The Card Itself
As you can see, it's no motherboard-width monster with lashings of copper and a power hungry molex connector. Simple aluminium cooler, no discrete memory cooling and no external power source needed, the reference board can draw all the power it needs from the AGP slot. Of course it's an AGP8X compatible design, but we take that for granted these days.
Samsung's ubiquitous K4D263238E-GC33 modules (say that three times quickly) make an appearance for exactly 300MHz DDR operation, as specced by Samsung here. The GC2A variant would have been more desirable, offering an increase in memory frequency, at least for overclocking if not out of the factory. As it stands, GC33's 300MHz is what we get. We'll see how that affects overclocking later on.
It's not clear how board partners are going to interpret the reference design, but here's hoping that someone like Sapphire or Tyan decide to equip their 9600XT's with something a little more potent, along with possible passive or active DRAM cooling. Of course, those things add to the cost, and in this sector cost is one of the distinct selling points. So don't hold your breath.
Display connectivity wise, it's the regular DVI-I, S-Video, D-SUB layout, with the DVI-I output the primary display output and the S-Video and D-SUB connectors sharing the output from the 2nd GPU TMDS. I look forward to a 9600XT All In Wonder from one of ATI's board partners.
A little on the driver now, before we move on to the test setup and the pretty pictures.
CATALYST 3.8I talked a little about the new driver set on the previous page and things like the SmartShader effects are all very well and good, but OverDrive, the factory sanctioned overclocking tool for XT Radeon's is maybe the most interesting new thing. After all, a shuffled around 3D control panel tab with consistency mistakes and fugly graphics don't add anything we haven't seen before.
But, 9600XT fails to get OverDrive support in CATALYST 3.8, instead that's relegated to CATALYST 3.9. With retail samples in production, it's a little disappointing not to see it here, especially since it allegedly boosts GPU clock to 523MHz.
But overall, it's a nice driver. Image quality is up to ATI's usual current high standard, but we shouldn't get too over enthusiastic about things, since all software has its issues. I'll cover what cropped up in the benchmark pages.
For now, here's a shot of the new driver in action, hold on to your knickers.
The godsend to any hardware reviewer and apparently a core part of graphics support in Microsoft's upcoming operating system, Longhorn, VPU recover allows the hardware to reset itself if you (or indeed the driver) push it that little bit too far and things get a little heated and unstable. The driver resets itself and the GPU, hopefully bringing you back to a working desktop, if not back to the same place you were in your game. All it does is save the odd reboot after some over zealous Powerstrip action, but it's a cool feature nonetheless.
System setup now.