ATI Radeon 9600 XT

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ATI Radeon 9600 XT - Page 2

The ATi Radeon 9600 XT
ATi Gives Their Mainstream Product a 100MHz Boost

By Robert Maloney
October 15th, 2003

Radeon 9600 XT Driver Control Panels
Catalyst 3.8 Version Drivers

Released hand-in-hand with the 9600 XT were the Catalyst 3.8 drivers, dubbed the "most significant software update in [ATi's] history."  Before the introduction of the Catalyst series, driver support was always a sore point with ATi.  With each subsequent release so far, however, they have improved the stability and options available to Radeon owners.  It can be said that a piece of hardware is only as good as the drivers behind it, so with the release of the 9600 XT and 9800 XT bringing more power to the table, it was good timing to release a new set of drivers that fully take advantage of that power.

Adapter Info
 Options 
 SMARTGART
 Displays
VPU Recover

 
Color

The Adapter info tab quickly identifies the card, showing off the chip type as the 9600 XT, while also displaying the RAM speed and amount.  Options allows you to view the driver version and decide whether or not you would like to use the ATi's taskbar for quick settings changes.  Many of the other screens should be familiar for most of our readers, so we'll skip to what's new and exciting.  The first new tab is something called VPU Recover, and it may also be one of the most interesting.  By checking the top box to enable VPU Recover, you actually enable the drivers to restart the graphics core should it fail to respond to driver calls.  In the short term, this means that you wouldn't have to even restart Windows should a problem occur with the Radeon XTs.  This addition is actually a requirement for the next version of Windows, codenamed Longhorn, and ATi has jumped the gun here by including it so soon.

Gamers should be on the lookout for the 3D tab, as just about all of the quality settings are found within.  The first thing you notice when clicking on the 3D tab are the current video quality settings such as maximum resolution and AA and AF samples being used.  Direct3D and OpenGL are kept separate from each other as they were in the past, and for those less inquisitive, a slider bar can be used to set the level from performance to quality, or anywhere in between.  Click on 'Custom' and the SMOOTHVISION 2.1 settings are available, almost identically for both APIs.  Anti-aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering measures can be left under the control of the application, or automatically set to the desired level.  Beneath these are more sliders with preferences for the texture level and mipmap detail, as well as the ability to turn off Vertical Sync.

3D

SMOOTHVISION

SMARTSHADER

If one is quick to make their choices and leave, they just might not notice an additional section called SMARTSHADER, which allows for some really cool effects for either kinds of games.  There's no real benefit in doing this, but it really does look cool to play games in a new environment.  We took the liberty of checking out a few of these effects, putting Comanche 4 into black and white (although some items were still colored) and inverse mode for Direct3D testing and Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory had us running scared in OpenGL's sketch mode.         

COMANCHE 4 - B&W COMANCHE 4 - INVERSE WOLFENSTEIN - SKETCH

One feature that we were eager to take a look at was the ATi Overdrive tab, which is supposed to enable automatic stable overclocking based on the reported temperature of the core.  It would only function on XT based cards as the R/RV360 is the only current graphics core to have a built in thermal diode.  Unfortunately, we were unable to get this to work with the 9600 XT as we had with the 9800 XT.  ATi has since informed us that although missing from the Catalyst 3.8 drivers, it will definitely be supported in the Catalyst 3.9s with the 9600 XT.

 

Screenshots With The Radeon 9600 XT
The 9800's Looks, Without its Price Tag

Before we get to the benchmarks, we wanted to get a comparison of screenshots from the Radeon 9600 XT and a GeForce FX 5600, another video card geared toward mainstream users.  In this day and age, it doesn't make much sense to invest in a high-powered graphics card unless you plan on playing your games at higher resolutions and optimizing the display by enabling AA or Anisotropic Filtering.  Faster frame rates are great, especially during multiplayer romps online, but image quality should never be sacrificed in order to obtain them.  We took two new games that hit the retail shelves recently to see how the two cards compared when viewing identical locations.

Halo Screenshots 1280x1024x32
 
ATi Radeon 9600 XT NVIDIA GeForce FX 5600

We had planned on comparing a set of Halo screens on both the Radeon 9600 XT and GeForce FX 5600, but Anti-aliasing is not supported properly in the game at the moment. So we settled for a one-on-one comparison from a tunnel scene at 1280x1024. At a quick glance, the screenshot look nearly identical, but upon closer inspection we noticed that the detail in the Radeon screen was a bit sharper. Even without AA enabled, the lines in the floor and the tunnel opening looked sharper, and the vertical lines in the distant hallway are much clearer with the Radeon 9600XT.

TRON 2.0 Screenshots 1600x1200x32

ATi Radeon 9600 XT - No AA ATi Radeon 9600 XT - 4XAA ATi Radeon 9600 XT - 4XAA + AF
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5600 - No AA NVIDIA GeForce FX  5600 - 4XAA NVIDIA GeForce FX 5600 - 4XAA + AF

As you may have heard, TRON 2.0 is one of the games that comes with the tagline, "NVIDIA, the way it's meant to be played".  What this boils down to is the developer of the game, Monolith, has somewhat partnered with NVIDIA when producing the effects in the game.  This has caused some consternation amongst gamers, since game play should be the same for all players regardless of what video card they own.  Monolith has maintained that with NVIDIA-based cards, they will be able to achieve the "glow" that is the signature of the movie, and now the game.  So, what do we think?  Well, after taking a look at the Radeon and GeForce images side by side, we would be hard pressed to say that there was any real difference between the two.  Moving past this, we took a look at how the game fared when AA and AF were put into effect.  The best way to make comparisons between the sets of images is to look closely where the black stripe in the middle meets the white background.  Without AA, both images are on par with each other.  However, when we get to 4XAA with 8XAF, the separation line is nearly perfect with the Radeon 9600 XT, whereas the GeForce FX 5600 is clearly suffering from the "jaggies".

The Test System, AquaMark3 & Halo

Tags:  ATI, Radeon, ATI Radeon, XT

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