ATI's Radeon 8500 November Driver Update

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ATI's Radeon 8500 November Driver Update - Page 1

The ATi Radeon 8500
Driver Update 11/14/01
One step closer but still not quite there yet

By Dave Altavilla
11/14/01

        

Well then, it's update time.  As we promised in our 10/22/01 release review of the Radeon 8500 and 7500 series graphics cards, we're back with an update on ATi's progress in the driver department.  Today, ATi will be releasing their 7.63.01 revision driver for both the Radeon 8500 and 7500 series graphics cards.  This "unified driver" has been targeted by ATi to solve many of the issues that cropped up in the initial release of their new generation product.

Specifically, in a conference call with ATi, we were told the following improvements have been made to their drivers:

  • SmoothVision is now functional

  • Image quality issues with Quake related to conflicts in texture resolutions have been resolved

  • Greater control of image quality/performance trade-offs are now available to the user

  • Performance under WinXP is now on par with Win2K and WinME

  • Pixel Shader and Bump Mapper Performance enhancements

  • Stability issues with certain AMD platform motherboards with KT266 chipsets and select AMD760 chipsets, have been resolved

Keeping within the scope of our original Radeon 8500/7500 review, we are going to specifically cover performance within the test system and platform we worked in October.  As such, we can not prove out or disprove ATi claims for stability across AMD based motherboards.  We'll leave this for other sites that worked with that type of test-bed initially.  Also, in the interest of time for the launch of these drivers, we're only going to cover the Radeon 8500's performance with these new drivers.  We may come back to the 7500 at a later date.

We're going to just jump into the testing with both feet but before we do, please take a look at our system specs as a refresher.

HotHardware's Test System
Full up Pentium 4 power
  • Intel Pentium 4 1.7GHz. Processor

  • Abit TH7-RAID Pentium 4 Motherboard

  • 256MB of Samsung PC800 RAMBUS DRDRAM

  • nVidia GeForce3 Ti500

  • ATi Radeon 8500

  • IBM DTLA307030 30G ATA100 7200 RPM Hard Drive

  • Windows 2000 Professional w/ SP2

  • Direct X 8.0a and nVidia Detonator 4 reference drivers version 21.83

  • ATi Performance Drivers Version 7.63.01

  • Intel chipset drivers version 3.20

AA Performance
SmoothVision In Action

 

In this section we intend to show you a little bit of what "SmoothVision", ATi's Anti-Aliasing technique is all about.  In this revision of the drivers, the user is given AA levels that can be set from 2X to 6X and everything in between.  Furthermore, there are two settings for AA in both OpenGL and Direct3D mode, "Performance" and "Quality".  Here are some quick screenshots that show the various new driver control panels that are available with these drivers.

 

SmoothVision D3D Quality

SmoothVision OpenGL Performance


SmoothVision OpenGL Quality

 

There is also a tab for Direct3D Performance SmoothVision.  It looks the same as the others and we thought we would save bandwidth and duplication on that one.  As you can see, in "Quality" mode, the max resolution for 4X AA is 1024X768.  In "Performance" mode, you can run 4X up to 1280X1024.  The real difference in both of these two modes is ATi's method of AA.  In Quality mode, the Radeon 8500 enables its "programmable jitter table" to implement a higher end level of AA that doesn't blur textures like traditional means of anti-aliasing.  In Performance mode, the R8500 utilizes traditional methods (as with nVidia's method) of super-sampling anti-aliasing, which supposedly does blur fine texture detail ever so slightly.

 

We'll give you a few in game screenshots now and you can decide which is best for you.  Click images for full viewing.  The shots were taken from Microsoft's Mid Town Madness 2.  Games like driving and flight sims, allow us to showcase AA modes fairly prominently. 

 

2X Performance Mode

2X Quality Mode

3X Peformance Mode

4X Performance Mode

4X Quality Mode

6X Performance Mode

Alright then, it's quiz time... Which is the "best" setting here?  Frankly for us 4X Performance mode is more than adequate.  6X AA mode seems to deliver minimal gains versus 4X and Performance mode versus Quality, is really hard to see any difference at all.  Perhaps that is because texture detail in this particular game is not as detailed as with recent DX8 titles.  Regardless, frame rate is always high on our list, so performance mode it is for the HH team.  You can make you own call here.

Still not quite ready for prime time:
We should point out that these ATi's drivers, with respect to AA, are less then perfect still at this time.  In fact, we tested several games, including Microsoft's "Motocross Madness", Redstorm's "Ghost Recon" and  "Black Thorn" (popular sequels to Rainbow Six), all which did not work with SmoothVision and crashed immediately upon running the titles with it enabled.  In addition, a demo of the hot new chopper sim title "Comanche 4" from Novalogic, didn't run well with or without AA enabled.  There was a severe stuttering problem with this title and it renders it unplayable at this time.  However, we'll also point out that this particular issue is with a pre-release game demo and could in fact be fixed by the developer when the full title is released.

Let's take a look at what happens to frame rate when these settings are in effect.

 

AA Benchmarks, Max Payne, 3DMark and GL Excess

 

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