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ATI Radeon 9800 Pro: killer graphics for the rest of us?

Originally posted 07/17/03 by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist
Updated 7/19/03 with Versavision notes

Apple is offering the highly regarded Radeon 9800 as a BTO option for the G5 Power Mac. However, it's designed for the G5's 8X Pro AGP slot. What about the rest of us poor devils with 2X or 4X AGP slots? Never fear. The retail version of the Radeon 9800 Pro Mac Edition (4X/2X AGP) is now shipping.

We have test results.








1. The first thing I noticed is that the Radeon 9800 Pro Mac Edition (or "ME") is no faster than the 9700 ME. That's not a bad thing since the 9700 ME never really made it into retail channels. The 9700 and 9800 both feature 256 bit DDR and 8 render pipes. Both support dual displays. They even have similar core clock speeds.

It's likely that the G5 with its 8X AGP Pro slot will let the BTO version of the Radeon 9800 Pro "stretch its legs." The SpeedTest benchmark was run on a G5/2GHz MP with a 9800 Pro. It produced Quartz results 59% faster than the G4/1.42GHz MP with a 9800 Pro. It produced OpenGL results 57% faster.

2. Besides the AGP interface difference (8X Pro vs 4X/2X), the BTO 9800 Pro optional on the G5 Power Mac and the retail 9800 Pro differ in the choice of ports. The BTO version offered on the G5 has DVI and ADC ports. The retail version comes with DVI, VGA, and S-Video ports. ATI believes that's what most retail buyers will want.

I must be the exception. I have dual ADC displays on my production system. It has the Radeon 9700 Pro ME which features DVI and ADC ports. I use Apple's $99 DVI to ADC adapter to drive the second ADC display off the DVI port.

With the retail 9800 Pro, I can only run one ADC display using my DVI to ADC adapter. But what about the second ADC display? The only way I can use it is to pop for the $300 Gefen VGA to ADC converter.

Even if you have only one ADC display, you'll need a DVI to ADC adapter ($99 from Apple or $95 from Dr. Bott) to use it with the Radeon 9800 Pro ME retail.

9/10/03 -- Many of you have written me puzzled why ATI's retail Mac version of the Radeon 9800 Pro does not come with ADC connector and 8X support. I shared your puzzlement. Here's an explanation from ATI:

"ADC for the G4 is different from the G5.  The power connector on the motherboard is not in the same place.  Therefore the following is true:
G4 ADC cards will not fit into a G5 at all.

G5 ADC cards fit into a G4, but the ADC power tab will not be connected - and the cards won't boot anyway.

The only cards that can work on both machines are NON-ADC AGP 4x cards" (like the retail Radeon 9800 Pro ME)

3. In my three graphics tests, the GeForce4 Titanium (Mac Edition) was either slightly slower or slightly faster than the 9800. If you already have the GeForce4 Ti, you may want to read the spec sheet on the Radeon 9800 Pro to see what other features it offers.

4. I included the results from my recent tests with the Pentium 4 (3.06GHz) with 400MHz DDR. As you can see, there's not much difference between the 9700 and 9800 on it as well. As for the Mac vs PC performance gap, don't expect the Radeon 9800 Pro in your G4 to narrow it. That feat will require a G5 Power Mac with the 9800 Pro option. (Vrooom, vroooom!)

5. So why should you trade in your Radeon 9700 or GeForce4 Ti for the Radeon 9800 Pro if it's not that much faster? Well, for one thing, it provides a Display utility that lets you turn on advanced features like Full Scene Anti-Aliasing and Anisiotropic Shading in certain apps. Of course, there's a speed penalty as you can see in the graph below. (For other advanced features, consult the spec sheet.)


6. Another reason you might want the Radeon 9800 is something called Versavision. It provides hardware accelerated display rotation and scaling. It enabled me, for example, to turn my Cinema display into a giant Portrait display. If that appeals to you, check out the PixArm from Marathon Computers. It's an articulated arm mount that lets you rotate your display 90 degrees.

7. Would I buy the Radeon 9800 Pro ME retail version? It does provide state-of-the-art features and 3D speed for my G4 Power Mac. However the port issue is a non-starter for me.

If price is no object, would YOU buy the Radeon 9800 with DVI and VGA ports? Or would you hesitate because you prefer DVI and ADC ports. Send me email and I'll pass your comments on to my contacts at ATI.



Inside Mac Games




You can order the retail Radeon 9800 Pro Mac Edition (4X/2X AGP) direct from ATI's web site for $399. Ask about their trade-up program. The 9800 Pro for Mac will soon be available from Small Dog Electronics and from

Visit the Apple Online Store to order your G5 Power Mac with the 8X Pro AGP version of the Radeon 9800 Pro.



The Power Mac G4/1.42MP with 2GB of DDR memory and OS X (10.2.6) was the test mule. Cards tested on it included:

ATI Radeon 9800 Pro ME with 128MB of 256bit DDR and 8 render pipes

ATI Radeon 9700 Pro ME with 128MB of 256bit DDR and 8 render pipes

ATI Radeon 9000 Pro ME with 64MB of 128bit DDR and 4 render pipes

nVidia GeForce4 Titanium (4600) with 128MB of DDR and 4 render pipes (2 texture units per pipe)


SEE "HOW WE TEST" for details on the tests reflected in the graphs.




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