Developing a successful GeForce4 Ti 4200 killer has been a tough task for both ATI and NVIDIA. The GeForce4 Ti 4200ís DirectX 8 compliance, 8.2GB/sec memory bandwidth, and 2.0Gigatexels/sec fill rate has made it a worthy performer in the mainstream market, with a feature set that was second to none in its class exactly one year ago. In DX8 titles such as Splinter Cell, it was a good performer with frame rates that were more than adequate for its segment.
Because of this, when ATI launched its RADEON 9500 PRO, many GeForce4 owners were impressed with the 9500 PROís performance, but opted instead to keep their money in their pockets -- even though the RADEON 9500 PRO was capable of dusting NVIDIAís more powerful GeForce4 Ti 4600 in some situations! The upgrade just wasnít enough for a lot of consumers to take the plunge.
ATIís follow-up to the RADEON 9500 PRO, the RADEON 9600 PRO, wasnít really created to address performance, its predecessor certainly wasnít lacking in that area; instead it was concocted to address ATIís production costs. Weighing in with 110 million transistors and a complicated board design, the RADEON 9500 PRO was expensive for ATI to produce for the mainstream segment. Essentially, $300+ graphics products were being sold for $150-$200. The RADEON 9600 PRO was built from the ground up to offer DX9 compliance with good performance, but just as important, to address ATIís need for a mainstream offering that wasnít too costly to manufacture.
In this regard, the RADEON 9600 PRO was a definite success, but enthusiasts were disappointed because it was outperformed by the 9500 PRO in many cases. In order to lower production costs, ATI reduced the number of pixel pipelines in 9600 PRO to four, half the number contained within 9500 PRO. This change had a negative impact on fill rate. ATI attempted to offset this by boosting the core and memory clock frequencies, but it still wasnít enough.
9500 PRO bottom
9600 PRO middle
9600 XT up top
9600 XT versus
While all this was occuring, NVIDIA was actually in a worse situation than ATI. We all know the delays they suffered throughout 2002, preventing DX9 hardware from shipping to retail until 2003. But their competitor to the RADEON 9500 PRO, GeForce FX 5600 Ultra, suffered through its own share of setbacks. The public response to initial 5600 Ultras samples was poor, requiring a follow-up, the 5600 Ultra flip-chip, which boasted higher clock speeds.
Unfortunately for NVIDIA, retail cards based on the updated 5600 Ultra core didnít arrive in significant quantities until August, leaving the 5600 to service this market, a task for which it was woefully under-prepared. ATI had won the hearts and minds of the mainstream segment, although there was still that nagging problem of convincing gamers to upgrade.
With DirectX 9 games like Tomb Raider and Halo now available, and Half-Life 2 right around the corner, gamers finally have a compelling reason to trade up from their RADEON 8500/8500LEís and GeForce3/4ís to a DX9 graphics card like the RADEON 9600 PRO. But to tempt consumers to upgrade even more, ATI has released another DX9 graphics card onto the market with even more performance than the RADEON 9600 PRO Ė the RADEON 9600 XT!