RADEON 8500 Driver Discussion
When getting into a driver discussion concerning ATI, we need to remember that the RADEON is still a relatively new product without a lot of driver revisions behind it. The issues we noted were of the small and niggling variety and could easily be fixed up with a new release. We didn't find a problem that made us reevaluate the RADEON from a performance or stability perspective, though we do give the NVIDIA Detonator drivers the edge at this time. ATI seems to understand this, and after speaking with their reps on a few occasions, it was made quite clear to us that faster and better driver revisions would be a top priority with the RADEON 8500.
This may sound like a broken record to owners of previous ATI cards, but there are a few very valid reasons to hope that ATI will be heavily committed to future driver development. The first is that we have already witnessed a speedy driver revision from ATI, which cleared up a great many issues and introduced SMOOTHVISION support as well. Future driver revisions have been promised, as has a higher level of commitment to the development process.
Another promising move has been the emergence of ATI as a supplier of OEM video chips. ATI has already announced a large list of RADEON board partners including Gigabyte, FIC, Shuttle, DFI and Power Magic just to name a few. Where this could start paying dividends is that these companies may actually aid ATI in driver development, testing beta revisions, or even recommending new features or driver options.
On the flip side, if ATI drops the ball on drivers, you can be sure these board partners will join the ATI customers in voicing their dissent and putting on the pressure. Once a company becomes a supplier of 3rd-party products, it can yield a closer relationship in all levels of the product development. NVIDIA already enjoys this status through their OEM relationships with high-profile companies like ASUS, Hercules, and ELSA, and allowing 3rd-parties to produce RADEON SE products is a great move on ATI's part.
ATI RADEON 8500 Overclocking
One of the more interesting aspects of the RADEON 8500 architecture is that its retail implementation is actually clocked higher than the initial preview cards. This amounts to a new 275 MHz core speed, compared to the initial 250 MHz rate of the preview editions. It also points to at least some potential gains in R200 chip yields, which may hold some potential overclocking gains as well. The 275 MHz memory speed remains unchanged, as does the memory specifications. As we stated earlier, the RADEON 8500 we received for review included 3.6 ns DDR memory, which roughly translates into a rated 275 MHz (550 MHz DDR) speed.
The first link in the overclocking chain was to see how high the core speed would go. After extensive testing, we found that the highest rate we could maintain was 296 MHz, and even a MHz higher and we experienced eventual problems in 3D games. The final memory speed of 295 MHz we attained came close to this mark.
To provide the most comparable benchmark results, we set both the core and memory to 295 MHz, ran Quake 3 benchmarks, and then switched back to 275/295 and 295/275 core/memory speeds and ran the same tests again. This should not only help us get a good idea on overall performance increases, but gauge whether the core or memory portion holds the most promise for overclocking.
As we can see from the following charts, the basic overclocking percentages rise as the resolution is increased and although both core and memory jumps are close, the higher percentage increase was achieved with the 295 MHz memory overclock.