ATI's Radeon - The Rage 6 Revealed!


ATI’s Radeon 256 Preview 4/24/2000
By, Marco “BigWop” Chiappetta
and Dave "Davo" Altavilla

Spring is upon us and with the new season, usually comes the new product announcements from the major graphics hardware players.  So far, 3dfx and nVidia (sort of) have given us a taste of what’s in store for us in the coming months.   The largest player of all, ATI has been relatively silent. Until Now…

We’ve been under NDA for a little while about the Radeon 256, and let me tell you, it’s been tough to keep this one quiet.  ATI has generally been ahead of the curve in terms of feature implementation. They were the first company to have a 64MB card in the retail channel and have had the best DVD hardware assistance short of a dedicated decoder card.  This time around, they have taken a much bolder step forward and will be offering one of the most, if not THE most feature packed product in the industry.  Although ATI has always been a contender in the feature department, performance has been an issue.  Historically, chips like the Rage Pro were very capable but implementation and driver enhancements hampered performance and this caused many hardcore gamers and early adopters to pass them over.  I had that in mind when this statement jumped out at me, “RADEON 256 drivers are optimized for maximum performance with specific microprocessor instruction sets including  SSE and Itanium, as well as AMD’s 3Dnow!”.  ATI obviously is looking to the future by already announcing Itanium support with the Radeon 256.  ATI hopes to completely obliterate this mindset and wear the much-coveted crown as the "King of 3D".

The Radeon 256 should be a very powerful product.  It will be the first product ATI unveils that implements their new Charisma Engine (ATI’s geometry engine…basically advanced hardware T&L), Pixel Tapestry (rendering engine), Video Immersion (video engine) and HyperZ (compression techniques to “improve” effective memory bandwidth).  For a much more detailed overview of the Charisma Engine and Pixel Tapestry, click here for the original announcement.

Here is some interesting info quoted directly from the ATI information we received…

ATI Radeon Specifications / Features
1.5 Gigatexels - It's all that...

Click image for full view

Click image for full viewing

The new chip supports the following features:

  • Most advanced graphics chip ever designed, featuring 30 million transistors, in an .18 micron technology, giving it a higher transistor count than CPUs such as the Pentium III and Athlon.

  • First chip targeted at 200+MHz. Core Clock 

  • First chip to support up to 128MB of double-data rate (DDR) memory at 200MHz.

  • Scalable Core Architecture Supporting ATI's "MAXX" Multiple ASIC Technology

  • Hardware T&L Support

  • Full Scene Order Independent Anti-Aliasing via 4X Super Sampling

  • ATI’s Charisma Engine which incorporates a 30 million triangle per second geometry engine as well as radical new 3D character animation techniques.

  • Single chip break through of the Gigatexel barrier with an awesome 1.5 Gigatexel per second rendering engine.

  • First with hardware support for 3D shadows.

  • First with all DX7 bump mapping effects (emboss, dot product 3 and EMBM). 

  • First with advanced DX8 pixel shader effects. 

  • First with 3D texture support for new volumetric effects. 

  • First PC graphics chip to include an on-chip hardware HDTV decoder.

  • High quality video filters capable of operating at full HDTV resolutions.

  • On-chip HDTV decoder which eliminates the requirement for separate HDTV decoder cards which add cost and reduce picture quality. 

  • On-chip HDTV display interface for new HDTV displays. 

  • On-chip transport stream interface to connect directly to HDTV tuner boards.

  • Improved DVD Playback support

  • Patent pending adaptive de-interlacing algorithms which result in unparalleled video quality for interlaced TV and HDTV video streams.

There are some VERY interesting points that caught my eye; there are also some others that really impressed me.  Here are some of the points that I was particularly intrigued by, I’m sure some of you will also be impressed when you read this.  The Radeon 256 also includes support for ATI’s patented MAXX multi-ASIC technology, enabling twin Radeon 256 chips on a single graphics card.  A dual chip Radeon 256 board should be an EXTREMELY powerful product, a definite performance and feature leader "on paper”.

The chip also has 2 pixel pipelines featuring 3 texture units per pixel rendering pipeline. You read that correctly, 3 texture units.  A chip capable of rendering 3 textures per pass, will offer stronger performance in games that use multi-texturing and also give some more advanced features for “free”.  To give you an idea of what I mean, look at this chart supplied by ATI:

Click Image to Enlarge

DDR SDRAM is not new to us but support for 128mb of 200mhz DDR SDRAM with "HyperZ" is.  Technically, 200mhz DDR SDRAM is capable of 6.4gb/sec bandwidth. The addition of  HyperZ, a "lossless" data compression algorithm, affords the Radeon the capability of accessing 8gb/sec of effective memory bandwidth.  With limited memory bandwidth, even the most powerful graphics chip will not be able to reach it’s maximum theoretical performance.  ATI’s implementation of 200mhz DDR Memory and their new HyperZ technology, certainly takes a step in the right direction to alleviate this bottleneck. 

The Radeon 256 also supports virtually every form of bump mapping. Emboss, Dot Product 3, EMBM, Spherical, Dual-Paraboloid, Cubic Environment mapping and Projective Texturing, are all supported.  Since the R6 is so "feature complete" in this area,  just about any game supporting some form of bump mapping will be compatible.

We wish we had more information on how these next features are executed, so I can’t go into any real detail.  However, the Radeon 256 is also capable of motion blur and depth of field effects, as well as full scene Anti-Aliasing.  If the performance hit is not huge and all our favorite games are playable with these features enabled, trying to decide between a V5 or a Geforce 2 is moot.  Why not get a card capable of all the features of these 2 cards combined?  Although it is far too early to make any sort of decision, ON PAPER, ATI really seems to shine.

Lastly, the Adaptive De-Interlacing technology also seems very impressive.  Any users that play DVD’s on their system will no doubt recognize these 2 techniques:


Both screen shots aren’t too pretty. However, check out what the Radeon’s Adaptive De-Interlacing looks like.


A picture says a thousand words, the difference and improvement in quality is obvious. Keep in mind that these are compressed JPGs.  The uncompressed images are of even better quality. 

In conclusion, although it is WAY TOO EARLY (I need to stress that point) to say that the ATI Radeon 256 will be the next big thing, it does seem that ATI is headed in the right direction.  If the software support is there and the driver performance exploits the potential of the hardware, there will be a new choice in the high-end video card market.  They should begin shipping sometime in late June or July to OEMs and in the retail channel in August. Considering the product's very complete feature set, high performance (hopefully) and excellent picture quality, the Radeon 256 seems to be a no compromise solution.  ATI is now poised to take over a large segment of the hardcore market. For competition’s sake, let’s hope the Radeon 256 is as capable in the real world as it seems to be on paper.


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