Ati 8500le: ATI Radeon 8500 LE Specs

Hercules’ 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE graphics card

Manufacturer Hercules
Model 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE
Price US$140
Availability Now

THE RADEON 8500’S RELATIONSHIP with the enthusiast community got off to a rocky start. First there was the initial clock speed debacle at the card’s release, and who can forget the shady driver optimizations that killed image quality for performance in Quake III Arena? At last year’s Comdex, ATI made a commitment to improve, and we’re starting to see some changes. For one, we’re just starting to see more frequent official and “unsupported” driver releases. ATI has also been a lot more forthcoming about the clock speeds of its retail and OEM products.

Hercules, on the other hand, has always done quite well with the enthusiast community. Last year, we were quite taken with their Kyro II-based 3D Prophet 4500, an excellent mid-range graphics solution at the time. NVIDIA can’t have been happy with Hercules for its use of the Imagination Technologies Kyro II chip. Now Hercules has turned to ATI for the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE, which features ATI’s Radeon 8500LE graphics chipset.

The Hercules 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE is easily the highest profile third-party Radeon offering to date. What happens when Hercules and ATI, two Canadian companies, get into bed together? Do the socks stay on? Let’s find out.

The card
It’s a little odd to see a Canadian graphics card, built with a Canadian graphics chip, on a blue PCB. Blue has been Hercules’ color for a while now, but in this case, the patriot in me wishes they had a red and white version. I can only hope Hercules will come out with some sort of tricked-out limited edition card. *nudge nudge*

Hercules: obsessed with the color blue

It looks like heat sinks for memory chips aren’t going to be making it to mid-range cards like the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE. The lack of memory chip cooling may limit your overclocking, but you’ll be more constrained by the card manufacturer’s memory chip choice than anything else.

Half the RAM goes on the back of the card

When graphics cards had only 32MB of memory, it was easy to fit it all on one side of the PCB. Now, with 64MB cards permeating even the low end of the performance spectrum, almost everyone is putting RAM chips on both sides of their graphics cards.

DVI, VGA, and S-Video outputs grace the backplane

Hercules gives you plenty of output choices with the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE. There are S-Video, VGA, and DVI outputs. ATI’s new Hydravision multi-monitor utility is apparently quite flexible, but the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE’s multi-monitor potential is limited by its single RAMDAC. You can run multiple outputs by using the available backplane connectors, but I was a little disappointed that you can’t throw a DVI-to-VGA adapter on the DVI output and run two analog monitors.

Hynix chips rated to 250MHz

The 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE’s DDR memory chips are made by Hynix, and the chips on our review sample are only rated up to 250MHz. Speaking of which, oddly enough, Hercules doesn’t have any other high end ATI-based cards, like a full-blown Radeon 8500. Could more ATI-based Prophets be coming?

Full disclosure, sort of

As you may recall, there was a bit of confusion surrounding the core clock speeds of retail, OEM, and third-party ATI Radeon 8500 cards. Hercules tries to alleviate some of this confusion with some very clear box art that tells you exactly what the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE’s core clock speed is. You’ll notice, however, that there’s no mention of the memory clock speed. More on that later.

Rage Theater for the S-Video output

ATI’s Rage Theater chip handles the TV output, and its picture quality is almost as good as the quality of the picture I was able to snap of the chip. (Quite good to my eyes, in other words.)

 

How’s that fan?
Processor overclocking is so popular it’s almost passe. Well, almost. The next target for enthusiasts looking to ramp up their hardware has been the graphics processor, making the GPU heat sink/fan very important.

Oddly enough, there’s also a camp of enthusiasts that desire their PCs to be as quiet as possible. Silence often means passive cooling or low-RPM fans, neither of which agree with overclocking.

The translucent blue fan looks pretty trick

Hercules specs a tiny Orb-inspired heat sink on the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE, with a translucent blue fan. The setup certainly looks cool, but the heat sink seems far too diminutive to be able to do much in the way of cooling. We’ll get into exactly how well it works later in the review.

There’s no RPM-rating for the Hercules fan, but it’s barely audible when you have a standard processor fan running.

A generous dab of goop keeps the heat sink locked to the GPU

Like it or not, you’re pretty much stuck with the heat sink/fan that Hercules gives you with the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE, because Hercules glues the heat sink right onto the GPU; it would take a brave soul with a screwdriver to pry it off. I would far rather see Hercules go with a removable pin, or even screw-mounted heat sink here. At least then you’re left with the option of switching the stock cooling for something more silent, or something that’s going to cool the GPU more effectively.

A removable heat sink would have at least let me check Hercules’ thermal compound application, which I can only assume is ample given the goo oozing out from under the heat sink.

 

The specs
Theoretical performance might not always translate into real-world frame rates, but it’s worth taking a look at how the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE’s paper specs stack up against the competition.

The box tells us that the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE conforms to ATI’s spec of a 250MHz core clock speed for the Radeon 8500LE GPU. With four pixel pipelines, the 8500LE is right up there with the GeForce3 Ti 500 in terms of its theoretical fill rate. In fact, the 8500LE’s fill rate just surpasses that of the Ti 500 because of its 10MHz clock speed advantage.

Memory bandwith is where the bottleneck is for graphics cards today; what does the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE have on paper?

Remember that the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE’s box art didn’t specify a memory clock speed? There’s a reason. Although ATI specifies that the 8500LE’s DDR memory run at 250MHz, our 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE’s memory ran at only 238MHz. I emailed Hercules to see what was up, and apparently they’ve had some problems with motherboard compatibility with the card’s memory running at 250MHz. Hercules is working on a slightly different board design to alleviate the problem, but they’ve lowered the memory clock a little for now.

Even with a slight loss in memory clock speed, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE still has an impressive amount of memory bandwith to play with. Though just a mid-range card, it’s right up there with the GeForce3 Ti 500 again.

Our testing methods
As ever, we did our best to deliver clean benchmark numbers. All tests were run three times, and the results were averaged.

When we were conducting testing, the newest official NVIDIA drivers were the 23.11s, so we used those for our comparative testing. The e-GeForce4 MX 440 came with the 27.20 driver set on its installation CD, and we tested the card with those drivers. The 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE was tested with its shipping drivers, which correspond to ATI’s 6.13 release. Yes, I know that ATI and NVIDIA both have newer drivers out, and you’ll be seeing those updated drivers appearing in future reviews. This is what we’ve got for now.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

  • MadOnion 3DMark 2001SE
  • Vulpine GLMark
  • VillageMark 1.17
  • Quake III Arena 1.30
  • Serious Sam v1.02
  • SPECviewperf 6.1.2

The test system’s Windows desktop was set at 1024×768 in 32-bit color at a 75Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests. Most of the 3D gaming tests used the high detail image quality settings in 32-bit color.

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

 

3DMark 2001 SE
3DMark 2001 SE makes a good comparative test of DirectX 8.1 performance.

ATI and Hercules are quick to wave the ‘Full DirectX 8.1 Hardware Accelerator’ banner, and for good reason. The 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE performs exceptionally well here, almost catching NVIDIA’s GeForce3 Ti 500.

3DMark 2001 SE’s overall score aggregates the results of a number of different individual tests; let’s see how the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE performs in each of them.

3DMark 2001SE – Game benchmarks
First we have some simulated game scenes for our cards to crunch.

The 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE hangs right behind the Ti 500 in Game 1’s Car Chase.

The 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE rides the dragon all the way to victory in both high- and low-detail versions of Game 2’s Dragothic scene.

Game 3’s symphony of gunfire finds the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE relegated to third place, only a hair behind the GeForce3, but the top four cards are all quite close.

Our 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE turns in the worst performance of cards capable of displaying 3DMark’s Nature scene. Although ATI boasts full DirectX 8 compatibility, NVIDIA is definitely doing something better for the Nature scene. Still, the 3D Prophet FDX has the edge over any GeForce4 MX card.

 

3DMark 2001SE – Fill rate
We’ve already taken a look at our cards’ respective fill rates, but how do those fill rates translate to the real world?

With single-texturing, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE slides between the GeForce3 Ti 500 and GeForce3 again.

Moving to multi-texturing, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE pops into the lead and makes the most of its two-gigatexel-per-second theoretical fill rate.

3DMark 2001SE – Transform and lighting
T&L tests load up a bunch of triangles and throw lights at them.

With one light, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE takes quite a lead over the GeForce3 family thanks to its dual vertex shaders. NVIDIA’s best competitor here is their GeForce4 MX 440, which has a fixed-function hardware transform and lighting engine. (The GeForce3 implements fixed-function T&L as a vertex shader program on its single vertex shader unit. )

After adding seven more lights, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE continues to dominate the pack.

 

3DMark 2001SE – Bump mapping
Believe it or not, Matrox was initially way ahead of the pack with bump mapping. How do today’s cards handle textures with depth?

The 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE falls behind the entire GeForce3 family in dot-3 bump mapping.

In the environmental bump mapping test, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE is just a hair behind the GeForce3, but then all the EBM-capable cards tightly bunched.

3DMark 2001SE – Advanced features
Bring on the eye candy…

The 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE smacks around the rest of field in the point sprite test.

Moving to vertex shaders, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE’s dominance continues. The relatively decent performance of the GeForce4 MX 440, which uses DirectX 8 to emulate a vertex shader in software, suggests that NVIDIA’s hardware vertex shader implementation with the GeForce3 line isn’t all that exceptional.

3DMark 2001SE – Pixel shaders
Pixel shaders conclude 3DMark 2001 SE’s tests.

Pixel shaders aren’t really simple, but with the not-“advanced” ones, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE just tops the Ti 500.

With advanced pixel shaders, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE opens up a big lead over the Ti 500, and over the rest of NVIDIA’s GeForce3 line.

 

Villagemark
Neither ATI nor NVIDIA makes use of the kind of tile-based rendering scheme that Villagemark was designed to exploit, but they do have their own techniques to reduce overdraw. How do their implementations perform?

In low resolutions, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE leads the pack.

At 1024×768, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE still leads, but its margin of victory is shrinking.

The Ti 500 almost catches the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE at our highest resolution, but can’t quite do it. Honestly, it’s hard to tell whether the 8500LE’s better performance is due to superior overdraw-reduction techniques or simply greater fill rate. Some have suggested recently that Villagemark is more of a T&L test than anything else, in fact.

Vulpine GLMark
GLMark gives us our first look at ATI and NVIDIA’s OpenGL implementations.

In the lowest resolution, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE is simply outclassed by NVIDIA. Having a GeForce2 MX that close is embarrassing.

At 1024×768, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE creeps up the standings and narrowly tops the GeForce4 MX 440 for fourth place. It still has a ways to go to catch even a Ti 200.

In the highest resolution, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE vaults up to second place behind the Ti 500, with the rest of the GeForce3 line nipping at its heels. The poor performance at low resolutions earns the ATI driver team a stern look.

 

Quake III Arena
Jedi Knight II is out this Friday, proving there’s life yet in the Quake III Arena engine.

While the processor is the limiting factor for NVIDIA’s recent offerings at 640×480, there’s a hint that even at this low resolution, something else is holding the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE back.

At the mid-range 1024×768 resolution, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE just edges past the Ti 200.

At 1600×1200, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE manages to stay a hair ahead of the Ti 200. More than 60 frames per second at this resolution is pretty impressive in its own right, though.

Serious Sam
Serious Sam concludes our real-world game testing.

At low resolutions, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE still can’t keep up with the NVIDIA cards.

At 1024×768, things don’t get much better, and the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE is stuck behind the GeForce4 MX 440.

At our highest resolution of 1600×1200, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE still can’t catch the GeForce4 MX 440, and it only just manages to exceed 30 frames per second.

 

SPECviewperf
Hercules doesn’t list business or 3D professionals as target customers for the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE, but we’ve thrown SPEC’s viewperf suite of professional 3D tests at the card anyway.

The 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE lays a beating down on NVIDIA’s offerings in the ProCDRS test, but spends the rest of its time behind the curve. Overall, things even out and put the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE even with NVIDIA’s mid-range offerings.

Video signal quality
Using a Matrox card has made me a bit of a video signal quality snob when it comes to graphics cards. I spend hours a day staring at text and graphics on a screen, and I want that experience to be as easy on my eyes as possible.

ATI’s graphics offerings have always had great video quality, but then ATI has always made the cards themselves. In letting third party manufacturers produce cards, there’s a danger that manufacturers will use sub-par parts that could sacrifice signal quality. Fortunately, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE’s video signal quality is among the best I’ve seen. To my eye, the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE’s picture quality is almost as good as the latest GeForce4 MX 440 offering from eVGA. com, and that’s saying a lot since I’d rank the GeForce4 MX 440 right behind Matrox in terms of subjective visual goodness. Unfortunately, no one has been able to match Matrox’s text quality, especially after extended viewing periods.

Overclocking
The fact that Hercules has effectively underclocked the memory speed on the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE makes it a ripe candidate for clock manipulation. Just to be fair, we tweaked the core clock a little, too. In the end, we were only able to get our card’s memory up to 250MHz, which is where the Hynix chips are supposed to top out anyway. It’s a little disappointing that we couldn’t go past 250MHz, but we fared much better with the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE’s core speed, which went all the way up to 295MHz. That’s almost a 20% increase in core clock speed—not bad for a chip with a tiny glued-on heat sink/fan.

How does the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE perform with overclocking essentially limited to the graphics core?

The clock boost is just enough to put the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE out in the lead in 3DMark 2001 SE.

In Quake III Arena, the overclocking helps, but the 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE still can’t catch the GeForce3. It would have been really nice to have a little more headroom with the memory here.

 

Conclusion
It’s ironic that ATI names its multi-monitor implementation Hydravision, because the Radeon 8500LE is a two-headed beast when it comes to performance. On one hand, Hercules’ 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE excels in 3DMark 2001SE, where its full DirectX 8.1 implementation shines. On the other hand, in Quake III, Serious Sam, and GLMark, performance is nothing special—even poor at low resolutions.

So what’s the problem? Probably drivers, specifically for OpenGL. That’s what I’m suspecting, given the kind of behavior that ATI-based cards have exhibited in the past. Were this a review of ATI’s Radeon 8500LE, I might be harsher. However, this is an examination of Hercules’ implementation of ATI’s chip, and there’s only so much I can penalize a card manufacturer for ATI’s drivers, which are improving.

The 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE runs $140 on Pricewatch, which is pretty standard for 64MB Radeon 8500LEs. For comparison’s sake, you can pick up a GeForce3 Ti 200 for about $15 less. Paying the extra $15 for the 3D Prophet FDX gets you support for multiple displays, DVI and S-Video outputs, great DVD playback, and picture quality that’s among the best. You also get a more complete DirectX 8.1 implementation than in NVIDIA’s GeForce3 line, which may become more important with newer games.

Unfortunately, ATI’s drivers hold back the otherwise-excellent 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE. (And I have a strangely compelling feeling ATI’s newest drivers may have improved OpenGL performance.) The Prophet is a great Radeon 8500LE implementation, at a great price, and certainly worth considering if you’re in the market for a mid-range graphics card. 

TSpire.com. SAPPHIRE RADEON-8500-LE ATI RADEON 8500LE 64MB DDR AGP 4X/8X Video Card


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Hercules 3D Prophet FDX 8500 LE Review

Hercules has released a Radeon 8500-based card for a very affordable price, and it is quite impressive.

By Matt Hanyok

Updated: Oct 22, 2011 1:37 am

Posted: Mar 6, 2002 8:00 am

Ah, sweet irony. Hercules, once one of NVIDIA’s biggest supporters, started making cards using ST Micro’s Kyro series of graphics chips. Now they’ve gone so far as to enter into a deal with ATi to make cards based off of Radeon 7500 and 8500 chips, and they’ve even removed references to their NVIDIA cards from the product listing on their web page. Who’d have thought?

Way back in August we had a preview online for the Radeon 8500. The first card we reviewed based on the Radeon 8500 chip was the All-In-Wonder 8500DV, which, despite all its cool features, is still an expensive card that doesn’t run as fast as a regular 8500.

Well, similar to last year’s Radeon LE cards, ATi has an «LE» version of the Radeon 8500 chipset. Unlike the previous LE cards, however, which were different from the full Radeons in both clock speeds and features (no Hyper-Z capabilities), the 8500LE is simply a lower-clocked part, with all features enabled. The standard clock speed of the 8500LE is 250MHz (compared to the full 8500’s 275MHz) and the memory speed is also 250MHz DDR (compared to the 8500’s mem speed of 275MHz DDR).

Here’s the card, done in Hercules’ trademark blue PCB, with a stylin’ blue heatsink to match. We’ve also got in addition the VGA out, S-Video output (capable of up to 1024×768 resolution) and a DVI output, all of which can be used with ATi’s Hydravision software.

As I’ve mentioned above, the CPU runs at 250MHz and it is paired with 4ns memory, also at 250MHz. This is significantly higher speed than the All-In-Wonder card, so it’s safe to expect higher performance.

    The test system:

  • AMD Athlon Thunderbird 1.13GHz
  • Asus A7V133 motherboard, Via 4-in-1 drivers version 4.37
  • 384 MB PC133 SDRAM
  • Hercules 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE
  • Elsa Gladiac 920
  • Windows XP pro, Direct X 8.1

Our «old reliable» Elsa GeForce 3 card was tested using the 23.11 reference drivers, still the latest official release. (Available at NVIDIA’s website). There aren’t any drivers listed on Hercules’ website for the Prophet FDX 8500LE yet, so I used the ones automatically installed by the included CD. They’re based on the current official driver release from ATi, version 7. 65, and you can download those from ATi’s site.

I’ve got an actual ATi Radeon 8500 sitting here that’s up for review next, I’ll test that with the latest officially available ATi drivers, currently version 7.66 beta. Incidentally, those are the drivers the All-In-Wonder 8500DV was tested with.

Anti-Aliasing testing was done using Quincunx mode on the GeForce 3 and Smoothvision 2X Quality mode on the Prophet FDX. Shall we begin with 3D Mark?

3D Mark scores are pretty close for the most part. The 8500 seems a bit faster than the GF3 in 3D Mark 2001, and they’re about even in 2000. Unfortunately, for some reason, even by force-enabling 2X Smoothvision Quality AA I couldn’t get Anti-Aliasing to work in 2001. Kept getting the same score, as if the option just wasn’t enabled.

Next up is Vulpine GL Mark scores here are in average FPS. The program wouldn’t run with «GeForce 3 features» enabled for the Radeon card, despite the Radeon supporting all the features that GF3 has.

The results here don’t look so good for the Prophet FDX. I’ll go out on a limb and say this is a driver thing, however I couldn’t say for sure. At the very least, the gap in 1600×1200 resolution is very small.

Next up is Unreal Tournament. Ever since discovering the higher performance of this game in OpenGL I’ve been using it again to test cards and drivers out. Not to mention it’s still really fun.

But the scores here seem to mirror GL Mark: lower performance all around for the Radeon. That’s not a good sign, especially considering the card having higher specs than the GF3 (faster core and memory).

For our last test, I ran the game through good old Quake 3 timedemo. Previously there had been some issues with ATi’s Radeon 8500 drivers and Quake 3. By this driver build, the issues have been resolved, and image quality is comparable to the GeForce 3.

Fortunately, it seems that performance is also comparable to the GF3. It trails by only a precious few FPS, and at 100+ FPS a difference of three or four isn’t all that big. These scores obviously conflict with the other results, leading me to believe that the performance issues experienced here are driver-related, and not a problem of the card itself (otherwise there would be a bit more uniformity in performance.)

I tested with a few other driver builds and noticed some increases in performance (nothing huge) but unfortunately they were all unofficial beta releases, and there were too many problems popping up while using them to make them worthwhile for this review. If Hercules had drivers based on the current 7.66 beta drivers available on their site that would probably be a different story.

The software bundle is as is to be expected with most video cards today. No games. The Radeon software CD contains the drivers, a reference manual, and the official ATi demo programs for Radeon 8500. They’re neat to look at, but they’re also freely available from a lot of places, so unless you’ve got a fast connection it just saves you some download time.

Since this isn’t an official ATi card, it doesn’t include ATi’s multimedia center software. You do, however, get a copy of Power DVD XP. Combined with the excellent hardware DVD playback support typical of ATi, enabling hardware acceleration in this version of Power DVD will get you some excellent image quality.

There’s also Hydravision, the multi-output software from ATi. Of course, this is a free download (as a matter of fact, ATi has recently released an updated version of the Hydravision software), and is likely going to remain standard on most ATi-based video cards for the future.

Factoring in the price (low, low, low at retail $169.99) it’s kind of hard to judge this one. On one hand, the current drivers available from Hercules aren’t the greatest, but on the other hand, with newer driver releases I feel confident in saying gaming performance will definitely improve. There isn’t much in the way of included software (DVD player is pretty much a standard bundle with about any video card nowadays), yet the card is $30 cheaper than the Radeon 7500 was at the end of last year.

The Prophet FDX’s low price puts it in direct competition with the GeForce 4 MX cards. They’re for the same market — anyone that doesn’t want to spend $200 or more on a video card — yet the Radeon 8500LE chipset is vastly superior to the suped-up GeForce 2 that is the GeForce 4 MX. Another driver revision or two and it won’t even be a contest, and that, I think, is the qualifying statement. Fortunately, if you don’t want to wait and don’t mind a little bit of tinkering, finding unofficial beta drivers isn’t very hard at all.

RADEON 8500LE Small Profile Edition

RADEON 8500LE Small Profile Edition
(AR2L-xx)

Designed for 3D Gaming with value for your Bucks.

Features

Powered by the revolutionary RADEON 8500LE- world fastest & advanced
graphics processing unit (GPU).

Supports ATI TRUFORM, SMARTSHADER, SMOOTHVISION, and HYPER Z II
technologies.

The only GPU to support DirectX 8. 1.

Supports OpenGL 1.3 features.

64MB of powerful 128-bit DDR memory @183Mhz clock.

Latest 3D games support the advanced features of RADEON 8500.

CRT monitor and Video output support.

Industry-leading DVD video playback.

Digital Flat Panel (DVI-D) support.

Supports 3D resolutions (32-bit color) up to 2048×1536.

AGP universal bus (for AGP 2X/4X systems).

Unsurpassed 3D Gaming

Powered by the revolutionary RADEON 8500LE GPU and fast 64MB of DDR
memory for the fastest & advanced 3D graphics on the market.

Features ATI innovative TRUFORM technology that makes the outlines of 3D
characters and objects look smoother and more natural than ever before.

High resolution 32-bit 3D gaming up to 2048×1536.

ATI HYPER Z II technology conserves memory bandwidth for improved
performance in demanding applications and boosts effective bandwidth by over
25%.

SMOOTHVISION anti-aliasing — the most advanced anti-aliasing to eliminate
distracting visual artifacts for smoother looking images and without serious
performance compromise.

Best Visual Effects

ATI new SMARTSHADER technology takes advantage of the DirectX 8.1
features to enable more complex and realistic texture and lighting effects

The only graphics board to support DirectX8.1

Best performance for today and tomorrow demanding applications.

Full support and compliance with OpenGL 1.3 applications.

CHARISMA ENGINE II supports full Transformation, Clipping and Lighting
(T&L) at 75 million triangles/second peak processing capability.

PIXEL TAPESTRY II, the RADEON 8500 3D rendering engine, powers an
incredible 2.4 Gigatexels per second for the highest fill rates in 32-bit at
high resolutions.

Industry-leading video playback

ATI VIDEO IMMERSION II technology enables integration of industry-leading
digital video features, including advanced de-interlacing algorithms for
unprecedented video quality and integrated digital TV decode capability

Includes programmable gamma for the overlay and Frame Rate Conversion
(Temporal Filtering)

Hardware DVD saves the expense of buying a separate MPEG-2/DVD decoder
card and motion compensation allows for DVD decoding with minimum CPU usage

HDTV ready

DVI and TV/Video output support

RADEON 8500 uses RAGE THEATER companion chip for high quality video
output

Features 165MHz integrated TMDS transmitter to support DVI up to UXGA
(1600×1200) resolution

Get all of the incredible 3D and DVD of RADEON 8500LE with the benefit of
flat panels — crisper images, significantly reduced eyestrain and space
savings

Use composite video-out to connect your PC to TV or VCR.

Bundled Hydravision Multiple Monitor Management Software provides a
flexible, user-friendly interface for multiple display settings.

3D Features

TRUFORM

SMARTSHADER

DirectX 8.1 support

OpenGL 1.3

SMOOTHVISION anti-aliasing

HYPER Z II

CHARISMA ENGINE II

PIXEL TAPESTRY II

VIDEO IMMERSION II

High Performance Memory Support

Dual Display Support

Integrated Transformation, Clipping, lighting.

Twin Cache Architecture

SuperScalar Rendering

Single-Pass Multi-texturing

True Color Rendering

Triangle Setup Engine

Texture Cache

Bilinear/Trilinear Filtering

Line & Edge Anti-aliasing

Full-Screen Anti-aliasing

Texture Compositing

Texture Decompression

Specular Highlights

Perspectively Correct Texture Mapping

Mip-Mapping

Z-buffering and Double-buffering

Emboss,Dot Product 3 & Environment bump mapping

Spherical, Dual-Paraboloid and Cubic environment mapping

Fog effects, texture lighting, video textures, reflections, shadows,
spotlights, LOD biasing and texture morphing

System Requirement

Pentium 4/Celeron/III/II, AMD K6/Athlon or compatible with AGP 2X or AGP
2X/4X universal slot

Installation software requires CD-ROM drive

DVD playback requires DVD drive on PCs with an Intel Pentium III
processor (or equivalent) and 64MB of system memory

Monitor supported

CRT Monitor: 15-pin VGA connector

Composite TV-out connector

DVI-I (flat panel display) connector

Display Support

Register compatible with VGA

BIOS compatible with VESA for super VGA

DDC1/2b/2b+ monitor support

VESA Display Power Management Support

Separate horizontal & vertical synchronization at TTL levels

Bundled Software

S/W DVD Player.

Hydravision Multiple Monitor Management Software.

Accessories

1 set A/V cable.

Manual.

CD Driver.

Model Available :

AR2L-B2 : DVI-D or via CRT converter / TV-out

AR2L-B3 : CRT via cable / DVI-D output / TV-out

Hercules 3DProphet FDX 8500 LE Review

Introduction

This is, happily, my first foray into ATI’s world since the Rage chipset.  I was extremely excited to test this product as there is a lot of buzz on the net about happy Radeon users.  Given the street pricing of Hercules 3DProphet FDX 8500 LE cards (~$150), it certainly appeals to my Bang-for-the-Buck theory of 3D accelerators…Especially since this chipset includes DirectX8.1 support in hardware and something else I’ve actually missed since my S3 days: Environmental Bump Mapping.  Unfortunately for ATI, there is also a lot of buzz around the net about driver failings.   I’ve never been able to take a stance on the subject of buggy drivers since I’ve never used a Radeon equipped video card until now.  In this review, I’ll look at both 2D and 3D performance of the Hercules 3DProphet FDX 8500 LE 64MB AGP video card utilizing the ATI Radeon 8500 video processing unit.

OK, So Hercules has jumped the proverbial nVIDIA ship?  Given the above mentioned features and pricing, and the glut of nVIDIA card manufacturers in the market, perhaps it was a wise move.  Only the reviews will tell.  On a personal note, I want to add that YES Bjorn3D is an nVIDIA affiliate which smacks of bias but I must also add the we few Bjorn3D workers are unpaid labor.  We do this stuff because we love it and healthy competition is the only thing to keep corporations honest.  To me, this work is a never ending search for the best Bang-for-the-Buck hardware on the market, which IMO the 3DProphet FDX 8500 LE is in direct competition for.

Hercules reports the following specifications for the Radeon 8500 chipset:

·        250MHz core frequency

·        Hyperz II:  ATI’s trademarked, second generation Hidden Surface Removal architecture which permits the video card to more efficiently utilize it’s available memory by attempting to eliminate needless rendering of un-rendered scenes in 3D applications.

·        Smartshader: ATI’s Pixel Tapestry II, second generation vertex and pixel shader engine which is the heart of the DirectX8.1 hardware support.  Up to 6 blended textures in a single cycle are possible.

·        Charisma Engine II:  ATI’s Full Transformation, Lighting, and Clipping engine in it’s second incarnation.  T&L has been incorporated into just about every recent 3D game.  The Radeon 8500’s Charisma Engine II can process up to 75million triangles/sec.

·        Smoothvision:  ATI’s antialiasing engine which uses the traditional multisampling approach.  AA levels from 2x to 6x can be selected in 1x intervals.  Note that ATI forces limiting resolutions for a given AA level (1024×768 max at 4xAA, noAA at 1600×1200).

·        Truform: algorithms for smoothing triangles into curved surfaces.

·        Video Immersion II: A nice feature: Hardware HDTV decoder and DVD playback.

·        TV and DVI encoders in hardware.

The card is a standard sized AGP card.  The heatsink utilized by Hercules is a common circular aluminum sink with a clip-on, recessed fan.  It’s not a particularly robust cooling solution but it remained cool through my testing.

The memory is 4 nanosecond DDR-SDRAM.  4 ns stuff is rated to 250MHz. The DDR-SDRAM is placed on both sides of the card, which is a common practice to save real estate and it stream lines the routing of the memory connections.

The Radeon’s Video Immersion support is via  on-board ATI Rage Theatre chipset.

 

The edge connections include (from left to right in the picture below) TV-out, VGA out, and DVI output.  These connections are gladly becoming more common.  Note too that the Hercules 3DProphet FDX 8500 LE can utilize these ports in multi-display configurations.

 

I’ve started with a fresh installation of Windows 2000 Professional SP2.   I didn’t want any potential for remnant video drivers to corrupt the performance of the 3DProphet 8500.  I’ve also utilized Hercules’ latest available drivers (version 7.6.6).

The test system is my standard Intel P4-1.6GHZ rig:

·        ECS L4S5MG Socket 478 motherboard

·        200W Enhance mATX power supply

·        Pentium 4 1.60GHz w/retail cooler

·        256MB OCZ PC2400 2-2-2 DDR SDRAM

·        3COM 3C905C NIC

·        Hercules Gametheatre XP audio

·        Maxtor 40GB 7200RPM ATA100 hard drive

·        Pioneer 40x16x DVD-ROM

·        LiteOn 24x10x32x CD-RW

The driver CD supplied by Hercules includes several applications which I also tried out since a few of them are intended to aid in tweaking the video quality.  These include E-color and Hydravision.  Hydravision is used in worked with multi-displays.  This review does not address the multi-display aspects of this video card.  The most interesting app. is E-color. 

E-color, upon installation, runs through a few chromatic screens which prompt you to adjust the monitor brightness and select best matched colors in order to optimize the 2D/Windows display.  E-color also works in an active sense when certain windows are opened, such as IE, to try and optimize the graphics shown in the window.  As you can see (barely) in the above picture, E-color pops-up a different icon adjacent to your mouse pointer based upon E-color’s activity for the given window.  The good old crossed-out circle represents that E-color has not optimized the window, etc.  ON a personally level, I found the pop-up cursor to be more of a nuisance than any potential video quality improvement offered by the software.  Also, the settings made during E-color set-up forced my brightness down to a level lower than I prefer…This especially impacted gaming where gamma or brightness had to be greatly increased to make the game presentation palatable.   

Under the Additional Display properties for the Radeon, I found that the customization features for gaming were very well laid out and easy to use. The Direct3D (below) settings include nice and simple radio buttons for vsync, compressed textures, and more.  The lower buttons provide pop-up windows for SMOOTHVISION, with a slider selection for antialiasing, and Anisotropic Filtering, which is also controlled by a slider.

 

The OpenGL tabi is similar.  For the faint of heart, there are quick buttons for “Quality” or “Performance” oriented settings.  This may be useful for quick tweaking for more or less demanding OpenGL games.  The SMOOTHVISION and filtering buttons are also available here and may be set separately from the D3D settings, which is a very nice feature.

The Displays tab incudes a very nicely laid out set of controls for setting up multiple displays.  The numerous quick set buttons make this the easiest configurator that I’ve come across.  

Hercules and ATI has done quite a job with these display applets.  Everthing you could want to to tweak is included in here.

 

ON to the next page….2D Performance

 

 2D/Windows Performance

Windows performance was flawless (for the most part, read on).  Colors were excellent and sizing/dragging windows was fluent.  To my untrained eye, the E-color application made no noticeable difference when on or off with my Hitachi CM771 19” monitor.  This may not be true for other people who might work heavily in graphics development or some other similar field. 

PROBLEMS: 

At start-up of Win2k, I have several applications that load, like most people.  Perhaps I have too many because I often become impatient and try to get an IE window or Windows Explorer open while Windows is still initializing all of the task bar applications.  The following desktop image shows what happens quite often when I’m trying to work with windowed applications while the system is partially busy but still accepting input:

 Remnants of previously open windows become stranded as a part of the desktop background.   These errors remain until I open a new window that overwrites that area…very annoying.

Unfortunately, the Hercules 3DProphet FDX 8500 LE also had some serious issues when working with DirectX applications in windowed modes:

Laser Squad Nemesis is a great, little play-by-e-mail game that I’ve been playing often.  The game works by receiving a file attachment via e-mail.  Double clicking on the file loads the game.  You perform your turn then e-mail the turn results back out through the game interface.  Playing this game and using Yahoo e-mail forces me to switch between windows (LSN and IE).  After having completed my turn and telling LSN to send my turn, I typically switch to the IE window to download my next turn and start the cycle over.  The above picture (left side is 3DProphet, right side is GF4 Ti4200) shows what happened when I switched back to LSN to check on how my e-mail transfer was going. 

I had a similar error when I test ran the game demo, MDK2, where my entire start menu became suspended in the middle of the screen, due to the resolutino change made by DirectX:

 

 I’m assuming this is all a driver issue as I haven’t had any problems like these since my S3 Trio days and I certainly haven’t had these problems on this system.

Anyway, on to the 3D tests……

 

3D/Gaming Performance

For gaming performance, I’ve tested the Radeon against a nVIDIA Reference Geforce4 Ti4200 64MB AGP card w/27.30 drivers.  The Radeon 8500 is in direct competition with the Ti4200 since they are of similar price (~$150).

3DMark2001SE

3DMark2001SE is now a DirectX8.1 3D test, which both the 3DProphet and the GF4 Ti4200 support in hardware.  Without antialiasing, the 3DProphet FDX 8500 LE performs well at lower resolutions.  As the resolutions climb, the Ti4200 establishes a 10-15% lead.

When antialiasing is enabled, the Ti4200 pulls away with a commanding lead.  However, 1024×768 w/2xAA is still quite playable on the Radeon with a score near 4700.  At 1280×1024, the Radeon dives below 2500 points and is marginal for a video card of this price range, IMO.

Quake 3 Arena

Q3Bench was used to test Quake3Arena version 1.30.  Sound is enabled and all video quality settings are maxed (32-bit colors and textures, max texture quality and trilinear filtering).

 

Once again, the Radeon performs on par with the Ti4200 at 1024×768 w/o AA and the Radeon drops off quickly as antialiasing is increased.  After having looked at both and OpenGL and DirectX benchmarks, it appears that ATI hasn’t put as much effort into optimizing their drivers to aid in antialiasing as nVIDIA has, unfortunately.

1280×1024 is a similar story.  Going from noAA to 2xAA shows a whopping 60% performance drop!  However, Q3 is still playable at 38fps with 2xAA enabled.

 

1600×1200 shows excellent performance by both cards, without AA.  Unfortunately, ATI’s drivers won’t perform AA at 1600×1200 (Similarly, 4xAA isn’t possible at 1280×1024).

Commanche 4 Demo

 

The latest DirectX8.1 benchmark is the Commanche4 demo.  As can be seen from the frame rates, it’s a demanding test with a considerable number of triangles and detailed lighting.   A departure from the previous testing shows the Radeon holding steady between noAA and 4xAA at 1024×768.  However, all but 2 of the above scores are above the 24fps level which is where visual stuttering will become apparent.  The Radeon has lost it’s steam by 1280×1024.  This benchmark may prove better with a higher power CPU to help bring these scores up a few frames.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein

 

 RTCW is great game with very detailed textures.  At 1024×768, the Radeon performs well with even 2xAA enabled.  Unfortunately, the Ti4200 really seems to like RTCW with frame rates well above 70fps while the Radeon drops off quickly with increasing antialiasing.

So, what can be said about the Radeon 3D performance?  The 3DProphet performs adequately but I’ve become accustomed to using antialiasing in all my gaming, which the Radeon doesn’t appear to handle overly well.  On the brigh side, visual quality in all four of the games tested was excellent.   Picture quality was noticably different (I can’t say it was better than other, similar cards I’ve tested recently but it was pleasing to see well rendered scenes in all tests) and it was nice to finally see the Environmental Bumpmapping test in 3DMark2001SE. 🙂 

Beyond the benchmarking games, I wanted to test a SLEW of games with the 3DProphet, in search of the claimed driver glitches of ATI.  I tested just about all of the games in my inventory, from DirectX6.1 to the latest fare. Here’s a list of games tested:

SportsCar GT, PowerSlide, Starfleet Command, Tribes2, Quake1, Quake2, Heretic II, Half-Life, MDK2, Myth, Freedom Force Demo, Mechwarrior 4, Crimson Skies, IL2 Sturmovik, Serious Sam, Unreal Tournament, and Baldurs Gate. 

ALL worked fine (except for the slight D3D glitch with MDK2, mentioned on Page 2 which didn’t impact the game play)!!!  I expected worse but was very happy to see it work with everything.  ALSO, note that in IL2 Sturmovik and in Mechwarrior4, I’d even to go so far as to say the picture quality was better than what I’m used to.

 

With that said, let’s look at my conclusions…

 

Conclusions

After having the opportunity to work with the Hercules 3DProphet FDX 8500 LE, I come away with mixed signals. 3D game picture quality was excellent and ATI should be commended for their efforts on that front. However, actual gaming performance, especially with antialiasing enabled, leaves a bit to be desired for a $150 3D accelerator. Additionally, the 2D/Windows anomalies were disturbing to say the least. With a fresh installation of Windows2000, I would have assumed that any late generation video card would be above windowed DirectX issues. On the plus side of things, Hercules’/ATI’s provide excellent adjustability via the display properties.

In the end, I can’t give the Hercules 3DProphet 8500 LE more than a 7.5 out of 10. Regardless of picture quality, the average gaming performance and Windows glitches leave me wanting more.

Help, BSOD after installing ATI Radeon 8500LE (while using Windows not during bootup)

tcafitra