Hercules 3D Prophet FDX 8500LE

As you might know, Hercules has a new partner in crime in fellow Frenchman, ATi. Let's see if Hercules' first ATi GPU based VidCard stands up to the Hercules namesake.

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Features Explained:

If you are not familiar with the ATi technology behind the 8500 series of GPU, please allow us to hit the most important features.

TRUFORMآ™

By employing N-Patches (also known as PN Triangles) آ– a new type of higher order surface composed of curved rather than flat triangles that was developed by ATI and is supported in Microsoftآ’s DirectXآ™ 8.0 and OpenGLآ™ technologies -- TRUFORM permits surfaces to be generated entirely within the graphics processor, without requiring significant changes to existing 3D artwork that is composed of flat triangles. This ensures that the technology is easy for software developers to implement and avoids breaking compatibility with older graphics processors, while still delivering the best visual experience to owners of newer graphics processors that support TRUFORM. As a result, N-Patches offer the most efficient and practical higher order surface implementation.

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آ“TRUFORM also allows for a higher level of scalability, meaning the number of triangles or polygons in a 3D image can be varied according to the capabilities of the installed graphics hardware,آ” explained Mr. Okumura. آ“Software developers usually create low triangle count models so that their games can run well on low-end PCs, which make up the vast majority of products used today by consumers.

آ“TRUFORM can take these 3D models with low polygon counts and generate smooth, highly detailed images, affording most users a greatly enhanced visual experience with no compromise in performance or compatibility.آ”

TRUFORM demonstrations using Flash can be found here.

SMARTSHADERآ™

SMARTSHADER technology incorporates major advances in the area of Pixel Shaders, which are small programs that execute on every pixel rendered to the display device. With support for up to six textures in a single rendering pass, the memory bandwidth constraints associated with multi-pass rendering can be greatly reduced, which translates into better rendering performance. By doubling the maximum allowable length of the shader programs, more complex effects can be created to accurately model the visual properties of materials and surfaces, including hair, skin, wood, water and more. Additionally, SMARTSHADER Pixel Shaders introduce a simplified yet more powerful instruction set that lets developers design a much wider range of graphical effects with fewer operations.

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SMARTSHADER technology also includes support for Vertex Shaders, which are small programs that are executed on the vertices that form the building blocks of all 3D objects. These shaders can actually modify the shape and position of objects and are useful for handling advanced character animation, objects that bend and ripple like cloth or water, particle effects like sparks and rain, and much more.

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SMOOTHVISIONآ™

With SMOOTHVISIONآ™, users are able to choose from a variety of different anti-aliasing modes to best meet their image quality or performance needs. SMOOTHVISIONآ™ supports a High-Performance anti-aliasing mode and a High-Quality anti-aliasing mode. Both of these modes give users the ability to choose between 2x, 3x, 4x, 5x, and 6x sampling, allowing for a total of 10 different anti-aliasing settings. This allows users to quite easily select both the desired level of visual quality and the corresponding performance level.

SMOOTHVISIONآ™ makes use of a jittered sampling table, allowing for a variety of different sample positions. Using a variable sampling pattern eliminates problems associated with redundant sampling methods implemented in other graphics accelerators. Redundant sampling can cause image artifacts that are quite noticeable along edges, due to the repetitive nature of the sample colors. Using jittered sampling patterns enables highly realistic anti-aliased edges.

The SMOOTHVISION whitepaper is available for download right here in .PDF format which goes into further detail on Multi-Sampling and Super Sampling Anti Aliasing.

The Radeon 8500 also features second generation technology originally introduced with the original Radeon. These features are HYPER Zآ™ II, CHARISMA ENGINEآ™ II, and PIXEL TAPESTRYآ™ II. These features should be at least familiar to you by now, but full definitions of each feature can be found here for quick reference.

Test System

EPoX 8KHA+: AMD AthlonXP 1800+ clocked at 1.533GHz (11.5*133), Alpha 8045D, 256MB Corsair XMS2700, NETGEAR FA310TX NIC, 40GB Maxtor ATA133 HD, Enermax 550 watt PSU. Windows XP Professional, DirectX 8.1, 4n1 4.37v(a)

The cards used in the benchmarking are as follows:

Hercules Prophet FDX 8500LE - Retail ATI Radeon 8500LE with 64MB of DDR clocked at stock speeds of 250MHz core and 250MHz (500MHz DDR) memory. Driver version 6043 beta for WinXP.

ATI Radeon 8500LE 128MB DDR - Retail ATI Radeon 8500LE with 128MB of DDR clocked at stock speeds of 250MHz core and 250MHz (500MHz DDR) memory. Driver version 6043 beta for WinXP.

GeForce3 Ti 500 64MB - Retail ABIT Siluro GeForce3 Ti500 reference driver version 27.42.

Gainward Ultra/750XP Ti 4600 (300/650) - Retail card clocked at stock default clocks of 300MHz core and 650MHz memory. Driver version 28.32.

3DMark2001

3DMark 2001 is a DirectX 8 based benchmark that is very similar to the previous 3DMark 2000, except that it uses some totally different DirectX features that put much more stress on the VidCard. Default mode at 1024x768x32 was used. You will see the scores bunch up much more tightly here. While memory bandwidth is still an issue, if you were to see this benchmark alone, you would certainly be left with a different perception of our systems. 3DMark 2001 has moved very close to being a VidCard benchmark instead of a system benchmark. The 3DMark 2001 will surely stay an industry standard, as it utilizes the Vertex and Pixel Shader programming, but it has lost some of its usefulness as a total benchmark.

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Two things caught my attention immediately, the first being how close the GeForce3 Ti500 and the Radeon 8500LE based card were in overall scores. And the next being the performance of the 128MB Radeon 8500 compared to the 64MB Hercules board, both cards turned in almost identical performance. The Prophet 8500LE turned in respectable performance here.