RADEON 8500 Real World Performance
Other than pure gaming benchmarks, one of the best ways to determine overall performance, stability and driver compatibility is to take a new card for a test run. This is exactly what we did, and for a full week we used the RADEON 8500 as a primary business and gaming display (dual Win 98/Win 200 boot). This can give you a much clearer view of the hardware that simple benchmarking sometimes misses, as we depended on the RADEON 8500 for everything from watching DVDs to playing online games.
The first thing we found is that the RADEON 8500 is an exceptional 2D card. For basic Windows duties it makes a great choice, with excellent performance and image clarity all around. Whether it was used for manipulating huge image files or scrolling through graphic-laden documents, the RADEON 8500 performed like a real champ. In conversations with ATI it was determined that the 400 MHz RAMDAC is one of the fastest in the business and actually exceeds the capabilities of current desktop monitors.
At higher resolutions like 1600x1200 the ATI advantage shines through, and though both the GeForce2 and GeForce3 are also nice options, the text clarity and color depth of the RADEON 8500 was a bit better. DVD playback is also superb and the RADEON 8500 simply picks up where previous ATI DVD champions left off. About the only complaint we had concerning the 2D aspect of the RADEON 8500 was that it takes a bit longer to come out of sleep mode than other products.
Another area the RADEON 8500 did extremely well in is 2D gaming. I know what you're thinking, that every video card on the market can handle 2D games right? This is simply not true, as playing a high-rez 2D game is still the most likely application to bring your high-end system to its knees. A great example is when the action really heats up in a 2D RPG or Strategy game and you get some screen slowdowns taking place. Some of this is due to the CPU being taxed, but we noticed a real improvement in performance when using the RADEON 8500. It didn't clear them up totally, but it did make playing Icewind Dale and Baldur's Gate a bit more enjoyable.
In terms of 3D gaming, the RADEON 8500 is certainly a powerful option with some seriously high framerates. Performance is still a bit of a mixed bag and it's quite clear that the RADEON 8500 performs very well under Direct3D, while falling off a bit in OpenGL. It has been common knowledge that ATI would like to update the OpenGL piece of the 3D puzzle, and from our viewpoint it does seem to hold the card back from matching its excellent Direct3D framerates. It is also important to note that while most 3D benchmarks are OpenGL, the vast majority of available 3D games are of the Direct3D variety.
This is again a performance-related observation, but how about game compatibility and 3D image quality? While we didn't run the gamut of available 3D games, our initial results were very promising. CounterStrike, Unreal Tournament, Quake 3 and many other popular first-person shooters ran like a knife through butter on the RADEON 8500 and it was difficult to find any issue with overall performance or stability.
Basic game compatibility was also very nice, though we did experience some problems with the initial set of drivers that shipped with the RADEON 8500. The newer revision cleared up some issues, such as the Quake 3 image quality problems, but there are still some niggling problems that remain. Most of these relate to texture problems in games, as you might find slight banding on the stairs in Quake 3, or texture flashing in CounterStrike. Nothing all that serious and we could list similar issues found in several of the NVIDIA driver releases.
Potentially the most noticeable are issues with long-distance 3D images on the RADEON 8500, such as using sniper mode in either CounterStrike or Unreal Tournament. These ranged from very noticeable texture tearing or aliasing problems on stairs and building joints to entire blacked-out polygons where textures should have been. This type of problem is not present with NVIDIA cards and after talking to ATI about it, these could be due to Z-Buffer/Hyper-Z II compression or simply a function of the driver itself.