Graphics chip and card maker ATI Technologies, Inc. today announced the Radeon 9000 series, a new graphics card line based on an evolution of its current Radeon hardware. The new 9000 series is designed as a mainstream, low-priced alternative to ATI’s own Radeon 8500 products, and will be offered in a Macintosh-compatible version as well. The forthcoming card was developed “with the Mac in mind,” according to ATI senior vice president Rick Bergman.
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Up until now, Power Mac G4 owners looking to replace aging graphics hardware have had precious few choices — they could either fork out the dough for one of ATI’s premium Radeon 8500 Mac Edition graphics cards, settle for a mainstream-oriented PCI-based Radeon 7000 Mac Edition, hope to find a used Apple-made GeForce2 MX-based card for sale on eBay, or they could take their chances flashing the ROMs of a third-party PC card built around Nvidia’s hardware, without any hope of support from either Apple or the card maker. The Radeon 9000 is intended to address that shortcoming by offering users better performance than they’ve been able to expect in a mainstream card up until now, without incurring a huge expense.
Under the hood
Radeon 9000 is the first mainstream graphics processing unit (or GPU) to support programmable vertex and pixel shading technology — something that Nvidia’s equivalent product, the GeForce4 MX, does not, according to ATI’s Stan Ossius.
“The Radeon 9000 has been optimized with features, functions and performance derived from the 8500 into a mainstream part,” Ossius explained to MacCentral during a recent interview.
The low-end Radeon 7000 Mac Edition may appeal to Mac users on a budget with limited expectations of 3D graphics performance, but the Radeon 9000 is definitely aimed at cash-strapped gamers looking for a boost to their hardware. In addition to programmable vertex and pixel shaders, the Radeon 9000 also offers a quad pipe pixel shader engine with support for up to six textures per pass, as well as ATI’s vaunted “Smoothvision” technology — also called Full Scene Anti-Aliasing (FSAA), this technology helps to reduce the appearance of jagged lines on 3D objects, a feature especially preferred by gamers who use monitors limited to 1024 x 768 pixel resolution.
The Radeon 9000 is being released for Windows PCs in two flavors — a higher speed “Pro” product clocked at 275MHz with a 550 MHz memory bus, and a slower 250MHz product that exchanges information with its memory interface at 400MHz. Ossius told MacCentral that when the Radeon 9000 Mac Edition debuts later this year, it’ll get the Pro treatment.
Apple’s digital displays feature a technology called Apple Display Connector, or ADC. Combining the monitor signal, power and USB all in one interface cable, ADC is elegant but sometimes less than practical: Users of Apple’s monitors have often had to resort to expensive and ungainly third-party devices to attach their monitors to add-in graphics cards. ATI seeks to change that with the Radeon 9000 Mac Edition.
The Mac version of the 9000 will feature two video interfaces on its backplane, said Ossius: ADC and DVI. It’s the first time that ATI has developed a retail Mac graphics card that uses ADC. This way, said Ossius, Radeon 9000 Mac Edition users can attach two digital flat panel displays simultaneously — an ADC-equipped unit and a third-party monitor with the more conventional Digital Visual Interface. ATI will also include a DVI to VGA adapter dongle if you’re still using an analog monitor.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave enough room on the back of the card for ATI’s customary S-Video interface, a standard offering on ATI’s other retail Mac products that enables users to output signal to a television, camcorder or other video device. Ossius expects that the benefit of ADC will more than make up for that shortcoming for most Mac users.
ATI has two different Radeon 9000 variants available for Windows PCs: a higher-speed “Pro” version and a basic version, both priced between $130 and $150 dollars. This pricing scheme puts the Radeon 9000 in the same ballpark as Nvidia’s GeForce4 MX — a graphics chip that’s not available in a retail product offering to Mac users. ATI hasn’t set a price point for the Mac version yet, but Ossius confirmed with MacCentral that Mac users should expect to pay moderately more for the Radeon 9000 Mac Edition.