Summary: Tyan has established itself as the Ferrari of ATI-based video cards, building cards that go above and beyond ATI's reference design with its latest Tachyon cards. The Tachyon G9600 PRO continues this tradition, and offers the most powerful cooling solution we've seen on a RADEON 9600 PRO card to date. See what separates this card from the competition, earning our Editor's Choice Award in the process, in this review!
While ATIís RADEON 9700 PRO stole all the headlines last year, the RADEON 9500 PRO was easily just as significant in the grand scheme of things. For the first time in recent history, a mainstream next-gen product accompanied a next generation launch for the high-end segment as well. GeForce3 and RADEON 8500 were both launched with premium price tags, NVIDIAís GeForce3 refresh, GeForce3 Ti 500 and Ti 200 helped bring prices down to more acceptable levels, but it wasnít until the debut of RADEON 8500 LE and GeForce4 Ti 4200 that mainstream DirectX 8 cards really took off.
For those of you with calendars and a good memory, thatís a separation of nearly a year between the debut of DX8 graphics and mainstream market acceptance. In contrast, the RADEON 9500 and RADEON 9500 PRO debuted in November of last year, roughly three months after RADEON 9700 PRO was unveiled. Within a matter of weeks, the first batch of cards hit retail, just in time for the busy holiday shopping season (and have been selling like hotcakes ever since). In fact, the RADEON 9500 and RADEON 9500 PRO beat Microsoftís own DirectX 9 API to market! Clearly ATI was out to gain the hearts and minds of gamers and hardware enthusiasts, and broke all the rules in the process.
What do we mean by ďbroke all the rulesĒ? You see, not only did ATI set a new record for mainstream introductions with the RADEON 9500 series; they literally sold their high-end product as a mainstream part. Thatís right, the RV300 core the RADEON 9500 family was based on was nothing more than a RADEON 9700 with its memory interface cut in half, while the RADEON 9500 sported a 128-bit memory interface with half its pixel pipelines disabled. In fact, early RADEON 9500 cards were built on the exact same PCBs as RADEON 9700 cards! It wasnít long after enthusiasts got their hands on the RADEON 9500 in particular that it was modified to perform similarly to a RADEON 9700. Not bad for a $150 graphics card!
Of course, with 110 million transistors on a 0.15-micron process, the R300 core the RADEON 9700 is built on is by no means inexpensive for ATI to produce. Selling these graphics cores in $150-$200 graphics cards is no way to improve your bottom line financially. Therefore, ATI had to come up with a DirectX 9 card for the mainstream market that was cheaper to produce. Enter the RADEON 9600 PRO.
Tyanís graphic roots
While ATI has been busy reinventing itself among gamers and enthusiasts, Tyan has been doing much of the same with its new Tachyon line of graphics cards. Actually shaking up the graphics market would be a more accurate description. Whereas most manufacturers have been content with ATIís reference design, Tyan has been using its engineering expertise to add new, unique features to its Tachyon cards. Tyan is essentially out to make a better card than ATI, or any other card manufacturer for that matter. The end result has brought Tyan lots of rave reviews from online publications and end userís alike.
As we mentioned previously, the RADEON 9600 PRO was born out of ATIís need to produce a DirectX 9 card for the mainstream that was less expensive to manufacture. In order to accomplish this, ATI did two important things for RADEON 9600 and RADEON 9600 PRO.
First, the number of pixel pipelines was reduced from eight in RADEON 9500 PRO (the same number used in the RADEON 9700 family), to four. By reducing the number of pixel pipelines, overall transistor count decreases: while the R300 family sports 110 million transistors, RADEON 9600 PRO contains just 60 million, reducing chip complexity dramatically. This puts it more in line with GeForce4 (a 63 million transistor chip) in this regard. Adjoining each pixel pipeline is one texture unit, resulting in a 4x1 architecture.
As a result of the reduced pixel pipelines, RADEON 9600 PROís fill rate is reduced in comparison to RADEON 9500 PRO. ATI attempted to offset this by cranking up the clock to 400MHz (ATIís fastest core from a clock speed perspective yet), but weíre still looking at a fill rate disadvantage of 600Mtexels/sec (2.2Gigatexels/sec in RADEON 9500 PRO versus 1.6Gigatexels/sec in RADEON 9600 PRO).
The second cost reducing change ATI has implemented in the RADEON 9600 PRO is its 0.13-micron manufacturing process (the RADEON 9500 PRO was built on TSMCís 0.15-micron process). By moving to a smaller process, ATI is able to produce more chips per silicon wafer, assuming good yields. This reduces production costs.
Another added benefit of implementing a smaller process is reduced voltage. Consequently, the amount of heat generated by the chip is lower than if a larger process had been used. This allows ATI to use less exotic cooling on the RADEON 9600 PRO. In fact, ATI has adopted the cooling unit from the RADEON 8500 for its RADEON 9600 PRO cards. The RADEON 9600 series also forgoes the need for an external power source. Even the four pixel pipeline RADEON 9500 wasnít able to claim this distinction.
Finally, the RADEON 9600 PRO core is paired with 128MB of 300MHz DDR memory (600MHz effective) this boosts memory bandwidth to 9.6GB/sec, an improvement of nearly 1GB/sec. ATI has optimized the RADEON 9600 PRO memory controller for use with a 128-bit interface, the 9500 PRO controller was essentially a 256-bit controller that was chopped in half. In addition, a new 8:1 Z-compression ratio increases the efficiency of ATIís HYPERZ technology. This should yield more effective memory bandwidth to feed the 9600 PRO.
SIDEBAR: RADEON 9500 PRO cards that support overclocking (either via hacked BIOS or natively like the G9500 PRO) are detected as RADEON 9700 cards by the CATALYST driver.
If you recall the board design of the Tachyon G9700 PRO and G9500 PRO, youíll remember that Tyan set out to improve on ATIís original reference card design. In the case of the Tachyon G9700 PRO, Tyan turned what is considered to be a hot-running graphics card in the RADEON 9700 PRO into a board that operated much cooler than ATIís offering. In fact, Tyanís use of a heatsink on the Tachyon G9700 PROís voltage regulator modules (rather than a metal plate) was copied by ATI for RADEON 9800 PRO! Its little touches like this that separate Tyanís engineering team from other card manufacturers.
Like previous Tyan graphics cards, the Tachyon G9600 PRO is not another ATI reference design. Once again Tyan has set out to improve ATIís basic product. Tyan uses a PCB that is longer than ATIís RADEON 9600 PRO reference board, but slightly shorter than their own Tachyon G9500 PRO card. The aqua blue color of the PCB matches company colors, and looks pretty sharp as well.
This additional space is necessary because Tyan has equipped the Tachyon G9600 PRO with an external speaker, which is located on the right corner of the G9600 PRO card Ė right where the power connector is on RADEON 9800/9700 cards. Tyan has also shifted some of the Tachyon G9600ís power circuitry in comparison to the RADEON 9600 PRO as well as integrating a Winbond hardware monitoring chip. This makes the Tachyon G9600 PRO the only RADEON 9600 PRO card on the market with built-in hardware monitoring.
As you can see in the pictures our Tachyon G9600 PRO card shipped with one VGA output and one DVI output. However, Tyan also plans to manufacture a dual DVI variant of the Tachyon G9600 PRO. Personally, we still arenít ready to replace CRTs with LCDs for gaming (especially when you consider the price premium), but the dual DVI option gives the Tachyon G9600 PRO another unique advantage over its competition.
For cooling, the Tachyon G9600 PRO is adorned with an extreme cooler design reminiscent of Tyanís Tachyon G9700 PRO. The heatsink looks like a one-piece unit, but itís actually two pieces joined at the back of the board. One heatsink cools the RADEON 9600 VPU and memory on the top of the board, while the heatsink on the bottom of the card cools the memory located on the underside of the card.
With the heatsink sporting such a massive surface area, cooling the RADEON 9600 PRO chip is a cinch. You could probably chalk the cooler up as overkill in fact, as the RADEON 9600 PRO doesnít get very hot to begin with. Weíre not complaining though!
Tyan finishes the cooling system off with a fan capable of up to 6,000 RPM, another case of overkill that weíll gladly take.
Thanks to Tyan Graphics Monitor 2.6, the fanís speed can be adjusted by the end user. Letís take a closer look at this unique feature.
SIDEBAR: Tyan also manufactures a RADEON 9800 PRO card but it looks like a basic reference design.
Tyanís Graphics Monitor (TGM) 2.6 software performs three functions that really setsí the Tachyon G9600 PRO apart from other RADEON 9600 PRO graphics cards.
For starters, TGM 2.6 can be used to overclock the Tachyon G9600 PRO. This negates the need for third-party utilities like PowerStrip, Rage3D Tweak, or Radclocker.
The feature enthusiasts will really love is the built-in hardware monitoring. TGM 2.6 can be used to monitor all critical graphics functions. Core voltage, memory voltage, memory I/O voltage, fan speed, and temperatures of both the graphics core and memory can be displayed at any time in TGM 2.6. If youíre concerned your graphics card may overheat, you can have TGM 2.6 alert you via the Tachyon G9600 PROís built-in speaker when a certain temperature is reached.
If you really want to study any one of these parameters, not only can you see the current value, a histogram can be used to watch these settings over time. Tyan color codes the values, so youíll have a rough idea of how well your graphics card is performing. Green, yellow, and red are the colors depicted, with green indicating safest operation and red denoting danger. Pretty slick huh?
If all this wasnít enough for you, TGM 2.6ís last feature will probably be the kicker: dynamic fan speed adjustment. Thatís right, just like NVIDIAís GeForce FX series, the Tachyon G9600 PROís fan can operate dynamically, running at a low RPM until a certain temperature is reached. Once this occurs, the fan can kick it up a notch or two, depending on the settings you determine.
Say for example your card hits 54 degrees Celsius, a temperature you arenít comfortable with for your graphics core. TGM 2.6 will then increase the revolutions per minute of the fan to a predetermined setting you can set in advance. This gives end users an incredible amount of flexibility as you donít have to crank the graphics card fan up to full blast if you donít want too, just select a slower setting like 4,500 RPM or maybe 4,900 RPM. You can tweak it to your liking (settings range from roughly 3,200 RPM to 6,000 RPM). Itís just a shame the dynamic fan speed feature canít reduce the fan speed once temperatures are reduced, say for instance you close Quake 3 and pop in a DVD, or you need to finish up that term paper in Microsoft Word. TGM 2.6 will continue to operate the fan at the higher setting, even though the graphics core may be at a chilly 40 degrees Celsius.
If youíre not quite ready to trust the dynamic fan speed feature, you can manually set the fanís RPM as well. Just use the slider to set the fan speed by hand.
SIDEBAR: The Tachyon G9600 PRO on the back of the product box actually featured a purple cooler.
3DMark 03 Patch 330
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB
3D Mark 2003 Ė DirectX 9
3DMark03 Ė Wings of Fury
3DMark03 Ė Battle of Proxycon
3DMark03 Ė Trollís Lair
3DMark03 Ė Mother Nature
Quake III - High Quality
Unreal Tournament 2003 - flyby
Splinter Cell Ė Direct3D
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB
Unreal Tournament 2003
Quake III - High Quality
Unreal Tournament 2003
Unreal Tournament 2003 w/ AA/AF
RADEON 9600 PRO core: ATIís RADEON 9600 PRO VPU may not be the fastest graphics chip on the block, but itís still no slouch when it comes to performance. True, itís disappointing that ATI is no longer giving away R300 cores at mainstream prices, but you canít have Christmas every day of the year now can you? As weíve been saying for months now, if you have your heart set on the RADEON 9500 PRO, you better get one now before itís too late. With each passing day supply on these cards continues to dwindle.
Availability and distribution: It took a little over a month for the G9500 PRO to really hit retail after we received our card, so weíll put the same 6-8 week timeframe for the G9600 PRO. This is a little disappointing, as RADEON 9600 PRO cards have been available for just over a month now. In addition, once the Tachyon G9600 PRO does hit retail channels, history has shown us that it will be hard to find as Tyanís distribution channels are limited. Other than Fryís, Tyan really doesnít have any big retailers onboard, and online retailers are also few and far between.
Fundamentally, the Tachyon G9600 PRO offers little over the excellent Tachyon G9500 PRO. Essentially all Tyan has done is beef up the cooling, revise Tyan Graphics Monitor, and transfer it all to the RADEON 9600 PRO VPU.
This may come as a disappointment to some as Tyan really improved its Tachyon line going from the 9700 PRO to the 9500 PRO. But by playing it more conservatively, Tyan is able to bring the Tachyon G9600 PRO to market sooner. Whereas the Tachyon G9500 PRO launched roughly five months after the RADEON 9500 PRO made its debut, the Tachyon G9600 PRO trails the RADEON 9600 PRO by just over two months. Tyanís timing has traditionally been its greatest weakness (just ahead of distribution), so the Tachyon G9600 PRO is Tyanís best shot yet at achieving breakthrough sales success. And on the hardware front, one quick glance at the Tachyon G9600 PROís spec sheet reveals that it excels.
First, the Tachyon G9600 PRO is the only RADEON 9600 PRO card on the market with hardware monitoring. This feature really came in handy for RADEON 9500 PRO and especially RADEON 9700 PRO, as these cores tend to operate on the toasty side. Built-in hardware monitoring will allow overclockers to monitor graphics core and memory temperature, and with the histogram feature you can watch temps over time. When you combine this with an app like 3DMark, you can see the impact 3D applications can have on graphics card temperature, arming you with even more information.
Our favorite aspect of Tyan Graphics Monitor is the adjustable fan speed. Those of you who want to build a quiet PC can use it to keep the fanís RPMs down, while the enthusiasts that want the best cooling possible can crank the fan up to speeds over 5,000 RPM for extreme cooling. No other graphics card on the market gives you this kind of flexibility.
With the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra still MIA, and the RADEON 9500 PRO pulling a disappearing act, ATIís RADEON 9600 PRO is the hottest core around in the mainstream segment, and the aggressive prices these cards are currently going for only fuels the fire. Tyanís Tachyon G9600 PRO is the top dog among RADEON 9600 PRO cards. With so many card manufacturers content to stick with ATIís reference design, itís refreshing to see a company like Tyan come in and build a better card. If you must have the best RADEON 9600 PRO card on the market, you owe it to yourself to take a serious look at the Tachyon G9600 PRO.
SIDEBAR: Do you have any questions or comments on the Tachyon G9600 PRO? Drop them in the news comments!
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