Despite being a new entrant into the graphics game, Crucial's reputation for dependable, high-quality memory means the company already has expectations to meet. Do they deliver with their Radeon 9700 Pro?
Like many ATI partners (all but Tyan, actually), Crucial has gone with ATI's reference board layout for their Radeon 9700 Pro. There's certainly nothing wrong with that, since the layout ATI provides is the one it uses on its own Radeon 9700 Pros. About the only things missing from Crucial's board are ATI stickers on the PCB and heat sink. Crucial hasn't even changed ATI's red PCB color. I guess we'll have to look for other areas where Crucial can differentiate itself.
Flipping over the card reveals no further differences between ATI and Crucial's Radeon 9700 Pros. You'll find a few memory chips and a thin metal heat sink for the card's voltage regulators in the top right-hand corner of the PCB, but that's it for the back of the board. Crucial's Radeon 9700 Pro doesn't feature any memory heat sinks, but I've yet to see definitive evidence proving that memory heat sinks improve stability or memory overclocking.
Speaking of memory, Crucial uses Samsung chips rated at 2.8ns on its Radeon 9700 Pro. It's a bit odd to see Samsung memory chips on a Crucial PCB. Normally, parent company Micron supplies the memory chips for Crucial products, but that's not the case here.
ATI's reference heat sink for the Radeon 9700 Pro works, so I suppose there's really no reason for Crucial to offer up something different. They do give the heat sink a new sticker, but that's about it.
Normally this is where I'd show you a shot of the thermal interface material used between the heat sink and GPU die, but the push-pins on Crucial's Radeon 9700 Pro are one-way. I'd suspect that, like others, Crucial is using a TIM-pad rather than thermal paste. Recently, some have questioned whether the gap between the die and heat sink surfaces, created by the shim ATI uses on the GPU's packaging, is too large for anything other than a TIM-pad. Replacing the TIM-pad with a razor-thin layer of heat sink paste may require lapping the GPU shim, which could make the process quite a bit more involved than it probably needs to be.
Because this card is built exactly like ATI's own, Crucial doesn't offer the dual-DVI outputs I long for in an ATI-based graphics card. I have yet to see any manufacturer offer dual DVI ports on an ATI-based graphics card. You can get dual DVI ports with workstation-class FireGL cards, but those are quite a bit more expensive than even a Radeon 9700 Pro. I can only hope that at least one manufacturer will stick its neck out and offer a dual-DVI Radeon as DVI-equipped LCDs become more popular.
Crucial's Radeon 9700 Pro bundle is pretty standard. The card comes with a driver CD, a manual, a copy of WinDVD, video cable adapters, and a set of video cables. The six-foot video cable length is pretty standard, but Crucial's warranty definitely isn't. Crucial offers lifetime warranty coverage for its Radeon 9700 Pro.
Since Crucial uses the same board design and components as other Radeon 9700 Pro cards with only three-year warranties, I wouldn't expect Crucial's card to have significantly lower failure rates. Still, that lifetime warranty means that if your card does fail, Crucial has your back.
One thing to keep in mine about lifetime warranties is that they are generally limited by the lifetime of the company. VisionTek had a lifetime graphics card warranty, but the company's recent demise raised doubts about whether those warranties would be honored (The Inquirer has reported that the Hartford Computer Group, which has acquired the VisionTek brand, will honor VisionTek's lifetime warranties). Fortunately, Crucial's memory business should probably hedge it against a similar fate, at least for the foreseeable future.
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