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Sapphire Radeon 9200 Atlantis
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Date: Jun 21, 2003
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: HH Editor
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Sapphire Radeon 9200 Atlantis - Page 1

Sapphire Radeon 9200 Atlantis 128MB Vivo/TV-Out
With ATi's Catalyst 3.4 Drivers

By - Tom Laverriere
June 12, 2003

The graphics card industry is a vicious one.  The relentless six month product cycle means PC enthusiasts are out shopping twice a year for a video card upgrade.  At $400 a whack for the top performing cards, their wallets take a mighty blow.  Then there's the rest of us, who cannot afford the industry's leading graphics card or keep up with the ever changing hardware.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel though.  The industry's graphics leaders, ATI and NVIDIA, have been offering their latest GPUs in a mainstream form, at lower speed bins or by shaving off features, thus driving down silicon real-estate and cost.  This allows them to advertise a card that offers similar features to their flagship GPUs but are simply running at lower clock speeds.  What does this mean for the end user?  Usually, it's a very difficult task choosing your next video card.  On the other hand, it means we get a capable graphics solution at an "affordable" price.

Today in the HotHardware labs we have a "Powered-by-ATI" mainstream card built by Sapphire.  Sapphire and ATI have teamed up quite a few times in the past and continue to do so using ATI's latest round of value VPUs.  In addition to offering 128MB of RAM, the Sapphire Radeon 9200 also offers VIVO (Video In & Video Out ) capabilities, which can help transform any system into a Home-Theater PC.  These extra features always add to the overall value of a graphics card, but I'm sure most of us are wondering how well this card will run through some popular game titles.  Let's have a look.
 

Specifications & Features of The Radeon 9200 Atlantis
Feature packed mainstream graphics solution

 
Sapphire Radeon 9200 128MB


 

Sapphire Radeon 9200 Atlantis 128MB

  • 250MHz Core Clock

MEMORY CONFIGURATION

  • 128MB of DDR  SDRAM - 200MHz DDR (Effective 400MHz)

CHARISMA ENGINE II

  • Four parallel rendering pipelines process up to 1.1 billion pixels per second

  • High performance 2nd generation hardware transform & lighting engine

  • Advanced vertex shader support for the latest programmable effects

SMARTSHADER? Technology

  • Full support for Microsoft® DirectX® 8.1 programmable pixel and vertex shaders in hardware

  • 1.4 Pixel Shaders support up to 22 instructions and up to 6 textures per rendering pass

  • 1.1 Vertex Shaders support vertex programs up to 128 instructions

  • Programmable shaders provide enhanced 3D effects in over 100 existing and upcoming game titles

  • Complete feature set also supported in OpenGL via extensions

SMOOTHVISION?

  • Image quality enhancement features for Direct3D? and OpenGL ® applications

  • Programmable full-scene anti-aliasing supports 2 to 6 samples with user selectable performance and quality modes

  • Advanced anisotropic filtering supports 2 to 16 samples for high quality texture rendering with minimal performance impact

HYPER Z? II

  • Lossless Z-Buffer Compression and Fast Z-Buffer Clear reduce memory bandwidth by up to 25%

VIDEO FEATURES

  • FULLSTREAM? Hardware accelerated de-blocking of Internet video streams

  • VIDEO IMMERSION? II delivers industry leading DVD playback

  • Integrated MPEG-2 decode including iDCT and motion compensation for top quality DVD with lowest CPU usage

  • Unique adaptive per-pixel de-interlacing feature combines the best elements of the "bob" and "add-field" (weave) techniques

  • YUV to RGB color space conversion

  • Back-end scaler delivers top quality playback

  • 4-tap horizontal and vertical filtering

  • Upscaling and downscaling

  • Filtered display of images up to 1920 pixels wide

  • Hardware mirroring for flipping video images in video conferencing systems

  • Supports 8-bit alpha blending and video keying for effective overlay of video and graphics

EXTRA FEATURES

  • Supports the new AGP 8X standard (2.0 GB/sec)

  • VIVO ( Video In & Video Out )

  • 128-bit floating-point color precision allows for a greater range of colors and brightness
     

The Radeon 9200 Atlantis Up Close
Feature packed mainstream graphics solution

PACKAGING AND BUNDLE

The Sapphire Radeon 9200 Atlantis comes with full VIVO support and because of that it packs all of the cabling one would need to take advantage of this feature.  The cabling provides S-Video and Composite Video in and out, as well as Audio input, to capture movies and the like.  Sapphire also throws in a DVI-to-Analog adapter for anyone using an LCD monitor.  The box ships with some impressive software as well, although we're sorry to say, Sapphire did not bundle any games with this card.  We do have Pinnacle Studio 8 included which is an excellent piece of software for all your video capturing / editing needs.  Also among the contents you'll find Cyberlink's PowerDVD XP v4.0 which is very capable DVD-playback software.  A Driver Installation CD and Sapphire's Redline tweaking tool are included as well.  All together a very impressive bundle provided by Sapphire considering this card's price.

SAPPHIRE'S REDLINE v1.9

Sapphire ships their own utility with their graphics cards dubbed Redline.  The Redline tool is a fairly powerful utility that allows users to tweak most of the card's settings from within Windows.  Options like anisotropic filtering, antialiasing, screen settings and so on are adjustable through this tool.  There is also an option to save any particular settings the user likes for gaming modes, 2D environments so they don't have to be manually adjusted every time.  Simply select the saved profile and voila, the settings are in place.  The Redline utility usually allows for overclocking as well, but unfortunately the Sapphire Radeon 9200 card is locked and is not overclockable.  Overall, this is a very nice tool provided by Sapphire and is definitely an added bonus for the end user.

A CLOSER LOOK AT THE HARDWARE

Attached to the Radeon 9200 GPU is a passive aluminum heatsink which is fairly small in size.  A side view of the heatsink shows how this cooling device is mounted to the GPU with a thermal pad.  Although this does cover ample surface area between the GPU and the heatsink, we would have preferred to see a heatsink that is mounted on the board via retention springs and uses thermal grease to transport the heat from the GPU to the heatsink.  With that said, the heatsink does get hot to the touch while the card is in use, so the heatsink is performing its job adequately enough.

This board is equipped with 4ns Hynix 309A memory modules clocked at 200MHz ( 400MHz effective ).  There are 8x16MB memory modules for a total of 128MB of memory ( 4 modules on top of the card, 4 on the back side ).  While there is some room for overclocking the memory, this board is "clock-locked" and cannot be overclocked.  Maybe a future BIOS hack will prove us wrong, but for now, the GPU ( 250MHz ) and memory ( 400MHz ) won't budge on this card.  Taking over the VIVO duties is the ATI Rage Theater chip placed just to the left of the heatsink.  The rear-slot bracket provides S-Video In/Out, AV-In/Out, and an Analog Monitor adapter.  Even with all these features, the board is still fairly wide open.  Let's plug this baby in and get some screen shots, shall we...

Next Up - Image Quality

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Sapphire Radeon 9200 Atlantis - Page 2

Sapphire Radeon 9200 Atlantis 128MB Vivo/TV-Out
With ATi's Catalyst 3.4 Drivers

By - Tom Laverriere
June 12, 2003

Screenshots with Antialiasing Enabled
Getting rid of the jaggies

While speed seems to be the most important trait concerning today's graphics cards, some people would prefer to see higher quality images over a few extra frames-per-second.  To test the Sapphire Radeon 9200 image quality, we used a common tool and a couple of popular games to show the differences between rendered graphics with and without antialiasing and anisotropic filtering enabled.

ToMMTi-SYSTEMS FSAA v2.2 


NO AA


2X AA


4X AA


6X AA

For the above antialiasing tests we used ToMMTi-Systems FSAA v2.2 tool.  The above graphic is a 3D rendering of a pinwheel-type object.  Looking at the first picture without antialiasing enabled, the "pins" of the wheel appear very jagged and badly rendered, especially in the center.  Enabling the 2X antialiasing setting improves the quality somewhat, but the 4X AA and 6X AA settings obviously provide the best visual quality.  Surprisingly, trying to find the differences between 4X AA and 6X AA is pretty tough, making the 6X AA setting somewhat irrelevant since it will degrade performance without providing that extra visual beauty.  Let's move on and take a look at some in game screenshots from Unreal Tournament 2003 and Quake III.

 

UNREAL TOURNAMENT 2003


UT2003: NO AA


UT 2003: 2X AA


UT 2003: 4X AA


UT 2003: 6X AA

In Unreal Tournament 2003 we took some screenshots to display the Sapphire Radeon 9200's antialiasing capability in a 3D gaming environment.  In the above pictures, focus in on the supports on the ceiling and the railing directly in front of the shooter.  Both of these parts of the screen appear very jagged with no antialiasing enabled, while 4X AA provides the best visual quality to performance ratio.  Again, its very hard to see any differences between 4X AA and 6X AA, suggesting the 6XAA setting is a novelty rather than a necessity with this particular GPU.  Let's fire up Quake III to see how the Radeon 9200 performs with anisotropic filtering enabled.

 

QUAKE III ARENA


QUAKE 3: NO ANISO


QUAKE 3: 2X ANISO


QUAKE 3: 4X ANISO


QUAKE 3: NO ANISO COLORED MIP LEVELS


QUAKE 3: 2X ANISO COLORED MIP LEVELS


QUAKE 3: 4X ANISO COLORED MIP LEVELS

 

QUAKE 3: 8X ANISO

 

QUAKE 3: 16X ANISO


QUAKE 3: 8X ANISO COLORED MIP LEVELS


QUAKE 3: 16X ANISO COLORED MIP LEVELS

In the above screenshots, focus on the ground and notice the detail as the AF settings are increased.  The colored mip levels make it easier to see exactly where the filtering is done on the screen.  We believe the 16X AF setting is not worth using with this card since it does not add much detail to the screen, but does decrease performance somewhat.  For the best image quality / performance with this card, we concluded that 4X AA and 8X AF is the sweet spot.  One additional note to make here is that with 4X AA and 8X AF enabled, most games would be considered unplayable, however, this card is not meant for such a gaming experience.  Now that we've seen the image quality of this card, let's move on to the performance and look at some numbers.

Next Up - Setup and Futuremark Scores

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Sapphire Radeon 9200 Atlantis - Page 3

Sapphire Radeon 9200 Atlantis 128MB Vivo/TV-Out
With ATi's Catalyst 3.4 Drivers

By - Tom Laverriere
June 12, 2003

Serious Sam SE Testing
OpenGL With Lots Of Texture

For our next set of tests, we used Croteam's Serious Sam: The Second Encounter.  We configured the game to use OpenGL and ran some timedemos utilizing Beyond 3D's Max Quality scripts to level the playing field.  We ran the tests at 1024x768 and again at 1280x1024.  Let's take a look.

The Sapphire Radeon 9200 video card manages to outpace the GFFX5200 without antialiasing involved.  Once again, however, we see that the GFFX5200 card takes the lead when antialiasing is throw into the equation.  Something worth mentioning about this fact is we feel NVIDIA has opted for maximum performance at the sacrifice of some image quality.  In both 2D and 3D environments, we felt that the Sapphire card had a slightly better visual appeal to it than its competitor the GFFX5200.  Ultimately, visual quality is in the eye of the beholder though, so its up to you to be the judge and decide which card you like better.

Quake 3 Arena Time Demos
OpenGL and Plenty Old

The immortal Quake 3 steps up to the plate for the next round of testing. The GFFX5200 manages to outpace the Radeon 9200 even at standard settings this time around.  Although the performance gains are minimal, they are gains nonetheless.  Once again we do not have any scores from the Radeon 9200 above a resolution of 1024x768 with 4X AA enabled.  We don't want to beat this point to death, but at a 1280x1024 resolution the GFFX5200 outpaces the Radeon 9200 yet again.  On a different note,  both of these cards manage a very playable frame rate with AA disabled.  Although some may feel Quake 3 is a bit outdated, it is nice to see a "low-end" graphics card perform at such acceptable levels at this resolution.  One last game is in the works for you, Epic's Unreal Tournament 2003.  Let's put these cards through a round of UT2K3 benchmarks and then wrap up this review.

Next Up - Unreal Tournament 2003 and The Wrap-Up

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Sapphire Radeon 9200 Atlantis - Page 4

Sapphire Radeon 9200 Atlantis 128MB Vivo/TV-Out
With ATi's Catalyst 3.4 Drivers

By - Tom Laverriere
June 12, 2003

With an advanced gaming engine and awesome graphics, Unreal Tournament 2003 truly taxes the performance of a video card.  We look forward to seeing the next generation of gaming metrics with the release of Doom 3, but until that day arrives, UT2K3 is the measuring stick.  For these tests we perform a fly by using the Antalus map.  Here are the numbers...

Unreal Tournament 2003 Benchmarks
Current, Mainstream Direct X 8 Game play

The GFFX5200 led the way in both resolutions with and without antialiasing enabled.  We were unable to complete a run of benchmarks at 1024x768 with 4X AA enabled in UT2K3 with the Radeon 9200 card.  We believe the issues lie within the latest release of ATI's v3.4 Catalyst drivers.  Once the issue is resolved we will be able to update this article with the AA numbers for the Radeon 9200 video card.

SAPPHIRE RADEON 9200 ATLANTIS 128MB

To view this card in its proper perspective, we have to draw our conclusion with the money conscious user in mind.  Although most of us would love to have a Radeon 9800 or GFFX5900 Ultra sitting in our machines, that reality is far fetched since those cards weigh in at over $400.  What the enthusiast likes to see, is a graphics card that can play today's games at reasonable resolutions and still produce playable frame rates at 60 fps or better.  While the Sapphire Radeon 9200 managed to play a couple games meeting these criteria, we feel it is not a "serious gamer's" card.  With any sort of quality settings enabled, performance dropped to unplayable levels.  Playing a game at 800x600 with no quality settings enabled is acceptable to some, but enthusiast gamers will pass by Radeon 9200 standard variant, at least opting for the "Pro" version of the card.  A quick search on price puts the Sapphire Radeon 9200 Atlantis 128MB graphics card at $79 compared to $68 for its GeForce FX5200 counterpart.  Since the GFFX5200 card outpaced Sapphire's hardware and comes in cheaper, why would anyone want the "Powered-by-ATI" Sapphire Atlantis?  Because it's a great card for everyday use, and an occasional gaming experience is not out of the question.  Throw in the fact that the Sapphire card comes with 128MB of RAM, offers 8X AGP support and boasts VIVO functionality and you have good bang for the buck here.  So while this card may not appeal to most gamers, it's a more than capable home-theater PC card that will do everyday jobs just fine.  If you're in the market for a very low cost card that offers quality graphics and a slew of functionality for the price, then the Sapphire Radeon 9200 Atlantis card is for you.  If you're in the market for a great gaming experience we feel there are other options that would better suit those needs.  In light of those arguments, we're giving the Sapphire Radeon 9200 Atlantis 128MB graphics card a HotHardware heat meter rating of...

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