In October ATI revealed 2 new cards in its lineup; the new stud on the block, the Radeon 9800 XT, and the new mid-range Radeon 9600 XT. Today we take a look at ATI's midrange solution and see how it fares against the nVidia's midrange 5600 Ultra.
The Radeon 9600 XT takes dead aim at the mainstream market, in other words, what the general Joe out there can afford (or the general Joe's parents / significant other at Christmas time) to shell out. The 9600XT is being positioned as the replacement to the 9600 Pro.
At the heart of the 9600 XT is a 0.13 micron RV360 VPU, this is a similar core to the RV350 (9600Pro) but with a twist, they utilized a Low K dielectric process. This process allows for reduction in capacitance, therefore reduction in power required. All this together allowed ATI to juice up the clock cycle on an otherwise unchanged core, and keep the temps low. The other side benefit to this process was allowing the Radeon 9600 XT, as its 9600 Pro brethren, to not require an external power source, unlike it's Nvidia counterparts. The 9600 XT comes in 128MB and 256MB flavors, though we will be testing the 128MB variety.
You can grab a look at the full specifications and features but they have not changed since the Radeon 9600 Pro, except for the core and memory clocks.
As you can see the difference between the 9600 Pro and 9600 XT cooler (even the FIC 9600 Pro reviewed here) is fairly drastic, even though ATI reduced the temperature of the core and this should bode well for overclockability. ATI is even bundling their own overclocking utility, called OverDrive, but we will talk about that later. The cooling solution is not only adequate for controlling the GPU temperature it is a nice looking addition with very little added noise (actually no noticeable noise increase in my test system, but it has 6 fans blowing, so unless you strap a 747 to it you are not going to hear it). You may also notice the difference in how busy the 9600 Pro is compared to the 9600 XT in the above picture, this is due in part to the Low K Dielectric process. I count at least 4 less capacitors on the top of the board.
The sample ATI sent me is a Non-Qualification sample (which basically means I don't get Half Life 2 with it :p ), it should represent the performance you will attain if you purchase the retail 128MB version. The 9600 XT has the standard SVGA / DVI and TV out connectors on the back, I can not tell you if they will package any additional software, other than Half Life 2, as mine included none.
Let's take a look at the differences between the 9600 XT and its Pro brethren, as well as the nVidia FX 5600 Ultra, just for grins.
*The NV31 has 4 pipelines in certain situations, although primarily it is a 2 pipeline card.
On paper we can see why the 5600 Ultra and 9600 Pro are close competitors; will the advancements brought to the table by ATI in the 9600 XT be enough to separate it from the pack? Only time, and some testing will tell :)
Before I pull out my Chaintech FX-71 I must perform a few tasks. First up is to benchmark Call of Duty so I can compare against the 9600 XT. The 2nd step will be to download the latest Catalyst drivers from ATI, this would be the rumored HOT Catalyst 3.8's.
After downloading and putting what is needed on my 2nd Hard Drive, I format the main HD and reinstall using an Unattended Slipstreamed Windows XP image, which includes several of the programs I need for testing as well as SP1 and Pre-SP2 hotfixes from good ole MS.
After the fresh XP reload I install the Catalyst 3.8 drivers. Once installed I connect the temperature probe to the VPU; I want to make sure I don't overheat it with these drivers. The VPU never even reaches 36C during normal operation, when they say cooler they mean cooler. Another nice feature included with the Catalyst 3.8 drivers, is VPU Recover. This allows the VPU to recover from a crash that you would otherwise have to reboot from, at least that is what the tab says it does.