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Unitech Optimus 8500 eXP
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Date: May 29, 2002
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: HH Editor
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The Unitech Optimus 8500 eXP - Page 1

The Unitech Optimus 8500 eXP
A RADEON 8500 tweaked out for the masses

By -Chris Angelini
May 29th, 2002

 

Like it or not, NVIDIA is currently dominating the high-performance video card market.  With an aggressive release schedule and undeniably impressive array of graphics processors, NVIDIA has maneuvered into a comfortable position of supremacy.  Between the GeForce4 Ti and GeForce4 MX families, both the enthusiast and business markets are being bombarded with attractive products.  Furthermore, the GeForce4 Go does a commendable job delivering 3D to mobile customers.  NVIDIA is now clearly gunning for its main competition, ATI Technologies.

ATI is more than just a formidable adversary, though.  For every market NVIDIA has chosen to dabble in, ATI has retaliated with a solution of its own ? gaming consoles, chipsets, mobile graphics, workstation graphics, and of course, gaming cards.  In an attempt to compete more aggressively with NVIDIA, ATI has begun selling GPU?s to third-party manufacturers responsible for distributing and marketing ?Powered by ATI? products.  Unitech?s Optimus 8500 eXP Special Edition is the second RADEON 8500 card to land in our labs from a source other than ATI, and it?s clear that Unitech has done their homework on what it takes to enhance an already beefy graphics board.

Not only is the Optimus 8500 eXP clocked faster than your everyday RADEON 8500 board, but it is also accompanied by a gaming and video bundle.  To top it off, ATI?s recently released 7.70 drivers are increasing performance across the board for this card.  It?s true that Unitech hasn?t received much attention in North America (mainly because its headquarters opened February 2002), but the Optimus 8500 eXP promises to put the emerging company on the map.

Specifications and Features of the Optimus 85000 eXP
VGA, DVI, and TV-Out

 

RADEON 8500
  • 300MHz GPU
  • VGA, TV In/Out, DV
  • 256-bit Graphics Accelerator
  • 1.23 trillion operations/sec.

DirectX 8.1 Support:

  • Truform
  • Smartshader
  • Charisma Engine II
  • Pixel Tapestry II

Smoothvision Anti-aliasing Engine:

  • Programmable multi-sampling
  • Also supports super-sampling

TV Out Jack:

  • On-board TV-out support both composite and S-video.

Cooling solution:

  • On-board active heat-sink cooling fan
Specifications:
  • Controller: RADEON 8500
  • Bus Type AGP
  • Memory 128MB DDR
  • Core Clock 300MHz
  • Memory Clock 550MHz DDR memory
  • Dual RAMDAC 400MHzMHz
  • API Support Direct-X, Open GL ICD for Windows
  • Connectors VGA, DVI, TV In/Out

Features at a Glance:

  • AGP 4x compatible with fast writes
  • 256-bit 3D and 2D graphics accelerator
  • ATI Hydravision multi-monitor support
  • HyperZ II
  • Smoothvision Anti-aliasing
  • Video Immersion II
  • TV Out connector
  • DVI connector

Package Contains:

  • Optimus 8500 eXP video card
  • Driver CD
    (Contains Software Driver, Tweak Utility, ATI Multimedia Center & user's manual)
  • 2 full games (Serious Sam and Giants)
  • MovieXOne Video Editing software
  • Connectors for S-video and composite TV-out/in
     

Instead of throwing a large heat sink on the Optimus 8500 and calling it a ?gamer?s card,? Unitech has taken the initiative to apply Arctic Silver II thermal adhesive between the RADEON 8500 core and the heat sink.  The card itself features 128MB of 3.3ns DDR memory clocked at 275MHz.  RADEON 8500 boards from ATI have 275MHz cores, so Unitech has made a real push towards the enthusiast market by shipping 300MHz boards.

Unitech is apparently more liberal than most companies when it comes to bundling software.  Since the Optimus 8500 eXP is aimed at the gaming community, it only makes sense to include a couple of games.  In this case, Unitech somehow decided on Serious Sam and Giants.  Serious Sam is a great game for the frantic first-person shooter fan, but it?s an older game that has since been dated by Serious Sam SE.  Giants is a DirectX 7 title and consequently won?t demonstrate the DirectX 8.1 features of the RADEON 8500 GPU.  Nevertheless, both games are fun to play, even if they don?t showcase the latest in graphics technology.  In addition to the two games, Unitech is also including Star Wars: The Phantom Menace with the Optimus 8500 eXP.  Considering ATI?s dominance in video acceleration, the bundled DVD makes perfect sense.  Finally, it is nice that Unitech has included all of the hardware necessary to make connections to a digital flat panel, two analog CRT?s and a television (with both in/out composite/S-video cables). 

Screen Shots, 2D Image Quality, and Drivers 

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The Unitech Optimus 8500 eXP - Page 2

The Unitech Optimus 8500 eXP
A RADEON 8500 tweaked out for the masses

By -Chris Angelini
May 29th, 2002

 

Optimus 8500 eXP
ATI's RADEON 8500 in disguise

  

Drivers and Utilities
Faster and faster...

The reference 7.68 drivers that are included with the board are the same drivers ATI hosts on their own site.  The most recent release, 7.70 has an impressive impact on performance as indicated by the brief comparison below.  It should also be noted that the 7.70 drivers support anisotropic filtering in Direct3D programs - a feature still missing from NVIDIA's own driver set.

Overclocking The Optimus 8500
Impressive memory headroom

ATI doesn't support overclocking through a hidden registry key like NVIDIA, so we rely on application like PowerStrip from Entech or the included OptiTweak taskbar utility.  Here are some screen shots of this handy utility home grown by Unitech. 

     

Screenshots
Giants and Serious Sam - DX7 stuff

As previously mentioned, neither Serious Sam nor Giants fully utilizes the DirectX 8.1 features of the RADEON 8500 graphics processor.  In fact, Giants was released around the time of the GeForce2 GTS, so it takes advantage of the fixed geometry pipeline of the Charisma Engine II with some shader effects.  Both games still provide entertaining game play and look great at high resolutions, but we still would have liked to see something a little more modern.

     
Shots taken on the Optimus 8500 eXP
Giants and Serious Sam The Second Encounter
Click for full viewing

2D Desktop Image Quality:

ATI has earned acclaim for crisp 2D quality.  At the same time, NVIDIA has a history of being lambasted for lackluster output.  The difference between the two companies is that ATI gets to choose the components on its video cards, while NVIDIA?s graphics processors are often used in conjunction with board components of lower quality.  Since third-party manufacturers make these decisions, one of our worries about the Optimus 8500 was that Unitech may have opted for similarly sub-standard filter components in an effort to cut down on manufacturing costs.  Fortunately, the card was able to output sharp text, even at 1600x1200.
 

Test Setup, Quake 3 With and Without AA and Anisotropic Filtering

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The Unitech Optimus 8500 eXP - Page 3

The Unitech Optimus 8500 eXP
A RADEON 8500 tweaked out for the masses

By -Chris Angelini
May 29th, 2002

 

Croteam's Serious Sam, The Second Encounter is an OpenGL or DirectX based game title with many leading edge graphics effects and high resolution textures.  We ran our tests in OpenGL mode.

Serious Sam: The Second Encounter
Raising the bar with more intense testing and better visuals
 

Serious Sam SE is able to cast the Optimus 8500 in a much more positive light, as the card outperforms the GeForce4 using the latest drivers from ATI.  Overclocking yields 10 percent more performance than the stock clock settings, further distancing the Unitech board from NVIDIA?s Ti 4400 design.

Comanche 4 - DirectX 8.1 Performance
What next generation game engines should look like

Flight simulators are generally limited by CPU performance, but high resolution tests are still able to expose differences between video cards, especially when the test features full DirectX 8 shader support.  The tables turn once again in the Comanche 4 benchmarking demo as both boards with NVIDIA processors beat the RADEON-equipped Optimus card.  In a situation like this, it is a fairly safe guess that either Novalogic optimized the game for NVIDIA?s architecture or NVIDIA?s drivers are more heavily optimized for the game than ATI?s.

3DMark 2001SE, More Anti-Aliasing, Overclocking and The Rating

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The Unitech Optimus 8500 eXP - Page 4

The Unitech Optimus 8500 eXP
A RADEON 8500 tweaked out for the masses

By -Chris Angelini
May 29th, 2002

 

3D Mark 2001 SE is a synthetic test of DirectX 8.1 performance.  Madonion.com has added a special Advanced Pixel Shader test that demonstrates the RADEON 8500's Pixel Shader 1.4 support, though it doesn't factor in to the final 3D Mark score.

MadOnion's 3DMark 2001SE
DirectX 8.1 performance with Remedy's MaxFX Engine
 

The Optimus 8500 is able to aggressively compete against the GeForce4 in 3DMark 2001 SE with the latest drivers.  It is unfortunate that 3DMark isn?t necessarily indicative of real-world performance, but it does go to show that the RADEON 8500 and GeForce4 processors are on fairly even ground.  Overclocked, the Optimus 8500 is even able to pull away from the GeForce4 at 1280x1024.

3DMark 2001SE Anti-Aliasing Performance
Stress testing with AA

Four-sample anti-aliasing hits the Optimus 8500 particularly hard as performance crawls at 1024x768 and 1280x1024.  On the other hand, the GeForce4 fares much better, likely due to the inclusion of the Accuview anti-aliasing circuitry onboard the graphics processor.  Until developers start taking advantage of the programmable nature of Smoothvision, the RADEON 8500 will be forced to use the costly super-sampling method for anti-aliasing.  The V8200 GeForce3 card doesn't score in the 1280x1024 test because that resolution requires more than 64MB of memory.

Overclocking The Optimus 8500
Can you really overclock an overclocked card?

Technically, the 300MHz RADEON 8500 core is already overclocked since ATI?s fastest RADEON product features a 275MHz core.  Despite the Arctic Silver thermal compound, we weren?t expecting much more headroom from the processor.  Like the GeForce4, ATI?s RADEON 8500 is simply too complex for massive overclocking attempts.  As a matter of fact, we were only able to hit 306MHz before the card started demonstrating signs of instability.  However, the 3.3ns BGA memory modules (rated for 300MHz operation) were stable up to 324MHz ? a 50MHz overclock!

ATI?s RADEON 8500 features a few notable attributes otherwise absent from the GeForce4.  It?s no secret that ATI offers some of the best video acceleration on the market, both in terms of quality and performance.  Full compliance with the DirectX 8.1 specification may come in to play later this year as DirectX 8 games become more widely available (ATI supports Pixel Shader 1.4 while NVIDIA drew the line at version 1.0).  Though ATI?s drivers have been the subject of criticism, stability and performance have both been improving in the latest releases.  Finally, ATI sells RADEON 8500 boards for significantly less than high-end GeForce4 cards.  NVIDIA has recently started combating this disadvantage with the GeForce4 Ti 4200, but ATI?s high-end processor still has enough going for it, to be a compelling product. 

This is where the Optimus eXP gets into a little but of trouble.  Unitech has done a marvelous job of ensuring that the card performs well, includes an exciting bundle and comes equipped with the hardware necessary to interface with digital displays, analog displays and televisions.  However, priced around $270, it is also slightly more expensive than many GeForce4 Ti 4400 cards.  Finally, it isn?t easy to ignore that the Optimus 8500 eXP is suffering from very limited availability.  We hope Unitech is able to get the product into the hands of resellers, as there will surely be demand for a ?tweaked? 128MB RADEON 8500 card.

It is certainly nice to see Unitech showing the fortitude to support the hardware enthusiast community with an enhanced video card.  The RADEON 8500 processor is a very capable product that offers competitive 3D performance and standard-setting video acceleration.  The Optimus 8500?s price may be a little lofty for less casual gamers, but for those who can appreciate the bundle and extra performance, it may be worth the price of admission.  After all, this is one of the best Radeon 8500 based cards we've ever seen in the HH Lab.

We're giving the Unitech Optimus 8500 eXP a HotHardware Heat Meter Rating of...                                 7.5     

 

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

 

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