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Digital-Daily : Video : ati-radeon9800se

ATI Radeon 9800SE Video Card Review

Date: 08.01.2004

By: Aleksey Burdyko

The emergence of 3D flagships like ATI Radeon 9800 Pro and NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900 Ultra (and even their renewed "overclocked" versions of the mentioned chips ATI Radeon 9800 XT and NVIDIA GeForce FX 5950 Ultra) couldn't help provoking the emergence of cut-down solutions built on the base of generic Hi-end, which is simply beyond means for many. But nowadays we can witness an increasing popularity of DirectX 9.0 games, so you can't agree with the latter statement, unless you are an inveterate fancier of "mine-sweeper" who does not care about those Doom's of the third series or Half-Lives 2. This is quite natural both in terms of economy and marketing as well as technology since modern technologies of graphic chips manufacture imply a certain amount of defective articles, and which can be put to use through applying some cunning tricks.

It's quite a different thing when the release of cut-down solutions in fact is not sanctioned by the chips manufacturer. If you look into ATI's website, you won't find even a mention of the chip Radeon 9800SE among the currently available Radeon solutions. "Why so?" - the user will ask. Isn't the chip of ATI's or shouldn't it be responsible for that? All that would have been that way but only if it concerned the chip produced from process-rejected R350 chips sent for the manufacture of Radeon 9800 Pro video cards. Things about that are more tickling than it may seem at first glance. That's why ATI looks like it is not to blame for that. All the operations of manufacturing video boards on the base of the Radeon 9800SE chip are handed over to the partners themselves. Of course, that couldn't help provoking the partners themselves to make more cunning tricks with boards bearing the Radeon 9800SE name. This is why there are two (even three) retail versions of boards on the base of the Radeon 9800SE chip, which (as our tests will tell) offer radically differing performance at the same retail price. There is a definite mix-up and mishmash for the end users who wish to buy a board of the "a-little-bit-lower-than-the-hi-end" level =)" but can't do that simply because ATI partners start fitting culled ATI R350 chips on various PCB. So, what do we get in the upshot? Below, we'll try to sort out which boards are there to date on the market and how to identify it by eye what sort of a product we got.

Radeon 9800SE: Background...

First of all, let's remember how such chips like Radeon 9800SE come into the world and what potentials (and the related problems =) ) such boards offer.

And the possibility of emergence of such chips like ATI Radeon 9800SE is embedded in the technology for the manufacture of graphics chips. In the production process, there come up chips that are unable to run at the intended frequencies. For instance, this is how the ATI Radeon 9800 appeared that runs at speeds reduced relatively to ATI Radeon 9800 Pro. However, there exists another kind of production flaws when the chip is able running at the intended frequencies but in so doing one of the rendering pipelines fails instead. In this case, to make these cores be of use in the production, half the core is disabled (i.e. half of the rendering pipelines become inactive) and then they start making graphic boards with such a chip. Since the chip was originally manufactured for operation with the full number of pipelines (for the R350, their number is 8) and physically there are just 8 pipelines, with 4 are disabled programmatically, then "great folk craftsmen" get a real opportunity to switch on the disabled pipelines back programmatically. Then we'll review all the aspects of the software re-making of Radeon 9800SE into full-featured ATI Radeon 9800 Pro, with a small reservation though. Clearly, the re-make does not give you a 100% functional board, since if it is culled for Radeon 9800SE boards, then the chip ALREADY has a flaw in one of the rendering pipelines. Sure you won't see anything much after the re-make, but nevertheless the flaw will anyway come out. The thing is even chips of minimum "deviations" are subject to culling, and the lucky owners can anyway get a board which after re-making will behave in the "right" way, and of course things may turn unlucky and the chip will fail to operate properly.

Nevertheless, the prospect of getting an ATI Radeon 9800 Pro out of an ATI Radeon 9800SE "for free" will be saddened by the mess among ATI partners, which we mentioned in the beginning of the review. ATI let its partners "loose" and handed the design of boards with defective R350 chips over to the manufacturers. Originally, the culled R350 chips were to be installed on PCBs of Radeon 9700 Pro and offer a 256-bit memory exchange interface. That's the way some video cards manufacturers followed. But then there appeared the idea of making the boards on the base of ATI Radeon 9800SE cheaper due to installation of the already culled R350 chip onto the simpler PCB of ATI Radeon 9500 Pro with the 128-bit memory exchange interface. Reduction of production costs was attained, but that did not imply lower retail prices for the boards, which are missing in the retail. The memory bus width was not indicated on boxes, so the users in fact were buying a "pig in a poke". It is absolutely clear that in the latter case you won't get a full-featured ATI Radeon 9800 Pro out of ATI Radeon 9800SE through enabling extra 4 rendering pipelines because the memory bandwidth restricted to 128 bit will hinder, but which should be equal to 256 bit the way it is in the full-featured ATI Radeon 9800 Pro. After re-make you won't get an ATI Radeon 9800 Pro but something that ATI marketing people are still unaware of - a board whose performance is well behind that of ATI Radeon 9800 Pro.

So, how to tell ATI Radeon 9800SE boards apart? In practice, the PCB designs of ATI Radeon 9700 Pro and ATI Radeon 9500 Pro are very easy to distinguish, so below we are presenting sort of a brief guide on how to tell the "right" and "wrong" ATI Radeon 9800SE apart:

PowerColor Radeon 9800SEATI Radeon 9700 Pro

PowerColor Radeon 9800SEATI Radeon 9700 Pro

To the left, there is a photo of a PowerColor Radeon 9800SE board. To the right, there is a photo of the ATI Radeon 9700 Pro reference board. As we see, both the boards are absolutely identical by the PCB design, that is the PowerColor Radeon 9800SE is a "right" board based on the Radeon 9800SE after the re-make of which we can get an ATI Radeon 9800 Pro.

And this is how the reference design of the ATI Radeon 9500 Pro looks:

ATI Radeon 9500 ProATI Radeon 9500 Pro

All this reasoning implies that Radeon 9800SE boards built on this PCB can be regarded "wrong" =) merely because of the 128-bit memory bus.

In practice, it's not difficult to distinguish the PCB designs used for the manufacture of both versions of Radeon 9800 SE. As a reference, take the positioning of the memory chips. The memory chips on the PCB of Radeon 9700 Pro are positioned in pairs around the graphics chip, while the PCB of ATI Radeon 9500 Pro chips provides that the memory chips be positioned in line under the graphic chip.


  • Background
  • Software re-make
  • Radeon 9800SE 256/128-bit Video Cards
  • Synthetic benchmarks
  • Gaming benchmarks
  • Image Quality. Final Words

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