I cannot review this videocard without situating it first. As you probably know there are only two main competitors left in the 3D accelerated videocard ratrace, namely Ati and Nvidia.
The Ati Radeon 9800Pro is the direct successor of the Radeon 9700Pro which in August 2002 was considered the killer of the top of the range Nvidia cards of the time. With its successor the 9800Pro ATi managed to maintain the lead throughout the following years 2003 and first half of 2004.
In this generation of videocrds, after the 9800Pro came only the 9800XT model that performs better than this 9800pro. Which should make it clear that when it came out this 9800pro was a top notch product selling for prices over £200.
In the second half of 2004 the move over to the PCI-express bus for videocards finally started. PCI-Express is a technology that was invented to replace both the brown AGP-slots and the white PCI-slots on your mainboard (motherboard). THe PCI-express technology offers larger bandwith and higher current to the installed cards. What ATI did do was to lower the prices on the older chipsets for AGP, which make them now an excellent bargain. In my view the price is now at its lowest before the cards will start disappearing completely from the shelves.
Chipset = ATI Radeon 9800 Pro
Ati Core code name = R350
Memory size = 128MB
Bus = AGP 8x
Dual Screen support = yes
Connectors = CRT, DVI, S-Video
DirectX 9.0 support = yes
Chip Technology = 256-bit
Manufacturing Process = 0.15 Micron
Transistors = 107 Million
Memory Bus = 256-bit DDR/DDR2
Memory Bandwidth = 21.8 GB/s
Pixel Fillrate = 3.04 Gigapixel/s
Anti Aliased Fillrate = 18.2 Billion AA Samples/s
Max FSAA Mode = 6x
Triangle Transform Rate = 380 M Triangles/s
AGP Bus modes supported = 1x/2x/4x/8x
Memory size = 128/256MB 1
GPU Clock = 380 MHz
Memory Clock= 340 MHz (680 DDR)
Memory speed = can vary
Pixel Pipelines = 8
Texture Units Per Pipe = 1
Textures per Texture Unit = 8
Vertex Shader Version = 2
Pixel Shader Version = 2
FSAA Mode = MultiSampling
Memory Optmizations = Hyper Z III+
Optmizations = SmartShader 2.1 and SmoothVision 2.1
Display Outputs = 2 (1 VGA + 1 DVi)
Chip Internal Ramdacs = 2 x 400 MHz
Bits per Color Channel 10
Special Featurs : TV Encoder On-Chip; FullStream Adaptive Filtering ; F-Buffer
Note : the card is also sold in versions equipped with 256MB of on-board memory. Even for today's (July 2005) games that amount of memory still isn't really called for except for the highest resolutions e.g. 1600x1200.
The launch date for the press for this card was March 2003, though cards became readily available to the public only in July 2003. This card was then a top of the range product and still is a powerhouse today, two years later. With the R350 core (an evolution of the R300 found in the previous Radeon 9700 pro) Ati improved perfomance even further forcing Nvidia even more in a corner in the period between July 2003 and August 2004 until their Geforce 6000 series of cards became readily available. As said the only limitation today is that it is destined to go on mainboards that still have the AGP slot only. Since the AGP-bus has limitations in the provision of enough current for the card to operate, there is a power connector on the upper righthand corner. So by means of a splitter you install between your power supply and either a harddisk or an optical (DVD/CD) drive you can connect the card directly to the power. The high power consumption of the card means that you must make sure that your computer's power supply provides sufficient current, so a capacity of at least 300 watts is recommended.
So what makes this card so good ? Not only the fact that it was a top of the range card in the summer of 2203 but exactly because it was aimed at this top of the range it comes with many features which make that this card still tackles all of today's 3D accelerated games with ease. It is only when very high screen resolutions and the image enhancing features of Full Screen Anti-aliasing (FSAA) and Anisotropic Filtering are put at their maximum value that the card starts showing its age and that it looses out to the current range op topcards (Radeon X800/X850 and Geforce 6800 GT/Ultra and the new Geforce 7800). Besides that the card still completely RIDICULES the 3D-performance of all on-board graphics solutions and even of today's entry-level cards with for Ati are the X300 range and for Nvidia the Geforce 6200 series. For AGP this 9800pro is now a midrange performer.
Cards with the 9800pro chipset are still sold by many manufacturers the likes of HIS, MSI, Powercolor or Sapphire. However its the noname or generic cards that will have reached the sweet spot of £70. However this price will only buy you the card, the power cable splitter and a drivers CD. In the more expensive (around £80-90 or more) offerings of the branded cards the card will come in a nice carton box, sometimes with a DVi to VGA adapter and maybe even with some full games. Branded cards are sometimes equipped with higher quality memory chips (giving better performance still) and/or a better finnish with a goodlooking radiator and cooler solution.
My card is one of the generic type, so I got it with only the splitter cable and a drivers CD. I've tested it with various games like Brothers in Arms (2005), Halflife2 (2004) FarCry (2004), Max Payne 2 (2003), etc. and performance is excellent, allowing, for the older games to push all the
image enhancing techniques of FSAA etc to the max with a resolution of 1024x782.
Make sure that when you've purchased the card to go anbd visit Ati's website to download the latest driver for your operating system. Ati and Nvidia now work for unified drivers that cover the whole of the range of their Radeon and Geforce cards respectively.
So if you are into 3D accelerated games and you come to stumble on one of these in a shop (be it on-line or not) for a price of around £ 70 and you want to give your current PC system a real boost don't hesitate for a second. Because for £70 (or a bit over) the card offers the best price/performance ratio available today. Don't forget that it will only fit in now ageing motherboards still having the brown AGP-slot.
I personally own the Readon 9800 Pro (Saphire) card and to put it mildly i'm very happy with it. Decided to buy this card after my Gefore 3 Ti 200 was starting to get a bit dated. Did the usually good things when buying a card looked round the net to see what people recommend. One thing immeditely jumps up at you - this card is highly recommended by the Hlaf-Life 2 creators Valve (and they weren't just bribed by ATI either). If you compare this card to the only other rival the Geforce 4 series you notice they apear pretty much matched with similar draw rates however quite noticably the Geforce 4 doesn't correctly support DirectX 9 so when you play games like Half-Life a lot of the finishing touches to the graphics just aren't there - this is the reason Valve like the card. You can however go to the series of cards above and get a Geforce 5 which they fixed the DirectX problems on but as the price is rather a step up i really wouldn't want to.
As with all computer bits this card is starting to get dated and has been super seaded by a new ATI series which is even faster . . . but this card is still the one to buy and i believe it will be for a few more months.
On the down side this card (as with many of the top end ones) requires its own power connector as its sucks a lot of juice. Finally this series of cards has the extra bonus of being able to have 2 screens out on the same card which is always a laugh even if i bit useless.