Looking back at the last half of 2002, it became clear that ATi had managed to wrestle the graphics card crown from their long-term rival NVIDIA. ATi, then spearheaded by the Radeon 9700 Pro, seemed to have a card to suit all budgets, but as in boxing, the pound-for-pound champion was, arguably, the Radeon 9500 Pro. It featured the same impressive VPU as the 9700 non-Pro (8 rendering pipelines and a 275MHz VPU clock speed) but halved the available memory bandwidth with the use of an 128-bit memory bus. Still, its price-to-performance ratio made it an attractive proposition for users with a midrange budget.
Both of the consumer-level graphics card giants have now decided that features will play as an important part as pure grunt. ATi have now revamped its range to reflect DirectX9 compatibility and, more importantly, have now dipped its fingers into a 13-nanometre manufacturing process. One of the first recipients of this new, smaller process is the unimaginatively titled 9600 Pro. The benefits for ATi are two-fold. Firstly, the smaller process will ultimately allow it to produce more GPUs from any given wafer. Secondly, it should allow the 9600 Pro to quickly ramp up GPU speed to hither-to unseen levels.
Specifications-wise, the card is a bit of strange beast. A small table should provide the pertinent details. The 0.13-micron process allows ATi to ramp up the VPU speed to 400MHz without breaking a sweat, yet only specifying 4 rendering pipelines, much like the original 9500, gives it a fillrate deficit when compared to the 9500 Pro. The 128-bit memory interface has been solely designed for this card, hence it's been 'tweaked' to deliver that bit of extra oomph. Further, extra bandwidth aided by an improved Z-compression ratio should help even up the score. A midrange card with impressive specifications.
|Card||VPU clock||Pipelines||Fillrate||Process||Memory interface||Memory speed||Bandwidth|
|Radeon 9500||275MHz||4||1100MP/s||0.15u||128-bit||540||8.6 GB/s|
|Radeon 9500 Pro||275MHz||8||2200MP/s||0.15u||128-bit||540||8.6GB/s|
|Radeon 9600 Pro||400MHz||4||1600 MP/s||0.13u||128-bit*||600||9.6GB/s|
|Radeon 9700 Pro||325MHz||8||2600MP/s||0.15u||256-bit||620||19.8GB/s|
|Radeon 9800 Pro||380MHz||8||3040MP/s||0.15u||256-bit||680||21.8GB/s|