On my 1.5GHz Athlon XP system, which is about low end to average these days, I couldn't find a faster video card than the Saphire Radeon 9700 Atlantis Pro to use with it. Until you reach the highest resolutions and levels of Anisotropic filtering and FSAA, my computer is almost always cpu limited with this card.
However, being cpu limited with current games means that your frame rates are still above 60fps generally before you start looking for ways to enable more features. The numbers from the benchmarks don't really convey the actual speed of games when you play them, they are almost too fast and you end up looking for more eye-candy features to slow them down a bit. The only quibble I have with the card is the ATI control panel, which is by no means deal breaking, and there are plenty of alternatives to using that in the ATI user community.
Image quality is a subjective thing and there are a lot of factors: gamma settings, game settings, whether there are rendering bugs in a game, game content, etc. Being able to apply features like FSAA and anisotropic filtering ups the ante on image quality from the sheer fact that you can apply both and still have playable results. While I find quite a few games lacking in content, low res textures, blocky characters, etc, the video card isn't responsible for that, FSAA works well and anisotropic works well, no rendering problems that I could see in the benchmarks reported here. I ran several other benchmarks however, and Commanche 4 for one has problems with FSAA 6X on the 9700 resulting in missing textures, but that is old code written before the existance of the hardware. I think you'll see quite a bit of that kind of problem out there. I find that unless a game has been tested properly with a video card, it's an even bet whether or not it will be supported properly. In playing some games, there have been issues, Mafia has numerous problems with textures flashing and textures not meshing properly, which is a combination of lack of W-Buffer support on the 9700 and likely driver issues as well. Image quality in terms of the video displayed is excellent, the desktop is in sharp focus on both monitors, the colours are saturated nicely, no complaints at all.
In this review I have tried to emphasize what this paticular card from this paticular vendor brings to the table, not what ATI has done with their chip and their drivers. Neither blame nor praise can be given to a vendor for simply selling a box with a card from another company, other than the quality control and technical support aspects. From what I can see with this paticular card, the hardware quality is excellent, but then again, it could be a golden sample. The Sapphire web site looks to be nice and direct as you can get what you want out of it without hassle, and they look to be keen on being a player in retail. All are good signs for a company you want to deal with as a consumer. Time will tell.
To top it off, overclocking by 20% is an excellent yield, and leaves a very good margin of safety for these cards if you are not interested in that extra little performance and prefer to play it safe. The card should last a long time. Actual performance gains from overclocking when using features like FSAA are limited, and then it mostly comes from overclocking the memory. To see the benefit of overclocking the core, you really need games with lots of geometry and possibly complex shaders as seen in the 3DMark2001 numbers.
- Speed. Lots of speed.
- High overclocking potential.
- Great Image Quality, more freedom in using FSAA and Anisotropic filtering than with previous ATI cards.
- Some vague idea that the card will be competitive and useful with games to come. Considering the current slow pace of game development, this card is more of a safe investment than usual.
- Speed, almost too much speed. :)
- Lack of game support for features so far.
- ATI's control panel.
- Bare bones package.