Skip to main content

ATi Hits Back (Again) with Mid-Range X700 line, Driver Tweak

Radeon X700 Pro Und X700

So far, only the most general technical specifications are available on the X700 and X700 Pro. Neither photographs nor early test samples currently exist. However, a small picture in an ATi presentation suggested that the X700 (standard version) can be cooled passively, meaning without a noisy fan, when used in a case conforming to the new BTX standard.

The technical specifications of the smaller X700s:

Radeon X700 Pro

  • 8 Pixel Pipelines
  • 6 Vertex Pipelines
  • Memory Bus Width: 128 bit
  • Memory Configuration: 128 MB/256 MB
  • Core Frequency: 425 MHz
  • Memory Frequency: 430 MHz (860 DDR)
  • DirectX 9.0b
  • 24 bit Floating Point Precision
  • Price: $199 (256 MB)

Radeon X700

  • 8 Pixel Pipelines
  • 6 Vertex Pipelines
  • Memory Bus Width: 128 bit
  • Memory Configuration: 128 MB
  • Core Frequency: 400 MHz
  • Memory Frequency: 350 MHz (700 DDR)
  • DirectX 9.0b
  • 24 bit Floating Point Precision
  • Price: $149 (128 MB)

Catalyst A.I

Together with the review sample card we also received as beta version of the upcoming Catalyst 4.10 driver suite. It contains a new level of driver optimizations - or, more specifically, performance optimizations - that ATi has grouped together under the A.I. moniker and which can, thankfully, be deactivated.

Here is what ATi has to say about its driver optimizations:

"With CATALYST AI, users enjoy improved levels of performance and all-around better gaming experience on today's top games. These improvements never come at the expense of image quality. With developers creating games in increasingly different ways, it is impossible to have optimal performance on every title. With tools like CATALYST AI, we can better compensate for these variances and improve the gaming experience for our users. In addition, with no unnecessary optimizations applied, games are played the way the developer intended - with optimizations delivered when the application demands it."

Basically, A.I. primarily looks to be classic application detection, meaning that the driver recognizes a certain application or program and then chooses certain parameters or tricks to enhance the performance of the card. One possible application would be to prevent the activation of full-scene anti aliasing in such games that are incompatible with it. Additionally, application detection enables the driver to replace in-game shaders with the company's own customized version. Notably, these procedures have been common in NVIDIA's drivers for quite a while now - and for which NVIDIA was also heavily criticized, at least where shader replacement is concerned.

Both ATi and NVIDIA repeatedly stress that the "optimized" rendered image is indistinguishable from the correctly rendered image. For example, ATi's driver replaces the shader responsible for the lighting in Doom 3 when A.I. is enabled activated. This greatly increases the performance of ATi-based cards in this game. ATi's official stance:

"Catalyst A.I. replaces the Doom3 lighting shader, which is based on a look-up table with a mathematically equivalent lighting shader. This optimization significantly improves performance and renders a mathematically equivalent scene."

What looks like a great and pragmatic idea at first sight gets right to the heart of the shader-replacement problem. ATi speaks of a mathematically equivalent result, not an exactly identical one. The trouble is that only the company in question knows what their definition of "equivalent" is and what the result is in a real-world scenario. Since application detection uses only specific optimizations, i.e. only for certain games, the result can sometimes be more and sometimes less "correct." This makes it impossible to draw any conclusion that would apply to all games.