ATi seems to be on a winning streak lately, they’ve launched one successful graphics card after another, securing their position as the current 3D graphics leader. Although the launch of the Radeon 9800 XT was a bit of a paper launch, as they only had a handful of videocards to circulate amongst the different media, we were anxiously awaiting the Radeon 9600 XT. Why? Because the Radeon 9600 XT was set to bring high-end 3D graphics performance at a sub $200 price point, performance not far off from ATi's higher end offerings. That got us excited, as not everybody is willing, or able, to shell out a mere $500 every year to be able to replace the previous king of the hill 3D graphics card with the next generation. Unfortunately all winning streaks must come to an end, and with the launch of the Radeon 9600 XT ATi certainly fell short on delivering on their promises.
Fig 1. The ATi Radeon 9600 XT, sporting the trademark red ATi printed circuit board.
We’re honestly left wondering what exactly ATi had in mind when they designed the 9600 XT, as it doesn’t deliver on any of its promises. We’ve tried to find something positive about it, but simply couldn’t. It doesn’t perform well at all, hardly besting the old 9600 Pro. It is, at best, another low end entry into an already crowded market. Granted, the graphics core runs at 500MHz, and the DDR memory at 300MHz, big numbers, but there’s no performance to match. And yes, there’s plenty of headroom, but even with the graphics core at 550MHz and the memory at 340MHz we’re still left craving for more performance. Despite the technical marvel of the Low-K process used to manufacture the RV360 graphics processor at 0.13-micron it is the 128-bit memory bus that's holding the 9600 XT back.
Fig 2. The RV360 graphics processor that's driving ATi's Radeon 9600 XT graphics card.
But okay, we never judge the book by it’s cover so even when the initial 3Dmark2003 benchmark was completed with a lowly 3500+ score we ran the Radeon 9600 XT through another set of benchmarks. Obviously the Radeon 9600 XT, like the 9800 XT, is pitched as a true DirectX 9.0 compatible 3D graphics accelerator so we didn’t hold back with the DirectX 9.0 benchmarks. Unfortunately most games are still only using DirectX 8.0 so buying a DirectX 9.0 compatible card today might not makes sense from a performance perspective as you can’t really try them with your favorite DirectX 9.0 titles yet. However, with Futuremark’s 3Dmark2003 and Massive’s AquaMark 3 we at least get a good impression of what the prospective performance will be like.