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Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro Review
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Date: May 09, 2003
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: HH Editor
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Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro Review - Page 1

The Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro
A Power-packed card for the mainstream

"Burned in" by Robert Maloney
May 8, 2003

   

Often, when you look at hardware ads in magazines, you will see somewhere in there a benchmark score.  A 3DMark score to be more specific, will scream "16,348 out of the box", or list the system components with a number at the bottom.  While these are prevalent, why aren't Winstones or other system benchmarks shown as often?  The reason is, no other section of the computer hardware market is as hotly contested and eagerly anticipated as the graphics industry.  New, more powerful graphics cards fuel the games we play each day.  Game companies seem to spend more time producing better graphics (sometimes at the cost of playability unfortunately), which leads to the need for more powerful video cards.  It's cyclic in nature.  While some users will invariably go out and purchase the "best of the best", most of the video cards that are purchased are within the $100-200 range.  This range is usually referred to as the "mainstream".

Tyan, a company more well known for their stable motherboards, has been producing their "Tachyon" line of cards based on ATi's R300 VPU.  Rather than simply branding their name on a popular reference board and shipping it out, they have kept an eye out for the hardware enthusiast.  Their first offering, the Tachyon G9700 Pro, received pretty high marks from our main man Marco, back in January.  The Tachyon G9500 Pro we received, based on the Radeon 9500, has its VPU and memory speeds clocked lower than the Radeon 9700s, and is considered a mainstream offering with its lower price.  All indications however, point to a great performance to price ratio.

Let's see if Tyan can keep us impressed...

Specifications & Features of the Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro
Mainstream DX9 Part...

The Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro

     

  
CLICK ANY IMAGE ABOVE FOR AN ENLARGED VIEW

GRAPHICS TECHNOLOGY

R300 Visual Processing Unit (VPU)

  • 275 MHz core frequency

MEMORY CONFIGURATION

  • 128MB of double data rate SDRAM
  • 540 MHz DDR frequency

3D GRAPHICS FEATURES

  • Eight parallel rendering pipelines process up to 2.6 billion pixels per second
  • Four parallel geometry engines process up to 325 million transformed and lit polygons per second
  • High precision 10-bit per channel framebuffer support
  • 128-bit DDR memory interface
  • AGP 8X support

-SMARTSHADER? 2.0

  • 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? 2.0

  • 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

-TRUFORM? 2.0

  • 2nd generation N-patch higher order surface support
  • Discrete and continuous tessellation levels per polygon for dynamic LOD
  • DirectX 9.0 displacement mapping
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? video de-blocking technology

  • 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

DISPLAY SUPPORT

  • 15-pin VGA connector for analog CRT
  • S-video or composite connector for TV/VCR
  • DVI-I connector for digital CRT or flat panel
  • Independent resolutions and refresh rates for any two connected displays

GENERAL FEATURES

  • Comprehensive 2x, 4x, and 8x AGP support
  • High performance quad-channel 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 Bundle:

 
Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro
4-pin Power Cable
 S-Video Cable
Composite Video Cable
S-Video to Composite Video Cable
DVI-to-VGA Adapter
User's Manual
Software & Drivers CD
Quick Installation Guide
TGM 2.0 User's Guide
 

Tyan aims to please graphics enthusiasts with their Tachyon line of cards but didn't add in frivolous extras that might raise the overall cost.  There are three cables for S-Video out, Composite video out, or converting S-Video to Composite.  There also was a DVI-to-VGA adapter for users looking to use multiple monitors.  Tyan included no less than three manuals; a fairly comprehensive User's Guide, and two brief guides on installation of the card and use of the Tachyon Graphics Monitor 2.0 software.  The CD came with drivers, the previously mentioned TGM 2.0 software, and a full copy of WinDVD 4.0.  Aside from a packed-in game, the bundle appears to have all the necessary pieces to get the most out of the card.

 A closer look at the card.

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Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro Review - Page 2

The Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro
A Power-packed card for the mainstream

"Burned in" by Robert Maloney
May 8, 2003

The Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro
Blue is the new red...


 

The Tyan Tachyon 9500 Pro is mostly similar to ATi's reference design, with the differences being that this card is slightly longer, the PCB is a light-blue (opposed to the typical red PCB of many Radeon cards), and the power cable placement is on the edge of the card.  What is the importance of some of these changes?  Well, the extra length of the card is mostly attributable to the placement of the Winbond W83782D monitoring chip and speaker placed directly beneath the power connector in the upper right.  Tyan has produced the only Radeon cards known to support hardware monitoring.  This is used in conjunction with the Tachyon Graphic Monitor (TGM) 2.0 software, which we will cover a bit later on.  The external speaker can alert users to potentially damaging situations such as overheating of the VPU, a feature more common with motherboards.

    

              

Along with the aqua blue PCB, the aluminum heatsinks over the fan and memory chips were also painted a vibrant blue, producing a strikingly good looking card.  Early shots of the card (and pictures on the back of the box as well) show a much larger and connected heatsink/fan combo.  The ones actually placed on the board were smaller, however, with an individual heatsink/fan placed over the R300 VPU and finned heatsink strips placed over the memory chips on the front and back of the card.  These were attached using thermal pads and spring-loaded retention clips.  The fan over the VPU can rotate at over 5000 rpm, but we found it to be quieter than expected.  For those searching for even quieter measures, the fan speed can be lowered using the provided TGM 2.0 software.

As seen in the pictures above, the card has external ports supporting standard 15-pin VGA cables, S-Video, and DVI-out.  Tyan is currently looking into providing dual DVI-out ports, and we may well see this on their next line of Tachyon cards.  Care must be taken to remember to plug in the power cable when installing the card.  Placing the power connector on the edge in the upper corner of the card means easier routing of power cables from other devices to the Tachyon G9500 Pro.

Drivers and Software
Catalyst 3.2 and Tyan's TGM 2.0

ATi's Catalyst 3.2 Drivers

We used ATi's latest Catalyst offering when installing the Tachyon G9500 Pro, Version 3.2, and also installed the accompanying control panel software.  The first thing that we noticed was that this card wasn't recognized as a Radeon 9500, but as a Radeon 9700 instead.  Tyan claims that by doing this, the user will be allowed to overclock the Tachyon G9500 Pro.  As we have seen with other Radeon 9500 cards, overclocking is normally not an option, unless a "hacked" bios is applied.  This may be a bit extreme for some as any problem flashing the bios could lead to a non-functioning video card.  Therefore, Tyan claims another first by natively allowing the Tachyon G9500 Pro to be overclocked. 


     

           

ATi's Catalyst drivers are really coming into their own, providing all of the settings that enthusiasts want and need to control the graphical output.  On the Smartgart tab, the AGP setting can be set, as well as enabling or disabling Fast Writes.  You may note that AGP4X was the highest option listed.  This card does support AGP8X, but for the sake of keeping a level testing field we chose a board, the Abit BH7, which did not.  We're not going to cover each and every tab, but the two that most users will probably look at are the Direct3D and OpenGL tabs.  On these pages are all of the options for optimizing the way games look.  There is an overall performance slider at the top, but by clicking on the custom settings checkbox, the user can choose how many samples of Anti-Aliasing or Anisotropic Filtering they want to use.  For our purposes, we chose all of the highest quality settings available to us.

Tyan's Tachyon Graphics Monitor 2.0

Here's a look at Tyan's new Tachyon Graphics Monitor 2.0 software.  It clearly shows the current speed of both the VPU and Memory, basic system information as well as the fan speed and VPU temperature.  To overclock the card, one only needs to simply move the sliders to the desired speeds for the VPU and/or RAM, and then click on 'Apply'.  After confirming the speed changes, you are off and running.   The VPU temperature gauge can be monitored in realtime to ensure that it is not running too hot when overclocked.

      
 

To get more detailed information about the card, we clicked on the 'Details' button.  There are no less than seven separate items that can be monitored here including: Fan speed, Memory core voltage, Memory I/O voltage, Memory temperatures 1 and 2 (front and back of the card, respectively), the VPU Core voltage, and finally the VPU temperature.  What's especially helpful about these graphs is that not only does it show the current value of the item being monitored, but it also shows what range is considered safe.  Another nice feature found on the detailed page was the fan speed adjustment slider.  Most users will probably feel safest keeping the fan at its highest speeds, especially during 3D gaming when the VPU is running its hottest.  The hardware monitoring system will automatically raise fan speeds should the VPU get too hot, however.  When the system is idle or running 2D applications, the fan speed can be quickly lowered to its "min" setting (about 3000 rpm) to reduce the noise from the system.

Screenshots: In-Game Action
Some Nice Looking Visuals

EA Sports NHL 2003 Screenshots

   

We thought about what game to use to throw up some eye-candy, and decided to use EA Sports' NHL 2003 to honor the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  For these particular shots we put all the game's graphical settings at the highest quality possible.  Each screen shot was taken at a resolution of 1600x1200 with 32-bit color, 4X Anti-Aliasing and 4X Anisotropic Filtering enabled.  We tried using 8X AF as we had used in the testing benchmarks, but NHL 2003 would simply close when loading a game.  When looking closely at the first two screenshots we can see that all the edges are crisp and clean, and the colors are vibrant. For a quick comparison without AA applied, compare the hockey stick in the second picture with the one in the third picture.  Some quality was lost, however, when saving these to JPEG format, so don't confuse the images displayed with actual gaming conditions.  The main point we would like to get across is that even at higher resolutions with AA and Anisotropic Filtering applied, there was almost no noticeable drop in performance, and the game played as smooth as ever.  And yes, that's me in the last frame, courtesy of EA's "put your face in the game" technology.

The testing setup and 3DMark scores

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Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro Review - Page 3

The Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro
A Power-packed card for the mainstream

"Burned in" by Robert Maloney
May 8, 2003

   

Max Payne
Does Max know about the Matrix too?
 
A DirectX benchmarking tool that I particularly like to use in our reviews is Remedy's Max Payne.  Using the benchmarking routine that can be found on http://www.3dcenter.de, we watched the ending of the game, while keeping an eye on the frames per second.  Finally, right at the end, we took one last reading and compared the respective cards results.

In the first set of numbers, the Tachyon G9500 only lost a total of ten frames per second from the first test to the last one with 4XAA and 8XAF enabled.  That's roughly a drop of 13% in performance when sharpening up the graphics.  Compare that to the GeForce 4 cards where the drop was nearly 50%!  There's really no excuse these days to not optimize the in-game graphics somewhat, especially when you've got a R300 or R350 under the hood.  At 1600x1200, the drop-off was more severe than at 1024x768.  We were still able to get close to 43 fps, however, with 4XAA and 8X Anisotropic Filtering enabled.  The GF4 cards were all but crippled when using such optimizations at 1600x1200.

Comanche 4 - DirectX 8.1 Performance
Shader Goodness

Our next look at DirectX benchmarking was with NovaLogic's Comanche 4 Demo. As with Max Payne, one of the benefits of this benchmark is that we get a "real-world" result.  We can see with our own eyes how the gameplay will be, and the actual average framerate is shown at the end of the demonstration.  Comanche 4 also uses DirectX8 Pixel and Vertex shaders, and is a useful tool for testing overall system performance.  This benchmark is very CPU dependant, so don't be turned off by what might look like relatively low frame rates.

Unlike the previous rounds of testing, the Tyan Tachyon G9500 did not come out on top. It was bested by both GeForce 4 cards at 1024x768. That is, until we started enabling Anti-Aliasing methods.  At the lower resolution, 2 samples of AA had no effect on the Tachyon, and our score actually went up slightly.  Even 4 samples of AA only caused us to lose 3 frames per second.  The GeForce cards, which had taken an early lead, started to fall off, especially so when 4XAA was enabled. Where we had lost 3 frames on the Tachyon G9500 Pro, the GF4 cards each lost 12 or so frames, equating to approximately a 20% drop-off.  At 1600x1200, the GF4 Ti4600 still held the lead at first, but by a much smaller margin than before.  The Tachyon G9500 Pro finished higher than the Ti4200 without optimizations, and then went on to completely steal the show once AA and Anisotropic Filtering methods were applied.

Some more gaming benchmarks,

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Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro Review - Page 4

The Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro
A Power-packed card for the mainstream

"Burned in" by Robert Maloney
May 8, 2003

   

Quake 3 Arena v1.32
Something old...
 
To get some OpenGL benchmarks we updated Quake 3 Arena with the most recent v1.32 Point Release, and ran timedemo "Four".  While it can be said that Quake 3 is past its prime as a benchmark, we find it is still useful for demonstrating the relative performance of one product versus another.  We set the game to its "High Quality" mode, enabled Trilinear filtering and maxed out the texture quality and geometry sliders before running any tests...

When it came to running an OpenGL based game such as Quake 3 Arena, the Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro didn't fare as well as it had in the previous benchmarks.  Without AA enabled, and even when using two samples of AA, the two GeForce 4 cards came out on top at both resolution settings.  It was only after we applied 4 samples of Anti-Aliasing that the Tachyon regained the lead.  When it did so, however, it really turned the tables with the relative difference between the benchmarks being 25% or greater.  In fact, at 1600x1200 with 4XAA and 8XAF applied, the Tachyon almost doubled the framerates of the two GF4 cards.

Unreal Tournament 2003
...and something new

Whereas Quake 3 represents one of the older benchmark routines, Epic's DirectX powered Unreal Tournament 2003 comes in as one of the newest. UT2003's graphics are the kind that keep video card manufacturers in business, if you get my meaning.  To keep the playing field level, we used a custom .INI file that insures all of the cards tested were using the exact same in-game settings...

At 1024x768 and 1600x1200, with no AA or Anisotropic filtering enabled, the Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro was about 25% faster than the GeForce 4 Ti4600 in UT2003's "FlyBy" timedemo.  We then saw the same drop-off with both cards, as each lost about 25% of their respective framerates when 2 samples of AA were applied.  As we have seen before, it was when we used 4XAA that the Radeon based card really pulled away from the pack.  The "hit" taken when going from 2XAA to 4XAA was minimal on the Tachyon as opposed to the Geforce 4 based cards.  While not entirely "playable", we were able to get over 30 frames per second with both AA and Anisotropic Filtering enabled at 1600x1200 with the Tachyon G9500 Pro.  The two GeForce 4 cards only produced a measly 9 fps when using the same settings.

Overclocking and the Conclusion

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Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro Review - Page 5

The Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro
A Power-packed card for the mainstream

"Burned in" by Robert Maloney
May 8, 2003

Overclocking the Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro
Going where others have failed

When the time came for overclocking the Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro, we crossed our fingers and hoped that what Tyan told us about the device identification was true.  By identifying the card as a Radeon 9700, we should be able to get past the issues found with other Radeon 9500 based cards, which were "clock-locked".  The results are in...and they look good!  We were able to raise both the core and memory clock speeds from their default values of 277/542 MHz up 70MHz each to 347/612 MHz.  That's an increase in 25% for the VPU core speed, and 12.5% for the memory.  Now that we were using the card at these higher speeds, we went back and benchmarked Quake 3 and 3DMark 2001SE again, while keeping 4XAA and 8X Anisotropic filtering enabled.

We were able to gain an extra 18 frames per second at 1024x768, and 9 frames at 1600x1200.  Whipping out the calculator (or, in this case, going to Start-All Programs-Accessories-Calculator) we figured this to be a 15% increase in performance.  We also saw the same relative increase in performance when running 3DMark 2001SE, with the percentage topping out at an extra 17.5% at 1600x1200.  Keep in mind that the system was completely stable throughout these tests, and only minor graphic artifacts were noticed in 3DMark 2001SE.

The enthusiasm we had while testing the Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro, was slightly tempered by the fact that we just couldn't find it available in too many outlets.  A quick search of a few popular search engines brought up close to nothing about this card.  It's a shame, since distribution issues aside, this may well be one of the finest Radeon 9500 Pro cards out there.  Simply put, no other Radeon 9500 based card can boast of the same capabilities of the Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro.  This is the only Radeon 9500 card that natively supports overclocking.  It is also the only Radeon 9500 card with built-in hardware monitoring that is used in conjunction with its TGM (Tyan Graphics Monitor) 2.0 software.  The fan speed can be changed manually to reduce overall system noise, or it can be left to be controlled by the hardware monitoring system, which will raise the fan speed if the temperature gets too hot.  Performance-wise, the Radeon 9500 has to be considered one of the best cards out there for the money.  In actuality, the release of the ATi 9200/9600/9800 product line will mean the phasing out of the 9500/9700 Radeons, so this card will probably be one of the last to be based on the R300 core.  All told however, we highly recommend the Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro for buyers of all budgets.

We give the Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro a 9.5 on the HotHardware Heat Meter...

 

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Tyan Tachyon G9500 Pro Review - Page 6
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