A Problem Plagued Product Launch - A Day In The Life Of A Hardware Tester
Our test of the X700 was accompanied by a number of problems. As has been the case several times in the past, we received our review sample at a very late date. Our testing was further complicated by the fact that ATi had overlooked a bug in the new Catalyst Control Center (CCC), which caused all tests that were supposed to run with anisotropic filtering forced on to be run with only bilinear filtering. The upshot was that all of our scores turned out to be much too high.
Luckily, we chose not to install the new CCC driver menu with .NET on our testing system, opting instead for the classic control panel application which is still available. Since the aforementioned bug only occurred in conjunction with the CCC, all of the results we had recorded retained their validity. This advantage turned into quite the opposite when we found out about ATi's new A.I. performance optimizations present in the new CCC two days before the product launch - and after we had already completed our benchmark runs! The old control panel does not feature either sliders or a deactivation function for these new optimizations. Since ATi had neglected to inform us about the A.I. functionality in the bustle before the launch, we only found out about it very late in our testing process - too late, as it turned out, to conduct extensive image quality tests and comparisons. Unfortunately, ATi was also unable to tell us on short notice whether the A.I. optimizations implemented in the new driver were still present and active in the configuration we tested (with the old Control Panel) - which would decide whether our results are comparable or not. For a long time, we were also uncertain what amount of optimization was taking place where. After lots of experimentation with the CCC installed, it turned out that the values we had determined are correspond to those of the A.I. setting "low," which is the default setting for ATi's driver with the CCC installed.
The rule, not the exception: Instead of final retail boards, the manufacturers often send very early prototypes or engineering samples. Although the PCB of the X700 XT review sample looks quite literally bent out of shape, we didn't encounter any problems during our testing. The reason for its...curvature remains unknown.
Product launches of such a chaotic nature have become more and more frequent and are not specific to ATi's products. More and more quasi-finished products with untested drivers and incomplete documentations reach our testing labs at the last minute - usually just before the weekend with a launch date next Monday or Tuesday. Despite all these delays and the unfinished drivers, the companies nonetheless insist on sticking to their set launch date, even to the detriment of their product. As a result, when problems do crop up - and they usually do - there's nobody available to ask for help or information... It's the weekend, after all, and everybody's home...