Back in the old days of 700 MHz Athlons, the name Asus always brought out the same response: they make superb motherboards that can't be beat. They still have that reputation with the newer motherboards, especially the P4P800 and the P4P800Deluxe. Their video cards I had never heard of, so I was pleasantly surprised when I walked into Canada Computers and saw an ASUS Radeon 9600XT/TVD for under $300. It looked like a good midrange videocard, and it was based on a Radeon 9600 VPU which had sold out everywhere, so I was left asking "Am I getting a great deal or is this card a piece of garbage?" Or better yet, "should I pay the extra cash for a 9800XT?"
Judging by the specifications available on the website, this card looks good, since it comes with.
AGP 8x support, backwards compatible with AGP 4x and 2x specifications
DirectX 9 and OpenGL 2.0 support
500 MHz engine clock speed, active cooler
128 MB DDR RAM at 300MHz (600 MHz effective) and a 128 MB memory interface
Seven software packages plus a CD for drivers and utilities
ATi's SMARTSHADER and SMOOTHVISION technologies for clear pictures and 16x anisotropic filtering and 8x anti-aliasing
The Radeon 9600XT is based on ATi's RV360 chip, a 75 million transistor chip that is architecturally the same chip as the RV350, found on the Radeon 9600 Pro and the ATi All-In-Wonder 9600. Both were built on a 130 nm process. The primary difference between the RV350 and the RV360 is how it is made - the RV360 is made with a new insulating material that allows for faster transistor switching. Faster transistor switching translates directly into faster clock speeds. I will discuss how much that helps with performance and overclocking this card later. As a result, the RV360 runs at a whopping 500 MHz, 20% faster than its cousin on the Radeon 9600 Pro.
What is somewhat interesting is the differences among the different 9600 chips. Now that the 9700 and the 9500 are being phased out, consumers are left with three options: the budget Radeon 9200, the enthusiast Radeon 9800, and the mainstream 9600. However, among the Radeon 9600 line, shoppers can choose between a Radeon 9600SE, a Radeon 9600, a Radeon 9600 Pro, and a Radeon 9600 XT. ATi's descriptions of the chips make it appear that they are castrating the processor in the Radeon 9600SE, since it has an engine clock speed of 325 MHz and an effective memory speed of 400MHz. Specs like that make you wonder how long the Radeon 9200 will last on the market since ATi might make FireGL take over the lower end of its graphics line.
The memory on the card is Samsung K4D263238E-GC33, which is rated at 300 MHz, so ASUS gave me RAM already at its design limit. That could pose a problem for overclocking the card later on, especially for the chips at the back of the card. I've never understood why they are never cooled, even with a small heatsink.
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