iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Gigabyte MAYA II RADEON 9500 PRO &
Hercules 3D Prophet 9500 PRO
Video Cards Review

March 3, 2003


  1. General information
  2. Peculiarities of the video cards
  3. Test system configuration 
  4. Test results from 3Digest
  5. Conclusion

The spring has finally arrived! March is traditionally abundant in announcements from ATI and NVIDIA. Certainly, 3D enthusiasts are looking forward to seeing what new solutions are going to be. But let's arm ourselves with patience and wait a bit. 

As a rule, announcements bring onto the market High-end solutions which can be followed by a suite of less powerful accelerators meant for the middle and lower price niches. But Spring 2003 will have a lot of exceptions. In this month new mid-level solutions as well as new lines topped with the most powerful game accelerator will be announced. 

What will happen to the current products? The lines that ATI managed to bring up? This is the family of RADEON 9500-9700. Which are going to remain and which will be thrown away?.. At present, I can only say that the prices for such cards are hardly falling down. The marketing policy of the Canadian company is stuck making the NVIDIA's solutions more attractive. And it primarily concerns mid-ranges such as RADEON 9500 and 9500 PRO. 

By the way, here is the list of the video cards based on the RADEON 9500/9700 which were also already reviewed. 

On one hand, RADEON 9500 128MB is very popular now with users which have the Internet access because many are aware that such cards can be turned into RADEON 9700 on the software level. But! Remember that RADEONs 9500 often get R300 chips with a broken HSR unit, which is simply disabled in 9500. To make the 9700 out of 9500 you must change the Device ID for the RADEON 9700's one, that is why the drivers entirely enable the R300 including the HSR. The consequences are easily predictable if this unit is broken. 

Here are some unpleasant news for those who are still going to change the RADEON 9500 128MB into 9700. The market now offers new-design cards with the PCB of 9500 PRO. This PCB has a fixed 128-bit memory bus. That is why such RADEON 9500 can be turned only into RADEON 9500 PRO, which is less attractive than into 9700. By the way, the 9500 64MB cards which are currently selling can also be changed into 9500 PRO 64MB, but I haven't heard that users tend to buy such cards for this purpose. 

That is why popularity of the widely-known 9500 128MB card is fading away as the new RADEON 9500 128MB models are coming onto the scene, which are even slower than the RADEON 9500 64MB. Who will spend so much money ($150-160 for the beginning of March) for the card which is obviously slower than the NVIDIA's counterpart? 

I think the manufacturers are well aware of it - the fact that the RADEON 9500 64MB is an overpriced freak was clear from the very beginning, and the 9500's days are numbered; it will be replaced with the RADEON 9500 PRO which, in its turn, will be pressed out by RADEON 9700 and (sh!...). 

That is why we should study the 9500 PRO more carefully - thankfully, the production cards are getting more in number. All the peculiarities of this chipset are described in the previous reviews. Today we will only test two production RADEON 9500 PRO cards. 

Gigabyte and Hercules are not new-comers at all, though Hercules' solutions are quite expensive and less competitive. 


Gigabyte MAYA II RADEON 9500 PRO 

Hercules 3D Prophet 9500 PRO 

Gigabyte MAYA II RADEON 9500 PRO 
The card has AGP X2/4/8 interface, 128 MB DDR SDRAM located in 8 chips on both PCB sides. 

128bit memory interface. 

The Hynix's memory chips have 3.6ns access time which corresponds to 275 (550) MHz, but the memory runs at 270 (540) MHz. The GPU works at 275MHz which is typical of RADEON 9700. 

Hercules 3D Prophet 9500 PRO 
The card has the same 128MB 128bit memory, AGP X2/4/8 interface. 

The Infineon's memory chips have 3.0ns access time which corresponds to 333 (666) MHz, but the memory runs at 270 (540) MHz. The GPU works at 275MHz.

Comparison with the reference design, front view 
Gigabyte MAYA II RADEON 9500 PRO  Reference card ATI RADEON 9500 PRO 

Hercules 3D Prophet 9500 PRO  Reference card ATI RADEON 9500 PRO 

Comparison with the reference design, back view
Gigabyte MAYA II RADEON 9500 PRO  Reference card ATI RADEON 9500 PRO 

Hercules 3D Prophet 9500 PRO  Reference card ATI RADEON 9500 PRO 

Both cards are based on the reference design. The Gigabyte's one is its pure copy, while the Hercules has two differences: the PCB is traditionally sky-blue and the external power supply connector is soldered out on the back (so that installation of heatsinks on the memory cards wouldn't be prevented). 

The most noteworthy feature of these cards is the coolers. 

Gigabyte MAYA II RADEON 9500 PRO 
Here is a massive heatsink which reminds a reference one, though has larger dimensions. 

Hercules 3D Prophet 9500 PRO 
The developers at Hercules decided that the ThermalTake's cooler used earlier on the NVIDIA based cards would suffice. 

And now look at the processors themselves. 

Gigabyte MAYA II RADEON 9500 PRO 

Hercules 3D Prophet 9500 PRO 

Look at the chip from the Hercules card. When I took off the cooler I saw a small notch on the die. I think the owners of Athlons got it: the dies of R300 are very delicate. Thankfully, this surface defect is not fatal, and the card works perfectly. 

Now look at the package contents: 

Gigabyte MAYA II RADEON 9500 PRO 
User Guide, CD with drivers and utilities, CDs with old games and PowerDVD; S-Video-to-RCA and DVI-to-d-Sub adapters and TV-out extenders. 

Hercules 3D Prophet 9500 PRO 
User Guide, CD with drivers and utilities, and PowerDVD XP; S-Video-to-RCA adapter, TV-out extenders, DVI-to-d-Sub adapter. 

Both cards ship in retail packages. 
Gigabyte MAYA II RADEON 9500 PRO 
A well-designed box. The style is similar to other packages for Gigabyte's cards based on ATI's processors which are available for a year already; the MAYA II differs from MAYA only in the color. The idea to combine the MAYA's legend with the 3D accelerator is an excellent marketing step. 

Hercules 3D Prophet 9500 PRO 
This company also keeps to its traditions in picturing mystic creatures - but if MAYA were real, Hercules decided to stay with spirits (remember Voodoo), and boxes with 3D accelerators always come with mystic gods and spirits drawn on them. It's a good decision to indicate frequencies on the front side. 


Gigabyte MAYA II RADEON 9500 PRO  After installation of the BIOS cracked version: 275/540 -> 360/616 MHz (BIOS was taken at http://www.radeon2.ru/
Hercules 3D Prophet 9500 PRO  Impossible so far as the cracked version of BIOS correctly working with the Infineon's memory is not yet available 

By default overclocking is locked in the BIOS and you can't increase the frequencies without modifying the BIOS. It's a pity we couldn't overclock the Hercules because it has faster than default memory - 3.0ns. 

Note that: 

  • during the overclocking you should provide additional cooling, in particular, for the card (first of all, for its memory):

  • overclocking depends on a sample, and you shouldn't generalize the results of one card to all video cards of this trade mark or series. The overclocking results are not the obligatory characteristics of video cards. 

Test system and drivers


  • Pentium 4 3066 MHz based computer: 
    • Intel Pentium 4 3066 MHz; 
    • ASUS P4G8X (iE7205); 
    • 1024 MB DDR SDRAM; 
    • Seagate Barracuda IV 40GB; 
    • Windows XP SP1; 
    • ViewSonic P810 (21") and ViewSonic P817 (21"). 
    • ATI v6.255 drivers. 

  • Athlon XP 2600+ based computer: 
    • AMD Athlon XP 2600+ (2133 MHz); 
    • EPoX (nForce2); 
    • 1024 MB DDR SDRAM PC3200; 
    • Seagate Barracuda IV 40GB. 
    • Windows XP SP1. 
    • ViewSonic P810 (21") and ViewSonic P817 (21"). 

VSync is off in the drivers, the texture compression is off in applications. The texture detail level is set to High Quality. 

Test results

Before we start examining 2D quality I should say that there is no a complete technique of objective estimation of this parameter because: 

  1. Almost all modern 3D accelerators can have 2D quality much dependent on a certain sample, and it's impossible to trace all cards; 
  2. 2D quality depends not only on a video card, but also on a monitor and a cable; 
  3. Besides, certain monitors do not get along with certain video cards.

As for the tested samples, together with the ViewSonic P817 monitor and BNC Bargo cable the cards showed excellent quality at the following resolutions and frequencies: 

Gigabyte MAYA II RADEON 9500 PRO  1600x1200x85Hz, 1280x1024x120Hz, 1024x768x160Hz 
Hercules 3D Prophet 9500 PRO  1600x1200x85Hz, 1280x1024x120Hz, 1024x768x160Hz 

Again in 1280x1024@75Hz the cards showed some horizontal ripples which depended on user's actions. It wasn't noticed in other resolutions. I suppose it's the fault of the design developers (ATI) not of the card makers. 

Test results: 3Digest

For the performance estimation we used: 

  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein (MultiPlayer) (id Software/Activision) - OpenGL, multitexturing, Checkpoint-demo, test settings - maximum, S3TC OFF, the configurations can be downloaded from 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 SE Pro (MadOnion/Remedy), Game2 "Dragothic" - DirectX 8.0, Hardware TCL, multitexturing, LOW Details, DXTC OFF, double buffering, 24-bit Z buffer

  • 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).

Summary diagrams of performance of the video cards on the latest drivers for January 2003

The overclocked cards are marked with red color, the frequencies reached follow the sign o/c (overclocked). 

For the summary diagrams we used drivers v.42.01 for the NVIDIA cards, v.6.255 for the ATI cards, v.3.07 for the SIS cards and v. for the Matrox cards. 

Both cards excellently performed and were very stable. 

I must say that the ripples can be seen in 1280x1024@75Hz only in 2D, in 3D games it was Ok. 


These two cards are copies of the ATI's reference design, and they showed ordinary results in their classes. The heatsinks mounted on the Hercules are simply a decoration because such memory doesn't need any cooling - it works at frequencies lower than the default ones. 

Today RADEON 9500 PRO cards are priced at $185-190. Can they compete against the NVIDIA's counterparts? Our tests (see the list of the reviews above) revealed that they successfully fight with GeForce4 Ti 4200 - 8x, which are selling at $180-190 (except the Chinese noname products). It's parity but remember that the RADEON 9500 PRO looks more attractive due to the DX9 support and its speed with AA and anisotropy is higher than that of GeForce4 Ti 4200-8x. 

As a rule, Gigabyte's products are not expensive, but the situation with Hercules is not clear yet because such cards will arrive on our market only by the middle of the March. 


  • Very good performance in 3D; 
  • Excellent build quality; 
  • Reliability and stability; 


  • Pickups and ripples at a certain resolution.


Andrey Vorobiev (anvakams@ixbt.com

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