Last summer ATI awed the world with its RADEON 9700 PRO graphics card. Not only did it bring groundbreaking performance to the PC (up to three times the performance of the second fastest graphics card at the time), with its 128-bit floating-point pipeline and 2.0 pixel and vertex shaders, it also brought new levels of visual fidelity. But ATI wasn’t just satisfied with dominating the high-end of the graphics segment, they also went after the mainstream market with their RADEON 9500 PRO.
Like NVIDIA’s GeForce4 Ti 4200, the RADEON 9500 PRO was drawn up at the very last moment. As far as we can tell, the product was literally dreamt up just days before RADEON 9700’s public launch. You could say the RADEON 9500 PRO was more a product of ATI’s marketing department rather than the engineering staff, as the 9500 PRO core is identical to the chip used in the 9700 PRO!
The RADEON 9500: RADEON 9700 In Disguise
By utilizing the 9700 PRO core, ATI was able to get the 9500 PRO to market quicker. Chips were already in full production and the 9500 PRO board design itself wasn’t radically different than the 9700 PRO. In fact, 128MB RADEON 9500 (non-PRO) cards utilized the exact same printed circuit boards as RADEON 9700 cards; the only difference between the two cards was the speed of the memory!
This gave ATI a leg up on the competition, as they were the first graphics card manufacturer to release DirectX 9 products in both the high-end and mainstream segments. In fact ATI was the first manufacturer in recent history to address such drastically different segments with a next generation launch. GeForce3 and RADEON 8500 were initially launched solely to address the high end (until the Titanium and 8500LE variants were released) while the DX7 GeForce 256 was approximately $250 for a GeForce SDR card, and $300+ for a GeForce DDR accelerator, clearly not a mainstream price by anyone’s standards.
To date, ATI has reaped the benefits of this strategy. Not only is ATI considered the king of the graphics market they also have a killer DX9 card that the average consumer can afford in the RADEON 9500 line. It’s no wonder why ATI has already shipped over 1 million DX9 cards to its customers.
While the RADEON 9500 family has been great PR for ATI, it just isn’t feasible for the company to ship a complicated 110 million transistor part like the RADEON 9700 PRO core at the RADEON 9500 family’s $179-$219 MSRP. Something has to give in order for ATI to remain efficient and ultimately bring its prices down even further. Enter the RADEON 9600 with prices starting as low as $149.