iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






HIS Excalibur RADEON 9500 128MB (128bit) Video Card Review

April 8, 2003


  1. General information 
  2. Video card's features
  3. Testbed configuration
  4. Test results
  5. Conclusion

It's April, and with all the press conferences, presentations and announcements testers are to dive into this ocean of new accelerators, technologies, processors, and DX9 tests, but from time to time we get back to the graphics cards which still remain popular. First of all, I mean accelerators with DX9 support. As you know, this is only the ATI RADEON 9500-9700 family. 

You should already know all ins and outs of the line as its cards were reviewed multiple times: 

In this line all the figures correspond to the performance so far. But the marketers and developers are going to break the harmony of the line (although it looks strange, future RADEON 9600/PRO will probably be slower than current RADEON 9500/PRO, and the today's model is a step back relative to the earlier released card under THE SAME NAME). 

Look at the line 8 in the list above. There we pointed out that RADEON 9500 64MB and 128MB differ in the memory buses (the former has 128bit, the latter - 256bit), because both are built on RADEON 9700's PCB which supports a 256bit bus on the hardware level, and the 64MB model is obtained by removing half of the memory chips (the memory bus is therefore shorter as well). That is why RADEON 9500 128MB was much more popular as it had better performance and could be turned into RADEON 9700. 

But it didn't suit ATI that the PCB used for mainstream cards was quite expensive, and the sales of RADEON 9700 could markedly fall down, as it was getting popular to change RADEON 9500 into 9700. For some time RADEON 9500 128MB cards were in very great demand. The worst thing for ATI could happen if the Chinese partners started buying cheaper RADEON 9500 GPUs from the Canadians, installing them onto R9700's PCBs and selling them as original RADEON 9700. However, such fears were exaggerated because not every RADEON 9500 can flawlessly work with 8 pipelines, and hardly anyone would take the risk of producing expensive RADEON 9700 based on 9500 (it would be necessary to carefully test every sample and cull out about 30% of such cards, which would raise the costs and make the deal unprofitable). 

ATI worried about the first mid-level card with a 256bit bus anyway. Taking into account that there was only one company involved into such production - Sapphire, it wasn't a problem to find a way out: wither to withdraw the production or to replace the card with something else. The first option wasn't the best because what matters is a real income, though Sapphire is the first ATI's partner due to the specific relations between both presidents. The overseas demand could have an effect. But they decided to go with the second option: continue production of RADEON 9500 128MB but on the PCB of RADEON 9500 PRO. 

When we examined the previous RADEON 9500 128MB, as well as RADEON 9500 PRO, we assumed that the cheaper PCB with the hardware 128bit bus could be a good base for new RADEON 9500 128MB. Today we are testing exactly such card. Although it has the HIS trade mark, it's produced at PC Partner's plants, i.e. Sapphire. But the PCB is not expensive, which may attract all other ATI's partners. 

Since both cards, 64MB and 128MB, have the same 128bit bus, we should expect at least the same speed because there are no games wanting more than 64MB, especially with AGP8x provided. But reality is tougher than expected... Still, 5% of users engaged in tuning and overclocking will find a couple of attactive traits. 


HIS Excalibur RADEON 9500 128MB (128bit) 

HIS Excalibur RADEON 9500 128MB (128bit) 
The card has AGP X2/4/8 interface, 128 MB DDR SDRAM in 8 chips on both PCB sides. 128bit memory interface. 

Hynix memory chips of 3.3ns access time, which corresponds to 300 (600) MHz, but the chips are clocked at 270 (540) MHz. The core works at 275 MHz, which is a standard clock speed for RADEON 9500, and has 4 active rendering pipelines. 

Comparison with the reference design and previous RADEON 9500 128MB, front view
HIS Excalibur RADEON 9500 128MB (128bit)  Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9500 128MB (256bit)  Reference card ATI RADEON 9500 PRO 

Comparison with the reference design and previous RADEON 9500 128MB, back view
HIS Excalibur RADEON 9500 128MB (128bit)  Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9500 128MB (256bit)  Reference card ATI RADEON 9500 PRO 


No doubt that the new solution of HIS (Sapphire) is entirely based on the PCB from RADEON 9500 PRO, and, therefore, has the hardware 128 bit capacity. 

Now have a look at the cooler. 

HIS Excalibur RADEON 9500 128MB (128bit) 
This massive heatsink reminds the reference one, but its dimensions are larger. 

Once we removed the cooler we found there the processor itself. 

HIS Excalibur RADEON 9500 128MB (128bit) 

The production technology is different - this chip has a mirror surface like R350 (RADEON 9800 PRO), and such optimization might bring higher overclocking scores and raise the percentage of valid chips. In its turn, this might make easier to change the chip into... not RADEON 9700 (remember about 128 bits!) but into RADEON 9500 PRO. 

Accessory pack: 

HIS Excalibur RADEON 9500 128MB (128bit) 
User Guide, CD with drivers and utilities, CD with CyberLink PowerDirector (what for?), S-Video-to-RCA and DVI-to-d-Sub adapters, and TV-out extenders. 

The card ships in a retail package. 
HIS Excalibur RADEON 9500 128MB (128bit) 
The sticker 'Value' indicates the retail package type: a decent accessory pack without games, plus a small box (the alternative solution has a twice bigger box). 



HIS Excalibur RADEON 9500 128MB (128bit)  Note that overclocking is not locked in this card, as well as in all RADEON 9500 cards. The die utilizes the new technology, allowing for higher performance scores: the chip has reached 415 MHz (!) and the memory - 330 (660) MHz. When we applied the drivers patched with Soft9700, the card started working as RADEON 9500 PRO maintaining the level reached! The chip worked flawlessly at 415 MHz even with 8 pipelines! 



Note that 

  • Overclocking requires additional card cooling (for its memory, in particular): 



  • Overclocking depends on a certain sample, and you shouldn't extend single-card results to the entire series or trade mark. Overclocking results are not obligatory characteristics of video cards. 

Testbeds and drivers


  • Pentium 4 3066 MHz based computer: 
    • Intel Pentium 4 3066 MHz CPU; 
    • ASUS P4G8X (iE7205) mainboard; 
    • 1024 MB DDR SDRAM; 
    • Seagate Barracuda IV HDD, 40GB; 
    • Windows XP SP1; 
    • ViewSonic P810 (21") and ViewSonic P817 (21") monitors. 
    • ATI drivers v6.307. 

VSync off in drivers, texture compression off in applications, texture detail set to High Quality. 

Test Results

Before we start examining 2D quality, I should say there are no complete techniques for objective 2D quality estimation because: 

  1. 2D quality much depends on certain samples for almost all modern 3D accelerators; 
  2. Besides videocards, 2D quality depends on monitors and cables; 
  3. Moreover, certain monitors might not work properly with certain video cards. 

As for the sample tested, together with the ViewSonic P817 monitor and BNC Bargo cable it showed excellent quality at the following resolutions and clock speeds:

HIS Excalibur RADEON 9500 128MB (128bit)  1600x1200x85Hz, 1280x1024x120Hz, 1024x768x160Hz 


We noticed no wavy ripples on the screen in any resolution. 

Test Results: 3D

Test applications: 

  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein (MultiPlayer) (id Software/Activision) - OpenGL, multitexturing, Checkpoint-demo, maximum test settings, S3TC OFF, the configs are available here

  • Serious Sam: The Second Encounter v.1.05 (Croteam/GodGames) - OpenGL, multitexturing, Grand Cathedral demo, test settings: quality, S3TC OFF 

  • Codecreatures Benchmark Pro (Codecult) - Direct3D, Shaders, Hardware T&L, Dot3, cube texturing, highest quality 

  • Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo v.1077 (Final Release) (Digital Extreme/Epic Games) - Direct3D, Vertex Shaders, Hardware T&L, Dot3, cube texturing, default quality 

  • 3DMark2001 Pro (MadOnion/Remedy) - DirectX 8.0, Hardware TCL, Game1, Game2, Game3, Game4, Low, High detail levels

  • RightMark 3D (one of the game scenes) - DirectX 8.1, Dot3, cube texturing, shadow buffers, vertex and pixel shaders (1.1, 1.4). 


3DMark2001, 3DMARKS

3DMark2001, Game1 Low details

3DMark2001, Game2 Low details

3DMark2001, Game3 Low details

3DMark2001, Game4

  1. The newer RADEON 9500 128MB works slower than even RADEON 9500 64MB. Probably, it is caused by the memory timings which are higher of the new card. Maybe, there are other reasons, but it's obvious that the newer RADEON 9500 128MB isn't a beneficial purchase disregarding such factors as overclocking or remaking it into RADEON 9500 PRO. 
  2. The card was successfully remade into RADEON 9500 PRO with Soft9700 patch (developed by Aleksei Nikolaichuk AKA Unwinder, who is also an author of RivaTuner). But it is less efficient than the original RADEON 9500 PRO, probably because of the memory timings. 
  3. The overclocked RADEON 9500 PRO based card sometimes reaches the level of RADEON 9700! 



Serious Sam: TSE

Return to Castle Wolfenstein

Unreal Tournament 2003 DEMO

RightMark 3D

Well, the RADEON 9500 128MB card with the 128bit bus significantly lags behind the previous card (with the 256bit bus), and loses to the 64MB model (which is cheaper at that). The 64MB cards will probably be taken out of production or move to a new PCB. 

The new card overdrives perfectly (but remember that it depends on a certain sample, and no one can guarantee that all new RADEON 9500 will have chips based on the new technology or with the optimized fabrication process), and can be easily turned into RADEON 9500 PRO even without resoldering (but, again, no one can guarantee that all such cards will work flawlessly as R9500 PRO). 

The card tested works stably, and we have no complains. 


The newer graphics card is less efficient than the older one though they have a single name. I shall thank HIS for the sticker indicating that the card has a 128bit bus. Will other companies including Sapphire, manufacturer of such cards, do the same? 

Remember what differs the old RADEON 9500 128MB from the new one. At the photo you can see that the memory chips and the external power supply socket are located differently. 

Is it worth buying such cards? The question is not for testers. It's for readers to choose. If the prices are adequate, or you want to overclock the card or remake it into RADEON 9500 PRO, then why not? 


  • Very good performance in 3D for the middle level; 
  • Excellent built quality; 
  • High stability and reliability; 
  • Excellent overclocking potential; plus, the card can be easily changed into RADEON 9500 PRO on the software level (but it's not guaranteed that all cards can work flawlessly as 9500 PRO); 


  • The card is much slower than the previous solution based on the PCB with a 256bit bus; it is also slower than the card with 64MB memory; 
  • The price factor is not favorable; 
  • It's not easy to tell the old RADEON 9500 128MB from the new one; ATI and its partners have done nothing to distinguish the cards (I just want to thank HIS once again for the sticker indicating the 128bit bus). 


Andrey Vorobiev  (anvakams@ixbt.com

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