by Alexey Stepin
08/05/2003 | 01:02 AM
A little while ago we posted an in-depth review of the Tyan Tachyon G9500 PRO graphics card. It scored excellent marks due to its high performance, high production quality as well as hardware monitoring and cooling control systems. However, the lifetime of the RADEON 9500 PRO graphics chip turned to be very short. Right now ATI is winding up its R300 manufacture, and offers advanced and low-cost graphics processors: R350 and RV350.
RV350 is exactly aimed at the price niche which used to be occupied by ATI’s R300-based cards: RADEON 9500 and 9500 PRO. Unlike its predecessor, RV350 is made with a finer 0.13micron, manufacturing technology. This helps it to work at higher frequencies while producing less heat. On the other hand, this chip contains only four rendering pipelines against eight in the original R300, which quite naturally leads to lower performance in a variety of tasks. Of course, its higher clock-rate may make up for it and even bridge the gap altogether. That’s what we are going to check out in this review. Right now, let’s get acquainted with the list of RV350 features.
So, today we are going to talk about a mass-market graphics card compatible with DirectX 9.0 – RADEON 9600 PRO. We received a graphics card from Tyan, a well-known server equipment manufacturer and a partner of ATI Technologies. The name of the card is Tachyon G9600 PRO.
We have got a full box version of this product. Among the accessories I found a usual set of cables and adapters for cards based on ATI chips. There was also a user manual, a CD with drivers and the Tyan Tachyon G9600 PRO card itself. The box of Tyan Tachyon G9600 PRO is quite picturesque: dark shades of blue and purple. The picture on it makes one think about cyborgs and the like; I’m not sure if it’s somehow connected with the Terminator movie :).
When I took the card into my hands, I experienced a kind of d?j? vu: it looks just like Tyan Tachyon G9500 PRO. The new card is made on an azure-colored PCB and boasts a massive cooling system. The cooling solution comes from Thermaltake that actually ships coolers for all reference cards from ATI. Compared to this monster, the cooler on Tyan Tachyon G9500 PRO looks humble and small :). As for the PCB design, it is original and differs greatly from ATI’s reference board.
For example, the card has no wiring for a VIVO + DVI-I daughter card. This space is now given to a Rage Theater 200 chip. The back side of the PCB contains chips for hardware monitoring of temperatures and voltages and control of the fan rotation speed.
RADEON 9600 PRO doesn’t require additional power supply, so there is no such connector. Interestingly, this product may come with two DVI-I connectors, as we can guess from the PCB payout, although our sample had only one. Note also that the impressive-looking cooler cools down only the graphics chip (that has no protective metal frame, by the way), but not the memory chips. There is a thermal interface between the chips and the heatsink – lozenges of some soft, rubber-like material – but you can see a gap in-between. Air is no good heat transporter and no effective cooler. The working frequencies of the card are standard: 400MHz for the chip and 300MHz (600MHz DDR) for the memory. The placement of memory chips resembles that on RADEON 9700 PRO based cards, but here the memory bus is 128-bit wide. The chips come from Hynix and have 3.6ns access time. It’s rather strange that Tyan decided to use such slow memory and even overclocked it above the nominal (600MHz against the nominal 550MHz). On the one hand, it is not very typical of a respectable company to overclock its own products, but on the other hand, Tyan is unlikely to roll out a potentially unreliable card.
We already described the hardware monitoring system from Tyan in our Tyan Tachyon G9500 PRO review. Since then, its hardware part hasn’t changed. It can still keep track of all voltages, temperatures and can control the fan rotation speed to reduce the noise it produces. The software part did change, however, and the new version of Tyan Graphics Monitor works correctly with third-party cooling solutions. For example, it won’t raise an alarm not hearing the signal from the tachometer when you use a passive heatsink from Zalman.
I overclocked the card with the help of Rage3D Tweaker version 3.8 as the frequency range offered by TGM seemed too narrow. The graphics chip sped up to amazing 525MHz without a screech, while the memory could do nothing better than +10MHz. Otherwise, there were horrible artefacts in the picture. The main reason for this is the slow memory chips, and also the insufficient cooling (a bad contact between the chips and the heatsink). So, I had to stop at 305MHz (610MHz DDR) mark, which can hardly be even called overclocking. So, the 0.13micron process provided the graphics chip with huge overclocking potential, but the memory of this card doesn’t match the GPU. By the way, recalling our overclocking experience with Tyan Tachyon G9500 PRO, I can say that the memory chips on that card also were a bottleneck.
As for 2D quality, it’s all right, just like by Tachyon G9500 PRO. A slight blur of the image appeared in 1600x1200@85Hz only.
So, we are going to pit our RADEON 9600 PRO based card against two other mainstream products – Tyan Tachyon G9500 PRO and ABIT Siluro FX5600 Ultra (350MHz/700MHz). For the sake of comparison, we also include the results shown by the top-end RADEON 9800 PRO based card. Let’s see which architecture is better.
The testbed was configured as follows:
The benchmarks I used are listed below:
All the games ran with maximum graphics quality settings in three resolutions: 1024x768, 1280x1024 and 1600x1200. There were two work modes: “light” (without full-screen anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering) and “hard” (4x FSAA and 8x AF).
I guess all of you have played the games from my OpenGL list: Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast, Quake III Arena and Serious Sam: The Second Encounter.
Quite predictably, Tachyon G9600 PRO can catch up with RADEON 9500 PRO and even come ahead in the overclocked state only. The same is true for GeForce FX 5600 Ultra.
The situation remains the same, only GeForce FX 5600 Ultra gets somewhat slower, probably because of its drivers. RADEON 9800 PRO, running just for pleasure, is quite naturally invincible. It’s a curious fact that the both Tyan cards don’t greatly differ in performance on our mainstream testbed, although the older, 9500 PRO, solution is slightly better.
This time, there is no definite leader. GeForce FX 5600 Ultra won the light mode, but lost the hard one. RADEON 9500 PRO suddenly slumps in the hard mode in the 1600x1200 resolution. Tyan Tachyon G9600 PRO followed its example and went down in this test, too.
Serious Sam with its original gaming engine names two leaders: RADEON 9500 PRO and GeForce FX 5600 Ultra (especially its variant with 400MHz/800MHz frequencies, currently promoted by NVIDIA). The eight pipelines of RADEON 9500 PRO help it in the highest resolution where it beats all competitors. Tyan Tachyon G9600 PRO is a clear outsider, but does somewhat better when overclocked.
We have two games in this part of our review: Unreal Tournament 2003 and the nightmare of any graphics card, Splinter Cell.
Well, you can see the advantages of the eight-pipeline architecture. As for the four-pipelined Tachyon G9600 PRO, it is as fast as GeForce FX 5600 Ultra that works at 400MHz chip and 800MHz memory frequencies.
Splinter Cell is sensitive to shaders processing speed and graphics chip frequency. It showed that Tyan Tachyon G9600 PRO can compete with RADEON 9800 PRO even in the nominal state. It is the winner of this test, actually. Note also that graphics cards based on NVIDIA GPUs don’t turn on FSAA in this game, so I won’t compare the GeForce with the RADEONs here.
Once again, it’s the eight-pipeline architecture that wins the day – RADEON 9500 PRO is on top. Clocked at its regular frequencies, Tyan Tachyon G9600 PRO fell behind the others, but after we overclocked the chip to 525MHz it became possible to reach the level of GeForce FX 5600 Ultra.
The second gaming test from the 3DMark2001 SE set brings about certain changes in the ranks. The frequency becomes the crucial factor and the overclocked Tachyon G9600 PRO takes the first place, except in the “hardest” mode where eight pipelines make RADEON 9500 PRO the winner.
Once again, there are new heroes in the third gaming test. Tyan Tachyon G9600 PRO goes neck and neck with RADEON 9500 PRO in the light mode, but has nothing to show when full-screen anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering are activated.
The both GeForce FX 5600 incarnations win the Nature test. The overclocked Tachyon G9600 PRO performs close to RADEON 9500 PRO.
In the first test from 3DMark03, Tachyon G9600 PRO working at nominal frequencies competes with the high-frequency variant of GeForce FX 5600 Ultra in the light mode and with RADEON 9500 PRO in the hard mode.
We see the same picture in the second gaming test where optimizations included into the RV350 core help it perform close to RADEON 9500 PRO (R300).
There is no single winner in the “Troll’s Lair” test: Tyan Tachyon G9600 PRO wins the light mode, but as soon as we turn on FSAA+AF it’s eight-pipelined RADEON 9500 PRO and GeForce FX 5600 Ultra with its fast memory that come to the fore.
The fourth test, “Mother Nature”, prefers ATI’s architecture. As you see, RADEONs win in all testing modes. The overclocked Tachyon G9600 PRO is similar in performance to RADEON 9500 PRO here. In fact, there is nothing to comment on: pixel shaders are a strong point of current ATI solutions.
In the Codecreatures test ATI graphics chips, on the contrary, win only in the light mode, losing to GeForce FX 5600 Ultra in the hard one. Moreover, NVIDIA’s GPU is close to ATI RADEON 9800 PRO. I won’t be surprised to find that there is some “optimization” made by NVIDIA software guys.
So, we have just tested a Tyan Tachyon G9600 PRO graphics card based on the ATI RADEON 9600 PRO chip. The product left a good overall impression, although does have certain drawbacks.
First of all, I don’t quite understand why the manufacturer used 3.6ns memory chips. Moreover, it’s already overclocked by the manufacturer as its nominal frequency is 275MHz (550MHz DDR). This doesn’t look like Tyan, a company known for its super-reliable server products. Usually, graphics cards of the RADEON 9600 PRO class are equipped with 2.8-3.3ns memory. The Tyan Tachyon G9600 PRO card seems to be targeted at enthusiastic users and overclockers, but doesn’t suit exactly for this type of buyers. All others should be glad to have a reliable monitoring and cooler control systems. Moreover, the version with two DVI-I outputs may be of interest to those people who edit graphics on two LCD displays. By the way, such a card would be a unique product, as it would be the first non-professional RADEON 9600 PRO based card to feature two digital connectors.
As for manufacture quality, it’s very high, as by any product from Tyan. The performance level of the card is quite high, too, although doesn’t reach Tyan Tachyon G9500 PRO, because the latter boasts 8 pipelines against only 4 pipelines by the newcomer. Of course, the higher frequency of 9600 PRO makes up for this to some extent, but still is not enough.
The recommended price of Tachyon G9600 PRO is $195, and the card is already in stores. So, if you want to buy a relatively inexpensive DirectX 9.0-compatible card with a diagnostics system, Tyan Tachyon G9600 PRO may suit you. And if you want to have a solution with two DVI-I outputs, you’d better take it from Tyan and no one else. In any other case, you may want to look for a card with faster memory chips.