Summary: Ever since the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO was originally announced, it has been highly anticipated by gamers and enthusiasts mainly due to one new feature: dual VGA support! If that weren't enough, ATI has a few other tricks up the AIW 9600 PRO's sleeves: faster clocks and an integrated FM tuner. Today we take ATI's latest multimedia whiz out for a test spin, read all the highlights and lowlights in this review, and don't forget the overclocking!
ATIís ALL-IN-WONDER cards have earned (and we stress the word earned) a loyal following among consumers for their extraordinary combination of features, ease of use, flexibility, and performance. Need a video card for editing home movies? Thatís no problem for ATI ALL-IN-WONDER. How about a card for watching and recording your favorite television shows? The ALL-IN-WONDER can do that too, and it can be programmed to record television programming for an entire season. And thanks to the power of its RADEON graphics core, ATIís high-end ALL-IN-WONDER line has more than enough horsepower to tackle all of todayís latest games.
Both the industry and consumers have recognized this, as ATI has racked in numerous awards and sales. The ALL-IN-WONDER line has been running strong for nearly a decade now and shows no signs of letting up anytime soon. In fact, ATI continues to find ways to innovate its multimedia marvel; the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO is a perfect example of this.
The ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO was built to address the needs of the mainstream market. If you look at ATIís multimedia lineup before the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO, ATI had the ALL-IN-WONDER VE for the value/integrated markets. This card is based on a derivative of ATIís RADEON 7500 VPU with 64MB of memory and is officially priced at $129. To help keep costs down, the ALL-IN-WONDER VE shipped without the REMOTE WONDER remote control unit; which is a $49 accessory. For those who needed a little more power, ATI offers the ALL-IN-WONDER 9000 PRO. Its RADEON 9000 PRO core brings DirectX 8 capability to the table, as well as added performance and REMOTE WONDER. At the same time, the price tag is still affordable at $169.
At the heart of the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO is an improved version of ATIís RADEON 9600 PRO. The RADEON 9600 PRO is ATIís latest DirectX 9 offering for the mainstream segment. Unlike the RADEON 9800 PRO/9500 PRO, which both feature eight pixel pipes; the RADEON 9600 PRO features a four-pixel pipeline architecture with one texture unit per pixel pipeline. By reducing the number of pixel pipelines, ATI is able to save transistors at the expense of giving up some fill-rate (performance). This makes the RV350 core the RADEON 9600 PRO is based on cheaper to produce.
Speaking of memory bandwidth, this is one area the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO exceeds the specifications of its desktop counterpart, the RADEON 9600 PRO. While both cards sport 128-bit interfaces to their DDR memory (128MB in the case of the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO), the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO features 325MHz memory (650MHz effective) versus 300MHz memory in the RADEON 9600 PRO. This change nets the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO an additional 800MB/sec of memory bandwidth, 10.4GB/sec versus 9.6GB/sec.
ATI has made a number of component placement changes on the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO and theyíre not all related to the extra circuitry the ALL-IN-WONDER requires for its video engine and TV playback.
First, you can easily see that the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO is outfitted with significantly fewer capacitors than RADEON 9600 PRO. While the RADEON 9600 PRO is dotted with capacitors along the top of the board, the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO is merely sprinkled with them.
Of course, the RADEON 9600 PRO board design still isnít as complicated as other DX9 cards weíve seen in the past. No external power connection is required, and the graphics core generates significantly less heat Ė ATI is able to get by with the same cooler that was used on the RADEON 8500! This leaves lots of open space on the board; ATI has enough room to fuse the Philips stereo TV/FM tuner and THEATER 200 chip on the top of the board. ALL-IN-WONDER 9700 and ALL-IN-WONDER 9800 cards both had to place the THEATER 200 chip on the underside of the card.
Overclockers will be happy to hear that our card was equipped with 350MHz memory modules manufactured by Samsung. This should give you a little bit of headroom for overclocking.
Looking at the back plate of the card, youíll notice that the card lacks VGA or DVI outputs. These are located on the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PROís video connector. Two VGA outputs are provided for driving dual displays, a first in the ALL-IN-WONDER lineup. Youíll also see two coaxial connections, one for the TV tuner and the second for the FM tuner, another ALL-IN-WONDER first. One unexpected downside that we found with this setup however is that the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO wonít fit in small form factor chassis like Shuttleís XPC line (see the update on this on the Ballistics Report page). You see, the FM coaxial connector is located higher on the boardís back plate than it was in previous ALL-IN-WONDER cards.
This connector ends up bumping into the bracket holding the AGP card in place. While desktop cases have plenty of clearance, small form-factor cases donít. No matter what angle you try to mount the AIW 9600 PRO card in, it either bumps into the motherboard or the coax connector will bump into the slot where you screw your AGP card down. We tried multiple angles and couldnít get around this, regardless of the small form-factor system we used. Adding insult to injury, ATI doesnít include an antenna for the FM tuner, so youíll have to scrape one up in order to use this feature.
Also included in the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PROís packaging is a VIVO module, REMOTE WONDER remote control unit, and S-Video and composite video cables. The HDTV component adapter that comes standard with the ALL-IN-WONDER 9800 PRO is an optional accessory for the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO.
For those of you who arenít familiar with REMOTE WONDER, this remote control unit is quite an impressive piece of work. It has all the standard buttons youíd find on a TV remote, as well as the basic buttons youíd find on a DVD remote (stop/pause/rewind/fast-forward/play/record and arrow keys) Buttons are also provided for controlling the applications within ATIís multimedia center software, as well as a directional keypad with left/right mouse buttons, so you can effectively use the remote as a mouse.
All these features make REMOTE WONDER a joy to use. Simply click the ďTVĒ button to launch the TV player, or if you want to skip straight to the program listings press the button for GUIDE PLUS+. The app will launch promptly and thanks to the directional keys, navigation is a snap. REMOTE WONDER also features six programmable buttons that can be programmed to perform practically any function youíd like. Controlling your PC from the comfort of your couch just doesnít get any easier than this.
In our original preview article, we listed ATIís upcoming REMOTE WONDER II unit as a standard ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO accessory. REMOTE WONDER II adds longer range (over 60 feet) and is built on a new design that should be a little more intuitive to use. Sadly, it turns out that the new remote control unit isnít ready for primetime, so ATI must rely on its REMOTE WONDER unit instead. As you can see, our unit had slightly updated buttons. The web and left and right mouse buttons are changed.
Fortunately, ATI includes a free coupon for the REMOTE WONDER II in the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO packaging, although the buyer does pay shipping and handling fees. ATI expects that REMOTE WONDER II should be available in time for the holidays.
SIDEBAR: Batteries are included in the REMOTE WONDERís packaging.
Everything is wrapped up in Multimedia Center 8.6. This is essentially the launch pad for the software applications that comprise the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO. Multimedia Center loads as a taskbar on the right side of your screen by default. From here you can launch the TV player, FM player, GUIDE PLUS+, CD player, etc., basically all of the ATI-based apps that shipped with your ALL-IN-WONDER card. Weíll discuss the TV player first.
Watching TV on your PC
While weíve posted several ALL-IN-WONDER reviews in the past, every time we post a new one, we still get a few emails asking if they really do play television programming on your PC, just like a TV. The answer is yes, they sure do! In fact, this is probably the ALL-IN-WONDERís most popular feature.
This makes the ALL-IN-WONDER perfect for small living environments like dorm rooms. You can combine the functionality of a TV, VCR, and DVD player all into your PC! This saves space, freeing up more room for school books. (Or at least thatís the excuse you tell your parents for justifying that shiny new ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO purchase.)
Up to 125 cable television stations are supported (70 antenna). Setup is a snap, as the tuner autoscans for channels just like a regular television.
The TV player can do all sorts of cool things, the most talked about is definitely THRUVIEW. This feature places the television program youíre currently watching behind your Windows desktop. So your favorite show can literally appear underneath that Word document you're touching up, or the spreadsheet in Excel youíre preparing. You can adjust the transparency level to your eyes, although itís a feature thatís still hard to get used too.
More practical is the TV bar. When clicked, this feature will place the TV player in a box in the top corner of the application youíre using. This option is available in popular applications like Internet Explorer.
Like the ALL-IN-WONDER 9800 PRO, the AIW 9600 PRO supports mulTView. This brings picture-in-picture support to the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO. Just pop in a second TV tuner and youíre all set. You can also record one channel while watching another with this feature.
Editor's Note: It has come to our attention that you can't use the dual VGA feature to watch TV on your secondary monitor while working on your primary display, it only works on the primary display. Fortunately, you can still drag your work to the secondary display, but you're locked to the primary display for TV viewing.
SIDEBAR: Keep in mind that TV display quality will be dependant on your cable signal.
Gemstarís GUIDE PLUS+ software
Having an integrated TV player is nice and all, but what makes the package even more powerful is the GEMSTAR GUIDE PLUS+ software. Think of GEMSTAR GUIDE PLUS+ as your local TV guide on steroids. Not only do you have the latest local television listings (which are updated weekly), but GUIDE PLUS+ is also seamlessly integrated into the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PROís timeshifting capabilities and the REMOTE WONDER remote control unit.
Navigation is a snap thanks to the REMOTE WONDER unit; you can also use your mouse as well. Your current station is displayed in the upper left corner (the black box in the screenshots) while a program description of the television program youíve currently selected appears above the television listings. You can use GUIDE PLUS+ to record the program youíre currently watching, or, with SCHEDULE+, an entire seasonís worth of programming. This is perfect for TV junkie whoís on the go yet doesnít have time to program every single episode of their favorite television show.
Again, like the rest of the Multimedia Center software, setup is simple. Simply type in your area code and select your cable provider and youíre good to go. Keep in mind however that for the best experience youíll probably want a broadband Internet connection thatís always on (but this isnít a requirement). GEMSTAR GUIDE PLUS+ is completely free, there are no monthly charges for the service.
TV-ON-DEMAND refers to the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PROís ability to timeshift, just like a TiVo. This capability allows you to pause live TV, say for instance when nature calls, or you get an important phone call. Just press the pause button on your REMOTE WONDER remote, and the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO automatically saves the program youíre watching to your PCís hard drive based on video settings youíve defined. Then when you come back, you can pick up right where you left off.
Besides the TV player, the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO also supports FM tuning. The FM player that ships with the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO should offer everything you need for listening to the radio. Frequencies supported range from 75.9MHz to 108MHz while the player itself supports up to 10 radio presets. The player also boasts FM-ON-DEMAND, bringing timeshifting to the radio. You can record your favorite shows, pause live radio, and save songs you like to MP3. The FM player even comes with an alarm and built-in sleep settings!
NASCAR Racing 2003 Season (Bristol custom demo)
Nascar 2003 Ė DX8
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB - OpenGL
Quake III - OpenGL
Unreal Tournament 2003 Ė DX8
Splinter Cell Ė DX8
Tomb Raider Ė DX9
Unreal Tournament 2003
Tomb Raider Ė Direct3D
Unreal Tournament 2003
Small form-factor a no-go: Try as we might, we just couldnít get the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO to fit inside our small form-factor chassisí. Considering the low power and heat the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO generates, weíre sure this is a huge bummer to the small form-factor enthusiast Ė the RV350 core this card is based on is perfect for these types of applications! Home theater PCs are becoming more popular by the minute thanks in part to the ALL-IN-WONDER line and the engineering of todayís latest small form-factor setups, but as it stands now the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO will have to stand on the sidelines, the coax connector for the FM tuner is just too high.
Hopefully ATI will shift the Philips tuner to the bottom of the card's PCB in future ALL-IN-WONDER products, as the FM tuner is a nice addition.
UPDATE 11/09: We've received reports from end users with Shuttle small form-factor systems that have been able to get the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO to fit in their cases. One FS reader, tbeets, bent the bottom of the metal backplate on his card in order for it to fit to properly.
Another reader, Peter Wong, accomplished the task by removing the backplate entirely. His story: "if you notice, there are 6 things holding the bracket onto the card: the 2 nuts for the video cable, the 2 tightening rings on the coaxial inputs, and lastly there are 2 screws on both the top and bottom that secure the ends of the bracket to the board. if you remove the lower screw, and the 2 nuts for the video input, you will be able to loosen up the bracket enough so that you can move it out of the way, and slide the card right in. once the card is in the agp slot, reattach the screws and nuts and you're good to go."
No FM antenna: The ironic part is, the feature that prevents the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO from fitting inside small form-factor setups, also wonít work straight out of the box since ATI doesnít include an FM antenna in the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PROís packaging.
Fortunately this is a problem that can quickly be resolved with a quick trip to Radio Shack. Lets face it, weíd much rather have ATI skimp on the radio antenna than the awesome REMOTE WONDER remote control unit.
Lack of DVI: While high-end LCD displays are still ridiculously expensive in comparison to CRTs, LCDs are rapidly gaining in popularity. Flat panel users will have to rely on the AIW 9600 PROís VGA connectors.
SIDEBAR: Did you see those overclocking results!? Who needs a RADEON 9600XT anymore!
Despite the setback for small form-factor users, ATIís got another homerun with the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO.
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