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.
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 8X||275||2||550||2||1100||512||128||8.2|
|GeForce4 Ti 4200 8X||250||4||1000||2||2000||512||128||8.2|
|Radeon 9500 Pro||275||8||2200||1||2200||540||128||8.6|
|Radeon 9000 Pro||275||4||1100||1||1100||550||128||8.8|
|GeForce4 Ti 4400||275||4||1100||2||2200||550||128||8.8|
|GeForce4 Ti 4600|
|Radeon 9700 Pro||325||8||2600||1||2600||620||256||19.8|
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.