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A look at ATI's Mobility Radeon 9600s

DirectX 9 gets portable
— 8:00 AM on March 13, 2003

JUST ONE WEEK after unveiling its new Radeon 9600 graphics card for desktop PCs, ATI is announcing its Mobility Radeon 9600 graphics chips for notebooks, bringing DirectX 9 and true portability together for the first time. ATI's Mobility Radeon 9000 was the first mobile graphics chip to support DirectX 8 and it looks like the new Mobility Radeon 9600s will extend ATI's mobile graphics leadership even further.

At this point, ATI's graphics chips should need little introduction, so I'll cut to the chase. ATI's Mobility Radeon 9600s promise to be the fastest, most feature-filled graphics chips for mobile applications, and they promise not to be too hard on notebook batteries, either. Read on to find out what the Mobility Radeon 9600s are all about.

It's a Radeon 9600, with mobility

Source: ATI

ATI announced its desktop Radeon 9600 Pro graphics part last week and if you were paying attention then, you're well-prepared for the Mobility Radeon 9600s; the Mobility and desktop versions of the Radeon 9600 are very similar. Like the desktop Radeon 9600, the Mobility Radeon 9600 is a 4x1-pipe design featuring two vertex engines and support for vertex and pixel shaders 2.0. The chip also features full DirectX 9 compatibility and all the 128-bit internal precision of ATI's DirectX 9-compliant Radeons. The desktop Radeon 9600's lossless color and Z-compression schemes are also featured in the Mobility Radeon 9600s along with up to 6X antialiasing and 16X anisotropic filtering.

Like the desktop Radeon 9600 family, the Mobility Radeon 9600s are built on a 0.13-micron manufacturing process that ATI claims it has had no problems migrating to. Though ATI has yet to confirm how many transistors make up the desktop Radeon 9600, the Mobility Radeon 9600s weigh in at only 60 million transistors; quite a remarkable transistor count considering that the Mobility Radeon 9600s not only support all the features of their desktop siblings, but also a few Mobility-specific features that aren't present on desktop versions of the chips.

ATI's Mobility Radeon 9600s also inherit AGP 8X support from their desktop brethren, but that feature will likely go unused in the vast majority of mobile applications since I've yet to see a notebook chipset that supports AGP 8X. "Desknote" portables that use desktop components may use chipsets that feature AGP 8X support, but it's probably safe to assume that the majority of Mobility Radeon 9600s will be running on an AGP 4X bus.

So, how will the Mobility Radeon 9600s stack up against currently available mobile graphics chips? Let's check our trusty chip chart, which is sorted according to each chip's available memory bandwidth:

 Core clock (MHz)Pixel pipelines Peak fill rate (Mpixels/s)Texture units per pixel pipelinePeak fill rate (Mtexels/s)Memory clock (MHz)Memory bus width (bits)Peak memory bandwidth (GB/s)
GeForce4 4200 Go2004800216004001286.4
GeForce4 440 Go220244028804401287.04
Mobility Radeon 900025041000110004601287.36
Mobility Radeon 960030041200112005001288.0
Mobility Radeon 9600 Pro3504140011400600+1289.6+

On paper, the Mobility Radeon 9600 Pro looks like it should have more than enough power to trump NVIDIA's GeForce4 4200 Go, but it's likely that NVIDIA will soon introduce a mobile graphics chip based on its new 0.13-micron NV31 graphics core.

You'll notice that the chart lists the Mobility Radeon 9600 Pro's memory clock speed as 600+ MHz. ATI has indicated that the Mobility Radeon 9600 Pro's memory will be clocked at at least 300MHz DDR, but also suggested that the memory could be running faster by the time notebooks featuring the chips actually ship.

ATI is also announcing its Mobility Radeon 9200 today, which is little more than an AGP 8X capable version of the Mobility Radeon 9000. The Mobility Radeon 9200 will apparently be clocked 5-10% faster than the current Mobility Radeon 9000, but since ATI hasn't nailed down solid clock speeds, I've only listed the Mobility Radeon 9000 on the chart.

Multimedia features
In an attempt to cater to mainstream consumers along with gamers and business markets, ATI has bundled a number of interesting multimedia options into its Mobility Radeon 9600 graphics products. Like the Mobility Radeon 9000, both the Mobility Radeon 9600 and 9600 Pro feature hardware-accelerated MPEG decoding and ATI's FULLSTREAM video de-blocking technology. However, the Mobility Radeon 9600s will also feature a video capture port and hardware-accelerated MPEG encoding, giving the chips an almost All-in-Wonder feel; all they're missing is an integrated TV tuner.

As if these features weren't enough, ATI also includes support for HDTV output and the latest and greatest widescreen and 2048x1536 notebook displays in its Mobility Radeon 9600s. With screens that big, users will be able to show their own in-flight movies to at least a few rows in an airplane and maybe all of First Class. The fact that wide-screen displays are supported makes me think that at least one incarnation of the Mobility Radeon 9600 will work its way into a wide-screen Powerbook, too.