The Radeon 9500 Test Board
As you can tell by the title of this review, the Radeon 9500/9500 Pro boards aren't final and thus we're previewing the technology and performance. Boards should be shipping to retail in November, but in order to give us an idea of expected performance ATI built a handful of boards using the 9500 Pro GPUs.
These aren't the boards you'll get once the Radeon 9500 Pro starts shipping since ATI actually didn't have Radeon 9500 PCBs ready in time. Instead ATI mounted a Radeon 9500 Pro GPU on a Radeon 9700 Pro board; as you can guess, this doesn't work perfectly since the Radeon 9700 Pros are wired for a 256-bit path from the GPU to main memory.
Radeon 9500 Pro memory (left), a mod on the Radeon 9500 Pro indicates we're not looking at final hardware (right)
The result of this is that only half of the 128MB of memory can be used (only 128-bits out of the 256-bits wired are used) so all of our tests are with a 64MB Radeon 9500 Pro, not the 128MB version that will be shipping. The performance standings shouldn't change too much as the extra 64MB of memory doesn't help in most of today's games.
Finally, a Radeon 9700
Alongside the Radeon 9500/9500 Pro launch, ATI is finally announcing the clock speeds for the regular (non-Pro) version of the Radeon 9700.
Just like the Radeon 9500, the Radeon 9700 won't be manufactured by ATI but instead reserved for their partners to make. As you can expect, ATI will continue to make the Pro versions of both cards and their partners will be allowed to do the same as well.
The Radeon 9700 only differs from the Radeon 9700 Pro in clock speed; it runs at a 275MHz core clock with 270MHz DDR SDRAM (effectively 540MHz). The first thing you'll notice is that these are the same exact speeds as the Radeon 9500, but obviously with the architectural benefits (more pipes, 256-bit memory interface) of the Radeon 9700.
The decreased GPU clock speeds make for a higher yielding chip and the slower memory makes the overall package even cheaper. The end result is that the Radeon 9700 will retail for $299 compared to the $399 of the Radeon 9700 Pro. As you'll see from our benchmarks, the performance drop isn't bad at all.