ATI’s RADEON 9600 and RADEON 9600 PRO are built on an entirely new core. Unlike the RADEON 9800 and RADEON 9700, the 9600 PRO is built on TSMC’s 0.13-micron manufacturing process. This makes the RADEON 9600 family the first RADEON graphics architecture to move to 0.13-micron. By now you probably know the difficulty NVIDIA has gone through with GeForce FX 5800 at 0.13-micron, but it appears that ATI’s transition to 0.13-micron has gone more smoothly.
Moving to a smaller manufacturing process is important because it allows ATI to get more chips per wafer, lowering production costs. An added benefit is that the smaller process requires less power, allowing the chip to generate less heat than if it were built on a larger manufacturing process. Chip manufacturers tend to crank up the clock frequencies as a result, so the heat issue doesn’t entirely go away. The GeForce FX 5800 Ultra being a prime example of this.
Lets quickly go over the rest of the specs for the RADEON 9600 PRO:
4 parallel rendering pipelines up to 1.6 billion pixels per second
2 parallel geometry engines process up to 175 million transformed and lit polygons per second
128-bit DDR memory interface @ 300MHz
AGP 8X/4X support
MPEG-2 decoding with motion compensation, iDCT and color space conversion
All-format DTV/HDTV decoding
Dual monitor support
Dual integrated 10-bit per channel DACs operating at up to 400MHz
Integrated TV-Out support up to 1024x768 resolution
Integrated 165MHz TMDS transmitter (DVI 1.0 compliant)
S-Video/Composite connector for TV/VCR
One of the key differences between the RADEON 9600 PRO and the 9500 PRO is its 4-pixel pipeline architecture. Since the 9500 PRO was built on ATI’s RADEON 9700 core, it featured an 8-pixel pipeline with one texture unit per pixel pipeline (8x1). In contrast, the RADEON 9600 PRO contains half as many pixel pipelines (4) with one texture unit per pipe (4x1).
As a result of this configuration, transistor count is drastically reduced, 110 million transistors within RADEON 9500 PRO versus 60 million in RADEON 9600 PRO. But with fewer rendering pipelines, RADEON 9500 PRO enjoys a fill rate advantage over RADEON 9600 PRO. To help offset this, ATI has cranked up the clock frequencies, the RADEON 9600 PRO sports a 400MHz core versus 275MHz in the RADEON 9500 PRO. The memory has been bumped up from 270MHz in RADEON 9500 PRO to 300MHz in RADEON 9600 PRO. Both cards feature a 128-bit memory interface, but ATI has optimized the RADEON 9600 PRO’s memory controller.
Finally, ATI has tuned its HYPERZ occlusion culling technology in the RADEON 9600 PRO. While previous RADEON products support 6:1 Z compression, RADEON 9600 supports a higher 8:1 compression ratio. This essentially increases the RADEON 9600 PRO’s effective memory bandwidth. We’ll have to see if these changes are enough to allow the RADEON 9600 PRO to outperform the 9500 PRO a little later in this review.