Memory manufacturer Crucial sent us an unusual graphics card as the Radeon 9100 is the only DirectX 8.1 card in this group test, and it also only supports AGP 4x. This is because the Radeon 9100 is actually a renamed Radeon 8500, which was a marketing move to reflect the fact that the Radeon 8500 was actually faster than the Radeon 9000 Pro. As we all know a higher model number must be faster than a lower model number to avoid confusing the poor, simple customers, so the 8500 became the 9100, which is actually more confusing as you can usually take the first digit of an ATi model code to deduce the DirectX support of the chip.
This GPU (or VPU as ATi would call it) is now two years old, but despite its low core speed of 250MHz and effective memory speed of 400MHz it compares very favourably to the much younger GeForce FX5200 which employs the same speeds. Both chips have a 128bit memory controller and four pixel pipelines, but the Radeon 9100 doesn't have the necessary hardware to support DirectX 9. In addition the Radeon 9100 makes no attempt to support high quality display settings so there are loads of gaps in our test results.
On the face of it this is a major problem, but while the FX5200 does support high quality settings, the frame rates drop so low that you actually get an attractive slide show, rather than cinematic action.
It's a sign of progress that this old design requires an active heatsink where the more powerful Radeon 9600 can get away with a passive cooler.
This is the slowest graphics card in the entire group but it is also the cheapest by a significant margin, so it is well worth considering if, for instance, you have bought a new motherboard and require a 1.5V AGP 4x graphics card but you have little or no requirement for gaming graphics beyond Tetris, FreeCell or Quake.
Crucial has used its own Micron memory chips on the card, but beyond that it is a very basic package with a particular point that is worth noting. The card has DVI, VGA and TV-Out ports however the DVI port isn't the usual DVI-I, but instead is a DVI-D. This could be a real problem if you have a TFT display with a captive cable as DVI-D adapters seem to be thin on the ground.
Much like Connect 3D, Crucial supplies a very basic package, although it manages to include a copy of Cyberlink PowerDVD XP 4.0, as well as an S-Video extension cable. While the software is welcome, we would have preferred to see a DVI-D adapter in the package.
This is a very slow card but on basic settings it can match the performance of the Radeon 9600. As soon as the workload increases though, it's game over for the Radeon 9100, but this card will suit a great many users who have modest 3D requirements and a modest budget to match.
If your gaming requirements are modest, this is a cheap way to upgrade your graphics card.