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The release of the next-generation GPUs are just a few months away! The upcoming NV40 and R420 GPUs from ATI and NVIDIA are being hyped as major improvements over the current GPUs. There are even claims of improvements in the magnitude of two to three times that of the current top GPUS!

While everyone is eagerly awaiting the arrival of the next generation, some are actually hunting for good deals as the price of the current high-end cards like the ATI Radeon 9800 and NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900 GPUs drops. But as the title of this article suggests, I'll be concentrating on ATI cards.

The first ATI Radeon 9800 Pro was released about a year ago. The R350 core was an evolution of the older R300 core with additional features and a much higher clock speed. At that time, the Radeon 9800 Pro was easily the fastest card in the market while NVIDIA was still struggling with the 'Dustbuster' FX 5800.

The 256MB variant of the Radeon 9800 Pro is virtually identical to the 128MB model. The only difference is the 256MB Radeon 9800 Pro uses DDR II memory which has a higher latency compared to the old DDR memory. Therefore, a slight memory clock speed bump was implemented to eliminate any loss of performance due to the increased DDR II latency.

The 256MB ATI Radeon 9800 Pro is probably the least popular ATI graphics card of the year. It is a lot more expensive than the 128MB variant and the extra 128MB of memory proved rather useless. The performance of both the 128MB and 256MB models were absolutely identical, even when running memory-intensive games like Unreal Tournament 2003.

Only certain situations using high FSAA settings gave the 256MB Radeon 9800 Pro a slight edge over its 128MB brother. Even then, the slight improvement in performance didn't make the additional USD 100 worth considering. Or is that REALLY true?

Although the 256MB Radeon 9800 Pro may seem like a sheer waste of money, it may actually turn out to be a real steal! Why? Because one can actually turn the 256MB Radeon 9800 Pro into a 256MB Radeon 9800XT!

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