Thereâ€™s no denying that the 9600Pro AIW will make a great 3D graphics card for the majority of consumers, but pure performance has never been what the AIW range of cards are about. The increased clock speed of the All-in-Wonder does place it slightly ahead of a standard Radeon 9600Pro card, but itâ€™s not likely to be noticeable in everyday use. That said, the Samsung memory chips on the reference board were rated at 350MHz, so there is some leeway to push the All-in-Wonder a little further if youâ€™re power hungry.
The main features of the All-in-Wonder are accessed through Multimedia Center version 8.6. From here you can choose to watch TV via the integrated analogue TV tuner, or listen to FM radio or even play a DVD. All of this can be controlled with ease from the Remote Wonder.
TV reception proved to be pretty good, although it is, as always entirely dependant on how strong the signal is in your area, and how good your aerial is. Connecting a good quality aerial to the All-in-Wonder in a decent reception area results in a clear TV image thatâ€™s on par with any television set.
One TV feature thatâ€™s worth mentioning is Thruview which gives you the option of a transparency TV overlay. Basically you can have a TV image showing, while youâ€™re working on a Word document that you can see behind it. Itâ€™s not the sort of feature that everyone would use, but itâ€™s definitely pretty cool and something that will showcase what the All-in-Wonder can do.
With the Remote Wonder in hand, itâ€™s easy to record TV at the touch of a button. You can even watch something while itâ€™s still being recorded, just like TiVo or any Media Center PC. The quality of recorded media has always been first rate with the All-in-Wonder cards and the performance of this 9600Pro variant via the Theater 200 chip is no exception.
This is the first All-in-Wonder card to feature an FM tuner, which in itself will make it a desirable product to many PC users. If youâ€™re living in a single room, or a studio flat where space is an issue, having all of your home entertainment needs catered for by a single box is an attractive proposition. You do unfortunately need to have an external antenna to use the FM tuner, which isnâ€™t a huge problem. However, we tested the All-in-Wonder in a small form factor Biostar cube PC and the FM antenna port made it very difficult to install the card. The FM antenna port got caught on the backing plane of the case when we tried to insert the card no matter what angle we twisted it to. It was eventually possible to get the card fitted, but it was quite a struggle.
You have the same features on offer using the FM tuner as you do using the TV tuner. This means you can record at the touch of a button, pause a live broadcast or timeshift while your recording. Iâ€™m not sure if these features are quite as compelling with radio, but there are bound to be many users out there that will love the functionality.
ATi was unable to give me a confirmed UK price for the Radeon 9600Pro All-in-Wonder, but a ball park figure of around Â£199 is probably fairly close. Although I wouldnâ€™t take that as gospel until you see it being advertised at that price.
If the above price guess turns out to be accurate, the 9600Pro All-in-Wonder will be a great value AV solution for your PC. Many buyers will love the dual monitor support, but personally I feel that the lack of DVI is too high a price to pay for this.
Ultimately though this is a pre-production reference board and Iâ€™ll reserve my final judgement until I see a retail sample. For one thing I want to use the 9600Pro All-in-Wonder with the Remote Wonder II which Sapphire will be shipping with its retail products.
ATi has definitely produced a great graphics solution that a lot of people have been waiting for. As soon as a retail board hits the office it will be put through its paces and weâ€™ll let you know how it fared.