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Sapphire's Atlantis Radeon 9500 Pro


The lost city of mid-range graphics
— 12:00 AM on February 3, 2003

ManufacturerSapphire
ModelAtlantis Radeon 9500 Pro
Price (street)US$180
AvailabilityNow

GRAPHICS CARDS are well on their way to becoming bonafide commodity items. Few manufacturers offer anything that differs substantially from whatever reference design NVIDIA or ATI cranks out. A select few manufacturers have been bold enough to tweak reference card designs and offer their own unique takes on NVIDIA and ATI's latest graphics chips, but those manufacturers and products are becoming fewer and farther between with each new chip generation.

While commoditization may have a detrimental impact on board manufacturer-driven innovations, many consumers may actually find it easier to choose between more generic choices. If, for example, all Radeon 9500 Pro-based graphics cards were to perform, look, and sound alike, a consumer trying to choose between two competing cards would have fewer variables to consider. In the end, it might all come down to a card's price and bundled extras, which isn't such a bad thing. At least with generic cards, one can have the expectation of more consistent performance across boards from different manufacturers, something that graphics chip manufacturers surely wouldn't mind.

Today we're looking at Sapphire's decidedly generic Atlantis Radeon 9500 Pro. Can Sapphire's budget-minded card satiate a gamer's desire for impeccable image quality at high frame rates? Let's find out.

The specs
Before diving into Sapphire's take on the Radeon 9500 Pro, let's quickly refresh what we know about the graphics chip itself. I'll just be covering a few essential details to get you set up for this review, but a more in-depth analysis of the Radeon 9500 can be found here for those unfamiliar with ATI's latest mid-range graphics chip.

  Core clock (MHz) Pixel pipelines Peak fill rate (Mpixels/s)Texture units per pixel pipeline Peak fill rate (Mtexels/s) Memory clock (MHz) Memory bus width (bits) Peak memory bandwidth (GB/s)
GeForce4 MX 440 8X2752550211005121288.2
GeForce4 Ti 4200 8X25041000220005121288.2
Radeon 950027541100111005401288.6
Radeon 9500 Pro27582200122005401288.6
Radeon 9000 Pro27541100111005501288.8
GeForce4 Ti 4400 27541100222005501288.8
GeForce4 Ti 4600

300

412002240065012810.4
Radeon 9700275822001220054025617.3
Radeon 9700 Pro325826001260062025619.8

The Radeon 9500 Pro is essentially a cut down version of ATI's high-end Radeon 9700 Pro that inherits all the Radeon 9700 Pro's features and DirectX 9 compatibility. Where the Radeon 9500 Pro differs, however, is in the width of its memory bus and its core and memory clock speeds. On the Radeon 9500 Pro, ATI has cut the Radeon 9700 Pro's memory bus width from 256 to 128 bits, effectively halving the card's peak theoretical memory bandwidth. Thankfully, the Radeon 9500 Pro does get to keep all eight of the Radeon 9700 Pro's pixel pipelines, each of which is capable of laying down a single texture per pass. The number of pipelines is especially important to note because the non-pro Radeon 9500 features only four pixel pipelines, which cuts its maximum theoretical fill rate in half.

As far as clock speeds go, the Radeon 9500 Pro is identical to ATI's non-pro Radeon 9700. Both graphics chips are clocked at 275MHz and come with DDR memory chips clocked at 540MHz. Of course, the non-pro Radeon 9700 features a full 256-bit memory bus, so it's packing twice the peak theoretical memory bandwidth of the Radeon 9500 Pro.

When we consider the Radeon 9500 Pro's maximum theoretical fill rates and memory bandwidth, the specs look most comparable to NVIDIA's GeForce4 Ti 4400. Unfortunately, the GeForce4 Ti 4400 is a rare bird in the wild these days; it's all but given way to NVIDIA's GeForce4 Ti 4200 8X, which is popping up all over the place as it becomes clear that NVIDIA's mid-range GeForce FX products won't arrive until the spring at the earliest.