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ATI Radeon 9600, 9600 Pro Roundup

July 20, 2003



CONTENTS

  1. Video card's features
  2. Testbed configuration, test tools, 2D quality
  3. Test results: Quake3 ARENA
  4. Test results: Serious Sam: The Second Encounter
  5. Test results: Return to Castle Wolfenstein
  6. Test results: Code Creatures DEMO
  7. Test results: Unreal Tournament 2003
  8. Test results: Unreal II: The Awakening
  9. Test results: RightMark 3D
  10. Conclusion

This summer is not only the time of NVIDIA's new solutions that come onboard of DirectX 9.0 compatible video cards (till the spring 2003 the DX9 was represented exceptionally by ATI's products). Graphics cards based on ATI products are also expanding their market niche pressing out the previous releases.

First of all, there are mid-level RADEON 9600 PRO and RADEON 9600. In contrast to the previous line of the RADEON 9700/9500 which utilized the crippled version of the R350, the RADEON 9600 is an independent product. These cards have their own PCB design and use the independently developed RV350 GPU RADEON 9600 (PRO). Some of the reviews that also touch upon these issues can be found in the list below.

Theoretical materials and reviews of video cards which concern functional properties of the GPU ATI RADEON 9500/9700/9800

In our recent tests ATI's main competitor NVIDIA GeForce FX 5600/5600 Ultra often looked stronger and more promising. But we have lately changed the demo benchmarks in the tests to eliminate possible cheats of the drivers made for certain timedemos or even scenes. None of the useful optimizations are removed. Our previous reviews clearly demonstrate the performance of the NVIDIA products with such cheats. But that time we examined only High-End cards, and today we will take a look at the mid-level solutions in the new tests.

The cards which will be examined today are all very interesting. The first one comes from well-known Hercules. Its latest products have a touch of modding. Plus a traditionally high quality and... high prices. Gigabyte is another popular and established video card maker. Today the company deals exceptionally with ATI processors. Finally we have ATI's partner number one, Sapphire. This firm has the widest range of video cards based on ATI's GPUs.

So, we have 4 video cards to test, two being from Sapphire, and all of them have unique features (which can be both positive and negative).

Cards

Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9600 256MB


Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9600 PRO Ultimate Edition 128MB


Gigabyte RADEON 9600 PRO 128MB


Hercules 3D Prophet 9600 PRO 128MB




All cards have AGP x8/x4/x2 interface, 128 MB DDR SDRAM memory (except Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9600 256MB) in 8 chips on both PCB sides.

Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9600 256MB
Elixir memory chips of 5ns access time which corresponds to 200 (400) MHz. Memory works at the same frequency, GPU at 325 MHz


Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9600 PRO Ultimate Edition 128MB, Gigabyte RADEON 9600 PRO 128MB, Hercules 3D Prophet 9600 PRO 128MB
Samsung memory chips of 2.8ns access time which corresponds to 350 (700) MHz. Memory works at 300 (600) MHz, GPU at 400 MHz.




Comparison with the reference design, front view
Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9600 256MB Reference card ATI RADEON 9600






Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9600 PRO Ultimate Edition 128MB Reference card ATI RADEON 9600 PRO






Gigabyte RADEON 9600 PRO 128MB






Hercules 3D Prophet 9600 PRO 128MB





Comparison with the reference design, back view
Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9600 256MB Reference card ATI RADEON 9600






Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9600 PRO Ultimate Edition 128MB Reference card ATI RADEON 9600 PRO






Gigabyte RADEON 9600 PRO 128MB



Hercules 3D Prophet 9600 PRO 128MB





The design of all the cards coincides with the reference one. The only distinguishing feature is blue color of Gigabyte's and Hercules's cards.

Now let's examine the coolers.



Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9600 256MB
This is a usual heatsink glued to the chip. Note that the RADEON 9600 has the FCPGA package, the chip has an open die, and the heatsink is glued to it. It's quite dangerous because users tend to take video cards by coolers (just image how suffers this poor small die).


Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9600 PRO Ultimate Edition 128MB
It's obvious that the cooler is what differs this card from the RADEON 9600 PRO in Sapphire's implementation. The cooling system is based on Zalman's one. The principle of operation is simple: the warmer front cooler transfers heat to the rear heatsink through a pipe containing low-boiling liquid, thus increasing the heat dissipation area. The RADEON 9600 PRO which is based on the 0.13 micron technology needs two relatively small heatsinks, and the temperature inside the closed PC case doesn't exceed 60 degrees.











Gigabyte RADEON 9600 PRO 128MB
This time the guys at Gigabyte stepped aside from placing orders for coolers with ThermalTake. This cooler looks more elegant, but not less effective. It has a cooper base with heat dissipation fins. Similar coolers once topped ASUSTeK products. The golden color of the cooler perfectly matches the sky-blue PCB.


Hercules 3D Prophet 9600 PRO 128MB
Hercules keeps to its traditions! This is a famous round copper cooler. This time it comes with 3 LEDs. Plus original heatsinks on the memory chips. Hercules can make a real jewel from a video card. Besides, the sky-blue PCB also perfectly looks together with the golden cooler.













Here are the processors.






The Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9600 256MB card comes in the OEM package, i.e. without accessories and box:

Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9600 PRO Ultimate Edition 128MB
User Guide, 2 CDs with drivers and utilities, PowerDVD, Soldier of Fortune II game, TV extender, DVI-to-d-Sub and S-Video-to-RCA adapters.


Gigabyte RADEON 9600 PRO 128MB
User Guide, CD with drivers and utilities, PowerDVD, 2 old games, TV extender, DVI-to-d-Sub and S-Video-to-RCA adapters. There is also an external power supply splitter though the card doesn't have such connector.


Hercules 3D Prophet 9600 PRO 128MB
User Guide, CD with drivers and utilities, PowerDVD, VietCong game, TV extender, DVI-to-d-Sub and S-Video-to-RCA adapters.




All video cards (except the Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9600 256MB) ship in retail packages.

Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9600 PRO Ultimate Edition 128MB
At first sight, this is a traditional box. But the Ultimate Edition looks a bit different: it has a window through which you can see the card itself.





Gigabyte RADEON 9600 PRO 128MB
This is a big cardboard box in Gigabyte 's style.


Hercules 3D Prophet 9600 PRO 128MB
This box is in Hercules style. The company has a good tradition to indicate card's clock speeds on the box.




Overclocking


Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9600 256MB 325/400->370/410 MHz (almost no thing)
Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9600 PRO Ultimate Edition 128MB 400/600->477/680 MHz
Gigabyte RADEON 9600 PRO 128MB 400/600->485/700 MHz
Hercules 3D Prophet 9600 PRO 128MB 400/600->485/700 MHz

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.

Testbed and drivers

Testbed:

  • Pentium 4 3200 MHz based computer:
    • Intel Pentium 4 3200 MHz CPU;
    • DFI LANParty Pro875 (i875P) mainboard;
    • 1024 MB DDR SDRAM;
    • Seagate Barracuda IV 40GB HDD;
    • Windows XP SP1; DirectX 9.0a;
    • ViewSonic P810 (21") and ViewSonic P817 (21") monitors.
    • ATI drivers v6.360.

VSync off, S3TC off in applications.

Cards used for comparison:

  • Leadtek WinFast A310 Ultra (GeForce FX 5600 Ultra, actot 350/350(700) MHz, 128 MB, driver 44.65);
  • Leadtek WinFast A310 Ultra (GeForce FX 5600 Ultra, clock speed lifted to 400/400(800)MHz, 128 MB, driver 44.65);
  • MSI FX5600-VTD128 (GeForce FX 5600, 325/275(550)MHz, 128 MB, driver 44.65);
  • ATI RADEON 9600 (325/200(400)MHz, 128 MB).

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.

With the ViewSonic P817 monitor and BNC Bargo cable the card showed excellent quality at the following resolutions and clock speeds:


Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9600 256MB 1600x1200x75Hz, 1280x1024x120Hz, 1024x768x160Hz (acceptable quality)
Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9600 PRO Ultimate Edition 128MB 1600x1200x85Hz, 1280x1024x120Hz, 1024x768x160Hz (good quality)
Gigabyte RADEON 9600 PRO 128MB 1600x1200x85Hz, 1280x1024x120Hz, 1024x768x160Hz (good quality)
Hercules 3D Prophet 9600 PRO 128MB 1600x1200x85Hz, 1280x1024x120Hz, 1024x768x160Hz (good quality)

Test results: cards' performance

Test applications:

  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein (MultiPlayer) (id Software/Activision) - OpenGL, multitexturing,ixbt0703-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, ixbt0703 demo, test settings: quality, S3TC OFF
  • Quake3 Arena v.1.17 (id Software/Activision) - OpenGL, multitexturing, ixbt0703 demo, test settings - maximum: detailing level - High, texture detailing level - #4, S3TC OFF, smoothness of curves is much increased through variables r_subdivisions "1" and r_lodCurveError "30000" (at default r_lodCurveError is 250 !), the configurations can be downloaded from here
  • Unreal Tournament v.2225 (Digital Extreme/Epic Games) - Direct3D, Vertex Shaders, Hardware T&L, Dot3, cube texturing, default quality
  • Code Creatures Benchmark Pro (CodeCult) - the game that demonstrates card's operation in DirectX 8.1, Shaders, HW T&L.
  • Unreal II: The Awakening (Legend Ent./Epic Games) - Direct3D, Vertex Shaders, Hardware T&L, Dot3, cube texturing, default quality
  • RightMark 3D v.0.4 (one of game scenes) - DirectX 8.1, Dot3, cube texturing, shadow buffers, vertex and pixel shaders (1.1, 1.4).

If you want to get the demo benchmarks that we use let me know by e-mail.

Quake3 Arena








ATI's card loses in this test. Only the 256MB R9600 card works strangely in 1280x1024.

Serious Sam: The Second Encounter








Here the RADEON 9600 PRO outdoes ver its two competitors (except 1600x1200). The RADEON 9600 256MB is a bit behind its rival. Also note that this card falls behind its 128MB twin.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein (Multiplayer)








The situation is the same.

Code Creatures








Not many changes either.

Unreal Tournament 2003








The RADEON 9600 PRO sweeps the floor once more.

Unreal II: The Awakening








The RADEON 9600/9600 PRO have a great lead!

RightMark 3D








It's well known that the shader speed of the RADEON 9600 is higher than the NVIDIA's one. And this test is richest in shaders.

Conclusion

  1. Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9600 256MB - the release of this card is determined exceptionally by the marketing interests in order to get rid of stocks of old memory and let not very competent users exploit the super 256 MB memory.
  2. Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9600 PRO Ultimate Edition 128MB is a special release of the RADEON 9600 PRO and an appropriate solution for those who are much concerned about noisiness of their PCs; it demonstrates good performance compared to the NVIDIA's cards, and the prices which have dropped lower the $170 mark (for the middle of July) proved the fact that the RADEON 9600 PRO is a more advantageous purchase than the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra;
  3. Gigabyte RADEON 9600 PRO 128MB is a copy of the reference card with a good PCB design; its performance was discussed above;
  4. Hercules 3D Prophet 9600 PRO 128MB is all the same plus a more attractive design;

All the cards have an excellent build quality! Especially it concerns the Hercules 3D Prophet 9600 PRO 128MB; Gigabyte RADEON 9600 PRO 128MB and Sapphire Atlantis RADEON 9600 PRO Ultimate Edition 128MB.

In our 3Digest you can find full comparison characteristics for video cards of this and other classes.

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