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Gigabyte GVR96X128D 9600XT
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Date: Mar 02, 2004
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: HH Editor
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The Gigabyte GVR96X128D 9600XT - Page 1

The GV-R96X128D 9600XT from Gigabyte
High-End Quality at a Mid-Range Price

By, Jeff Bouton
March 2, 2004

When it comes to deciding on the perfect video card for your needs, manufacturers don't make it easy for the average buyer. While naming conventions are aimed at classifying the product so the consumer can decipher what they are getting, some of these brandings are pretty confusing nonetheless. Today, we are seeing all kinds of designations for the consumer to sift through such as "Pro", "SE", "XT" and "Ultra" to name a few. While the "Ultra" suffix is a clear label of a high-end card, the others are a little less obvious, unless you follow the industry. To add insult to injury, while ATi uses "XT" to label a high performance video card, NVIDIA, in a clear marketing tactic aimed at tarnishing ATi's XT brand, decided to adopt the same "XT" designation for their budget minded models. Make no mistake though, when you see a video card backed by an ATI chip that dons the XT moniker, this card should deliver on performance. That is what we are hoping anyway, as we take a look at the latest Radeon 9600XT to enter the shop, the Gigabyte GV-R96X128D. This card has a potent "mainstream" Radeon 9600XT VPU backed by 128MB of DDR RAM, that should be able to take on the most demanding games available today and at a manageable price point. Let's get started with some tech specs and then we'll get more acquainted with the GV-R96X128D.

Specifications & Features of the Gigabyte GV-R96X128D 9600XT
ATI Raises the Horsepower

GRAPHICS TECHNOLOGY

  • RV360 Visual Processing Unit (VPU)

  • Core Clock Speed 500MHz

MEMORY CONFIGURATION

  • 128MB of DDR RAM

  • 300MHz DDR / 600MHz Effective Speed

  • 128-bit Memory Interface

3D GRAPHICS FEATURES

  • Four parallel rendering pipelines process up to 2.0 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

  • 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


Complimenting the GV-R96X128D was an ample selection of hardware and software goodies to peak our interest.  The package came with a total of three gaming titles, most notably being Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, which was an overall dud in the retail market, but has found a new home bundled with gaming cards.  While AOD isn't so hot, it gives us a taste of what games can look like when they take advantage of Direct X9 and advanced Pixel Shaders.  To top the bundle off, there are also a couple of lower profile titles, including the ever popular bundled title Rainbow Six 3 and the lesser known Will Rock.

We will say that it is always good to see a copy of Cyberlink's PowerDVD included in a graphics card package.  This is the software DVD player of choice for all of us here at HH and should please anyone who is looking for a good DVD program that is feature rich and powerful.  Gigabyte rounded out the package with a DVI-to-VGA adapter as well as a unique video in cable that offers a Y end for the most flexibility.

The Card & Some Screenshots

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The Gigabyte GVR96X128D 9600XT - Page 2

The GV-R96X128D 9600XT from Gigabyte
High-End Quality at a Mid-Range Price

By, Jeff Bouton
March 2, 2004

The Gigabyte GV-R96X128D 9600XT
Not Just a Reference Design

Just like Gigabyte's motherboards, the GV-R96X128D 9600XT sports a blue PCB.  The unit comes with a common configuration powered by ATi's RV360 GPU.  The RV360 is clocked at a potent 500MHz, making the card the highest clocked GPU  currently in ATi's line-up.  The GPU is complimented by 128MBs of DDR RAM clocked at 300MHz (600MHz effective).  Gigabyte chose high quality Samsung chips that are designed specifically for higher clock speeds and history has shown there should be a bit of headroom over their default rating.  We did think that the perfect match to the GV-R96X128D's gold cooler would be some gold RAM sinks, but Gigabyte opted to leave the RAM chips naked.  Let us not forget to mention that when the card is powered up, the cooler emits a cool blue light thanks via an embedded LED.

   

   

The edge of the card sports the common VGA, TV-Out, DVI configuration commonly found on most video cards today.  The unit offers both a VGA and DVI connector, with the latter able to be converted to VGA with the included DVI-to-VGA adapter.

It appears that Gigabyte has put together a clean, sharp looking card with an ample amount of horsepower to run the latest games available.  While we're speaking of horsepower, we've opted to load EA Sports NASCAR Thunder 2004 for our eyecandy segment, which we will follow up by running the card through its paces to see how it compares to other cards in its class.

 

In-Game Screenshots With The Gigabyte GV-R96X128D 9600XT
NASCAR Thunder 2004 from EA Sports

Before we get started with benchmarking a video card, we like to take a few in game screenshots to show what it is capable of.  This time around we opted to use EA Sports NASCAR Thunder 2004. Much like its previous version, this is one amazing looking game that does a great job of delivering on the realism.  To get started we took a couple of screenshots with no Antialiasing or Anisotropic filtering enabled, then we worked our way up to full AA and Anisotropic settings.

NO AA 4XAA 6AXX/16Aniso

With no AA enabled the video quality was decent, although we could see severe jagged edges on the rearview mirror as well as the concrete wall on the right edge of the track and the light poles.  To clean things up a bit, we enabled 4X AA and saw a nice improvement.  The mirror edges were significantly less jagged and the wall was more smooth, improving the overall look quite a bit.  Next we aimed for the stars and increased the Antialiasing to a maximum 6X and Anisotropic filtering to 16X.  This is where the game really popped on the screen, with the in-game details really coming to life.  There were no rough edges to be found and the details of the surroundings were far more realistic.  The road details looked almost real which is easily seen when you compare the image in the mirror of the lower two images.  What was even more impressive is how fluid the game was even with the driver qualities and game qualities set to their maximum and the game resolution set for 1024x768. 

The Test System & AquaMark3

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The Gigabyte GVR96X128D 9600XT - Page 3

The GV-R96X128D 9600XT from Gigabyte
High-End Quality at a Mid-Range Price

By, Jeff Bouton
March 2, 2004

Benchmarks With Halo
Halo - No Xbox Here!


Halo

For many gamers, the release of Halo marked the end of a long wait, since it was originally released as an Xbox exclusive a few years back.  No additional patches or tweaks are needed to benchmark with Halo, as Gearbox has included all of the necessary information in their README file.  The Halo benchmark runs through four of the cut-scenes from the game, after which the average frame rate is recorded.  We ran this benchmark twice, once at 1024x768 and then again at 1280x1024.  Anti-aliasing doesn't work properly with this game at the moment, so all of the test below were run with anti-aliasing disabled.

Interestingly, at the lower resolution, the 9600XT lagged behind the 5700 Ultra, yet at the higher resolution it eked out a minor lead. The bottom line is at higher resolutions, the 9600XT and 5700 Ultra offer comparable performance with HALO. The 9600 Pro managed a respectable score as well, but couldn't keep up overall.

Benchmarks With Unreal Tournament 2003
DX8 Performance


Unreal Tournament 2003

Epic's Unreal Tournament series has consistently been one of the most popular first person shooters, and by no coincidence is it also one of the most commonly used video card benchmarks.  We continued our DirectX benchmarking with a completely patched, retail version Unreal Tournament 2003.  When benchmarking with UT2003, we use a utility that ensures all of the cards are being tested with the exact same in-game settings and "High-Quality" graphical options. We ran the UT2003 benchmarks at resolutions of 1024x768 and 1600x1200 without anti-aliasing, and then again with 4X and 6X AA enabled.  We kept Anisotropic filtering disabled here because NVIDIA and ATi aren't doing the same level of trilinear filtering when aniso and trilinear are enabled together.

At 1024x768, all three cards posted relative scores, showing that each card was being CPU limited.  This particular test does a good job of showing how each card reacts as driver qualities increase.  Once 4X and 6X were enabled, we see a cascading decline at the lesser resolution, with the Gigabyte losing the least ground compared to the comparison cards.  When we increase the resolution to 1600x1200, the NO AA tests were still a bit limited, although the variances were greater than the earlier test.  Once we enabled 4X AA, the two ATi cards dropped significantly, while the GeForce model took a much more reasonable hit.  At 6X AA, things evened out between the three cards once again, with the 5700 Ultra holding a slight lead over the 9600XT.

Splinter Cell & Final Fantasy

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The Gigabyte GVR96X128D 9600XT - Page 4

The GV-R96X128D 9600XT from Gigabyte
High-End Quality at a Mid-Range Price

By, Jeff Bouton
March 2, 2004

Head-to-Head Performance With Splinter Cell
Stealth Pixel Shading


Splinter Cell

Splinter Cell's version 1.2 patch includes three pre-recorded demos in addition to a benchmarking feature.  The demos included with the patch are somewhat limited by CPU performance, however, so we used the custom Oil Rig demo created by the folks at Beyond 3D to test with this game.  Beyond 3D's demo removes two CPU intensive routines while increasing dependence on Pixel Shader performance.  Shaders are used to render the realistic looking ocean water surrounding the Oil Rig in the demo, as well as simulating a night vision effect.  As we've mentioned in the past, anti-aliasing doesn't work with Splinter cell (at least with the current version).  Due to this fact, we do not have any AA scores listed in the graphs below.

With Splinter Cell, comparing the results between the three cards was a bit lackluster, with the GV-R96X128D holding the slightest of leads over the others. The 5700 Ultra didn't fair as well this time around, slipping to both ATI models in each test. To be honest, we're splitting hairs here, but when it comes down to brass knuckles, the Gigabyte 9600XT model took top spot in each test.

Performances Comparisons With Final Fantasy XI Benchmark 2 v1.01
Chocobos on the PC


Final Fantasy XI

The Final Fantasy franchise is well known to console gamers, but Squaresoft has since made the jump to the PC with a MMORPG version of this classic. The Final Fantasy XI benchmark runs through a few scenes from the game and displays a final score every time a full cycle of the demo is completed.  Although the demo is meant the check an entire system's readiness to play the game, the number of frames rendered scales well with different video cards installed.  Lower scores indicate some frames were dropped to complete the demo in the allotted time.  The scores below were taken with the demo set to "High Resolution" (1024x768), with anti-aliasing disabled. 

This is one of those benchmarks that is a little disturbing.  The demo is riddled with these little happy creatures dancing and clapping and wiggling.  By the time it completes I was left wondering if someone had slipped something into my coffee.  Nonetheless, it is a good tool for assessing DX9 performance.  In this test the 5700 Ultra showed its medal, topping the 9600XT by 276 points and 560 points over the AIW.

Next Up: Gun Metal & Comanche 4

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The Gigabyte GVR96X128D 9600XT - Page 5

The GV-R96X128D 9600XT from Gigabyte
High-End Quality at a Mid-Range Price

By, Jeff Bouton
March 2, 2004

Benchmarks / Comparison With Gun Metal
Transformers? Thexder? or is it Gun Metal?


Gun Metal

We continued our testing with the pseudo-DX9 based Gun Metal benchmark developed by Yeti Studios. This benchmark, like all of the others used in this review, is based on an actual game engine.  Gun Metal uses Vertex Shader 2.0 and Pixel Shader 1.1 ops in the creation of the game world.  This test is heavily GPU limited, and because Yeti's intent was to stress all modern 3D accelerators, anti-aliasing (2X) and Anisotropic filtering are enabled by default, and cannot be disabled.  We ran this test at 1024x768 and then again at 1280x1024.

Gun Metal is one of those benchmarks that is fun to watch.  Every time it runs there are new things to pick out and the details in the world are excellent.  There is an effect that is used to make the clouds look like they are transforming shape that is quite impressive, giving a convincing impression of clouds forming at random.  This is also one of those benchmarks that favor the 5700 Ultra in performance.  The Ultra managed to maintain a 4-5 frame lead over the GV-R96X128D overall, but from a purely objective standpoint, Gun Metal just plain looked better with the ATi cards.
 

Performances Comparisons With Novalogic's Comanche 4
Combat Helicopter Sim


Comanche 4

We used Novalogic's combat helicopter simulator Comanche 4 for our next batch of DirectX tests. Comanche 4 uses DX8 class pixel and vertex shaders to produce some of the realistic visuals used throughout the game. Unlike some of the previous tests, this benchmark is heavily influenced by CPU and system memory performance, especially at lower resolutions. However, when the resolution is raised and anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering are enabled, the current crop of video cards tend to slow down quite a bit.

Like Gun Metal, Comanche 4 just seemed to have a better, more detailed appearance with the GV-R96X128D compared to the 5700 Ultra.  With the NO AA tests, the cards were all on the same page, with the 5700 Ultra flexing its muscle at 1600x1200.  At 4X AA all three declined equally at 1024x768, but at 1600X1200 we saw the Ultra hold firm by roughly 12FPS.  With 6X AA the Ultra seemed to lose the battle to the ATI cards at 1024x768, but gained its foothold at 1600x1200 by a small margin.  Lastly we loaded 4X AA and 8X Anisotropic Filtering and the 5700 took top spot again.

Wolfenstein, Overclocking & Our Final Analysis

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The Gigabyte GVR96X128D 9600XT - Page 6

The GV-R96X128D 9600XT from Gigabyte
High-End Quality at a Mid-Range Price

By, Jeff Bouton
March 2, 2004

Benchmarks / Comparison With Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory
Q3 Engine Based Freebie


Wolfenstein: ET

We also ran through a batch of timedemos with the OpenGL game Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory.  Wolfenstein: ET is a free, standalone multiplayer game that is based on the original Return to Castle Wolfenstein, which was released a few years back.  It uses a heavily modified version of the Quake 3 engine which makes it a very easy to use benchmarking tool.  We created a custom demo and used the built-in timedemo feature to check each card's frame rate.  The tests below were run at 1024x768 and again at 1600x1200, without anti-aliasing and with 4X AA.

It looks like Wolfenstein is another benchmark that plays to the GeForce 5700 Ultra's strengths.  The Ultra held no less than a 16FPS lead with NO AA and hardly blinked when we turned on 4X AA.  The two ATi cards, on the other hand, took severe performance hits with 4X AA enabled, reaching only 1/3 the FPS the GeForce card was capable of.
 

Overclocking with the Gigabyte GV-R96X128D 9600XT
Fast is Good.  Faster is Better!

One of the highlights of Radeon XT cards are their inherent overclockability.  However, when we installed the GV-R96X128D and the Catalyst 4.1s, no Overdrive option was present.  For some reason this feature was not enabled by default.  Nonetheless, Gigabyte did include their own overclocking utility, although we found it quite cumbersome to work with.  The interface would not let us dial in precise speeds, instead rounding up or down several MHz, making it difficult to hone in on the peak setting.  We also found the clock scales limiting, not letting us hit the higher end of the spectrum.  So we had to seek the assistance of Rage3D Tweak to get the job done. 

We have to admit, the GV-R96X128D can overclock like a son-of-a-gun.  Using Rage3D Tweak, we increased the GPU by 76MHz and the memory by 140MHz effective clock rate.  This resulted in an increase of over 54% in Gun Metal scores. That didn't seem right when you consider the GPU was running 15% over stock and the memory was increased by 23%, but that's what we got.  In fact, our Tech Writer Rob Maloney saw similar behavior when he reviewed the ATI 9600XT back in October when he topped out at a gain of 66%.
 


 

As we wrap things up, we walked away with a pretty good feeling about the GV-R96X128D from Gigabyte.  The card performed quite well overall and posted impressive overclocking results.  We were however, disappointed that the Overdrive feature was not enabled by default.  Perhaps it was an oversight or it's that Gigabyte wanted to push their own overclocking utility instead.  Nonetheless, we did find that a newer BIOS was available for the card that enabled Overdrive, but those of you running "legacy free" systems will need to dig up that old floppy drive in order to flash the card.  Overclocking issues aside, we found the card to be a good performer overall, putting up competitive scores and best of class image quality.  When you factor how ATi based graphics cards can perform on par to NVIDIA's cards without the need for oversized cooling, you are getting a card that performs efficiently and one that should enjoy a long lifespan since it doesn't have excessive heat to control.  In fact, when we were finished testing our 5700 Ultra reference card, we found the RAM chips extremely hot under normal load. That must have a negative effect on the components overtime.

We found the GV-R96X128D selling at www.newegg.com for $169.99 and sporting a solid customer rating.  We can only agree with them.  However, we found the slightly better performing 5700 Ultra available for an additional $5.  If you want the best frame rate you can get for a card in this class, perhaps the 5700 Ultra is a better choice, depending on what games you are running.  When it comes down to it, we'd opt for the Gigabyte GV-R96X128D 9600XT for its cooler, more efficient design and seemingly better overall image rendering.


We give the GV-R96X128D from Gigabyte a Hot Hardware Heat Meter Rating of a...

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