Summary: ATI's ALL-IN-WONDER line are widely considered to be the finest all-in-one multimedia cards on the market. Whether you want to watch TV and DVDs, play games, or get some work done, there's no task ALL-IN-WONDER can't handle. ATI's latest AIW card, the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XT, is based on a faster version of the RADEON 9600 XT VPU with a faster core and memory. The card also supports dual VGA, REMOTE WONDER II, and FM tuning. See how this card compares to previous ALL-IN-WONDER cards, as well as the slower desktop RADEON 9600 PRO and 9600 XT, in addition to the changes ATI has implemented in its new remote control unit. We've also got some shots of Acura's new RL prototype inside!
A month ago we reported on ATIís mainstream multimedia solution, ALL-IN-WONDER 9600, but in addition to the AIW 9600, ATI introduced a faster, more feature complete ALL-IN-WONDER, the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XT. Before we get into the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XT however, letís rewind back to the premise behind these cards and what makes them so special.
ATIís ALL-IN-WONDER line is meant to address the needs of multimedia mavens and video enthusiasts. Whereas ATIís desktop RADEON line lacks video input capability, the ALL-IN-WONDER line boasts video-in and much more, making them perfect for connecting A/V devices like digital camcorders to make or edit home movies. In more recent years, ATI has also added TV tuning capability, timeshifting, and, beginning last summer with the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO, FM tuning. ATI has even announced an HDTV variant of ALL-IN-WONDER.
The ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XT is meant to replace the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO, which will slowly begin to disappear thanks to the introduction of the AIW 9600 XT and AIW 9600. In fact, a quick glance of Newegg and Zipzoomflyís websites reveals that neither company has the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO in stock, suggesting that AIW 9600 PRO is drying up quickly. Fortunately, ATIís ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XT is designed to deliver more performance thanks to its faster RADEON 9600 XT graphics core, and ships with all the features found in ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO, including REMOTE WONDER II. These are the only two ALL-IN-WONDER cards in ATIís current multimedia lineup that support this feature in particular.
Enhanced 9600 XT graphics core
Just what makes up an ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XT? As we just stated, at the heart of the AIW 9600 XT is ATIís newer RADEON 9600 XT graphics core, originally codenamed RV360. RV360 is based on the same four pixel pipeline architecture as the original RADEON 9600 PRO, only its manufacturing process has been enhanced to deliver higher clock speeds thanks to the addition of low-k dielectric material. ATI clocks the desktop variant of the RADEON 9600 XT graphics core at 500MHz, for the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XT the core frequency has been increased to 525MHz, delivering more performance.
In addition to the new core clock frequency, ATI has also increased the memory clock speed from 300MHz in RADEON 9600 XT (600MHz effective) to 325MHz in ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XT (650MHz effective).
The RADEON 9600 XT was often criticized for its lack of memory bandwidth. At 500MHz the RADEON 9600 XTís core was hungry for more bandwidth. The ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XTís 650MHz memory increases peak memory bandwidth to 10.4GB/sec, an improvement of 800MB/sec and thus does a better job of keeping the graphics core fed with data.
On the video side, ATI continues to rely on its THEATER 200 chip. THEATER 200 adds a new adaptive 2D 3-Line comb filter, which is responsible for delivering sharper picture when working with composite signals. THEATER 200 also adds more powerful 12-bit analog-to-digital converters for increased audio fidelity.
For TV and FM radio tuning, a stereo tuner from Philips is used on the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XT.
SIDEBAR: ATI ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XT Product Webpage
Rather than adopt the RADEON 9600 XT cooler, or modify the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PROís heatsink/fan unit, ATI has adopted an entirely new cooling system for the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XT. Like ATIís RADEON 9800 XT on the desktop, the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XT relies on ducted cooling for enhanced performance.
ATI starts with a large aluminum heatsink, which actually is so large it covers portions of the memory modules on the top of the board. The heatsink is painted gold for added flair and is composed of numerous long, thin fins for added surface area. As you can see, the fan is located offset of the RV360 graphics core, along the upper half of the cardís PCB just across from the Philips tuner.
By moving the fan offset of the core, the fan has more room to work its magic within the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XTís ducted design. This also helps the fanís motor, as it isnít located directly above the graphics core, which can get hot under load. Besides dust, excess heat is one of the primary culprits for killing fan motors prematurely, so this offset design helps to ensure the longevity of the cardís fan. The top and sides of the ductís enclosure are vented, allowing the hot air to escape the enclosure.
Overall the new cooler does a good job of keeping the graphics core cool, although do keep in mind that the RADEON 9600 XT core runs fairly cool to begin with. Also, with ATIís current CATALYST 4.3 driver, ATIís OVERDRIVE feature is disabled on the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XT. So if you want to overclock your ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XT, youíll have to do it the old-fashioned way for now.
Other than the new cooler, the rest of the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XTís board design is unchanged from the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PRO. The layout and board component circuitry is identical on both boards, right down to the same Samsung DDR modules, which are good for operation at up to 350MHz. ATI also shares the same video connector and module for the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XTís dual VGA capability. Simply plug the module into the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XT, and you can power up to two VGA displays. (DVI capability isnít available.)
The entire ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 line supports this feature and is a first for the ALL-IN-WONDER family. ATI also addressed one of the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 PROís chief complaints: the lack of an antenna for radio tuning. ATI now includes an antenna in the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XTís packaging in addition to the purple VIVO module theyíve provided in the past, but the real big news is REMOTE WONDER II.
SIDEBAR: Dave Orton will be replacing KY Ho as ATIís CEO this summer.
Remember the day you upgraded from a Toshiba TheaterView TV to a Cinema Series? Or perhaps, for you Sony fans, from the regular Sony TV to an XBR? If so, one of the first differences you probably noticed was the enhanced remote control unit. ATIís newer REMOTE WONDER II unit reminds us of this same upgrade experience in a lot of ways.
REMOTE WONDER II is a lot more than just a cosmetic upgrade, distance is increased to over 60 feet, and in addition to the six programmable buttons (also found on the original REMOTE WONDER) ATI adds four auxiliary buttons.
The new remote control unit has a finish thatís much less glossy, sporting a dull grey instead. This gives the remote a more professional look thatís more at home on the couch with the rest of the remotes in your home theater system. Physically the new remote is longer, yet thinner than the original REMOTE WONDER and the buttons themselves on REMOTE WONDER II are much less spongy than the buttons on REMOTE WONDER. In fact ATI has discrete buttons for channel and volume control, this change, along with the redesigned Mute button makes it harder to accidentally hit the mute button while adjusting channels or volume level.
One of the other drastic changes is the new thumbpad for mouse control. The thumbpad on REMOTE WONDER II provides more tactile feedback than its predecessor, making manipulation slightly easier, although to be honest you still have to learn how to adjust to the mouse movement. ATI has also adjusted the position of the left and right mouse buttons in order to make room for the dedicated channel and volume selectors.
In our opinion, the open setup menu (located just below the ď9Ē key on the keypad) and mulTView buttons (located below the ď7Ē key on the numeric keypad) are located too close to the ď7Ē and ď9Ē keys on the keypad. These buttons were located in the same area on REMOTE WONDER, but more space was present between them on the older unit. Now the buttons are so small and located so close to each other that itís easy to press both simultaneously on accident, especially if you have a large thumb.
ATI probably should have shifted that bank of buttons further down on the remote control unit as thereís plenty of dead space on the bottom of the remote. We feel the same way about the programmable buttons C, D, E, and F, which are located very close to the rewind, fast forward, play and pause buttons on REMOTE WONDER II. On the original REMOTE WONDER unit, the programmable buttons were much further apart from these buttons.
One very cool aspect of the new REMOTE WONDER II unit are the four auxiliary buttons. These buttons can be used to control whatever devices the user defines and, as an added bonus, are backlit for viewing in the dark.
The other notable difference between REMOTE WONDER and REMOTE WONDER II is the size of the USB breakout box, which interfaces with the REMOTE WONDER II unit. Whereas the original REMOTE WONDER featured a fairly small pod, REMOTE WONDER IIís USB pod is massive and will eat up more space on your desk. On the top of the unit is a short, yet sturdy antenna.
SIDEBAR: The ATI button located in the upper center of the remote is used to launch MultiMedia Center.
Setting everything up isnít difficult. Once the card is installed you merely need to hook up your TV, FM, video, and audio connections and ATI does the rest. Simply plug in your monitor(s), FM antenna, cable (or antenna) TV connection, and speakers, then install ATIís software, and everything will be up and running. The whole process is seamless and shouldnít require any extra effort if youíre familiar with installing hardware in your PC. The hard part is literally waiting for everything to get installed (which can take roughly between 5-10 minutes, depending on the speed of your hard drive).
Once thatís done, youíll use ATIís MultiMedia Center to launch applications such as the TV, DVD, and FM players.
The TV tuner supports up to 125 stations (70 if you use the antenna) while the FM tuner supports frequencies ranging from 75.9MHz to 108MHz. The radio player itself supports up to 10 radio station presets. The FM player also comes with built-in alarm and sleep settings, just like your standard alarm clock in your bedroom.
The TV player can perform all the standard functions you normally associate with a TV, including the ability to preview all television stations (which are presented as small thumbnails) and, if you drop in a second TV tuner, you can have picture-in-picture support. ATI refers to this feature as mulTView. The TV player can also do some really cool things, such as THRUVIEW, which literally transforms your desktop into the TV program youíre watching! You can then work on a Word document while the TV literally sits underneath your work. The level of transparency can be adjusted to suit your eyes.
Integrated seamlessly into ATIís MultiMedia Center software is Gemstarís GUIDE PLUS+ electronic programming guide. GUIDE PLUS+ provides all the programming data youíd associate with your local TV guide. Not only does GUIDE PLUS provide basic programming information such as date and time, it also provides data on the individual episodes (where available) such as the storyline and actors featured in that episode.
You can also use GUIDE PLUS+ to search for specific television shows, genres, or actors. Simply type in the show youíre interested in and GUIDE PLUS+ will show you all channels and times that show will appear for that week. With SCHEDULE+ you can then record all those episodes, or an entire seasonís worth of programming. GUIDE PLUS+ is integrated directly into the TV player, so if you want to record a particular show, simply press the record button and the show you selected will be recorded to your hard drive based on a quality level you can predefine.
The ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XT can also timeshift, just like a TiVo unit. Timeshifting allows you to pause live TV, step away from the TV to run errands, and then return without missing a minute of television programming. Just press the pause button on your REMOTE WONDER II unit while watching TV and the AIW 9600 XT will automatically save the data to your hard drive. You can then playback what you missed, and fast-forward through the commercials, or if youíd like, you can jump back to live TV.
SIDEBAR: Another difference between REMOTE WONDER and REMOTE WONDER II is that the newer unit requires only three batteries, whereas REMOTE WONDER required four. Batteries are included in the packaging.
Lock On: Modern Air Combat (Mig-29 custom demo)
Call of Duty Ė OpenGL
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB - OpenGL
Quake III - OpenGL
Splinter Cell Ė Direct3D
Tomb Raider Ė Direct3D
Lock On: Modern Air Combat Ė Direct3D
Unreal Tournament 2004
Unreal Tournament 2004
Unreal Tournament 2004
Price (in relation to AIW 9700 PRO): While we just argued price in favor of the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XT, at the same time we also realize that older, more powerful ALL-IN-WONDER 9700 PRO cards can still be found on the market for only a few dollars more than the ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XT. Sure, the ALL-IN-WONDER 9700 PRO doesnít offer dual VGA capability, the integrated FM tuner, or REMOTE WONDER II, but weíd still pay the extra $40-$50 for the ALL-IN-WONDER 9700 PROís 256-bit memory interface and faster 8 pixel pipeline R300 graphics core. The ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XT just isnít in the same league as ATIís 9700 PRO if youíre a gamer. Of course, if you donít plan on playing a lot of games with your ALL-IN-WONDER 9600 XT, or find yourself playing more strategy titles such as Warcraft III, consider this a moot point.