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  FIC A97P Radeon 9700 Pro review

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For a long time, ATI used to work as a standalone OEM; they designed their own chips and were they only ones to sell retail products based on them. That business model worked really well for them in the early 90’s and even managed to dominate the PC graphics market for a long period along with other players such as S3 and Matrox. But then it came 3dfx days, NVIDIA followed, and things started to work differently, at least if you wanted to keep your business alive in the consumer market.

Following NVIDIA’s route, nowadays, ATI works closely with a number of selected card manufacturers that distribute and market ATI powered boards around the globe; while ATI keeps producing chips in quantity, they have now limited their own branded board distribution to North America.
First International Computer (or FIC, as most of us like to call them) is one of such partners that offer Radeon based videocards, today we will be taking a close look to the A97P, Radeon 9700 Pro board. Without doubt, a product that doesn’t need much of an introduction, ATI has been all over the headlines ever since they released the first line of 9x00 boards last year, ranging from budget to mid-priced and high-end boards like the 9700 Pro.

Seven months later, NVIDIA has given up momentarily and ATI still hasn’t found a worthy competitor for the fastest Radeons however they recently announced they would revamp the 9x00 line in order to cut production costs and at the same time improve performance slightly by improving manufacturing processes.
By the time we are posting this, newer Radeon 9800 Pro boards will become available in a matter of days/weeks but actually that’s what make things more interesting… prices of 9700 Pro boards have been lowered considerably ($310 by the time of posting) making them a great buy, not to mention changes between 9700 & 9800 boards could be considered minimal both feature and performance wise, so keep on reading as you may find this is the card you were looking for.

The FIC A97P like any other Radeon 9700 Pro board supports some rather interesting features that are worth spending some time detailing, these same features are shared among 9x00 series products: Hyper Z III, SmartShader 2.0, Truform 2.0, SmoothVision 2.0, VideoShader & AGP 8X.

 

The card

The A97P featured 3 outputs on the backplate - a standard VGA port, S-Video port & a DVI port. Conveniently enough the packaging included the relevant adapters & cables for those as well, i.e. S-Video -> Composite converter, Composite cable, S-Video cable & a DVI -> VGA adapter. Clearly you should have no problem connecting a display device to this product.

Looking at the card itself, it didn’t seem to differ much from ATI’s reference board; FIC has also kept the red PCB but has equipped the card with a fancier copper cooler that should do more than a decent job for the Radeon 9700 Pro which doesn’t require anything <cough> too special for running at normal temperatures.

Installation of the board went along relatively easily. Ironically a power connector needs to be connected to the card (Just like the Voodoo 5 5500, something which many found rather humorous at the time), which should minimize any AGP slot power incompatibilities/inadequacies – clearly 3dfx wasn’t too far off the mark.
Upon booting into Windows XP the Radeon was detected as expected & I installed the latest available Catalyst Drivers/Control Panel from ATI – that being version 3.1 at the time of installation & 3.2 by the time of writing this review and benchmarking. Overall we have found ATI’s drivers support to be excellent, especially considering their dark background from just a couple of years ago.

In addition to the Drivers FIC also bundles WinDVD, InterVideo’s excellent software DVD decoder. Last but not least, something of a chance from the norm, FIC actually went and included a printed users’ manual with the Graphics card, which gives details on configuring the board (also available online as well in PDF format).

 



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