The definitive Fall Refresh

After NVIDIA released the TNT2 Ultra, we saw the first incarnation of the now common “6-month product cycle.” The strategy was the exact one used to dethrone 3dfx, and is based on a very simple principle of using parallel design teams. If you have three design teams, one working on the current generation product, one working on the 6-month follow-up and one working on the next-generation solution, assuming all teams work efficiently, you should be able to maintain a stream of GPU releases in 6 month intervals.

To make the job a bit easier, you only work on inventing new architectures every 12 months, giving you a little break in between the hectic lifestyle of a GPU design engineer. But in order to maintain competitiveness you have to have a product every 6 months, so in the time between architectures you simply “refresh” your current generation architecture. A refresh is generally a higher clocked GPU, potentially with some faster memory, made possible due to more experience with manufacturing that particular GPU (yields improve over time) and the availability of faster memory. Sometimes we get advancements in process technology that allows for a boost in clock speed as well.

When NVIDIA introduced the 6-month product cycle the idea was that new architectures would debut in the Fall, and refresh products would hit in the Spring. The delay of NV20 (GeForce3) changed things around a bit and the GeForce2 Ultra became the first “Fall refresh” product. Since then, little attention has been paid to when various GPUs hit, as long as we get something new every 6 months we’re happy. Earlier this year we heard that both ATI and NVIDIA would be releasing their true next-generation hardware next Spring, leaving this Fall as the refresh cycle.

ATI’s high-end refresh was the Radeon 9800 XT, and as you can guess their midrange refresh is the new Radeon 9600 XT. Much like the Radeon 9800 XT, the 9600 XT only adds two features: a higher clock speed and support for OverDrive.

The Radeon 9600 XT GPU now runs at 500MHz, a 25% increase in clock speed over the 9600 Pro’s 400MHz clock. The memory speed of the Radeon 9600 XT remains at 300MHz DDR (effectively 600MHz), so there is no increase in memory bandwidth over its predecessor.

The hefty increase in clock speed is due to improvements in process technology as well as the introduction of a low-k dielectric. As we briefly explained in our 9800 XT review, the benefits of a low-k dielectric are mainly related to shielding from crosstalk in high transistor density chips, which gives us the clock speed boost we see with the 9600 XT. Because we’re just talking about an increase in core clock speed, the games to receive the biggest performance boost from the XT would be those that are GPU-limited, which unfortunately are few and far in between these days. Games that are largely shader bound such as Half Life 2 will definitely enjoy the 9600 XT’s increase in clock speed, but for now we’ll see most of the performance benefits go to waste.

We explained OverDrive technology in our Radeon 9800 XT review and tested it in our Catalyst 3.8 driver update. The Radeon 9600 XT includes an on-die thermal diode that measures the temperature of the core; when the temperature is cool enough the driver will instruct the core to overclock itself by a set margin. The Radeon 9600 XT will run at one of three speeds depending on its temperature: 500MHz, 513MHz or 527MHz. The combination of this driver and hardware support makes up ATI’s OverDrive feature.

OverDrive is currently not enabled for the Radeon 9600 XT in the Catalyst 3.8 drivers, we will have to wait for the Catalyst 3.9s before we can test the 9600 XT with OverDrive. If you’re curious about the performance implications of enabling OverDrive, have a look at our Catalyst 3.8 review – it’s nothing to get too excited about.

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  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 15, 2003 - link

    Before anyone else beats me to it,

    NVIDIA HAS FAILED

    sorry, just had to say it.
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 15, 2003 - link

    #8 = Troll Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 15, 2003 - link

    I CAN'T UNDERSTAND HOW THEY GOT SUCH LOW SCORES ON THE GEFROCE FX 5600 ULTRA

    I BUILT COMPUTERS FOR A LIVING AND OFTEN BENCHMARK THESE SYSTEMS FOR MYSELF

    TAKE GUNMETAL FOR EXAMPLE
    THE 5600 ULTRA SCORED 14.5FPS

    ON A ATHLON XP 2600 KT400 DDR333 GEFORCE FX 5600 NON-ULTRA I GET 25FPS

    NOT TO MENTION I GET 47FPS ON A 5900

    HOW IS IT THAT WITH SUPERIOR HARDWARE THEY SCORED %40 LOWER?

    WHAT BULLSHIT IS THIS...
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 15, 2003 - link

    #4

    If we are talking about <$2.00 burritos, how about including some tacos? Does it make sense? Tacos are cheeper because of the hard, quite unedible shell. However, because a burrito can be warmed, the shell is of soft phsophate.
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 15, 2003 - link

    How do you get an FPS rating from WarCraft 3? Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 15, 2003 - link

    Enough of the speculation of when NVIDA products will come out. May I point you to a quote from the Radeon 9700 Pro review:
    "NV30 will be out around December"

    The product didn't actually make its way out until March, and even in limited volumes then.

    Telling people to wait on the 5700 Ultra doesn’t make much sense.
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 15, 2003 - link

    If we are talking about <$200 cards, how about include the 9800se. It can be had for $170 and it seems like it would be a decent performer, especially if overclocked. Can we also include the 9800se (non-pro) in future reviews?
    thanks
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 15, 2003 - link

    As an owner of a Geforce 4 ti4200, I apreciate having it included in the lineup, as it shows me that unless I have the cash to dish out for a 9700+, it's not realy worth it :) Great review! Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 15, 2003 - link

    A 100Mhz increase in core clock frequency! The benifit of buying this card becomes apparent in future titles, not current ones. My guess is the gap between 9600XT and 9700 pro will close significantly in Half-Life2 or Doom3 =).

    I also truely hope the GeforceFX 5700 will beable to dish out more damage then the 5600. No fun buying from just one company.

    As for me, I doubt ill find a reason to upgrade my 9500pro for quite some time. Anyone who bought a card with the R3XX on it should not upgrade until DX10 comes out.
    Reply
  • Anonymous User - Wednesday, October 15, 2003 - link

    bad link:

    page:
    http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.html?i=1904...
    says:
    Halo Performance but goes to Homeworld 2.
    Reply

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