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Reviewed by: Carl Nelson [01.21.04]
Manufactured by: ATI

Est. Street Price: $180-190

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Bang for Buck

Let's face it - not many people are going to be buying a system with a $500 video card inside. Nor will they pair it up with a $1000 Pentium 4 "Extreme" or Athlon64 "FX". Well some people do, but we'll leave those aliens alone.

Most of those looking to upgrade their old DX8 generation video cards are probably looking to spend not much more than $200, if that. For that huge segment of the market, ATI offers the 9600XT. Today we'll look at their boxed version, and next week we'll have a look at another brand that offers a few extra features on top.

You can clearly see the results of the huge cross marketing agreement with Valve software right on the retail box. Not only are ATI video cards 'preferred' for Half Life 2 (which I find interesting because the game is nowhere near being out yet), you will also get a free copy of Half Life 2! Well, not quite yet - you'll get it when the game ships, and there is no official date just yet. People speculate that it will be out some time in April, but last summer we were speculating some time last December.

The card itself is the nice ATI Red used across all their retail product line. Note that no longer do you need to connect an external power adapter, which is definitely a nice thing to have. There are no ramsinks, which up until recently have been nothing more than a show off item. If you plan on overclocking this card, you'd do yourself some good to pick up some BGA Ram Heatsinks.

The Specs

In today's chart, we'll contrast the 9600XT to its former direct competition, and it's new direct competition - the GeForceFX 5700 Ultra and 5900XT respectively.

Core Clock Speed Pixel Pipelines mPixel Fillrate per second Tex Units per Pipeline Mtexel Fillrate per second Memory Speed Memory Bus Width Peak Memory Bandwidth
GeForceFX 5700 Ultra 475 MHz 4 1900 1 1900 900 MHz 128 bit 14.4 GB/s
GeForceFX 5900XT 390 MHz 4 1560 2 3120 700 MHz 256 bit 22.4 GB/s
Radeon 9600XT 500 MHz 4 2000 1 2000 600 MHz 128 bit 9.6 GB/s

As recently as December 15th 2003, we the 5900XT didn't exist, and the 9600XT would have had a much better time competing with the 5700 Ultra than that. As you can see, the 9600XT beats the 5700 Ultra in fill rate, but lags a bit in memory bandwidth due to its crippled memory speed. But with the 5900XT's 256 bit memory controller, it easily handles both cards, for around the same price.

So while we don't have a 5900XT handy to compare the 9600XT to, keep in mind that it will almost certainly be faster than the 5700 Ultra we ARE comparing it to. We'll remind you at the end of the review as well.

The Test

Here is the system used for testing all video cards:

CPU: Pentium 4 3.2 GHz
Motherboard: DFI Lanparty 875
RAM: 512MB Kingmax DDR400
HDD: Seagate Barracuda IV 80GB ATA100
OS: WinXP with SP1 and DirectX 9b

Drivers:
ATI Catalyst 3.9 (WHQL Certified)
NVIDIA Detonator 53.03 (WHQL Certified)

All publicly available benchmarks can be found on our Downloads Page.

We did almost every test in 3 modes per card. These modes are ones that most gamers will actually use when they play games.

1024x768 - To produce a real gaming environment many will use
1600x1200 - To produce a high resolution gaming environment (for you boys with big monitors!)
1024x768 w/ 4xAA and 8x Aniso - A gaming environment most high end users will use

On with the show!

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