Defining the mainstream segment is really getting tough nowadays. You’ve got the traditional players that are cost-reduced versions of ATI and NVIDIA’s flagship graphics cards, the GeForce FX 5700 and RADEON 9600 series being the latest examples of this category, but more recently high-end cards that sport lower clock speeds have made quite a splash in this market, these cards would be the RADEON 9800 and GeForce FX 5900/5900 XT. We’ll start with the former category.
RADEON 9600 XT/GeForce FX 5700 Ultra
ATI’s RADEON 9600 XT was born out of the need to produce a faster RADEON 9600 PRO card, without having to resort to the added development costs of designing and producing a new graphics architecture.
RADEON 9600 XT up top,
5700 Ultra on bottom
eVGA e-GeForce FX 5700 Ultra
ATI's RADEON 9600 XT
To accomplish this, ATI spiced up the RADEON 9600 PRO formula by refining the chip’s manufacturing process. The RADEON 9600 XT adds a layer of low-k dielectric material to TSMC’s 0.13-micron process. This increases the performance of the millions of circuits within the 9600 XT’s graphics core and enhances power efficiency: ATI is able to hit higher clock speeds without having to rely on an external power source or resort to a larger cooling unit.
With the enhanced core in place, ATI bumped up the core clock frequency to an even 500MHz, an increase of 100MHz over the RADEON 9600 PRO. Unfortunately, the speed of the RADEON 9600 XT’s memory was unchanged at 300MHz (600MHz effective). ATI has taken quite a bit of heat for this oversight. One bonus that should take this off your mind however is Half-Life 2. Just like the RADEON 9600 SE, the RADEON 9600 XT ships with a voucher for this game that can be redeemed when it is ultimately released. ATI and Valve are offering Valve’s Premier Pack as a free download in the meantime. The Valve Premier Pack includes Half-Life, Counter Strike, Team Fortress Classic, Deathmatch Classic, Half-Life: Opposing Force and Ricochet. This is a limited time offer that expires once Half-Life 2 is available. Customers who wish to cash in on this offer must download the Valve Premier Pack via Valve’s Steam client.
For GeForce FX 5700 Ultra, NVIDIA decided to abandon the GeForce FX 5600 architecture in favor of the more powerful CineFX 2.0 engine first adopted in the GeForce FX 5900 family. GeForce FX 5700 also incorporates NVIDIA’s UltraShadow and Intellisample HCT technologies which improve stencil buffer (shadows) and anti-aliasing performance respectively.
Finally, in order to further improve performance, NVIDIA also turned up the clock frequencies for GeForce FX 5700 Ultra. Its graphics core operates at 475MHz, 25MHz shy of RADEON 9600 XT, but thanks to its 450MHz DDR2 memory (900MHz effective) the GeForce FX 5700 Ultra boasts significantly more memory bandwidth – 14.4GB/sec versus 9.6GB/sec in RADEON 9600 XT. In theory, this should give NVIDIA an advantage in high resolutions or when anti-aliasing or anisotropic filtering are used.
|Mainstream Graphics Feature Comparison
||Core Clock (MHz)
||Memory Clock (MHz)
||Peak fill rate (Mpixels/sec)
||Peak fill rate (Mtexels/sec)
||Peak Memory Bandwidth (GB/sec)
|RADEON 9600 XT
|GeForce FX 5700 Ultra