Summary: After publishing our RADEON 9600 PRO review, we were curious to see how an overclocked RADEON 9600 PRO would fare against the RADEON 9500 PRO. Unfortunately, overclocking utilities didn't support the brand new RV350 core at the time. Today however, things have changed, and we were able to push our RADEON 9600 PRO well beyond 500MHz! In this article we pit overclocked RADEON 9500 PRO and 9600 PRO cards against each other, to see which mainstream card comes out on top, and how they both fare against the 9700 PRO. You won't want to miss the results of this article!
As we discussed in our RADEON 9600 PRO review, the RADEON 9600 family was meant to address ATI’s need for a DirectX 9 part that offered RADEON 9500 PRO class performance, but at a lower production cost. In order to accomplish this objective directly, ATI has reduced the number of pixel pipelines from eight in RADEON 9500 PRO, to four in RADEON 9600 PRO, and shifted to a newer manufacturing process.
The manufacturing process in particular is one of the most important changes from the overclockers’ perspective. The RADEON 9600 PRO is ATI’s first graphics core to utilize TSMC’s smaller 0.13-micron manufacturing process. Besides lowering manufacturing costs, the smaller process also allows ATI to hit higher clock speeds. At 400MHz, the RADEON 9600 PRO runs at a higher core clock frequency than even the RADEON 9800 PRO!
When you couple this with the RADEON 9600 PRO’s dramatically reduced transistor count (roughly half the transistors of 9500 PRO) you’ve got a chip that generates considerably less heat. In fact, ATI borrowed the heatsink design from its older RADEON 8500/7500 family for the RADEON 9600 PRO. This is a dramatic contrast to the RADEON 9500 PRO, whose cooler was reminiscent of the RADEON 9700 series.
Once these three aspects are factored in, you’ve got a product with tremendously greater overclocking potential than its DX9 predecessors. Despite this, we were concerned if the RADEON 9600 PRO would support overclocking at all in our original review. Both the RADEON 9700 (non-PRO) and the entire RADEON 9500 family ship with BIOS images that must be hacked in order to support overclocking. Fortunately, this is not the case for the RADEON 9600 PRO card we received for testing. The RADEON 9600 PRO supports overclocking out of the box all you need is a hardware utility to overclock the card.
How to overclock your 9600 PRO
Currently, there are two utilities that offer overclocking support for the RADEON 9600 PRO: Rage3D Tweak, and RadClocker. For our testing, we chose to use RadClocker, as the 537MHz core frequency limit of Rage3D Tweak proved to be too tame for our RADEON 9600 PRO card. So how high were we able to overclock our RADEON 9600 PRO? How does a 547MHz core clock and 365MHz memory (730MHz effective) sound!
Despite its dramatically higher clock speeds, the overclocked RADEON 9600 PRO just barely finishes behind the overclocked RADEON 9500 PRO in 3DMark 03. At all resolutions we’re looking at a margin of less than 1%.
3DMark03 – Wings of Fury
3DMark03 – Battle of Proxycon
3DMark03 – Troll’s Lair
3DMark03 – Mother Nature
3D Mark 2001 SE v.330 – DirectX 8
The overclocked RADEON 9500 PRO is able to outdistance itself from the RADEON 9600 PRO a little bit more in 3DMark 2001 SE, but as you can see in the graphs, the margin between both cards has narrowed significantly compared to the default clock frequencies.
3DMark 2001 - Car Chase
3DMark 2001 - Dragothic
3DMark 2001 - Lobby
3DMark 2001 - Nature
Serious Sam 2 - OpenGL
The tides turn in favor of the overclocked RADEON 9600 PRO in Serious Sam Second Edition. As you can see, the overclocked 9600 PRO card finishes up to 4% higher than the 9500 PRO in Serious Sam 2. The 9700 PRO’s 256-bit memory interface allows it to outperform both overclocked cards at higher resolutions.
Quake III - High Quality
The seesaw battle continues in Quake 3, with the overclocked RADEON 9500 PRO now ahead of the overclocked RADEON 9600 PRO. The margins are roughly the same as what we saw in Serious Sam, with the RADEON 9600 PRO really putting up a much better showing in comparison to the 9500 PRO now that it’s overclocked.
Comanche 4 demo
Unreal Tournament 2003 - flyby
Unreal Tournament 2003 - botmatch
UT tends to favor the RADEON 9500 architecture over the 9600, so it’s no surprise to see the RADEON 9500 PRO come out on top in this benchmark. At lower resolutions the overclocked 9600 PRO is able to stay close, but by the time the screen resolution is cranked up to 1600x1200, the overclocked RADEON 9600 PRO is barely able to outpace the stock RADEON 9500 PRO.
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby
Unreal Tournament 2003 Botmatch
Quake III – High Quality
Once anti-aliasing is enabled, the overclocked RADEON 9600 PRO’s memory bandwidth advantage allows it to overtake the overclocked RADEON 9500 PRO. The margin opens up to double digits at the higher resolutions, where bandwidth is critical.
Quake III – High Quality
ATI’s RADEON 9600 PRO appears to be an incredible overclocker. At 547/365, we’re looking at core clock improvement of 27% and a memory clock boost of 18%! Keep in mind however that our board is sporting 350MHz BGA memory. This is the same memory that ships on the RADEON 9800 PRO, it’s unclear if third-party manufacturers will choose to go this route on their final board designs, or ship with the 300MHz memory chips that the board is officially intended to support. The fact that our 9600 PRO board was labeled as a qualification sample while our early RADEON 9800 PRO, RADEON 9500 PRO, and RADEON 9700 PRO boards were all listed as non-qualification samples could be a positive sign though.
As you saw in our test results, the overclocked RADEON 9600 PRO is quite a performer. In some cases, not only is it capable of outperforming the overclocked, 8-pixel pipeline RADEON 9500 PRO, it can even give the RADEON 9700 PRO a run for its money! This is a dramatic change from the impressions we were left with after the RADEON 9600 PRO review. In fact, many of you were left with even more sour feelings towards the RADEON 9600 PRO and expressed them in the news comments. With the price advantage RADEON 9600 PRO is expected to enjoy over RADEON 9500 PRO, the 9600 PRO could be a very compelling upgrade alternative, especially if our overclocking experience holds true for other RADEON 9600 PRO cards from ATI and its partners.
Another x-factor is the RADEON 9600 non-PRO. Since it’s built on the same RV350 core as the RADEON 9600 PRO, it’s very possible that it may turn out to be an impressive overclocker as well, and with an even lower price point to boot. Remember how popular the RADEON 8500LE was among overclockers a few years ago? The RADEON 9600 could make that look like child’s play if enough manufacturers ship their non-PRO cards with high-speed DDR memory.
In any case, we think it’s pretty safe to say that ATI was fairly conservative with its 400MHz core clock for the RADEON 9600 PRO. A higher clock speed would have brought the RADEON 9600 PRO considerably closer to the RADEON 9500 PRO’s fill-rate and prevented some of the misgivings many had concerning the VPU after last week’s reviews. Fortunately we’re now able to bring you the complete picture and it certainly looks as if ATI has two knockout punches in the mainstream segment. On the low end you’ve got the RADEON 9600 PRO, while those of you with a few extra dollars to spend may want to opt for the RADEON 9500 PRO. DirectX 9 gaming has never been more attractive thanks to ATI and its corresponding products.
SIDEBAR: Now that you’ve seen what an overclocked RADEON 9600 PRO can do, have your thoughts changed on the RADEON 9600 PRO? Speak!
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