ATI is the current king of the video card world having taken the world by storm last year with the release of the Radeon 9700. Instantly, ATI was transported to the top of the video card mountain and has stayed there with the release of the 9800 earlier this year. Unfortunately, not everyone can shell out $400 every couple of months to get a top of the line card. Some of us have car payments, house payments, and girlfriends to take out so we can’t afford to blow $400 to keep up with the Jonses. ATI has heard our cry and has replaced the Radeon 8500 with the Radeon 9000. For this review, I will be covering the All in Wonder (AIW) version of the Radeon 9000 Pro.
The Pro version of the 9000 has a slightly higher clock speed (the engine clock speed is 275 MHz instead of 250 MHz, the memory runs at 550 MHz instead of 500 MHz) and the Pro adds a DVI instead of the VGA output (it comes with a DVI to VGA connection if you’re not blessed with a DVI capable flat panel), and video output. The card I had came with 64 MB of DDR RAM but ATI does list a 128MB version on their site.
The AIW version tosses in a lot of goodies including video inputs and outputs (RCA connections, an S-video connection, and a coaxial cable connection). ATI also tosses in some decent video editing and encoding software so you can unleash your inner David Fincher. What’s nice about the coaxial connection is that you can plug your TV cable connection right into the card and utilize the built in TV tuner to watch TV on your desktop. Included with each card is a subscription to TV Guide+, which allows you to download the TV listings into your PC, and to use your PC as a TIVO (more on this later).
The final piece of the package is the inclusion of an ATI Remote Wonder (which I reviewed here
. It’s a nice touch and really adds to the value of the package as the Remote Wonder alone goes for $50.Installing the card is fairly easy. Just pull out your old card, install the new one, install some drivers and you’re up and running. A quick trip to the ATI site held the pleasant surprise of an updated version of the ATI Multimedia Center (MMC) software. The new software adds some nice functionality to the Remote Wonder as well as fixing some other little problems. The only beef here is that you need to be careful to install the software in the right order or you’ll have to start from scratch, which isn’t a lot of fun.
Once you have the card installed and running, it’s easy to hook the ATI into your media center. The card comes with two sets of cables (input and output) that you need to hook into your card. Once you have everything hooked in you simply load up the software, tell it what inputs to pull from, and you’re off and running. Overall, the installation took me about 50 minutes start to finish.
The card does support ATI’s Hydravision (multiple displays) but with all of the AIW goodness on the card there wasn’t room to put two VGA outputs. You can output to a monitor and to a TV using the included outputs but it’s not quite the same as being able to use two monitors.
The rest of the ATI software is pretty standard stuff and works very well with the card. You have applications to control the TV tuner, a DVD Player, MP3 player, and a TV recording application. Personally, I prefer the interface of Windows Media Player 9 but that’s just my druthers. Your mileage may vary and the ATI interface is certainly good enough for most people and is very intuitive. On boot-up, the ATI menu bar loads up on the right side
The TV software is particularly well done and once you get all of the settings in navigation is pretty easy. There is one limit to the TV tuner and it’s not on the ATI side. If you have a cable box, you may not be able to get all of the channels in through the tuner since some cable companies require the cable box to descramble some channels (HBO, Showtime, digital cable channels). The best way to test for this is to just plug your TV directly into the wall and see what channels you get. As with the DVD/VCD player, you can run the TV in the background as your wallpaper or even set it to a light transparency so it’s always running in the background. While it can be a little distracting, it’s actually a semi-useful function since you can kind of watch TV while you work on something else. I didn’t notice much of a performance hit while doing this and that’s a good thing.
As I mentioned earlier you can use the included software bundle to tape your favorite TV shows while you are out, you just have to remember to leave your PC on. The system uses TV Guide + and ATI gives you a free subscription (normally around $15 or so a month). The software is easy to use and finding your shows isn’t that hard to do once you get used to the search feature. It’s not as clean as the systems used by TIVO and ReplayTV but they get the job done. You can record to the proprietary ATI format, MPG, or AVI and the system does allow you to convert from one to another so if you want to pass around your copies of Buffy there isn’t a problem with CODEC’s.
Once again, the Remote Wonder shines,. ATI did a great job of building all of the critical functions into the remote. There is one note of caution though and that is that you really don’t want to have more than one of these in the house since there isn’t a mechanism for having multiple channels for the remotes. With the great range of the Remote Wonder it’s possible for someone on the other side of the house to control the volume, close applications, and what not without knowing what they are doing (which can really spoil a game of Battlefield 1942 for those on the receiving end).
For the test, I installed the card on my trusty Dell Dimension 4100 (1 GHz processor, 512 MB of RAM) and put it up against two Nvidia cards (John keeps all of the high end ATI cards to himself). The two competitors are a GeForce2 GTS with 64MB of DDR RAM and a Geforce4 TI 4400 with 128 MB of DDR RAM.
For the benchmarks, I ran the tried and true 3dMark 2001 tests as well as running the HardOCP
Unreal Tournament 2003 benchmark tests.
As you can see, the ATI Card comes in right in the middle of the pack on the 3dMark test which is where I expected it to come in. The big surprise (for me at least) was how well the card did on the Unreal Tournament 2003 tests.
While it did as about what I expected with the High quality textures, you can see that it did very well on the Low Quality textures tests. I wonder if the 128 MB version of the card would have surpassed on the Lower Quality textures and been more competitive on the high quality texture test but either way it did very well against a card with twice the memory in it.
At the end of the day, the Radeon All in Wonder 9000 Pro
is a jack-of-all-trades and master of some. The card is a great fit for a media PC that does some double duty as a gaming card. I can almost recommend it as a pure gaming card but you might be better served saving your sheckles for a 9700 or 9800. ATI does give you a lot for your money (especially if you factor in the Remote Wonder
[$50] and the TV Guide + subscription[$15 per month]). ATI is also committed to continuing to update both the drivers and the software package that goes with their cards.