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Radeon is a brand of graphics processing units (GPU) that has been manufactured by ATI Technologies since 2000. There are four different groups, which can be differentiated by the DirectX generation they support. More specific distinctions can also be followed, such as the HyperZ version, the number of pixel pipelines, and of course, the memory and processor clock speeds.

DirectX 7.0

The first-generation Radeon GPU was launched in 2000, and was initially code-named Rage 6, (later R100), as the successor to ATI's aging Rage 128 which was unable to compete with the GeForce 256. The Radeon was comparable in specification to the nVidia GeForce 2. The Radeon and GeForce differed with regards to their pixel pipeline configuration. The GeForce 2 line had a maximum throughput of 4 pixels written to the frame buffer per clock cycle, and could sample two different texture maps per pixel (a so-called "4x2" configuration). The Radeon had a pixel processing throughput of two pixels per clock but could sample from three separate texture maps in a single clock (a "2x3" configuration). The ATI Radeon also introduced a new technology called HyperZ, which improved the efficiency of the method used to remove obscured objects from the rendering pipeline.

In terms of texel and pixel throughput, the Radeon scored lower than the Geforce 2 in most benchmarks, even with HyperZ activated. The performance difference was especially noticeable in 16-bit colour, where both the GeForce 2 and 3dfx's Voodoo 5 5500 were far ahead. However, the Radeon could close the gap and even overtake the GeForce 2 in 32-bit colour, which became the standard for games onward from 1999. Although the Radeon was plagued by poor drivers, it was considered a better well-rounded card with superior DVD-playback and environment-mapped bump mapping, features that the gamer-oriented GeForce series lacked.

Aside from the new 3D-core, the Radeon introduced per-pixel video-deinterlacing to ATI's already leading-edge HDTV-capable MPEG-2 engine. In motion-video applications ranging from AVI to DVD playback, the Radeon was considered by many to be in a class by itself. (But due to the immaturity of device drivers and the DirectX-VA software API, the deinterlacing was only used by one application: Ravisent Cinemaster DVD.)

The first versions of the Radeon (R100) were the Radeon DDR, available in Spring 2000 with 32 MB or 64 MB configurations; the 64 MB card had a slightly faster clock speed and added VIVO (video-in video-out) capability. The slower and short-lived Radeon 32MB SDR was added in summer 2000 to compete with the GeForce 2 MX. In 2001, after the release of the Radeon 8500, the original Radeon model (R100) was renamed as the Radeon 7200. The 7200 was first used to market the short-lived (R100) 64 MB SDR card that was released in summer 2001, but it was later applied retroactively to include all R100 chips regardless of memory configuration.

Other models of the first-generation Radeon were the Radeon VE (RV100), later known as the Radeon 7000), which was a cost-reduced model. The VE lacked much of the original Radeon's 3D-hardware: one pixel-pipeline, HyperZ, and hardware T&L were all removed, although it added "Hydravision" dual-monitor support. Despite better dual-monitor support, the VE did not fair well against the T&L capable GeForce 2 MX, although the VE came out ahead in DirectX and 32-bit colour support. The Radeon VE was later used as the follow-up for the Mobility Radeon which proved more successful in the laptop market. link title

In 2000, around the release of the Radeon SDR, another model was the OEM-only Radeon LE, a "crippled" card made by the third-party Athlon Micro from Radeon chips that did not meet specifications. It was however was almost a full blown Radeon (R100) 32 DDR, albeit with reduced clock frequency and HyperZ disabled at the software level; these handicaps could be overcome through overclocking and enabling HyperZ in the registry. Tweaking the Radeon LE allowed it to closely match the performance of ATI's Radeon 32 DDR and the LE was a bargain at half the price of the original.

The final model was the Radeon 7500 (R150), which was based on a 0.15 micrometre manufacturing process (R(V)100 used a 0.18 micrometre process) and clocked considerably higher than the R100. It was also ATI's first T&L chip that included dual-monitor support (Hydravision). Launched in fall 2001 alongside the Radeon 8500, the 7500 was not intended to compete with the GeForce 3 Ti200 in the way that the 8500 was suppose to compete with the Ti500. When nVidia launched the GeForce4 family in early 2002, the Radeon 7500's performance was inferior to nVidia's similarly-priced GeForce4 MX440. This led ATI to release its successor, the Radeon 9000. However, the Mobility Radeon 7500 was highly successful as a laptop graphics solution since it easily outperformed the GeForce2 Go and it took a while before the GeForce 4 Go (laptop GeForce 4 MX) was released.


(Ranked in performance order, best performing model at the bottom)

  • Radeon VE/7000 - 32 MB DDR, lacks T&L
  • Radeon LE - 32 MB DDR
  • Radeon 7200 (SDR) - 32 MB or 64 MB
  • Radeon 7200 (DDR) - 32 MB or 64 MB VIVO; 64 MB is clocked higher and slightly faster
  • Radeon 7500 - 64 MB DDR

The ALL IN WONDER Radeon is a R100 (7200) with 32 MB DDR memory but it is clocked lower than the regular Radeon DDR.

The original Radeon (R100) products (32 MB DDR and 64 MB DDR) was never rebranded 7200 throughout its production life. In summer 2001 when the Radeon 7200 was introduced (R100 with 64 MB SDR), ATI continued to sell the Radeon DDR line alongside and maintain the original product name. Since 2002, ATI's CATALYST™ drivers will recognize all R100 chips as Radeon 7200 regardless of memory configuration.

After 2001, ATI and its third party graphics card manufacturers discarded SDR (single data rate) VRAM.

DirectX 8.0/8.1

ATI's first DirectX 8 card was the Radeon 8500, which was launched in fall 2001. In early 2002, the Radeon 8500LE was added to the lineup. The 8500LE and 8500 were marketed in Europe as the 9100 and 9100 Pro. The 8500/LE initially shipped without a working Anti-Aliasing implementation, and suffered a reputation for poor drivers throughout its life like the previous generation Radeon models. After driver improvements, the 8500 was able to outperform the GeForce3 (and in some circumstances, its faster variant, the Ti500), while the 8500LE surpassed the Ti200 and the GeForce4 MX and became popular with OEMs and enthusiasts due to its low price. The 8500 was also significantly less expensive than the Ti500 and included dual-monitor support. Although the GeForce4 Ti 4200 would be able to trump the 8500 in both price and performance, Nvidia delayed its release until spring 2002 and ATI rolled out 128 MB versions of the 8500/LE earlier, allowing ATI to dominate the upper-range performance niche for a while.

A second version, the 8500XT (R250) was supposedly in the works, ready to compete against the GeForce4 Ti cards, but ATI (perhaps mindful of what had happened to 3dfx when they took focus off their "Rampage" processor) abandoned it in favour of finishing off their next-generation card, the 9700 (R300).

The Radeon 9000 (RV250) was launched alongside the 9700 in late spring 2002, and was basically a stripped-down 8500, incorporating a few improvements that had been put into the never-released 8500XT. It replaced the Radeon 7500 and was ATI's answer to the GeForce 4 MX440. Its main advantage over the GeForce4 MX440 was that it had a full vertex and pixel shader implementation. In games, it performed around the same as the GeForce 4 MX440. However, the Radeon 9000 failed to generate much buzz since it was over shadowed by the 9700, the MX440 had already locked up most OEMs, and because the 9000 was slower than the 8500/LE which caused gamers to opt for the more expensive and powerful Ti4200. A later version of the 9000 was the 9200 (RV280), which, aside from supporting AGP-8X, was identical. However, there was a cheaper version, the 9200SE, which only had a 64-bit memory bus. The 9250 was launched in summer 2004, supporting the older PCI bus interface, and 256 MB of memory. However, the 9250 core was clocked slightly slower than the 9200 at 240 MHz vs. 250 MHz for the latter.

The derivative Mobility Radeon 9000 was launched in early summer 2002 and generated more press than its desktop counterpart since it was the first DirectX 8 laptop chip. It helped to maintain ATI's lead in the mobile market established by the previous Mobility Radeons. As another first ATI had the new Mobility 9000 ready to ship in several OEM models within days of its announcement.


(Ranked in performance order, best performing model at the bottom)

  • Radeon 9200SE
  • Radeon 9000
  • Radeon 9250
  • Radeon 9200
  • Radeon 9000 Pro
  • Radeon 8500LE/9100
  • Radeon 8500/9100 Pro
  • Radeon 9200 Pro

Within the 8500 range, the "ALL IN WONDER Radeon 8500 DV" (64 MB) (fall 2001) is clocked slightly slower than the regular Radeon 8500 and the "ALL IN WONDER Radeon 8500 128 MB" (spring 2002). The AIW 8500 DV also has some features lacking in the AIW 8500 128.

DirectX 9.0a/b

First generation

The first DirectX 9 card from ATI (or anyone, for that matter) was the Radeon 9700 Pro (R300), launched in August 2002. The main improvements came from a greatly improved single-texturing speed (multi-texturing was around the same as the GeForce 4 Ti4600's), and a 256-bit memory bus, which offered just under double the memory bandwidth of the Ti4600. In addition, the Radeon 9700 Pro was the world's first chip to feature 8 pixel pipelines. Also, it was the first GPU that utilized flip-chip design, where the core is flipped and the bottom is the part that is exposed, this is done to improve cooling. Under normal conditions it beat the Ti4600 by around 15-20%, and when Anti-Aliasing and/or Anisotropic Filtering were switched on it beat the Ti4600 by anywhere from 40-100%. A slower chip, the 9700, was launched a few months later, differing only by slower core and memory speeds.

The 9700 was also the first time that ATI used CATALYST™ drivers; ATI decided to allow third parties to manufacture graphics cards using its chips and that freed up ATI's engineers to concentrate on improving driver quality, the result was that the 9700 performed well with a young driver unlike the previous generation Radeons. At the release of the 9700 and 9000, ATI would only produce cards based upon the Pro (top) versions of those graphics chips and leave third-parties to produce cards based upon lower chips.

A few months later, the 9500 and 9500 Pro were launched. The 9500 Pro had half the memory bus width of the 9700 Pro, and the 9500 had half the pixel processing units disabled. The 9500 Pro outperformed all of nVidia's products (save the Ti4600), while the 9500 also became popular because it could be modded into the much more powerful Radeon 9700. ATI only intended for the 9500 series to be a temporary solution to fill the gap for the 2002 Christmas season, as all the R300 chips were based on the same physical die, meaning that ATI's production costs were high and chips could be modded to their higher end counterparts. 9500 was one of the shortest-lived products of ATI, later replaced by the Radeon 9600 series. The logo and box package of the 9500 was "resurrected" in 2004 to market the unrelated 9550 (which is a derivative of the 9600).

In early 2003, the 9700 cards were replaced by the 9800 (R350). These were basically R300s with higher speeds, and improvements to the shader units and memory controller, and was designed to maintain a performance lead over the newly launched GeForce FX 5800 Ultra (though it wasn't entirely necessary, as the 5800 GPUs never went into mass-production), which it managed to do. The 9800 still held its own against the revised 5900 (noteworthy was that 9700/9800 cards took up one slot while the FX 5800/5900 took up two slots). A later version with 256MB of memory used DDR2 SDRAM. The other two variants were the 9800, which was simply a lower-clocked 9800 Pro, and the 9800SE, which had half the pixel processing units disabled (can be enabled again). Official ATI specs dictate a 256-bit memory bus for the 9800SE, but most of the manufacturers use a 128-bit bus. Usually, the 9800SE with 256-bit memory bus is called "9800SE Ultra" or "9800SE Golden Version".

Alongside the 9800, the 9600 series was rolled out in early 2003, and while the 9600 Pro didn't outperform the 9500 that it was suppose to replace, it was much more economical for ATI to produce by way of a 0.13 micrometre process (all ATI's cards since the 7500/8500 had been 0.15 micrometre) and a simplified design. Using 0.13 micrometre process was also good for pushing up the Core Clock. The 9600 series, all with high default clocking, still can overclock a lot. The 9600 Pro did, however, largely manage to beat nVidia's GeForce FX 5600 Ultra (both version) by its high clocking. From their experience of the 9500, this time ATi made sure that the 9600 could not be modded into a 9800. The 9600 was also ATI's effective answer to the GeForce 4 Ti4200.

Later in 2003, three new cards were launched - the 9800XT, (R360), the 9600XT and the 9600SE (both RV360). The 9800XT was slightly faster than the 9800 Pro had been, while the 9600XT competed well with the newly launched GeForce FX 5700 Ultra. The 9600SE was ATI's answer to nVidia's GeForce FX 5200 Ultra, and managed to perform roughly equal to the first, and was priced lower than the latter. Another RV360 chip followed in early 2004, the 9550, which was a 9600 with a lower core clock (though an identical memory clock and bus width).


(Ranked in performance order, best performing model at the bottom)

Name Core clock (MHz) Memory interface
Radeon 9550 SE 250
Radeon 9600 SE 325 64-bit
Radeon 9550 250
Radeon 9600 325 128-bit
Radeon 9500
Radeon 9600 Pro 400
Radeon 9800 SE 128-bit
Radeon 9500 Pro
Radeon 9600 XT 500 128-bit
Radeon 9800 SE 256-bit
Radeon 9700
Radeon 9800
Radeon 9700 Pro
Radeon 9800 Pro 380 256-bit
Radeon 9800 XT

Second generation

In May 2004, the newest Radeons were launched - the Radeon X Series.

The X800s were the first, based on the R420 core. The X800s are essentially quad-core RV360 chips, produced on a 0.13 micrometre process and using GDDR-3 memory. In terms of supported DirectX features, they are identical to the R3xx cores. The highest-end version is the X850XT Platinum Edition, a fully enabled R480 core, with slightly lower-clocked versions, X850XT, X800XT Platinum Edition, and X800XT also available. The third X800 card, the X800XL is an underclocked version of the X800XT, but possesses all 16 pipelines of the higher end card. It is ATI's answer to the nVidia GeForce 6800GT. The fourth X800, the X800 Pro is similar to the X800XT, but with 1/4 of the chip disabled. A fifth version, the X800SE, is expected to be launched shortly, and will have half of the core disabled.

The Radeon X800 series are based on the R423 core. The chips have been tweaked from the previous generation 9800 series cores, and now have twice the pipes. The entire chip is more efficient when compared to the 9800 series, and allows the use of GDDR3 memory. The R423 core is what is used on the X800XT PE, X800 XT, X800Pro, and X800 cards. ATI had trouble getting these cards out to market, and as a result, prices were insanely high. Later on, prices settled to where they should, but only after months of waiting. ATI then released a refresh of this series and called it the X850 series. The X850 series cards use the R480 die, which is a tweaked R423 die which clocked higher. This resulted in the X850XT PE, X850XT, X850Pro, and the X850 cards.

Later on, ATI had a large number of dies that "worked" but not well enough to be used on the X800 or X850 series cards. So a new SKU was made, the X800GT. It uses any die that has 8 pipes and can run at 475 MHz. This let ATI sell off its unusable R423, R430, and R480 dies. They come clocked stock at 475/980 so they're able to compete with the 6600GT, Nvidia's high-mainstream card. ATI also then released the X800GTO, which is a 12 pipe card using dies that have 12 functional pixel pipes and can run at 400 MHz. These cards come clocked at 400/980, giving the card performance roughly between the X800GT and the X800XL. High sales for this card were due to its relatively high performance coupled with a cost only slightly higher than the X800GT. Another SKU is the X800GTO², which is manufactured by Sapphire. This card has 16 functional pixel pipes (as does the high-end X800XT), and many users have been able to overclock the core to X800XT clock rates.

This was followed the next month by the X300 and X600 series, which were little more than PCI Express versions of the Radeon 9600 series. The X600 proved to be only a stopgap, being replaced by the X700 series in September. The X700 series had a similar core and memory setup to the 9500 Pro, only clocked much higher and produced on a 0.11 micrometre process. The fastest version, the X700XT performs comparably to the 9800XT.

Due to the popularity of the X800 core, many versions of the core have been released, giving consumers a mind-boggling range of cards to choose from.


(Ranked in performance order, best performing model at the bottom)

  • Radeon X300
  • Radeon X300SE
  • Radeon X550
  • Radeon X600 Pro
  • Radeon X600XT
  • Radeon X700
  • Radeon X700 Pro
  • Radeon X700XT (defunct due to severe lack of availability)
  • Radeon X800SE
  • Radeon X800 GT
  • Radeon X800
  • Radeon X800 GTO
  • Radeon X800 Pro
  • Radeon X850 Pro
  • Radeon X800XL
  • Radeon X800XT
  • Radeon X800XT Platinum Edition
  • Radeon X850XT
  • Radeon X850XT Platinum Edition

DirectX 9.0c

ATI's DirectX 9C series of graphics cards is the Radeon X1 Series. It is be split into three main families; the high-end X1800 series, the mid-range X1600 series, and the low-end X1300 series. CrossFire models of the X1800 series are also expected to be produced.

The X1800 series have 16 pipes, and the dies, codenamed R520, are made using the 90nm process. The X1800XT 512MB card uses a large amount of power, around 270W, but much of that is due to the increase in memory on the card. The X1800XT, the 256MB or 512MB version, have a dual slot cooler. It comes clocked stock at 625/750(1500), and is similar in performance to a 7800GTX.

The X1800XL come clocked stock at 500/500 and shares traits with the X1800XT, but this card only uses a single slot cooler. This can be owed to the much lower stock clock rates. This card is similar in performance to a 7800GT.


(Ranked in performance order, best performing model at the bottom).

  • Radeon X1300LE HyperMemory
  • Radeon X1300LE
  • Radeon X1300 Pro
  • Radeon X1600 Pro (64-bit memory bus)
  • Radeon X1600 Pro (128-bit memory bus)
  • Radeon X1600XT
  • Radeon X1800LE
  • Radeon X1800 Pro
  • Radeon X1800 XL
  • Radeon X1800 XT

Future products

  • R580 - With R520 suffering increasing delays and concerns over its performance, ATI may have to wait until it can deliver R580, the successor to R520, before it once again can compete with NVIDIA at the high end. R580 is still a 16 pixel/clock architecture chip, but features a massively (3x) increased shader throughput, compared to R520. (16 shader ops / clock vs. 48 shader ops / clock)
  • R590 - 80nm die shrink of R580, probably intended for a cheaper enthusiast board in a similar manner to the current R430/X800 XL.
  • R600 - Likely to launch around the same time as Microsoft's Vista OS in late 2006, R600 is expected to be based on the unified shader architecture as seen on the R500 chip found in the new XBox 360 games console. As such, traditional measures of pixel pipelines may not be relevant.



ATI's Windows Radeon drivers are called CATALYST™. The current version is 5.10a, which supports HDTV-Out and Windows XP 64-bit Edition. Version 5.11 to arrive mid November with increased performance in OpenGL applications. There are two different bundles available for Windows; one comes with ATI's newer interface for modifying graphics settings. ATI calls this newer interface Catalyst Control Center. The older version uses ATI's traditional control panels. Both versions allow the user to change graphics settings, but the newer interface allows the user to enable or disable Catalyst A.I., ATI's graphics optimization feature. It also offers a small 3D preview, allowing the user to see how changing the graphics settings affect the quality of the rendered image. Download Latest Drivers

There are also unofficial drivers available, claiming to boost performance when compared to the official Catalyst. Some of them provide modified or patched dll files for hardware enthusiasts to modify their cards (as 9500 and 9700 are the same chips, and 9800SE and 9800 are the same chips, some of them can be modified by activating all 8 pixel pipelines).

Additionally, the X850Pro BIOS can be flashed to an X850XTPE, thus activating the 4 disabled pixel pipelines (making for a full 16 pixel pipelines).


ATI only offers driver updates for their retail Mac video cards. Their Mac OS X driver is called ATI Display which has limited funtionality compared to their Catalyst for Windows product. Driver updates to OEM ATI chipsets that shipped with a Macintosh are only upgradable through system updates from Apple. As Microsoft does not license DirectX for other OS platforms, Mac OS X uses OpenGL exclusively, though in the past with OS 9, Apple used the now-defunct RAVE API.


Initially, ATI did not produce Radeon drivers for Linux, instead giving hardware specifications and documentation to Direct Rendering Infrastructure (DRI) developers under various non-disclosure agreements. ATI has in mid 2004, however, started to support Linux (XFree86, X.Org), hiring a new Linux driver team. Their new proprietary Linux drivers, instead of being a port of the Catalyst drivers, were based on the Linux drivers for the FireGL (the FireGL drivers worked with Radeons before, but didn't officially support them), a card geared towards graphics producers, not gamers; though the display drivers part is now based on the same sources as the ones from Windows Catalyst since version 8.x in late 2004. The frequency of driver updates has increased in late 2004, with a plan to have new Linux drivers every 2 months, half as often as their Windows counterparts. The proprietary Linux drivers don't support the R100 chips (Radeon 7000-7500).

The efforts to provide open source drivers for these cards continue, though. While the R100 and R200-series chipset drivers were written using specifications provided by ATI, the R300 and up (including the X-series) hardware acceleration was written through reverse engineering the methods used by ATI's proprietary driver. The reverse-engineered code is now in X.Org and Mesa, bringing support for all current Radeon cards as of 2005.


FreeBSD systems have 2D support for all Radeon-based video cards, thanx to the DRI project, XFree86 and X.Org. The 3D hardware acceleration is supported for cards up to the ATI Radeon 9250 (rv280 chipset); newer cards support, through the R300 project, still is experimental. The only totally unsupported configuration, as of now, is 3D acceleration for cards on the PCI Express bus, which needs additional driver changes.

Contrary to its main competitor, NVIDIA, which publish official proprietary FreeBSD drivers since november 2002 (through not so often than their Linux drivers), ATI does not provide FreeBSD drivers for their video cards.


Although ATI does not provide its own drivers for BeOS, it provides hardware and technical documentation to the Haiku Project who provide drivers with full 2D and video in/out support. They are the sole graphics manufacturer in any way still supporting BeOS.

See also

External links

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