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ATI All-In-Wonder RADEON 9600 PRO Video Card Review

December 16, 2003



That's one small step for a man, 
one giant leap for mankind. 
Neil Armstrong 


No sooner had I complained in the Sapphire All-In-Wonder RADEON 9800 PRO card review that ATI's combo solutions lacked for an FM tuner than I got a sample of the All-In-Wonder 9600 PRO with the respective support. This card was announced in August but it hasn't appeared yet on our local market.

Such epigraph was chosen because of the card's significance. Let me explain. First of all, an FM receiver is the last lacking feature in products of this kind which I mentioned yet in the review of the ATI All-In-Wonder RADEON 9700 PRO card published long ago. Secondly, the All-In-Wonder card didn't have a middle-end card before this model appeared. That is why a buyer had to choose between low performance of the All-In-Wonder 8500/9000 (I do not take into account older models) and a high price of different versions of the All-In-Wonder 9700/9800. I don't account for variations of the All-In-Wonder 9800SE cards available on the market.

In such situation it looks natural to make the ATI card priced at $249 (recommended retail price) look as attractive as possible. Let's see what they got.

Accessory pack

I don't' know how the card makers are going to design packages, here's the one from ATI: 




The box contains the following stuff:




  • Video Card
  • Output adapter (2 VGA, S-Video, RCA for composite signal, mini-jack for sound card's line-in, and S/PDIF for Dolby Digital external decoder)
  • Input connector (S-Video, 3 RCA for one video and two audio channels)
  • S-Video cables (S-Video and RCA - RCA).

The installation CD is identical to that of the All-In-Wonder RADEON 9800 PRO. The remote control will be discussed a bit later. 

Design

 

 

ATI All-In-Wonder RADEON 9600 PRO







  
ATI All-In-Wonder RADEON 9600 PRO
AGP x8/x4/x2 interface, 128 MB DDR SDRAM memory in 8 chips on both PCB sides. 

Samsung (BGA) 2.8ns memory chips (corresponds to 350 (700) MHz), the memory clock increased from 300 (600) MHz to 325 (650) MHz. GPU clocked at 400 MHz. 128bit memory bus.




Performance of this card can be estimated in reviews of the RADEON 9600 PRO based card, but do account for the increased memory clock.

The card overclocks up to 540/380 (760) MHz (!!!), almost reaching the level of the 9600XT. I don't know whether production cards will be alike, but it seems that the card makers do not cut clocks anymore for higher reliability.

Unfortunately, the radio unit remains the same though it got an FM module. Here is the Philips FQ1261ME. 




Next to the tuner unit is a connector for the sound card's AUX-in; note that you should set Auxiliary as an audio-in in the Settings.




The design differs a little from the 9700/9800 based counterparts. There are no heatsinks (heat dissipation is much lower), and the THEATER 200 chip (Rage Theater is not offered) is on top of the card.




Testbed

  • Athlon 2800XP CPU (Barton)
  • Gigabyte 7VAX mainboard (KT400 chipset)
  • 1 GB RAM (Samsung 512 MB PC3200 + Kingmax 512 MB PC3200)
  • Creative Sound Blaster Live! 5.1 sound card
  • ECS EZ-TV (TVP3XP) TV & FM tuner
  • IBM DTLA 305020 hard drive
  • Windows XP Professional (SP1) ENG & Windows XP Professional (SP1) RUS

Connection

I wish the FM jack were further from the edge because I had problems installing the card into my PC.




Another peculiarity of the All-In-Wonder RADEON 9600 PRO is an altered I/O commutation. A DVI-I connector is replaced with a 28-pin one of the proprietary format, like that we saw on the MSI-8918 Personal Cinema FX5200. But you can connect to it only output signal sources via an adapter. At least, the connector is fixed.




An input signal is applied via a separate box




To make up for a lacking DVI, the card maker provides support for two VGA displays. The solution has both pluses and minuses. At the moment, only VGA + TV-out and VGA + VGA work. But they promise that the problem of the Clone mode will be solved with a third display (though I have no idea how they are going to do it).

Installation

The card was tested with the WDM driver 6224, Catalyst 3.9 and ATI MultiMedia Center 8.7 with the FM Radio v8.6 installed.

After installation of the drivers the device manager looks the same as for the other All-In-Wonder solutions




For reliable operation under the Windows XP and DirectX 9.0b you should install the respective patch (we mentioned it in the review of the Compro VideoMate TV Gold Plus) or download the updated version of the DirectX 9.0b. You can read about capabilities and performance of the MMC in the following articles:

All-In-Wonder RADEON 8500 DV Review,

All-In-Wonder RADEON 9700 PRO Review

Sapphire All-In-Wonder RADEON 9800 PRO Review

In contrast to the All-In-Wonder RADEON 9800 PRO, this time I got all TV channels available. 

Quality

All strong and weak points are similar, except the fact that the red color got better.


   

   

   

No noise or pickups.

Video capture and processing

The THEATER 200 performs well (you can compare the video capture clips on the ATI cards here)

Xoro AEP-810 DVD player, Down House movie, 5 zone, PAL.

Composite signal connection












S-Video












The MMC perfectly works with any codecs installed and supports a great deal of formats and screenshot resolutions.



 


FM Tuner

Now comes the most interesting feature.

The MMC got a new application - FM Radio,






which got its own icon in the taskbar.




When started for the first time, the FM Radio suggests tweaking the audio parameters in the TV Player.




That is why I had to start up the TV Player for that purpose.

The Scan buttons cope with their task, 




the scanner finds stations but can't add them to the list. I had to do it manually.




Well, at least it adds the frequency fixed by the program at a given moment, otherwise it would be very difficult. But I can't say that it's a big disadvantage because it's usually a one-time operation.

Precise adjustment is supported as well.




The presets can be installed from the program's window (like it was in home systems and automobile radio recorders several years ago).




Sensitivity is good, the tuner found everything that we expected it to.

Similarly to Timeshift (TV-On-Demand in ATI cards) the FM Radio has the always running FM-On-Demand function (the LED in the center indicates the buffer status). You can actually disable it by moving the slider of the buffer size (maximum space to allocate on drive) to the left.




Also, you can change the One Touch Record parameters.




The developers solved the problem of recording quite radically and provided support only for mp3, 224KHz, 16bit, Stereo. No wav which is anyway unneeded :-) . But the next versions might get new settings added.

The FM-On-Demand comes with some really interesting features.

You can record any fragment marked without waiting for a composition desired:




or use fast transition to fragments specified,




as well as slow and fast playback (!).




The rest is standard.

Record timer,




On/off timer




Mute function with the Mono/Stereo assigned to the right button.



The scheduler is supported. Now you have to pass only 5 stages instead of 9 like in the TV mode :-).




It's convenient that if you try to run the TV Player when the FM radio is on you are offered to turn off or pause the FM Radio, and in the latter case it resumes when you leave the TV mode.




The audio quality is unblamable. Download a 20-sec clip to see it (571KB).

ATI Remote Wonder II

The All-In-Wonder RADEON 9600 PRO cards will be equipped with the new Remote Wonder II instead of the Remote Wonder
 
 




Apart from the cardinally new design the remote control has a twice greater range of operation (up to 18 m (!)), and a new pointer positioning system (looks more convenient); besides, it can be used in PowerPoint for presentations (also supported in the previous model with the respective plugin).

I'm looking forward to seeing this wonderful device in our lab, especially because it must have as wide support for applications of third companies as the previous model had.

Conclusion

Highs

  • FM tuner
  • Good sensitivity of the TV tuner
  • Good screening
  • Pretty good quality of the image received
  • Very good color rendering.
  • 12-bit ADC
  • Audio processor
  • Y:Pr:Pb TV connection
  • TV-on-Demand
  • FM-on-Demand
  • Crop Video
  • Pause in recording
  • EAZYLOOK screen menu
  • THRUVIEW semitransparent overlay mode
  • Decent quality of capture from external sources, both from S-Video and composite-in
  • Recording from FM tuner to mp3
  • Rich sampling features, including VideoSoap
  • Third-party codecs supported (including all MPEG4 options)
  • Convenient and multifunctional software
  • Remote control supporting various applications
  • Remotely controlled radio channel (up to 18 m) irrespective of the line-of-sight coverage (I'm sure the production cards will have it)
  • Two VGA displays supported
  • Very good gaming performance
  • Nice overclocking potential

Lows

  • Outdated TV tuner
  • Color problems of video received
  • Channel switching causes delays or artifacts
  • Channel Surf doesn't correctly support channels with Cyrillic names
  • No DVI
  • Possible problems during installation into certain PC cases
  • Multimedia features will be lost with video card upgrade (it concerns all cards of this class)

The card is truly going to be a success. ATI set a new record in this category. Sufficient gaming performance and the best multimedia features combined with a moderate price make this card the choice of ours. 
 

Alexey Samsonov AKA AlS (als@ixbt.com)
 

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