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So how about performance? In 3DMark 2001, its score of 12,585 at a resolution of 1,024 x 768 means that it will breeze through older DirectX7 games. Its 3DMark03 score of 3644 is also an improvement over the score of an Atlantis 9600 Pro board, which achieved 3252.
The limitations of the 9600XT will only come to the fore if you push the resolution too high. In the Unreal Tournament 2003 flyby test, the 9600XT was able to reach a very comfortable 69.5fps at 1,280 x 960 even with anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering turned on. However, pushing it to 1,600 x 1,200 with everything turned on, and the memory bandwidth limitations of its value-conscious architecture become apparent – the score drops to 26.1fps compared to the 75.2fps of the 9800XT. In the demanding Gun Metal benchmark the frame-rate was an unplayable 9.9fps at 1,600 x 1,200 and could only hit 21.4fps at 1,024 x 768.
Our game play testing bore out the benchmark findings. We were able to have a lot of fun with the 9600XT, as long as we kept the resolution and image quality enhancing features down to sensible levels. However on an Athlon XP 2500+ based system playing the latest state-of-the-art shooter Halo was satisfactorily smooth only at a resolution of 800 x 600.
Clearly, if you want to play upcoming games at high resolutions with all the image quality features turned on, you’ll have to dig deeper for a card costing over £200. If you don’t want to spend that you will be able to obtain smooth frame rates and DX9 effects in current games such as Halo as long as you keep the resolution and image quality settings at reasonable levels. If you’re satisfied with that, then the Asus 9600XT is a solid buy.
Asus delivers a quality package with a gaming bundle, decent software utilities and a custom heatsink/fan design. A Sapphire 9600XT is £20 cheaper but with video-in as well as TV-out the Asus is a good value proposition