ATI has been on an unprecedented run of late, and everything the company touches seems to turn to gold. The Radeon 9700 Pro remains a top-end pick for performance gaming, the Radeon 9500 Pro is a super mid-range product, and ATI stands alone with the exceptional All-in-Wonder Radeon 9700 Pro, which combines 3D power with all the multimedia bells and whistles. Even their much-maligned driver program has been rejuvenated under the Catalyst brand name, and has helped ATI immensely in this area.
There have been many rumors swirling concerning ATI's future plans, most specifically the R350 core and exactly how far this will extend their performance advantage. A 0.13-micron core, enhanced features, ultra-fast core speeds, DDR-II memory and other specifications have been making the rounds since news of the R350 cards first leaked out. Some of these may have been a bit premature, and ATI's Radeon 9800 Pro is simply more of the same, only faster, with enhanced features and software support. As you'll see in the benchmark section, this by no means a backhanded compliment.
In addition to the Radeon 9800 Pro we'll be reviewing, ATI also announced two other products that will be filling the mid-range and entry-level sectors. Of course, the Radeon 9800-based cards are the big news, as these are expected to replace the current Radeon 9700 brand for the enthusiast and performance markets. These will ship in three distinct configurations: the Radeon 9800 Pro ($399) and the Radeon 9800 (lower clock speed - $349) 128-MB boards are due in March, while a special 256-MB version of the Radeon 9800 Pro will debut in April.
For the mid-range buyer, ATI offers two new models: the Radeon 9600 Pro and the standard Radeon 9600. These cards are positioned to replace the current Radeon 9500-based products with the mainstream market, with a real shift in architecture and design. The Radeon 9500 Pro shared the same core as the Radeon 9700 cards, but the new Radeon 9600 cards feature a quad-pipe RV350 core, and will be ATI's first on 0.13-micron.
Due to this architectural shift, which looks very similar to the old Radeon 8500/7500 hierarchy, the clock speeds will be 400 MHz core/600 MHz DDR memory for the Radeon 9600 Pro, and 325 MHz core/400 MHz DDR memory for the Radeon 9600. The Radeon 9600 Pro ($169-$199) and Radeon 9600 ($149-$169) cards will begin shipping in April.
At the entry level, ATI will be introducing the Radeon 9200, which replaces the Radeon 9000 for the entry-level, and should hit the street in the price range of $79-$149 - depending on the memory (64-MB/128-MB) and Radeon 9200 Pro/Radeon 9200 configurations. This looks to be an AGP 8X revision of the Radeon 9000 Pro, but we'll have to wait and see exactly what ATI has in mind.