The ATi Radeon 9600 Pro Debut
Decent card, fuzzy naming convention

By - Marco Chiappetta
April 16, 2003

It seems like we've been covering new video card releases on an almost weekly basis over the last few months.  Since the beginning of the year, we've seen NVIDIA announce, and then release, multiple flavors of GeForce FX cards, albeit on very limited basis.  Announcements have also been made recently by SiS and even by the infamous S3.  ATi has also announced a line of products based on their R350 VPU, which is a revamped version of the very successful R300 core.  Back in early March, we took a look at the flagship Radeon 9800 Pro but on that day, ATi also formally announced two new mainstream and entry-level products, the Radeon 9600 and Radeon 9200. One interesting fact about the 9600 is that this new product is powered by the first ATi VPUs built using a more advanced .13 micron manufacturing process.  The product we'll be looking at today is the Radeon 9600 Pro.  This is ATi's latest mainstream part that aims to bring full DirectX 9 compliance to an affordable price point.  We were very impressed after reviewing a few products based on the Radeon 9500 Pro VPU, so we were eager to see what ATi had in store for their "refresh" part.  So, let's jump right in and see what the Radeon 9600 Pro is made of...

THE ATI RADEON 9600 PRO
   
CLICK ANY IMAGE FOR AN ENLARGED VIEW

Specifications & Features of the ATI Radeon 9600 Pro
A Full Featured DX9 Part

GRAPHICS TECHNOLOGY

RV350 Visual Processing Unit (VPU)
Core Clock Speed 400MHz (325MHz for Non-Pro)

MEMORY CONFIGURATION

  • 128MB of DDR RAM

  • 300MHz DDR / 600MHz Effective Speed
    200MHz DDR / 400MHz Effective Speed (Non-Pro)

  • 128-bit Memory Interface

3D GRAPHICS FEATURES

  • Four parallel rendering pipelines process up to 1.6 billion pixels per second

  • High precision 10-bit per channel framebuffer support

  • 128-bit DDR memory interface

  • AGP 8X support

SMARTSHADER 2.1

  • Full support for Microsoft DirectX 9.0 programmable pixel and vertex shaders in hardware

  • 2.0 Pixel Shaders support up to 16 textures per rendering pass

  • 2.0 Vertex Shaders support vertex programs up to 1024 instructions with flow control

  • New 128-bit per pixel floating point color formats

  • Multiple Render Target (MRT) support

  • Shadow volume rendering acceleration

  • Complete feature set also supported in OpenGL via extensions

SMOOTHVISION 2.1

  • State-of-the-art full-scene anti-aliasing

  • New technology processes up to 15.6 billion anti-aliased samples per second for unprecedented performance

  • Supports 2x, 4x, and 6x modes with programmable sample patterns

  • Advanced anisotropic filtering

  • Supports up to 16 bilinear samples (in performance mode) or trilinear samples (in quality mode) per pixel

  • 2x/4x/6x full scene anti-aliasing modes

  • Adaptive algorithm with programmable sample patterns

  • 2x/4x/8x/16x anisotropic filtering modes

  • Adaptive algorithm with bilinear (performance) and trilinear (quality) options

  • Bandwidth-saving algorithm enables this feature with minimal performance cost

HYPERZ III+

  • Hierarchical Z-Buffer and Early Z Test reduce overdraw by detecting and discarding hidden pixels

  • Lossless Z-Buffer Compression and Fast Z-Buffer Clear reduce memory bandwidth consumption by over 50%

  • Fast Z-Buffer Clear

DISPLAY SUPPORT

  • 15-pin VGA connector for analog CRT

  • / DVI-I connector for digital CRT or flat panel
  • S-video or composite connector for TV/VCR

  • Independent resolutions and refresh rates for any two connected displays

VIDEO FEATURES

VIDEOSHADER

  • Seamless integration of programmable pixel shaders with video data

  • High quality, hardware accelerated de-blocking of internet streaming video

  • Noise removal filter for captured video

  • Integrated MPEG-2 decode

  • Hardware accelerated iDCT, motion compensation, and color space conversion

  • Top quality DVD and all-format DTV/HDTV decode with low CPU overhead

  • Back-end scaler delivers top quality playback

  • Upscaling and downscaling with 4-tap horizontal and vertical filtering

  • Filtered display of images up to 1920 pixels wide

  • Unique per-pixel adaptive de-interlacing feature combines the best elements of the bob and add-field (weave) techniques

FULLSTREAM

  • Noise removal filtering for captured video

  • MPEG-2 decoding with motion compensation, iDCT and color space conversion

  • All-format DTV/HDTV decoding

  • YPrPb component output

  • Adaptive de-interlacing and frame rate conversion

  • Dual integrated display controllers

  • Dual integrated 10-bit per channel 400MHz DACs

  • Integrated 165 MHz TMDS transmitter (DVI and HDCP compliant)

  • Integrated TV Output support up to 1024x768 resolution

  • Optimized for Pentium 4 SSE2 and AMD Athlon 3Dnow!

  • PC 2002 compliant

DISPLAY FEATURES

  • Dual integrated display controllers

  • Drive two displays simultaneously with independent resolutions and refresh rates

  • HYDRAVISION software provides complete control over multi-display configurations with a user-friendly interface

  • Dual integrated 10-bit per channel palette DACs operating at up to 400MHz

  • Integrated 165MHz TMDS transmitter supports resolutions up to QXGA (2048x1536) and complies with DVI and HDCP specifications

  • Integrated TV-Out support up to 1024x768 resolution

  • YPrPb output for direct drive of HDTV monitors

GENERAL FEATURES

  • Comprehensive 2x, 4x, and 8x AGP support

  • DDR memory interface supports 64/128/256MB configurations

  • Fully compliant with PC 2002 requirements

  • Optimized for Pentium 4 SSE2 and AMD Athlon 3Dnow! processor instructions

  • Supports optional THEATER 200 companion chip for NTSC/PAL/SECAM video capture

  • Highly optimized 128-bit 2D engine with support for new Windows XP GDI extensions


The Radeon 9600 Pro has essentially the same feature set as the Radeon 9500 Pro, but with "tweaked" versions of ATi's SMOOTHVISION (2.1) and HYPERZ (III+) technology.  These updated engines allow the Radeon 9600 Pro to perform AA and Anisotropic filtering more efficiently, as well as use memory bandwidth more efficiently.  Besides these enhancements, a more significant change was made to the core as well.  The Radeon 9600 Pro has only 4 pixel pipelines, versus the 8 found in the Radeon 9500 Pro.  To compensate for having fewer pixel pipelines, ATi built their new core using a .13 micron manufacturing process that gave them the ability to crank the clock speed all the way up to 400MHz.  As you can see in the chart above though, even with a 125MHz clock speed advantage, the 9600 Pro has a lower pixel fill-rate.  Another thing differentiating the 9600 Pro from the 9500 is faster memory, which should help compensate for some of the fill-rate deficit. 

         

Radeon 9600 Pros have 2.8ns DDR memory installed, that is clocked at a default speed of 300MHz (600MHz DDR).  Our particular board was equipped with Samsung K4D26323RA-GC2A chips.  We did a little research and found that these parts are rated for 350MHz operation at 2.8v, so with a little luck, the memory on the Radeon 9600 Pro should overclock quite nicely.  Overclocking the core is another story altogether, however.  More on this a later...

    

The layout of the Radeon 9600 Pro board itself is reminiscent of the 128MB Radeon 8500 LE.  The heatsink / fan combo used to cool the GPU is relatively small when compared to the high-end cards shipping today, and thankfully it is virtually silent.  Looking at the connector plate, you'll see a D-Sub 15-Pin Analog connector, an S-Video output and a DVI connector.  The Radeon 9600 Pro has support for ATi's multi-monitor "HYDRAVISION" technology, which gives users the ability to run dual, independent displays, at different resolutions and refresh rates, courtesy of dual 400MHz integrated RAMDACs.

Next Up, Image Quality...