ATI beefs up Radeon 9800

ATI Technologies is delivering this week a monster version of its high-end Radeon 9800 Pro, boosting memory to 256MB of DDR for a US$499 price tag.

The 9800 Pro made its debut in March, but this version one-ups the previous card. The Radeon 9800 Pro 256MB has the same 380-MHz core clock speed and a total of 700 MHz in the memory clock. The jump in memory improves the handling of high-resolution textures and environments, the company says.

Need Memory?

Graphics board makers have downplayed the role that memory plays in handling 3D graphics in recent years. But they've also been racing to be first to ship a consumer board with a quarter gig of memory.

Archrival NVidia Corp.'s GeForce FX 5600 will support either 128 or 256MB of memory, but the larger version has been scarce, so ATI says the race is still on.

"We heard that there are other parts (with 256MB of memory) shipping, but we haven't been able to find them ourselves," says Eric Lundgren, Radeon 9800 Pro product manager. He maintains that ATI still has a monopoly on delivering "eight dedicated pipelines of rendering power" attractive to gamers.

ATI defines enthusiast users as those who play games more than 16 hours weekly. They're often the early adopters who want their games to run at the highest level of performance possible.

ATI wants these gamers to be able to use 1600 by 1200 as their default resolution for games, and still be able to run all the bells and whistles.

"When you use the 9800 Pro, you're always running at full precision," Lundgren says. "You're paying $400 or $500 for a high-end graphics board. (The reason) why you're shelling out the dough is to turn on all the features."

High-End RAM, Too

Like the 128MB 9800 Pro, the 256MB card still uses the 0.15 micron process. ATI transitioned to the 0.13 micron process with its mainstream Radeon 9600 line.

One significant difference is that the Radeon 9800 Pro 256MB moves to DDR-2 memory; the 128MB version of the Radeon 9800 Pro uses only normal DDR memory. This gives the newer card its 700-MHz memory clock speed.

"We're being very aggressive about getting these new technologies out," Lundgren says. He notes the Radeon 9800 Pro 256MB board is following the release of the earlier version by only a few months.

The next line of Radeon boards is expected to make a complete transition to the 0.13 micron process. ATI representatives won't say how much memory will be in store with the next step, or how much weight will be given to its importance.

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