Best Buys: ATI Radeon 9800Pro based graphics cards

Hercules 3D Prophet 9800Pro

Physical description and specifications: the Hercules ProphetView 9800Pro is a high-end AGP 8X card without the fancy cooling wizardry found in the top of the line nVidia boards. It instead relies on a heatsink and fan combination to cool the main chip, and individual heatsinks to cool the memory chips. The heatsinks are made out of copper and the striking blue circuit board goes well with the blue light the relatively silent fan emits -- so those with windowed PC cases will not be disappointed.

The card features ATI's 9800Pro chip, which improves on clock speed from the 9700Pro chip by running at 380MHz rather than 325MHz. Its performance scores show a definite improvement too. It has 128MB of DDR memory, which enables large displays to benefit from resolutions up to 2048 by 1536 (at an 85Hz refresh rate). Shading and antialiasing features that aim to improve image quality while maintaining performance are also featured and Direct X 9.0 is fully supported -- so when games that support this API (application programming interface) are released the 9800Pro will be able to take full advantage of these features.

In terms of connectivity, the mounting bracket of the card has an analogue VGA port in addition to a DVI interface and TV out is featured as well. The card's powerful processor requires supplementary power to be connected via a standard hard drive-type connector.

Package contents: the inclusion of a TV out port allows your computer output to be directed to a TV or video device through the bundled S-Video and RCA cables. Up to two monitors can be connected via the analogue VGA and DVI ports of the card and a DVI to analogue VGA adapter is also included in the package. For the asking price of $999, you will also get a full version game, which happens to be Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield, a first person shooter game.

Driver features: using the latest standard Catalyst drivers from ATI, the Hercules 3D Prophet 9800Pro offers all the functionality you need for tweaking OpenGL and Direct3D settings as well as for configuring multiple display setups.

Performance: this card's performance speaks for itself. It was the fastest card in all tests -- except for the Quake III tests, where the Leadtek WinFast A300 TD Ultra beat it. It excelled at higher resolutions and this was shown in the Unreal tests. The amount of heat generated from the heatsinks was about the same as the high-end GeForceFX 5800-based cards, staying stable at 46 degrees.

Target user: if you're set on spending around $1000 on your PC graphics hardware then you can't go wrong with this card. It has the fastest performance of all consumer graphics cards that we have seen to date, and its support for future Direct X 9.0-based games means that it should provide a solid backbone for years to come. Enthusiasts with modified PC cases will appreciate the aesthetic effort that Hercules has put into this model. However, make sure your system has a 300-watt power supply before splurging on this card.

Price: $999
Distributor: BCN Technology
Phone: (02) 9648 0888

To view the complete list of our graphics cards reviews, check out the PC World test results table.

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