If you’re a gamer at heart, you’ll probably be salivating over the prospect of owning a supercharged powerhouse such as the Asus Radeon 9800XT. However unless you eat caviar for breakfast, or are just plain filled with ‘got to have it’ graphics-power lust, you’ll soon find yourself breaking into a cold sweat at the thought of the £350 plus price tag.
The solution to this conundrum could well be the Asus 9600XT, which at £163 is nearly one-and-a-half times cheaper than its big brother. The card offers all the key features of the 9800XT such as full DirectX9 support, Smoothvision 2.1, for image enhancing anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering, and Hyper Z III, which is designed to make the most efficient use of memory bandwidth.
The 9600XT chip is in some respects more advanced than its faster and far more expensive sibling. It’s manufactured using a 0.13 micron process rather than the older 0.15 micron process of the 9800XT. A smaller micron process means lower power requirements and higher clock speeds. This has enabled ATi to clock the VPU at 500MHz, 88MHz faster than the 9800XT. The memory is clocked at 600MHz DDR, 140MHz less than the 9800XT, while a 128bit bus means that the flow of data between the VPU and the memory isn’t as speedy as on the 256bit 9800XT.
So what does Asus bring to the 9600XT party? If you want to squeeze more out of the card you can use the supplied overclocking utility called SmartDoctor to shift the VPU up to 530MHz and the memory up to 650MHz. This also enables dynamic throttling of the fan speed so you can lower the ambient noise when you don’t need to stress the VPU. This features can’t however be used in conjunction with overclocking. However, Asus’ efforts at delivering a custom design heatsink and fan combination works well and the noise isn’t as loud as my GeForce4 Ti4600.
As a side note I found that the card would lock-up in games when run in my overclocked motherboard. Dropping the motherboard down to stock speeds solved the problem. By way of comparison, the Asus 9800XT exhibited no such shyness at running in an overclocked system.
The Asus stands out from the competition by offering both video in and video out capabilities. This is thanks to the presence of an integrated Rage Theatre Video chip, as used in the All-in-Wonder line. A break-out box is supplied to give easy access to the various connections.
Inside the box you’ll find a voucher entitling you to a free copy of Half Life 2 when it arrives. Although the voucher is only valid for the single player version. There’s also a CD case with the full versions of the DX9 game Gun Metal and Battle Engine Aquila