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The Source for Mac Performance News and Reviews

Review: ATI's Retail Radeon AGP Graphics Card
By Mike Breeden
Published: 10/16/2000

Hardware Featues and Specifications
Intro | 2D Performance | 3D Performance | Game Performance | Video/DVD | Software/TV Controls | Specifications
Card Layout

Retail Radeon Card
(image courtesy of ATI)

A closer look at the Radeon's ports:
Retail Radeon ports

The photo above of the card edge shows output ports on the retail Radeon graphics card. Included in the box is a S-Video to Composite video adapter (for VCR or TV composite video) as well as a Mac/VGA adapter for owners of older monitors with Mac (dual row 15-pin) connectors.

The monitor ports include both DVI (digital LCD connector) as well as a standard VGA monitor port. As with other cards, only one monitor port can be used at a time. I.E.: you can't drive a DVI LCD and a VGA monitor at the same time. (The Apple store BTO Radeon doesn't have DVI, instead using Apple's new ADC monitor connector.) For owners of previous model Cinema displays or 15" LCD DVI displays the retail card's support for these is a plus. (I plan on replacing my OEM Radeon with a retail card just for this reason). Since ADC is new and only Apple's latest monitors have that interface, I doubt there will be many ADC monitors to choose from at other than the Apple store for some time, so the choice of DVI over ADC is a smart one for the retail market in my opinion. (Adding ADC with its 28 Volt and USB connections would add cost and complexity to the card that is not needed for 99.999999999% of Mac owners.)


Display Modes: (Availablility will depend on your monitor's ability to support these resolutions). The following is a list of resolutions shown as supported along with the maximum refresh rate at that resolution. There are several wide-screen modes listed.

  • 512x384 - 70Hz
  • 640x480 - 120Hz
  • 640x870 - 75Hz
  • 800x600 - 120Hz
  • 832x624 - 75Hz
  • 1024x768 - 120Hz
  • 1152x870 - 120Hz
    (note: Box has typo listing 1152x864 mode)
  • 1280x960 - 75Hz
  • 1280x1024 - 120Hz (box lists 85hz max)
  • 1600x1024 - 76Hz (Cinema display native res.)
  • 1600x1200 - 85Hz
  • 1792x1344 - 75Hz
  • 1856x1392 - 75Hz
  • 1920x1080 - 85Hz
  • 1920x1200 - 85Hz
  • 1920x1440 - 75Hz

Maximum 3D Modes Supported
Color Depth
Max Resolution
(32MB card)
65K colors (16-bit)
16.7M (32-bit)

Note: Maximum 3D resolution and colors supported with specified memory using double buffered settings and z-buffer. ATI notes 2D & 3D resolution and refresh rates are subject to change.

Remember to check your monitor's specs for its support for resolutions and refresh rates. With DDC monitor sensing available modes will vary depending on the attached display.

(The following info is from ATI's Radeon info regarding the card's specifications and features.)

"RADEON's Charisma Engine provides features that make 3D characters and environments look and behave believably. It includes high performance, versatile support in hardware for transformation, clipping and lighting (TCL) calculations. This reduces CPU workload and allows 3D scenes to contain more polygons and more complex lighting than any competing technology. The Charisma Engine is also the only available engine that accelerates advanced features like 4-matrix vertex skinning and key frame interpolation.

The Pixel Tapestry Architecture includes features that add detail to an image, such as reflections and shadows, without compromising performance. This unique architecture supports a wide array of versatile features like single pass multitexturing with 3 textures, 3D textures, bump mapping (emboss, dot product 3 and environment mapped), texture transformations, priority buffer support, shadow mapping, and range-based fog. Since these features can be enabled without impacting frame rates, they can be used more extensively to increase the realism of 3D scenes.

RADEONtm Video Immersion technology advances ATI's leadership in digital video with exciting new features, including on-chip motion compensation, run-level decode, de-zigzag and IDCT hardware acceleration of MPEG-2. The RADEONtm also features 8-bit per-pixel alpha blending of video and graphics, 4x4-tap filtered scaling, hardware subpicture acceleration, per-pixel de-interlacing and the ability to directly drive component video. RADEONtm incorporates advanced video technology inherited from ATI's video-oriented set-top box and consumer electronics products. "

The Charisma Enginetm
ATI says the Radeon graphics processor can perform complex transformation, clipping, and lighting calculations faster than any CPU or 3D graphics chip on the market they say. It also adds innovative new features such as 4-matrix vertex skinning and keyframe interpolation that give game developers more freedom and flexibility than ever before. (Remember this will require game code support of course.)

About Hardware Transformation, Clipping & Lighting (TCL)
The Radeon's hardware support for TCL is designed to offload the main CPU from these tasks. In the current OpenGL 1.1.5, Transform and Clipping are supported (Quake3 also supports them I'm told). Hardware Lighting support is promised in a future driver/OpenGL update. (Note: Quake3 uses Carmack's own lighting routines and does not support hardware lighting.) Currently there are no Mac games that support hardware lighting but that may change in the future, esp. with Apple shipping Radeons as BTO options (the logic is that the more cards out there that support a feature, the more likely game developers will add support for it.)

Pixel Tapestrytm
The Radeon's Pixel Tapestrytm architecture supports three-way multi-texturing without compromising speed (3 textures per pixel in a single clock cycle).

These features are not only for games, but 3D applications can also benefit. Lightwave 3D v6 is one 'pro' application that uses OpenGL and should benefit from the Radeon's hardware features. (6.1 update is due soon I hear with perhaps other optimizations/support.)

The idea behind an advanced on-card graphics processor is to offload the CPU as much as possible to allow it to spend more time sending triangles and data rather than doing calculations that the graphics card can handle more efficiently (faster). ATI also notes because the graphical calculations are done in hardware, they need only be dealt with at a high level through an application interface like OpenGL, saving the developer the time and effort required to write and optimize code to process the calculations. (Ideally then they can devote more of their attention to other aspects of the game.)

Finally, ATI claims that the Radeon accelerates more features than any existing hardware T&L engine was well as fastest geometry processing unit (GPU) on the market today and the first to use acceleration for advanced character animation features. The Radeon's Charisma Enginetm supports full transformation, clipping and lighting (T&L) at 30 million triangles/second processing capability.

Features Comparison: (from the ATI Radeon Specs/docs)

ATI Feature Comparison

  1. Fill Rates: The Textel Fill Rate of the Radeon card based on its capability of up to 3 textures per pixel in a single clock cycle. With the capability of 3 textures per pixel with the Radeon, the theoretical Textel rate would be 333.33333... MegaPixel fill rate (166MHz DDR ram = 333MHz effective clock rate) times 3 textures/pixel = appx 1 GigaTextel/sec. Some original fill rate specs were based on a 200MHz DDR RAM/clock rate (400Mhz effective rate times 3 textures/clock = 1.2GigaTextels/sec).

  2. FSAA: Current not enabled in the Radeon drivers, but to be included in a future update, the Radeon's FSAA may only be usable (playable) at 2xFSAA settings due to the card's fill rate. Even 3dfx's Voodoo5 (with higher pure fill rate) can't deliver 4xFSAA performance smoothly enough for many games (other than titles like Pod Racer). Another note worth mentioning is that 3dfx's FSAA is generally considered superior in image quality to any other card due to their unique method and t-buffer. (More info on that is here.)

    Until the Radeon's FSAA is enabled, it's impossible to say how well it will look. But talks with their 3d programmer noted that 2xFSAA will put appx. 1.4x the load per resolution on the card, so a rough estimate would be that 640x480 2xFSAA framerates (performance) would be a bit better than 1024x768 non-FSAA framerates. (This is just a rough estimate however.)

Hardware Specifications

ATI Mac Radeon AGP Specifications:

  • Graphics Engine: Radeontm graphics chip clocked at 166MHz
    (4xAGP capable, Mac AGP currently 2x)
  • 32-Bit 3D Engine/32-Bit Z-Buffer support
  • 350MHz RAMDAC
  • 32 MB DDR (Double Data Rate) SDRAM
       (memory clock 166MHz x2 for DDR = 333MHz)
  • MPEG, Quicktime, Quickdraw 3D/RAVE and OpenGL acceleration
    (Note: QT acceleration best with Indeo or Cinepak codec movies. Scaling movies at exact 2x sizes will revert to software acceleration mode)
  • Resolutions (max): up to 1920x1440 @75Hz (see above for full list)
  • VGA and DVI Monitor Connectors
    (Full screen scaling on DVI displays)
  • Max 3D resolutions: 1920x1440 (16bit), 1600x1200 (32bit)
  • 5 Year Warranty


  • Apple G4 Tower system with AGP graphics card slot.
    (PCI version due at a later date)
  • OS 9 or higher
  • Quicktime 3.0 or higher
  • Quickdraw 3D v1.5.4 or higher
  • OpenGL 1.1.5 or higher (supplied on CD)

    For more information and the latest info on the Radeon Mac Edition - see the ATI Mac Radeon product page and Radeon FAQ. (NOTE: links removed in 2003 after they no longer worked. See for latest product models/info.)

    Application and Game requirements will vary as far as CPU and memory requirements. For best results with modern 3D games like Quake3 and Unreal Tournament, I consider 128MB RAM a minimum, 256MB RAM or more recommended for modern 3D games and applications.

Index of RetaiI Radeon AGP Review

Intro | 2D Performance | 3D Performance | Game Performance | Video/DVD | Software/TV Controls | Specifications

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