The ATI Radeon 9800 Pro arrived in time to remind enthusiasts that they aren't about to hand back the performance crown to nVidia so easily. It's still a back and forth struggle between the two, with each manufacturer claiming victories in different areas.
One area ATI continues to dominate is the TiVo, multimedia market of consumer cards. With a Personal Cinema FX based card nowhere in sight, ATI has upped the ante with the release of the All-In-Wonder 9800 Pro. Like the AiW 9700 Pro before it, ATI puts jams PCB real estate with functional multimedia features, and their baddest VPU on the block. This is a departure from past cards where the VPU was slightly neutered, but which is no longer the case. Armed with the 9800 Pro, the All-In-Wonder series has gotten faster no doubt, but we'll also determine if the added speed will be worth the purchase price.
The 9800 Pro is more than a speed-bumped 9700 Pro, as ATI have added a few other key improvements to their new flagship VPU.
DirectX 9++: The older 9700 Pro offers DX9 support, while the 9800 Pro exceeds specifications by offering support for Floating Point 3D textures and Cube Maps. Multiple Render target, Displacement mapping, and N-Patches are also supported. SMARTSHADER 2.1 adds a new F-Buffer technology (Fragment-stream FIFO buffer), which allows for improved pixel shader performance with an unlimited number of instructions.
SMOOTHVISION 2.1: AntiAliasing and Anisotropic Filtering (AA and AF respectively) can be a real video card killer, and with SMOOTHVISION 2.1, there are improvements made to the memory controller (in hardware) that allows for better performance.
HyperZ III+: The 9800 Pro has an enhanced Z-Cache that improves the VPU's ability to render real-time shadow volumes. When Doom 3 comes out, the 9800 Pro will be able to handle the stencil buffer data more efficiently than its predecessors.
The ATI All-In-Wonder 9800 Pro
Since the release of the R350 VPU, there are a few changes with ATI's packaging. The boxes are squarer now, as opposed to being rectangular. This is probably a cost saving measure, but unpacking the box reveals the items better organized for shipping purposes.
Compared to the AiW 9700 Pro, both cards share a similar PCB layout. The AiW 9800 Pro is a little smaller than the reference 9800 Pro, and shouldn't have too many problems fitting in most setups.
One physical change from the 9700 Pro is the newer heatsink. Rather than being anodized black, it is now silver. It kept our card stable, though I found the heatsink to be very warm to the touch. The noise the fan generates isn't very loud, and your CPU and case fans will easily drown out the fan noise on the card.
The AiW version uses a four-pin floppy-type power connection. ATI pre-installs a molex-to-floppy power cable adapter in case you're out of those connections on your PSU. Manufacturer specifications suggest using a 300W PSU, but as we've always stressed, quality is of utter importance. I got the card to function reliably on a 200W PSU in our MEGA 651 and Shuttle XPC, but for most applications, I suggest sticking with a brand name 350W and up.
The AiW 9800 Pro uses ram, rated at 350MHz. The ram is clocked at 340MHz, so there is a little bit of headroom for overclocking.
ATI provides a standard DVI connection, with a DVI-to-VGA adapter. There is also a cable input and S-Video in. Unfortunately, there is no way (that is supported by ATI) to power two CRT/LCD monitors simultaneously. I have read where somebody managed to get this working with a DVI splitter, but I've also read there have been more cases of this not working.