte
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Date: Feb 01, 2003
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: HH Editor
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Radeon 9500 Pro Battle Sapphire vs. Gigabyte - Page 1

The Gigabyte Maya II R9500 Pro
vs.
The Sapphire Radeon 9500 Atlantis Pro
Premium Performance, Mainstream Price

By - Tom Laverriere
& Marco Chiappetta
February 3, 2003

   

It's game 7 of the World Series, bottom of the 9th and the winning run is standing just 90 feet away.  Who do you want in the batters box?  You want the best hitter in the league standing in the batters box ready to rip the cover off the ball.  In video cards these days, that equates to "Built by ATI" or "Powered by ATI" Radeon 9700 Pro boards.  No other consumer video card on the market right now can move pixels like a  Radeon 9700 Pro.  Of course his little brother isn't too shabby either.  We wouldn't mind him standing in at the plate as well.  Why you ask?  Well because the 9500 Pro can deliver almost as much pixel crunching power as it's bigger brother the 9700 Pro, but at a much lower price point.  As PC enthusiasts. its always nice to have the biggest, best hardware in the land sitting cozy inside your case.  However, for most of us, money doesn't grow on trees.  The two "Powered by ATI" R9500 Pro cards we have for you today, are targeted to lure the budget-minded buyer into their respective corners.  Can the R9500 Pro take over a spot that is held tightly by its main competitor, the Nvidia GeForce 4 Ti4200?  Today we have two boards vying for that honor, the Gigabyte Maya II R9500 Pro and the Sapphire R9500 Atlantis Pro.  Let's take a look at how they performed on the test bench...

 

Specifications & Features of the Radeon 9500 Pro VPU
Mainstream DX9 Part...

The Gigabyte Maya II R9500 Pro
     

 
The Sapphire Radeon 9500 Atlantis Pro
     

CLICK ANY IMAGE FOR AN ENLARGED VIEW

GRAPHICS TECHNOLOGY

R300 Visual Processing Unit (VPU)

MEMORY CONFIGURATION

  • 128MB or 64MB of double data rate SDRAM

3D GRAPHICS FEATURES

  • Eight/four parallel rendering pipelines process up to 2.6 billion pixels per second
  • Four parallel geometry engines process up to 325 million transformed and lit polygons per second
  • High precision 10-bit per channel framebuffer support
  • 256-bit/128-bit DDR memory interface
  • AGP 8X support

-SMARTSHADER? 2.0

  • Full support for Microsoft® DirectX® 9.0 programmable pixel and vertex shaders in hardware
  • 2.0 Pixel Shaders support up to 16 textures per rendering pass
  • 2.0 Vertex Shaders support vertex programs up to 1024 instructions with flow control
  • New 128-bit per pixel floating point color formats
  • Multiple Render Target (MRT) support
  • Shadow volume rendering acceleration
  • Complete feature set also supported in OpenGL via extensions

-SMOOTHVISION? 2.0

  • State-of-the-art full-scene anti-aliasing
  • New technology processes up to 15.6 billion anti-aliased samples per second for unprecedented performance
  • Supports 2x, 4x, and 6x modes with programmable sample patterns
  • Advanced anisotropic filtering
  • Supports up to 16 bilinear samples (in performance mode) or trilinear samples (in quality mode) per pixel
  • 2x/4x/6x full scene anti-aliasing modes
  • Adaptive algorithm with programmable sample patterns
  • 2x/4x/8x/16x anisotropic filtering modes
  • Adaptive algorithm with bilinear (performance) and trilinear (quality) options
  • Bandwidth-saving algorithm enables this feature with minimal performance cost

-HYPERZ? III

  • Hierarchical Z-Buffer and Early Z Test reduce overdraw by detecting and discarding hidden pixels
  • Lossless Z-Buffer Compression and Fast Z-Buffer Clear reduce memory bandwidth consumption by over 50%
  • Fast Z-Buffer Clear

-TRUFORM? 2.0

  • 2nd generation N-patch higher order surface support
  • Discrete and continuous tessellation levels per polygon for dynamic LOD
  • DirectX 9.0 displacement mapping
VIDEO FEATURES

-VIDEOSHADER?

  • Seamless integration of programmable pixel shaders with video data
  • High quality, hardware accelerated de-blocking of internet streaming video
  • Noise removal filter for captured video
  • Integrated MPEG-2 decode
  • Hardware accelerated iDCT, motion compensation, and color space conversion
  • Top quality DVD and all-format DTV/HDTV decode with low CPU overhead
  • Back-end scaler delivers top quality playback
  • Upscaling and downscaling with 4-tap horizontal and vertical filtering
  • Filtered display of images up to 1920 pixels wide
  • Unique per-pixel adaptive de-interlacing feature combines the best elements of the ?bob? and ?add-field? (weave) techniques

FULLSTREAM? video de-blocking technology

  • Noise removal filtering for captured video
  • MPEG-2 decoding with motion compensation, iDCT and color space conversion
  • All-format DTV/HDTV decoding
  • YPrPb component output
  • Adaptive de-interlacing and frame rate conversion
  • Dual integrated display controllers
  • Dual integrated 10-bit per channel 400MHz DACs
  • Integrated 165 MHz TMDS transmitter (DVI and HDCP compliant)
  • Integrated TV Output support up to 1024x768 resolution
  • Optimized for Pentium® 4 SSE2 and AMD Athlon? 3Dnow!
  • PC 2002 compliant

DISPLAY FEATURES

  • Dual integrated display controllers
  • Drive two displays simultaneously with independent resolutions and refresh rates
  • HYDRAVISION? software provides complete control over multi-display configurations with a user-friendly interface
  • Dual integrated 10-bit per channel palette DACs operating at up to 400MHz
  • Integrated 165MHz TMDS transmitter supports resolutions up to QXGA (2048x1536) and complies with DVI and HDCP specifications
  • Integrated TV-Out support up to 1024x768 resolution
  • YPrPb output for direct drive of HDTV monitors

DISPLAY SUPPORT

  • 15-pin VGA connector for analog CRT
  • S-video or composite connector for TV/VCR
  • DVI-I connector for digital CRT or flat panel
  • Independent resolutions and refresh rates for any two connected displays

GENERAL FEATURES

  • Comprehensive 2x, 4x, and 8x AGP support
  • High performance quad-channel DDR memory interface supports 64/128/256MB configurations
  • Fully compliant with PC 2002 requirements
  • Optimized for Pentium® 4 SSE2 and AMD Athlon? 3Dnow! processor instructions
  • Supports optional THEATER? 200 companion chip for NTSC/PAL/SECAM video capture
  • Highly optimized 128-bit 2D engine with support for new Windows® XP GDI extensions

The Bundles:

 

GIGABYTE
 

 

 

SAPPHIRE
 

 

The Gigabyte Maya II R9500 Pro shipped with an impressive bundle to say the least.  In addition to the driver CD, the card shipped with full versions of Serious Sam, Cyberlink PowerDVD XP, and Rune.  It also shipped with "lite" versions of Oni and 4X4 Evo.  Although these aren't the most popular games available right now, it's always good to get a few extra goodies, besides the card and some drivers.  Additionally, Gigabyte threw in a DVI-to-15 pin adapter, a composite video cable, an S-Video cable and a Molex power cable splitter.

The Sapphire's bundle was a little more spartan.  The Sapphire did not ship with any games, but did come with the full version of Cyberlink PowerDVD XP, which is arguably the best DVD playback software on the market today.  Also included was the driver CD.  Unlike Gigabyte, Sapphire failed to throw in the DVI-to-15 pin adapter, but did have the composite video cable, the S-Video cable and a Molex power cable splitter.  Although we can't complain about Sapphire's bundle it would have been nice to get a game thrown into the mix.  Since both cards come in around the same price point it's hard not to side with Gigabyte because of its generous bundle and the fact that most people buying this card will be doing so with gaming in mind.

The Cards...

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Radeon 9500 Pro Battle Sapphire vs. Gigabyte - Page 2

The Gigabyte Maya II R9500 Pro
vs.
The Sapphire Radeon 9500 Atlantis Pro
Premium Performance, Mainstream Price

By - Tom Laverriere
& Marco Chiappetta
February 3, 2003

The Gigabyte Maya II R9500 Pro
Reference Radeon with a twist...

    

         

    

The Gigabyte 9500 Pro card is quite a vision.  The red PCB and mostly everything else follows the reference design of the "Built by ATI" products.  One feature that does not stick to the reference design is the gold heat sink and fan housing.  The cooler is held in place by two plastic spring clips and a look below this massive cooler reveals the R300 chip.  Between the cooler and the chip is a thick thermal pad to help dissipate the heat given off by the VPU.  The RAM does not have any cooling applied to it and one must wonder why this is.  It may have something to do with the idea of the R9500 Pro's being "clock locked".  Maybe Gigabyte felt since overclocking would not be an option, there was no need to cool the RAM.  The external plate has both an Analog and DVI connector as well as a TV-Video output connector.  These connectors can take advantage of the VPU's ability to power two displays at the same time.  Depending on the needs of the user, either two monitors or a monitor and a TV can be driven.  This is a nice feature to have especially when playing games.  Let's move on to the Sapphire and see how this card compares...

 

The Sapphire Radeon 9500 Atlantis Pro
Another Red Radeon...

    

         

         

 

It looks as though Sapphire also chose to stick to the reference design of ATI.  The Sapphire also did not have cooling on the RAM and opted for a much smaller radial heat sink and fan on over the VPU.  The Sapphire's round heat sink fan is held in place by two plastic spring clips and a look beneath reveals the chip and the thermal grease used as the TIM ( Thermal Interface Material ).  The external plate has the very same outputs as the Gigabyte therefore allowing for two devices to be hooked up simultaneously.  There is not much else to note out of the ordinary, with the physical appearance of this card.  I think it's time to plug these babies in and see what they can do...   

Screenshots and The Drivers

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Radeon 9500 Pro Battle Sapphire vs. Gigabyte - Page 3

The Gigabyte Maya II R9500 Pro
vs.
The Sapphire Radeon 9500 Atlantis Pro
Premium Performance, Mainstream Price

By - Tom Laverriere
& Marco Chiappetta
February 3, 2003

   

We made some minor changes to the layout of our graphs, and took a slightly different approach to the benchmarks in this shootout.  We wanted to showcase the power of the Sapphire and Gigabyte R9500's, but also wanted to compare their relative performance to a GeForce 4 Ti4600 using NVIDIA's latest drivers (41.09 as of this writing).  All of the graphs are broken down by resolution, and where possible we used the same driver settings for each of the cards.  For all of our tests, we set the drivers for optimal image quality and only altered the AA and Aniso settings.

The Hot Hardware Test Systems
Intel Showcase

 
Common Hardware:

Intel Pentium 4 2.8GHz (2800MHz) 533MHz FSB
Soyo P4X400 DRAGON Ultra Platinum

VIA P4X400 Chipset w/ AGP8X

512MB Corsair PC3500 Platinum DDR RAM C2

On-Board NIC

On-Board Sound

Western Digital 80GB 7200RPM HD x 2 (RAID 0)

Lite-On 16X DVD-ROM

Standard Floppy Drive

Windows XP Professional with SP1

VIA "Hyperion" 4-in-1 Drivers v4.45

 

Video Cards Used:

Gainward GeForce 4 Ti 4600
(v41.09 Drivers)

 

Gigabyte Maya II R9500 Pro

Sapphire Radeon 9500 Atlantis Pro
(v6.14.01.6255  Drivers with v6.14.10.4012 Control Panels)
 

Unreal Tournament 2003 Benchmarks
Fill Rate & Features

 
The testing began with Unreal Tournament 2003, which as most of you know is powered by DirectX.  UT2003's graphics are topnotch and it takes one heck of a card to run this game at a "playable" rate.  What we mean by "playable" in UT2K3, is hitting at least 60 FPS.  The game is very playable at an FPS lower than 60, but it gives you an idea of what we consider acceptable.  To keep the playing field level, we used a custom .INI file that insures all of the cards tested were using the exact same in-game settings...

At 1024x768, with no AA or Anisotropic filtering enabled, the Ti4600 managed to outperform the R9500's in UT2003's "FlyBy" timedemo.  With the increased settings on visual quality we notice that the R9500's managed to easily outdo the Ti4600 card.  I would like to note that even though the R9500's did not hit 60 FPS in the higher settings, the game remained very playable by my standards and the graphics were simply stunning.

3DMark 2001SE and Comanche 4

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Radeon 9500 Pro Battle Sapphire vs. Gigabyte - Page 4

The Gigabyte Maya II R9500 Pro
vs.
The Sapphire Radeon 9500 Atlantis Pro
Premium Performance, Mainstream Price

By - Tom Laverriere
& Marco Chiappetta
February 3, 2003

   

MadOnion / Futuremark 3DMark2001SE (Build 330)
DX8 Gaming Performance With The MaxFX Engine
 
For our next batch of tests we used the synthetic DirectX 8 benchmark from MadOnion (now Futuremark), 3DMark2001 SE (Build 330).  The "MaxFX" gaming engine, from Remedy's very popular Max Payne, is used to simulate actual in-game environments.  3DMark2001 makes use of DirectX 8 Pixel and Vertex shaders, and if you've ever looked at 3DMark2001's detailed results, you'll know that this benchmark is broken up into groups of "High" and "Low" quality tests.  The final score is generated by taking the results of these tests and adding them together using this formula:
  • (Game 1 Low Detail + Game 2 Low Detail + Game 3 Low Detail) x 10 + (Game 1 High Detail + Game 2 High Detail + Game 3 High Detail + Game 4) x 20

As we see here again, the Ti4600 laying the smack down on the RADEON's at the lowest settings, but as soon as we crank up the heat, the RADEON's take over.  It really is amazing the marks these R9500's can hit even at their highest settings.  If we look at the 1024x768 setting, 6XAA for the RADEON's is outperforming the Ti4600 at 4XAA.  That is quite a feat right there.  At 1600x1200 with 4XAA, we can see that RADEON's outperform the Ti4600 by an astounding 75%!  All this in the "budget" sector.  One word comes to mind, "Wow".

 

Comanche 4 - DirectX 8.1 Performance
Shader Goodness

Next up, we have Novalogic's Combat Helicopter simulator, Comanche 4.  Comanche 4 also uses DirectX8 Pixel and Vertex shaders, and is a useful tool for testing overall system performance.  This benchmark is very CPU dependant, so don't be turned off by what look like relative low frame rates.

As mentioned above these tests are very CPU dependent so the graphics card is not relied upon heavily.  One thing to note here is that the RADEON's are consistently beating up on the Ti4600 at higher settings, but also up to this point, the Gigabyte outperforms the Sapphire in every benchmark but a few, albeit by very small margins.  In any event, I think it's easy to see that we're going to have a newly crowned budget video card king.

Serious Sam & Quake 3

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Radeon 9500 Pro Battle Sapphire vs. Gigabyte - Page 5

The Gigabyte Maya II R9500 Pro
vs.
The Sapphire Radeon 9500 Atlantis Pro
Premium Performance, Mainstream Price

By - Tom Laverriere
& Marco Chiappetta
February 3, 2003

   

Serious Sam: The Second Encounter
OpenGL Testing
 
We continued our OpenGL testing with some tests using Croteam's Serious Sam: The Second Encounter.  We configured the game to use OpenGL and ran the "Little Trouble" time demo using the "Extreme Quality" script created by the folks at Beyond3D, to max out the texture and filtering quality, and to be sure all of the cards tested were using the exact same in-game options.

It seems to be getting rather redundant here as again the Ti4600 is favored pretty heavily at the low end, but crank up the quality settings and the R9500's pull away.  It seems that this is the smallest margin that the RADEON's have managed to pull away with, but nonetheless still manage to do so by a good amount.

Quake 3 Arena v1.32
Running Out of Steam

For our next batch of OpenGL benchmarks we updated Quake 3 Arena with the most recent v1.32 Point Release, and ran timedemo "Four".  Quake 3 has definitely lost some of it's worthiness as a video card benchmark, but it is still useful for demonstrating the relative performance of one product versus another.  We set the game to its "High Quality" mode, enabled Trilinear filtering and maxed out the texture quality and geometry sliders before running any tests...

It really is amazing how much the Ti4600 manages to blow away the 9500's with no AA.  Click on the AA and it the 9500's shine.  This could be accredited to a lot of different entities, but I think we can say that ATi's AA methods and compression techniques are responsible for the higher framerates with AA enabled.  The drivers obviously play a role as well, but in the RADEON's we have a powerful VPU on our hands loaded with top notch technology.  I think it proves that ATI did their homework with their latest release.

Overclocking & The Heat Meter

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Radeon 9500 Pro Battle Sapphire vs. Gigabyte - Page 6

The Gigabyte Maya II R9500 Pro
vs.
The Sapphire Radeon 9500 Atlantis Pro
Premium Performance, Mainstream Price

By - Tom Laverriere
& Marco Chiappetta
February 3, 2003

   

Overclocking The Gigabyte & Sapphire Radeon 9500 Pros
Sorry...not today...

Now the moment everyone has been waiting for, overclocking.  As we mentioned earlier, the R9500 Pros are said to be "locked" at their default memory and core clock speeds (540MHz Memory / 275MHz core).  We went ahead to see if this is true or not, and used Powerstrip to push these cards above and beyond the call of duty.  Both my counterpart Marco and I found the same things.  The cards overclocked, but without any appreciable performance gain.  In fact on the Maya II, we were able to hit a 317MHz core clock speed with the memory clocked at 297MHz ( 594MHz DDR ), but performance did not scale accordingly.  We only gained a measly 2 FPS in Serious Sam and a meaningless 200 points in 3DMark.  Almost immediately after altering the clock speeds, we experienced in-game visual anomalies and even desktop corruption, so we're confident in saying the clock speeds did actually change, but the speed increases did not translate into any real performance gains.  There have been reports that a BIOS hack is needed to "unlock" the 9500 Pro, but we have yet to verify this on our own. 

After getting pretty close with both of these cards, I think it's easy to see that they both offer great "bang for the buck".  Both the Gigabyte and Sapphire put the Ti4600 to shame once AA and Aniso was enabled.  With these cards in the $180 price range at Newegg, who isn't going to want one of these babies?  We're both glad we got a chance to review these cards.  Both were a pleasure to work with.  We can recommend either of these cards to anyone and feel confident in doing so.  ATI has proven once again that their hottest VPU is the real deal.

GIGABYTE MAYA II R9500 PRO:

During our testing we made a lot of comparisons to the Ti4600.  Between the two Radeon 9500 Pro cards, looking back we can see that the Gigabyte managed to outperform the Sapphire in a few benchmarks and the Sapphire took the lead here and there as well.  So, this match-up, performance wise, was certainly a virtual draw.  As far as "bang for the buck" goes, we'd have to give it to the Gigabyte card, due to its generous bundle, physical appearance, and performance.  I think its hard to give a performance edge to either since they are so closely matched, but what the end user ultimately wants is performance now, performance that will last into the future and value.  I'll put a checkmark in all three categories for the Gigabyte Maya II R9500 Pro.  We're giving the Gigabyte Maya II R9500 Pro a HotHardware Heat Meter rating of 9...

 

SAPPHIRE RADEON 9500 ATLANTIS PRO:

The Sapphire Radeon 9500 Atlantis Pro, although it doesn't come equipped with an impressive game bundle, like the Maya II 9500 Pro, is still a card that is easily recommended.  Even though it finished second to the Gigabyte card in some of the benchmarks, it managed to stay right on its heels and even outdo its competitor in a few cases as well.  However, the heat sink on this card is overshadowed by the Gigabyte Maya II's golden plated cooling.  On the other hand, needless to say the Sapphire was also able to put the Ti4600 to shame just as easily as the Maya II.  With the Sapphire Radeon 9500 Atlantis Pro, you get a barebones, no frills, but excellent performing card.    It all depends on what someone is looking for.  We believe that the bottom line is, most folks want all around performance in any environment, whether it be 2D, 3D or DVD playback.  The "Powered by ATI" Sapphire Radeon 9500 Atlantis Pro will give you that without question.  We're giving the Sapphire R9500 Atlantis Pro a HotHardware Heat Meter rating of 8.5...

** NOTE**  Update 2/3/2003:
After launch of this article, a representative from Sapphire contacted us to inform us that retail packages of the Sapphire Radeon 9500 Atlantis Pro, will come packed with a DVI Dongle, an over-clocking utility called "Redline" and full release version of Soldier of Fortune 2.  These are welcomed additions to an already high value package from Sapphire Tech.  At roughly $180 retail, these additions only make the value proposition for the card that much better.  While we can't comment on the performance or effectiveness of the "Redline" overclocking utility at this time, the Dongle and game bundle are tangibles that will definitely make a difference to the end user, regardless of product performance.

 Come get some in the HotHardware PC Hardware Forum, now!

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Radeon 9500 Pro Battle Sapphire vs. Gigabyte - Page 7
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