ATI Graphics Ultra. (Evaluation)
by Tom Benford
ATI's products have enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for high quality, high performance, and innovation since the company first started. This reputation for excellence is more deserved than ever with its current series of graphics accelerator boards, especially the ATI Graphics ULTRA board.
This half-length graphics board is chock-full of features, starting with ATI's proprietary March 8 coprocessor, which relieves the PC's CPU of many of the normal video tasks and routines it usually performs. This dedicated graphics coprocessor contributes to significant speed increases in Windows applications.
The Graphics ULTRA contains separate memory sections for the coprocessor and the Super VGA video. You can buy the board with either 512K or 1MB of coprocessor VRAM memory; if you buy the 512K version and decide to upgrade to 1MB later, you can handle the job with SIPP (Single In-line Pin Package) RAM modules. The separate VGA RAM section comes outfitted with 256K of dedicated VGA RAM, which can be expanded to 512K.
A 400-dpi Microsoft-compatible mouse included with the Graphics ULTRA plugs into the bus port on the card's mounting bracket. The mouse is a three-button unit with a curved shape and flush-mounted buttons; while it may be Microsoft-compatible in operation, it's no match for the Microsoft mouse when it comes to comfort, control, and overall hand-shape ergonomics. The mouse may be a purchase point worth considering for some users, however, if they need a mouse and are interested in upgrading their system's video graphics capabilities at the same time.
One of the most unique and noteworthy features of the Graphics ULTRA package is ATI's Crystal Font package. Crystal Fonts are scalable compact font outlines that generate font images "on the fly" at incredibly fine resolutions and ultrafast speeds (up to 40,000 characters per second). The video display refreshes itself almost instantly, and the definition and legibility of these fonts are truly impressive. According to ATI, using the Crystal Fonts technology is like having near-300-dpi laser resolution on the video display; after using Crystal Fonts, I must agree that this is an accurate analogy.
Driver, utility, and Crystal Font software comes supplied on two 5 1/4-inch floppies only; no 3 1/2-inch disks are included in the package. Installing drivers for Windows as well as AutoCAD and several other popular application packages is a simple, almost totally automatic procedure requiring the user to answer a couple of questions or accept default answers throughout the process.
While I still preferred to use my Microsoft mouse during my review, I was very impressed with the Crystal Fonts and the overall speed of the board both in Windows applications and in DOS--the board is a screamer. Of all the boards reviewed here, the ATI Graphics ULTRA is my first choice for overall performance, features, and video fonts resolution.