Just a year ago the mainstream class of graphics processors from ATI Technologies was represented by two R300-based products: RADEON 9500 and 9500 PRO. The latter VPU was a real success. With its eight pixel and four vertex pipelines, the chip was only limited by the memory bus width, but anyway, it performed excellently in most games and applications. However, this situation couldn’t last for long: it was not profitable to use one VPU for all product families. The company drew a thick border line between them by releasing the top-end R350 and the mainstream RV350.
The RV350 chip (officially named RADEON 9600) was a pretty progressive one: it was manufactured with 0.13micron technological process and worked at 400MHz frequency, but the developer left only half of the pipelines: four pixel and two vertex ones. The performance degenerated accordingly; the RADEON 9600 PRO would lose to the RADEON 9500 PRO across a majority of applications. However, even this “cut-down” chip left no chances to its main rival from NVIDIA, the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra.
The progress in the graphics market didn’t stop at that, of course. ATI Technologies and NVIDIA Corporation develop and launch their new mainstream solutions, RV360 and NV36, respectively. You can find more information on these two graphics chips in our article called ATI RADEON 9600 XT vs. NVIDIA GeForce FX5700 Ultra. Just to remind you: the RV360 chip is designed with a new insulation material, the so-called low-k dielectric, which helped to add 25% to the core frequency, increasing it up to 500MHz. At the same time, the memory frequency remained the same as with the RADEON 9600 PRO, 300MHz (600MHz DDR). Of course, ATI implements very efficient technologies for better utilization of the memory bandwidth, but anyway 600MHz is rather low compared to the 950MHz of GeForce FX 5700 Ultra cards. Fast memory showed its advantages in high resolutions: graphics cards on NVIDIA’s GPU often beat RADEON 9600 XT in such cases, notwithstanding the overall more efficient architecture of the latter (R360).
Our today’s review is dedicated to an uncommon product. GeCube RADEON 9600 XT “Extreme” graphics card uses a new design of the PCB and comes equipped with a faster memory than ordinary products on this VPU. We are going to answer two questions: what advantages fast memory can bring to a RADEON 9600 XT-based card, and how the new PCB design influences the overclockability of the card (it’s no secret that the simplified PCB design has been the brake to overclocking memory chips installed onto such cards).