We've said it before, and we'll say it again, ATi's R8500 has potential. Drawing any definite conclusions is hard at this point, since the drive issue is still looming large, and ATi needs to create some level of comfort for reviewers in this area. Instead of SmoothVision, the driver employs the slower SuperSampling FSAA method and consequently falls noticeably behind the GeForce3 - at least in OpenGL. The Windows XP driver was also far from convincing, causing numerous crashes and offering much lower performance than its Windows 98 counterpart.
This fickle behavior stands in stark contrast to very compelling performance in some cases - Evolva, for example. In the Polygon and Vertex Shader tests of 3DMark2001, the Radeon 8500 is able to clearly outperform Nvidia's youngest offering, the Ti500. In the Nature test it lags behind, though. Finally, the Radeon's performance in Giants is utterly disappointing.
So the race remains exciting - but undecided. While some will rejoice in the knowledge that Nvidia is finally getting some real competition, others will be disappointed by the "incomplete" nature of the ATi drivers. Either way, I'm sure we'll see some interesting debate for some time to come.
ATi is already the uncontested winner in one area, though, and that is feature set. There isn't a single Nvidia card that offers dual display capability of such quality in this performance category.
In the end, what may tip the scales in the Radeon's favor is its aggressive pricing. ATi has announced that the estimated retail price will be $299, making the R8500 a good $50 cheaper than the Ti500, which retails at $349. It remains to be seen whether the street prices will stay at this level or drop even further. Considering the Radeon's good performance, it seems unlikely that the Nvidia card makers will be able to keep the prices of the Ti200 ($199) and the Ti500 ($349) at their current levels.