Video Card: ATI RADEON 9800XT & 9600XT Review :: The Cards

10-29-2003 · Category: Hardware - Video Cards

By Benjamin Sun
Hardware Features
Graphics Chip R360 RV360
Graphics Memory Type DDR DDR
Memory (MB) 256 128
Graphics Core Clock (MHz) 412 500
Memory Clock (MHz) 365 (730 effective) 300 (600 effective)
Memory Speed (ns) 3.2 3.3
RAMDAC Frequency 400 400
Active cooling on Graphics Chip Yes Yes
Heatsink on Memory No No
Video Capture Yes Yes
System Health Monitoring Yes (Thermal Diode for Overdrive) Yes (for Overdrive)
Dual Monitor Support Yes Yes
Video In and Out Ports S Video Out S Video Out
Package and Support
Printed Manual Yes Yes
Driver CD Yes Yes
Performance Tool Software Yes (Overdrive) Yes (Overdrive)
Major Games Half Life 2 Half Life 2
Major Software No No
VR Glasses No No
DVD Player Software ATI DVD Player ATI DVD Player
Video Recording Software No No

ATI has completely changed the cooling system for the 9800 XT. Instead of the heat sink/fan combination of the 9800 Pro, the 9800 XT's cooling solution consists of a copper fan sink which allows for higher frequencies on the 9800 XT than the 9800 Pro and higher memory frequencies as well. ATI's solution is single slot, which compares nicely with their main competition's 5900 Ultra solution which requires 2 slots (AGP and PCI 1 slot). Over clocking is monitored by a thermistor, allowing the card to regulate clock speeds by temperature. This is similar in effect to motherboard manufacturers monitoring the temperature of the CPU and speeding up the HSF on top of the CPU till a target temperature is met.

Now that ATI has released the Catalyst 3.8s, I can talk a little more about the Overdrive feature on the 9800 XT. If the card has a temperature of 0-51C, the card will clock to 432 MHz (from a default core clock of 412 MHz), if the card temperature is 48-56C the core clock speed will be set at 419 MHz, and finally if the temperature reads 56-127C (darn that's hot for a video card) the core clock will be set to 412 MHz (default speed). It's nice to see over clocking included as part of the WHQL drivers and covered by the warranty, but I was hoping for higher clock speeds. Maybe in a future driver release, and once ATI figures out what every card will do, they'll up the speed, but for now, a 5% clock speed increase just doesn't excite me.

Memory speeds on the 9800 XT are set at 365 MHz (730 MHz effective with DDR but I don't double memory frequencies). ATI outfitted the 9800 XT with 8 32MB chips of 2.5ns Hynix memory. This gives a memory rating of 400 MHz leaving some room for those who overclock their video card. As I don't generally overclock my computer components, this won't affect me in the least. ATI used the same 256 bit memory bus that they've outfitted their high-end video cards with since the 9700 Pro. This gives a theoretical memory bandwidth of 23.4 GB/Second up from 19.8 of the 9700 Pro and 21.8 of the 9800 Pro.

The input/output ports of the 9800 XT are: VGA, TV Out, and DVI. This is ATI's standard regular videocard configuration since at least the RADEON of 2000. They support dual monitors through their HydraVision software. The AGP interface of the card is AGP 4x/8x only. As every motherboard released today comes with a AGP 3.0 slot that only supports AGP4x/8x, this makes a lot of sense. If you still have a AGP2x motherboard, you're not likely to want or need a 9800 XT in any case. The CPUs supported by an AGP2x motherboard would hardly stress a 9800 XT.

The layout of the 9600XT, on the other hand is similar in many respects to the 9800 Pro layout just miniaturized. Rather than the copper heat sink/fan combination of the 9800XT, ATI used a large heat sink covering the VPU (Visual Processing Unit) surrounding the fan of the VPU. Not as big as the 9800 Pro heat sink/fan combination, it still cools the VPU acceptably. In fact, the heat sink is cool to the touch in Windows, something that can't be said of its bigger brothers the 9800XT or 9800 Pro.

One especially nice thing about the 9600 Pro is the lack of the external power requirement found in too many a video card today. ATI's entire high-end line-up requires the attachment of either a Molex or floppy power cable to the card to operate. NVIDIA's entire line (except for the 5200/5200 Ultra) also requires extra power. With the advent of the 9600XT however this is not a needed thing.

There are 8 memory modules on the PCB, 4 on the front of the card, 4 on the backside of the card. Each chip is a 16MB Samsung 3.3ns memory module giving a theoretical maximum memory frequency of 300MHz (600 MHz effective because of DDR memory). The 9600Xt's memory clock is 300 MHz (600 MHz effective). The memory bus for the card is 128-bit, giving a memory bandwidth of 9.6 GB/second raw memory bandwidth (128/8 (8 bits per byte) x300x2= 9.6 GB).

ATI outfitted the 9600 Pro with their now standard selection of I/O ports. They've kept the same configuration for their cards since at least the RADEON from 2000. Your I/O consists of one DVI port, one VGA port, and one TV-Out port. The 9600XT also supports dual monitors through the use of the included Hydra-Vision software. The AGP interface of the 9600XT is also only AGP4x/8x, like the 9800XT. This is more important for the 9600 XT, as people might buy this card with a lesser older system. However, if you still have an i440BX motherboard with an AGP 2x slot and a Pentium 2 450 or less, you should seriously consider a system upgrade before upgrading the video card.