Mobile GPU Q1/2004 Update - ATI M10, M11, and NVIDIA's NV36Mby Andrew Ku on January 28, 2004 2:30 PM EST
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ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 Pro - What does it take to go Pro?When we first took a look at the Voodoo Envy M:855 in part 1 of our coverage, we realized quickly that ATI's Mobility Radeon 9600 Pro didn't come with Overdrive and the implementation of GDDR2-M clearly was missing. We knew this to be the case for other Mobility Radeon 9600 Pro based notebooks, but we were hoping to see something new of the M:855, since its unprecedented use of a processor from the Athlon 64 family.
Back in March, we reported that the Mobility Radeon 9600 Pro would feature higher core clocks and GDDR2-M memory support for higher memory clocks. Contrary to what its name may suggest, GDDR2-M memory is not DDR2 memory. Like the "DDR2" memory used by the GeForce FX, the GDDR2-M memory that the Mobility Radeon 9600 Pro supports does not transmit four times per clock. Instead, the memory is optimized and therefore, able to run at higher frequencies than before.
The GDDR2-M memory support that the Mobility Radeon 9600 Pro offers will allow the memory chips used on the processor to operate somewhere between "DDR600 and DDR900 or above" speeds, indicating that 900+MHz effective operating frequencies are possible. Just how fast the memory will go, ATI is not yet saying, probably due to the fact that GDDR2-M memory is not readily available or in mass production quite yet. As a side note, the GDDR2-M memory offers power-saving features over both GDDR-2 and regular DDR memory chips, and it does not require external termination (saving precious space).
For those unaware, Elpida canceled GDDR2-M from their roadmap, which means that ATI's only source for this technology was removed. This only added to the confusion between Pro and non-Pro mobile graphic parts because one of the two distinct components for the Pro dubbing had been completely stripped away from the equation; the other being Overdrive. Previously, we were working with Voodoo, Dell and ATI to sort out the Pro-naming issue. During this time, we discovered that there were several system vendors that have been inquiring about the use of the Pro name, as the use of any extra derivative conjures up the sense of a stronger product. ATI admits that they could have handled this better. Granted, this issue didn't come to ATI's table of their own fault, but the cancellation of GDDR2-M was a while back and they could have addressed this issue much sooner, which they readily admit.
As we expected in March, Overdrive was to be a new feature that was intended to be implemented in Mobility Radeon 9600 Pro, but due to its early introduction, system vendors seem to have decided not to implement it until the technology matures. ATI tells us that Overdrive is actually supported by Mobility Radeon 9600 as it is on Radeon 9600 Pro and Radeon 9800 Pro, though the technology is only implemented in their respective big brothers. As we mentioned in our Voodoo Envy M:855 part 1 coverage, there are no system vendors that are currently implementing Overdrive, and we would highly caution anyone who might be expecting this feature when they buy a Mobility Radeon 9600 Pro based notebook. Based on our previous communication with ATI, we believe that there might be some notebooks popping up in future quarters, but we will have to wait to see.
This feature announcement was big news in the desktop market because it was a very rare circumstance of sanctioned overclocking. In relation to the mobile market, this is even bigger news because of the ramifications it has for any specific notebook's thermal budget. ATI next gen mobile processor code named M11 will also support Overdrive, and we are still teething to see a production notebook that implements this technology. Note that system designers have the option of turning off the hardware that enables Overdrive.
In our previous coverage, we reported that any Mobility Radeon 9600 (also known as M10) with a core clock of at least 350MHz and 128MB of video memory would be eligible for the Pro postfix, but at that time, details were still being sorted out. Thanks to the guys down at Voodoo, Dell, and ATI, the naming issue was sorted out. Any M10 chip that operates at a core speed of at least 333MHz and have 64MB of video memory will be considered Pro. The condition of the drivers will remain the same; no differentiation between Pro and non-Pro because of the shared device ID.