||Tyan Tachyon G9700 PRO Review
December 05, 2002
Summary: Tyan, a name typically known for its conservative motherboards, is out to change all the rules with its Tachyon G9700 PRO card. Designed specifically for gamers and hardware enthusiasts, the Tachyon G9700 PRO is based on ATI's RADEON 9700 PRO core and features an extremely powerful cooling solution and active hardware monitoring among its list of features. Is Tyan's latest effort enough to outshine ATI's own RADEON 9700 card? Find out in our review!
| Introduction||Page:: ( 1 / 17 )|
Tyan has been in the motherboard business for a long, long time. Thirteen years to be exact. With an ex-Intel/IBM executive as its founder, it’s no surprise that their products have tended to be geared towards the corporate community, the demanding business environment if you will. OEMs and system integrators have been their target audience, these types of customers demand products that are highly dependable first and foremost, with an emphasis on feature set and performance as well.
As a result, Tyan’s motherboards (their bread and butter product) have tended to be incredibly stable, while at the same time short on features that the typical hardware enthusiast would like to see. Functions such as bus speed adjustment, memory timings, and core voltage adjustments are all unavailable on Tyan motherboards. After all, would a system manufacturer such as Gateway or Dell want its customers toying with these system parameters? Of course not! A large percentage of Tyan’s products are also used in servers, yet another application where durability and reliability is highly important.
Therefore, it came as quite a surprise to us when Tyan entered the video card market. Actually, we weren’t that surprised by Tyan’s decision to produce video cards. After all, margins on motherboards are incredibly tight these days and even though the bulk of Tyan’s sales are high-end server products (and thus come with higher margins), today’s economy has been tough on all motherboard manufacturers, leading to increased amounts of diversification among them. What really surprised us was that Tyan was gearing their video line towards gamers rather than system integrators: a complete 180 from the company’s corporate philosophy.
From a business perspective it does make sense however, as gamers and hardware enthusiasts are always on the lookout for the latest and greatest gee whiz technology. Marketing gurus call us early adopters and they love us because we tend to always find a way to cough up the cash to feed our addiction. In addition, products in this segment can sell for higher margins (the OEM space is extremely price sensitive), a benefit Tyan currently enjoys in its server products.
The biggest caveat however, is that gamers can be the most demanding consumers in the industry. If the product is executed perfectly it can be an overnight success, but if it falls short it can flop just as quickly.
With this in mind, Tyan has set out to create the biggest, meanest, RADEON 9700 PRO card on the block rather than get caught in the rush to be first to market with a RADEON 9700 PRO card. Tyan actually came to us and asked us for a wish list of features early on in the card’s development. Read on to see what makes this card different from the rest!
SIDEBAR: We’re giving away two of these Tachyon 9700 cards and over twenty Tachyon G9000 cards in our December giveaway
| Specifications||Page:: ( 2 / 17 )|
By now you’re probably pretty familiar with the chip the Tachyon G9700 PRO is based on (the RADEON 9700 PRO) specs. Therefore we’ll briefly list a few key aspects here, if you need further details please refer back to our preview article from the summer.
ATI RADEON 9700 PRO Visual Processing Unit with 325MHz core engine
8 parallel rendering pipelines
128-bit floating-point color precision
4 parallel geometry engines
256-bit DDR memory interface
128MB DDR memory at 620MHz
SMARTSHADER 2.0 technology
SMOOTHVISION 2.0 technology
HYPERZ III technology
TRUFORM 2.0 technology
AGP 8X support
DVD video playback
Dual monitor support
DVI-I (Digital flat panel support)
S-Video/Composite connector for TV/VCR
The premise behind the Tachyon G9700 PRO is to take everything from the original RADEON 9700 PRO card and make it better. As we said in the introduction, this graphics card is geared towards gamers and hardware enthusiasts, the power users who demand the most from their graphics card.
In order to accomplish this, Tyan has implemented a more effective cooling solution on the Tachyon G9700 PRO, but more on that later. One aspect that we must address first is the clock speeds of the Tachyon card. While early reports indicated it would ship with both its memory and core clock frequencies overclocked from the factory, this is not the case. All Tachyon G9700 PRO cards will ship at the same 325MHz core/620MHz memory configuration as every other RADEON 9700 PRO card that has been released to date. We know this is probably disappointing to many of you, as some rumors had the core clock frequency as high as 400MHz!
We discussed this with Tyan and while they initially wanted to ship with higher clock speeds, it was eventually decided that the risk would be too great. Tyan simply doesn’t have the manpower to check that each and every board that leaves the factory is capable of running at the clock speeds they were shooting for. So rather than risk the potential RMAs and customer support issues they may run into, they decided to stick with the default frequencies.
Fortunately the Tachyon G9700 PRO has a few things going for it besides clock frequencies though, lets discuss Tyan’s unique cooling solution first.
SIDEBAR: Tyan also bundles the Tachyon G9700 PRO card with a copy of WinDVD 4.0
| Tachyon 9700 Cooling||Page:: ( 3 / 17 )|
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The cooling unit
The key aspect that stands out in the Tachyon G9700 PRO design is cooling – Tyan has gone to extreme measures to ensure that the card remains nice and cool. What Tyan has done is build a one-piece wraparound heatsink. That’s right, we said one piece!
It’s not uncommon to see a graphics card manufacturer employ a large cooler for the graphics core and individual heatsinks for the memory chips, or in some extreme cases one large cooler for the components on the top of the video card and a second heatsink for the chips on the card’s underside, but it is extremely rare to see one entire cooling unit for the whole card!
UPDATE 12/6/02: We've been informed by Tyan that the Tachyon G9700 PRO heatsink is actually a two-piece design. If you look closely you can just see where the two heatsinks are joined at the top of the card. Fortunately heat is still dissipated between both heatsinks.
As a result, the heatsink surface area the Tachyon G9700 PRO provides over the reference coolers on ATI cards and even other third-party manufacturers is substantially increased. Because of this, heat is spread evenly across the heatsink itself. The heatsink Tyan has employed for the Tachyon G9700 PRO also has several large fins, further increasing the surface area of the unit. With its 110 million transistor 0.15-micron manufacturing process, the RADEON 9700 PRO VPU can get quite hot during normal operation, we’ve commented on this in previous articles. Drawing all this heat off the core is the job of the heatsink, Tyan has integrated an equally powerful fan to blow the heat away from the card.
Bye bye heat spreader!
Finally, Tyan has replaced the metal heat spreader present on all other RADEON 9700 PRO cards with a genuine heatsink. As hot as the 9700 PRO core gets, this heat spreader gets even hotter! After hours of extended use, you can literally burn your finger on the 9700 PRO’s heat spreader – it gets that hot! The Tachyon G9700 PRO’s heatsink barely gets warm to the touch.
The end result of all this is that the Tachyon G9700 PRO runs much cooler than other cards based on the RADEON 9700 PRO graphics core. To quote our RADEON 9700 PRO review: “the RADEON 9700 PRO core can get pretty hot. ATI utilizes flip-chip packaging to help combat this, but heat is still very present. It isn’t just the graphics core itself that gets hot, it’s the entire card: the 9700 PRO chip, the memory chips, the PCB, and especially the heat spreader on the back of the board. We test our systems in an open-air environment and even in this surrounding we could feel the warm air lingering around all sides of the RADEON 9700 PRO board.”
The “warm air” we described in the review doesn’t apply to the Tachyon G9700 PRO. This makes it a great solution if cooling is important to you, the only downside is that the fan Tyan has employed runs louder than ATI’s reference heatsink. While it isn’t as loud as some of the CPU coolers we’ve seen (or ABIT’s Ti 4200 OTES), it is one of their louder fans we’ve come across recently.
SIDEBAR: The fins on the Tachyon 9700 fan a sharper than those found on most cards. Tyan definitely didn’t cut any costs when it came to cooling.
| Tyan Graphics Monitor/Compatibility||Page:: ( 4 / 17 )|
Hardware Monitoring Software
The second function Tyan has added to the Tachyon G9700 PRO is active hardware monitoring. This makes the Tachyon G9700 PRO the first RADEON 9700 PRO card on the market to support this feature. Via Tyan’s Graphics Monitor utility, end users can monitor the temperature of the VPU and memory, fan speed, and voltages of both the graphics core and corresponding memory.
In fact, not only is the current value provided by the utility, you can also see these values over time. This is perfect for those of you who just finished an extended session of gaming and would like to see how your card held up.
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Everything is color coded (in addition to the safe settings being listed) so even if you don’t fully understand if your card is operating warm or not, simply look at the colors on the graph! If you’re in the red your card is obviously running hot, while green indicates that your card is chilling in your case. Unfortunately the hardware monitoring functionality wasn’t functional in our pre-production board but Tyan did provide screenshots from one of their samples still at the factory:
As you can see, the utility also has some overclocking functionality; both the core clock speed and memory frequencies can be adjusted via a simple slider. In the current version of the graphics monitor utility we’re limited to 385MHz for the core and 700MHz for the memory. While 700MHz is more than enough room to play with, we’d like to see the core clock slider bumped up to 400MHz, because as it stands now, the monitoring utility is a little less robust in the overclocking department than Powerstrip.
Unfortunately, the same compatibility issues that exist with the SiS 648 chipset and RADEON 9700 PRO cards persist with the Tachyon G9700 PRO, at least in its current form. Tyan says it is working on a fix that should bring stability to the RADEON 9700 PRO/SiS 648 platform combination. If that does happen, we’ll update the review accordingly.
Fortunately, we’ve found that both KT400 and nForce2 run much more reliably RADEON 9700 PRO than SiS 648. The KT400 does have some performance issues with the RADEON 9700 PRO in OpenGL games such as Quake 3, but VIA is working on a 4-in-1 driver release that should address this. In the high resolutions all RADEON 9700 PRO owners will play in the problem is hardly noticeable anyway.
With such an impressive cooling implementation, we were curious to see how well our Tachyon G9700 PRO card would overclock. After much experimentation, we found that a core clock frequency of 370MHz paired with a 325MHz memory clock speed functioned best. At core speeds above 370MHz we witnessed visual artifacts, and memory speeds about 325MHz compromised system stability.
SIDEBAR: ASUS’ Smart Doctor is still our favorite hardware monitoring utility.
| Test Systems||Page:: ( 5 / 17 )|
Intel Pentium 4 2.8GHz
MSI 845PE Max2-FIR Motherboard (845PE)
256MB Mushkin PC3200 (operating at DDR333) SDRAM
ATI RADEON 9700 PRO
ATI RADEON 9500 PRO
Tyan Tachyon G9700 PRO
Driver version 184.108.40.20600c (Catalyst 2.4)
NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4600 reference
Detonator version 40.72 (WHQL-certified)
30GB IBM Deskstar DTLA 307030 ATA/100 Hard Drive
Windows XP Professional
3D Mark 2001 Second Edition Build 330 – 32-bit color
Quake III: Arena version 1.17
Serious Sam: The Second Encounter (Elephant Atrium demo)
Unreal Tournament 2003
Jedi Knight II
SIDEBAR: Our Tachyon G9700 PRO card was Rev 0200Y
| 3D Mark 2001||Page:: ( 6 / 17 )|
3DMark 2001 - DirectX 8
SIDEBAR: We really liked the aqua blue PCB Tyan implemented on the Tachyon G9700 PRO card. Hopefully all of their boards from now on will utilize this color.
| Serious Sam 2||Page:: ( 7 / 17 )|
Serious Sam 2 - OpenGL
SIDEBAR: Tyan hasn’t announced their RADEON 9500 line, but hopefully it’s in the works.
| Quake III||Page:: ( 8 / 17 )|
Quake III - High Quality
SIDEBAR: One thing is for sure Tyan will have to come up with an innovative heatsink design if they wish to manufacture a RADEON 9500 PRO card that doesn’t follow ATI’s reference board. The power connector is located right next to a memory chip.
| Comanche 4||Page:: ( 9 / 17 )|
Comanche 4 demo
SIDEBAR: Tyan Tachyon G9700 Product Webpage
| Unreal Tournament 2003||Page:: ( 10 / 17 )|
Unreal Tournament 2003 - flyby
Unreal Tournament 2003 - botmatch
SIDEBAR: We’re using the final copy of UT 2003 for this test, not the demo.
| Jedi Knight II||Page:: ( 11 / 17 )|
Jedi Knight II – High Quality
SIDEBAR: Is it just us or do the 2nd generation Q3-engine games make for less exciting benchmarks?
| 4x Anti-Aliasing||Page:: ( 12 / 17 )|
Quake III – High Quality
SIDEBAR: One of the features we were hoping Tyan could implement in the Tachyon G9700 PRO was dynamic adjustment of fan speed.
| 8x Anisotropic filtering||Page:: ( 13 / 17 )|
Quake III – High Quality
SIDEBAR: ATI’s Catalyst driver team has really impressed us with their frequent driver updates.
| 4x AA/8x Aniso||Page:: ( 14 / 17 )|
Quake III – High Quality
SIDEBAR: Even if Tyan had implemented overclocking on the Tachyon 9700 PRO, they were mainly going to overclock the core, not the memory. So high-resolution performance would have been largely the same.
| UT 4x AA/8x Aniso||Page:: ( 15 / 17 )|
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby
Unreal Tournament 2003 Botmatch
SIDEBAR: We’ll be taking a look at some other RADEON 9700 PRO cards with exotic cooling in the coming weeks, there were some interesting cards on display at Comdex!
| Ballistics Report||Page:: ( 16 / 17 )|
Performance: Tyan’s Tachyon G9700 PRO is based on the ATI RADEON 9700 PRO VPU, the fastest graphics core currently available on the market. Therefore, this card is a top dog when it comes to performance. The real beauty of the RADEON 9700 PRO core is that it allows you to crank up the visual quality features all the way to the max as well as the screen resolution. There’s no excuse for owners of a RADEON 9700 PRO card not to turn these features on, especially with older games.
Just keep in mind not to believe all the prerelease hype that surrounded this video card. It performs just as fast as every other RADEON 9700 PRO card on the market.
Hardware monitoring: Tyan has included an innovative hardware monitoring utility in the Tachyon G9700 PRO’s packaging. Voltages, temperatures, and fan speed can all be monitored within a GUI (graphical user interface) that is easy to read as well as operate. This is a handy feature to have if you’re one of those enthusiasts that enjoys tweaking every little function of your graphics card. While this isn’t possible with the RADEON 9700 PRO core, Tyan’s utility also allows you to overclock your card. The Tachyon G9700 PRO is the only RADEON 9700 PRO card on the market that has offered all of these features to date.
Cooling: The cooling unit Tyan has implemented on the Tachyon G9700 PRO is very impressive! Cards based on the RADEON 9700 PRO are among the hottest operating graphics cards that we’ve encountered in recent memory, certainly rivaling the heat output of a CPU. Both sides of these cards generate a considerable amount of heat, especially when under load.
All of this changes with the Tachyon G9700 PRO. While we wouldn’t say the card runs cold, it runs considerably cooler than any other RADEON 9700 PRO card that we’ve tested. Tyan has done an excellent job addressing heat with this cooler. Its large surface area gives it a substantial edge at dissipating heat than the competition.
Price: Tyan is quoting us an MSRP of $350 for the Tachyon G9700 PRO, $50 less than ATI’s list price. While it’s too early to know street prices, Tyan has confirmed that the Tachyon G9700 PRO will fall under ATI’s official pricing, although it probably won’t be the cheapest card on the market.
Availability: Tachyon G9700 PRO cards are still in the early stages of entering full production, boards have not shipped yet. You won’t be able to purchase one of these cards until later this month at the earliest, which is a bit disappointing considering what it brings to the table. Hopefully Tyan can get this card out on the market soon, but even when it does ship it may be hard to find. Tyan’s distribution roots are pretty good when it comes to motherboards, but the company is still a new player in the video arena. Tyan’s RADEON 9000 cards have been among the most difficult to find both online and offline which isn’t a good sign for the Tachyon G9700.
Noise: While we love the capabilities of the Tachyon G9700 PRO’s cooler, we do have to admit that its fan runs a tad on the loud side. While we have heard louder CPU and graphics card fans in our time, they haven’t come from cards based on the RADEON 9700 PRO.
Compatibility: We’re still waiting on a RADEON 9700 PRO card that will work properly with the SiS 648 chipset, as the world’s first AGP 8X chipset for the Pentium 4, you’d think this issue would have been addressed before the RADEON 9700 PRO shipped to market. If you currently own a SiS 648-based motherboard and purchase a RADEON 9700 PRO card, don’t be surprised if you run into stability problems, especially at higher resolutions.
SIDEBAR: Tyan also recently announced a KT400-based motherboard. The S2495 Trinity KT400.
| Final Verdict||Page:: ( 17 / 17 )|