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ATI's Developer Resources

By this point I've established that the Radeon is both a fully feature graphics card and very fast. It also has plenty of cool new features you can program into your applications.

This doesn't mean much if you couldn't work out how to program the beast, so from a developers point of view its worth looking beyond the actual product and look at the developer support/relations.

ATI directs all of it's support through a sub-section of it's main website - www.ati.com/developer/ - feel free to check it out when you've finished reading this review!

ATI are full aware that for all the funky-new technology they cram onto their graphics boards none of it means anything if developers aren't writing software to use it (no software means that normal people will never see it in action), therefore it's in their best interest to educate and inform as many developers how they can make the best use of available hardware. They achieve this by providing plenty of resources which we can download, read through and experiment with - along with a small handful of tutorials. 

The company also appears to have quite a high-level visibility at the relevent developer conferences - Meltdown, SIGGRAPH etc... and the white papers presented at these events are uploaded to the developer section for us to read (should we not be lucky enough to attend). These papers are not always very good for beginners learning, but it allows us to keep up with the very best effects possible. Given that shader programming a very complicated and precise mathematical and scientific field the top-end effects are often very difficult to understand first time. If you take the time out to learn shaders properly, and get a bit of experience under your belt then it's not such a daunting task.

As well as white papers, tutorials and other documented information, we're provided with a limited number of tools to use, 'ShadeLab' is the tool ATI was promoting on their site (albeit not an in-house developed tool) for experimenting with vertex and pixel shaders. This is most definitely a good tool to get to grips with. Due to OpenGL and Direct3D being fairly independent fixed standards you can use any tool that accesses these common interfaces - including NVidia's 'Effects Browser' should you prefer that. Apart from shader programming tools, ATI provide us with links to download TruForm resources (3DSMax plugins) and some bump-map generating tools and plugins.

The ATI site is not really aimed at teaching you from a beginners level, instead it's a resource for those who know what they're doing - but want access to the latest-and-greatest graphics programming resources. If you're completely new to advanced graphics you're far better looking at the many 100's of other websites on the planet or buying some dedicated books (like either of these two books: first, second).

Conclusion

I've now covered all the major areas - performance, features and support.

The 8500LE that ATI sent me for this review is not the fastest Radeon they produce (others have 25mhz faster cores), and from the results I've seen on other sites this does make a slight difference - but whether that's worth forking out over $100 more is questionable. Whilst I can't confirm or guarantee this, the majority of other benchmarks comparing the Radeon and the GeForce 4 Ti series puts the GeForce ahead in the performance stakes - occupying the top 3 slots on the MadOnion.Com hall of fame (producers of 3DMark2001 / based on the results from 3DMark2001).

However, the Radeon has the edge as far as feature-sets are concerned - the inclusion of version 1.4 pixel shaders in particular. In my opinion, a fully featured graphics card is better from a development point-of-view as it's important to us to cover as many hardware features as possible. And what's the real loss if our personal development machines maybe only hit 70fps instead of 90fps - still perfectly playable, still very high.

Support for the hardware features on the Radeon is good - although due to the independent nature of the D3D and OpenGL specifications, you'll find that the ATI site is more a supplementary site providing a few specific Radeon-Only / Radeon-Optimized tricks.

The big question though, is who will really benefit from upgrading? even paying $150 for the low-end variants will make a significant dent in the wallet of everyone except the stupidly rich! Referring back to my 3 way division of past and present graphics cards - the Radeon is in the 3rd group - anyone in the 1st group looking to upgrade will be absolutely amazed at the performance and features the Radeon will provide you with. People in the 2nd group will appreciate a bit of a speed boost, and will definitely enjoy the ability to program pixel/vertex shaders; but if you've got a top-level GeForce 2 (for example) you may not need to upgrade again just yet - given it probably wasn't too long ago you spent a few hundred on your current card. People lucky enough to be currently in the 3rd group will not really need to jump at this card - even if you have the first iteration (Radeon 7500 / GeForce 3) you will have to be really at the top-of-the-field to appreciate the newer versions of pixel shader and the fill-rate/triangle throughput change is probably going to be fairly negligible.

As a final statement: If you can afford one of these cards, and you are looking to upgrade to the latest and greatest you will most definitely not be disappointed with your purchase.

Good Things Bad Things
Very good all-round feature set for Direct3D 8.1 (according to other sources) not as fast as the competition
Good price : performance ratio's across all variants Possibly still some minor driver issues lurking in the mist
A good choice for developers looking to develop D3D8.1 level graphics As with all graphics cards, it'll be out of date in 6 months, and 'Ancient' within a 18 months.
Good general support from ATI's website  
Reasonably good selection of tools/programs for authoring advanced content  
Generally a very fast card for playing games (should you get bored of working!)  

select a page from the list:
Introduction
Installation, Benchmarks and Programming
ATI's Developer Resources, Conclusion

 

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