RELEASE: April 2003

The Radeon 9600, Radeon 9600 Pro, and later the Radeon 9600XT (the fastest variant) and 9600SE (the slowest, crippled variant) were ATi's workhorse midrange cards for most of the R3x0 generation (Radeon 9x00 / early-to-mid 2003 to late. They first became widely available in May 2003, replacing the older Radeon 9500 and Pro. ATi's first card built on a 130-nanometer (.13 micron) process (all of the previous ones were 150nm), it boasted pleasingly high clock and memory speeds without needing an absolutely ridiculous cooler that took up a PCI slot like the GeForce FX 5800 Ultra did. (For the record, nVidia is now pretending that the 5800 Ultra never existed. Mwa.) The Radeon 9600 and Pro only have one teensy little flaw. The 9600 Pro is actually considerably slower than the 9500 Pro, which ATi no longer manufacture, because it was too powerful for its price range at the time. (The Radeon 9500 wasn't, thanks to its four rendering pipelines.)

UPDATE 10/27/03: Radeon 9600XT is out. The 9600XT is the same thing as the normal 9600, but at even higher clocks. Same old, same old. Last refresh cycle before the new product line (you know, R420), I hear.

  • CORE
Name: The core's name is RV350. A V between the R and the number indicates that the card is a value model and made for the midrange, in ATi terminology. R350 is the Radeon 9800, which is a rather different animal.

Clock speed: The clock for the 9600 Pro is a nice high 400MHz at stock; this is, by the way, with a rather non-flashy and generic cooler, which indicates that the card is having no problems with heat at this speed, unlike certain cards I could name, but will softlink to instead. The plain old 9600's core is clocked at 325MHz. (The plain 9600 actually usually comes with a dinky GeForce2-like passive cooler. Wow.) The flashy new 9600XT has a core speed of 500MHz.

DirectX 9 capability: Fully DirectX 9 capable, which means it will run shiny new DirectX 9 features just fine. I haven't actually seen any DX9 games out, but some are certainly in the works; a lot of people complained DX8 cards were silly back in the day of the GeForce 3 and Radeon 8500, but now DirectX 8 is genuinely useful, so we can assume the same will happen with DX9. Certainly this showed in early Half-Life 2 benchmarks, with the Radeon 9600 delivering superb performance for a midrange card.

Four rendering pipelines: Doesn't mean much to you? Well, all the Radeon 9700/9800 cards have 8 rendering pipelines, as does the Radeon 9500 Pro (but not the Radeon 9500!). Having four cuts the fill rate in half, which significantly decreases performance. It also makes it a little cheaper to manufacture, but come on. It does make it a good amount faster than the plain Radeon 9500, which also only had four pipelines but had none of the 9600's fancypants improvements. Then again, you can usually modify the 9500 to run as a 9700, so I guess it's even.

Improved Hyper-Z: God, I love that word. Hyper-Z. You have to wonder what the marketers were taking. Anyway, Hyper-Z is basically ATi's name for an advanced lossless compression system (Z-compression) packaged with "Fast Z Clear" (this helps the buffer clear itself rather quickly) and "Hierarchical Z", which makes sure the card doesn't bother working with pixels that aren't going to be seen in an image. The Z-compression ratio was 4:1 in optimal situations in the old Radeon 8500. In the Radeon 9800 it's 6:1. In the Radeon 9600 Pro it's 8:1. Why is the ratio better than the 9800's, you ask? The Radeon 9800 is a 150-nanometer part, and with a 130nm part such as the 9600, you have a lot more space to play around with these things in. Additionally, the memory controller itself is now optimized for the 128-bit memory interface the card possesses; in the 9500 Pro the 9700's was just sort of slapped on, despite that the 9500 Pro had a 128-bit memory interface instead of the 256-bit interface of the 9700. That it has been optimized on the 9600 improves performance a tad.

Speed: The 9600 has relatively slow 200MHz DDR (400MHz effective). The 9600 Pro has 300MHz DDR (600MHz effective). The 9600XT is expected to have 300MHz DDR (600MHz effective), just like the Pro. We can expect the 9600 Pro and XT to be equipped with 3.0ns memory most of the time, perhaps 2.8ns, maybe 3.3ns for the cheapskate manufacturers; the 9600 likely has 5ns memory, though there are rumors of a Sapphire-made 9600 with 3.6ns. I can't confirm these. I mean, they're rumors, after all.

128-bit memory interface: This really didn't surprise anyone. A 256-bit memory interface is better for high-end cards, since 128-bit is sort of a bottleneck, but in a mainstream card engineers are instructed to bottleneck things. Generally it's best if they bottleneck things in a way that decreases overall price, but this isn't always the case. The Radeon 9500 and 9500 Pro had a 128-bit memory interface, the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra (the 9600 Pro's opponent) has a 128-bit memory interface. Move along.

So how does it perform? Like I said, not too well, especially compared to its older brother, the Radeon 9500 Pro. AnandTech has benchmarks right here with it alongside the old FX 5600 Ultra (yes, there's a new one now) and the Radeon 9500 Pro: If you can't stand the pages and pages of sweet, sweet bar graphs, I'll sum it up for you: The 9600 Pro is usually about 70% as fast as the Radeon 9500 Pro, though it gets almost as fast as the older card at some points and (of course) is thoroughly murdered by it at others, especially at higher resolutions. However, the Radeon 9500 Pro had a very short production run (expensive to make, too competitive with high-end models), and so after a short time the 9600 Pro (and later the 9600XT) were really the only viable midrange choices on the ATi side of the fence (which, for the R3x0 generation, was the only side most considered worth looking at; the competing GeForce FX series was something of a failure for nVidia).

lj says re Radeon 9600 , I'm pretty sure ATI's four-pipeline chips are eight-pipeline chips where one or more of the pipelines has a manufacturing defect. Rather than throw the chip in the bin, it has the defective pipeline(s) swiched off, and is stuck on a says budget card. The cost saving comes not from reducing the die size by removing four pipelines, but from an increased yield by finding a use for otherwise worthless chips. (NOTE: This is true, but I'm not sure if it's the case with the 9600 Pro; ATi doesn't make any other 130nm cards. Unless ATi's still working on their next-generation R420 and selling a few defects as RV350, which is quite possible indeed.)
Zerotime says re Radeon 9600: The 9600XT was probably the best mid-range card in Australia at the end of last year... certainly, when I was looking at buying mine it appeared that nobody had bought anything but 9600 and 9800 series cards into the country.

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