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The ATI Radeon is an interesting card to own, especially when compared to what nVidia offers. A few months ago ATI re-designed their nomenclature to a simple number-based system. The higher the number, the more powerful the card.

In general the Radeon is known for having somewhat superior image quality relative to it's GeForce competition, but at the expense of pure performance. ATI also offers an 'All-in-Wonder' series of Radeon which contains a wide range of multimedia features, including TV Tuner and even a remote in the latest version.

I won't go into the exact specifications of each card (you can find relative comparisons, as well as benchmarks, at Anandtech, Sharky Extreme, or HardOCP), but suffice to say their latest offering, the Radeon 8500, is generally considered a very nice card. Although it lags framerate-wise compared to the GeForce 4, the pricing is significantly less.

Special mention should be payed to the Radeon 8500DV AIW, which is possibly one of the most feature-rich cards on the market today. Although the memory and engine clock speeds are slightly slower than that of the non-AIW 8500, it offers a highly acclaimed TV Tuner as well as a radio remote for the couch potatoe in all of us.

One should always do proper research before upgrading any of their components, especially something as essential as the video card. The websites named above are an especially good resource for those looking to get a performance boost, or change any component on their PC.

On July 18, 2002, the first public benchmarks of ATI's newest core, the R300 were published. This core, sold as part of the ATI Radeon 9700, was as much as 2.5 times faster than the best nVidia card on the market at the time, the Geforce 4 4600.

The 9700 supports AGP x8, which is nice, but not really a big selling point right now, given that almost no motherboards currently support it. It has 110 million transistors (the AMD Athlon XP has only 38 million), and a pin count of over 1000. That is to say, it's freaking huge. Most modern CPUs have a pin count of about 450, and even the AMD Hammer only has about 700 pins connecting it to the system.

The R300 has been subject to a great deal of speculation and anticipation since John Carmack wrote “The new ATI card was clearly superior. I don’t want to ding NVidia for anything because NVidia has done everything they possibly could; but in every test we ran, ATI was faster.” Since John Carmack is the lead designer at id software and is currently working on Doom 3 (which will essentially not run on a video card made before early this year), this was taken quite seriously.

The release of this card changes ATI's fortunes greatly. At several points in the past, most notably with the releases of the original Radeon and also the Radeon 8500, they had expected to have the top-performing spot, at least for a while. But each time, nVidia managed to either release a new card in time, or do sufficient driver optimization to catch up (see Acid Dragon's writup in Radeon). But it is generally agreed that there is no way that new drivers for the GF4 could approach the level of speed of the R300, and that the NV30 (the next core from nVidia) will not be released before late this fall. So ATI is king -- at least for a while.

In addition, ATI has been plagued by persistent driver problems since time immemorial. But it seems that ATI has taken to heart the lesson that people don't want a fast video card that crashes when you try to actually play a game, and so far, the R300 drivers seem to be stable, though only time will tell.

Personally, while I'm happy that ATI is doing well (I like it when companies compete on price and performance), I won't be buying an R300 anytime soon. At an estimated MSRP of $400, it is a bit outside my price range. But its release will mean that the price for the Radeon 8500 will drop fast, which I look forward to. ATI, unlike nVidia, releases the specifications for their cards so people can write drivers for XFree86, and I want a non-crappy video card to use on my Linux box.

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