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Strike Force: The new ATI Radeon 9800, 9600 and 9200 Series

Conclusion

The Radeon 9800 PRO makes an impressive showing, nullifying the slim lead NVIDIA's FX 5800 Ultra held over the Radeon 9700 PRO. While the newcomer achieves parity with the NVIDIA card in standard tests, it totally dominates the FX 5800 Ultra when it comes to FSAA and anisotropic filtering. Additionally, the ATi cards offer the better FSAA/ aniso implementation in our comparison. It remains to be seen whether this will change with future driver updates from NVIDIA. We'll take a closer look at image quality on both cards as soon as we have WHQL (or final) drivers for these cards.

In addition to its more compact design (single-slot solution) and its simpler (and much quieter) cooler, the Radeon 9800 PRO is also much faster than the FX 5800 Ultra in all important disciplines (FSAA, anisotropic filtering) and offers the best image quality with those features enabled. If you're looking for the fastest 3D accelerator currently available, the Radeon 9800 PRO is your chip. This doesn't make the GeForceFX 5800 Ultra a bad product by any means, but the leadership is once again firmly in ATi's hands.

Owners of a Radeon 9700 PRO need not worry, though. Their card has not suddenly become obsolete because of the Radeon 9800 PRO. While there is a difference between the two, it isn't a dramatic one, and certainly nowhere near enough to justify an upgrade, in our opinion.

We'd be harder pressed to make any recommendations on the Radeon 9500's successor, the 9600 PRO. Judging from the specs, it looks like the 4x1 design will probably be slower than the older 9500 with its 8x1 design, despite the clock speed advantage (400 MHz vs. 275 MHz). We will only be able to answer that conclusively once we have a review sample, though.

Don't hold your breath for any surprises where the Radeon 9200 is concerned, however. This chip offers nothing new over its predecessor, aside from an AGP8x interface.

The way it looks, the mainstream segment promises to stay interesting for a while yet, especially considering that NVIDIA is set to launch its own mainstream products, based on the GeForceFX technology. Stay tuned for more!