Impressions and Conclusion

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Radeon 9700
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Even though the card we are using in this review is not a genuine Radeon 9700 (it is a Radeon 9500 modified to run at 9700 specs), it still performs very well compared to newer and more expensive cards. At 1024×768, it has better anti-aliasing quality than the FX series cards and even performs and looks the same as the more expensive FX5900 Ultra 256 – this makes the Radeon 9700 an amazing bargain. However, at 1600×1200, the card falls behind the FX5900 in X2 and in UT2K3, but manages to best the FX in Freelancer and Morrowind.

Couple this with ATI’s excellent driver support (12 new drivers in the past 12 months) and you have an amazing deal for $200 USD.

The Radeon 9700 has since been replaced by the Radeon 9800 (~$230) which is essentially the same card but faster. There are also Radeon 9800SE models which are making a huge splash in enthusiast circles as some people have managed to get their cards running as fast as Radeon 9800 Pro cards.

Price: ~$200 USD


Radeon 9500
Paige is so popular!

The card performs decently at 1024×768 and it even beats the FX5900 Ultra in Freelancer and Morrowind. It has DirectX 9 support and is capable of doing anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering without too much trouble. However high-resolution gaming is not its strength. At 1600×1200 we see performance drop drastically as you enable more sampling.

The Radeon 9500 (or its successor the Radeon 9600) is quickly becoming the choice of value hunters and is worth considering if you’re a gamer but don’t have the money to spend.

Price: ~$130 USD


GeForce FX5900 Ultra 256
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With a price tag of over $400 US dollars, I couldn’t help but place high expectations and do a more critical examination of its performance and features (you have to with that much money at risk).

The raw performance numbers are very mixed. It did poorly in Morrowind and Freelancer compared to both the Radeon 9500 and Radeon 9700 at 1024×768, and Radeon 9700 beating it at 1600×1200. However, with that said, the FX5900 Ultra did very well in Unreal Tournament 2003 and X2.

Anti-aliasing performance and quality at 1024×768 was poorer compared to the cheaper Radeon cards. With 4x sampling looking no better than 2xAA on the cheaper Radeon while both performing about the same. At 1600×1200 however, 4x anti-aliasing was much better than the 2x AA on the Radeon. Comparing the prices of these cards, it’s up to you to decide whether or not the improved anti-aliasing quality is worth the premium price.

I may sound a bit critical of the FX5900 Ultra, that’s not my intention. The card performs and plays all the games well. However, the results fell short of what I was expecting for a card of this stature since it commands a $400 USD price. I hope NVIDIA can improve their drivers to add more value to this card or simply drop the price of this card. Otherwise it will have a hard time competing with ATI based cards that are half the price.

Some things to keep in mind when considering this product. Some versions of this card will take up two expansion slots in your case. Also some cards have two fans installed instead of one making the overall noise louder. When $400 USD is at stake, you best be patient and do your research rather than get stuck with a FX5900 Ultra configuration you don’t like.

Price: ~$400 USD


GeForce FX5600
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The FX5600 is a middle-range card that has some decent gaming capabilities. At 1024×768 it manages to pull out some playable numbers, but wasn’t able to do much at 1600×1200. Like the Radeon 9500, it’s clear that this card is targeted towards gaming at resolutions lower than 1600×1200. Comparing the FX5600 to the Radeon 9500, the FX5600 is not as good a performer and anti-aliasing can be improved at 1024×768.

It would seem the major selling point of these cards would be the extras you would get in different packages. Some come with remote controls while others have VIVO.

Price: ~$140 USD


GeForce FX5200
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The FX5200 is barely usable in most instances. It’s obviously not intended to play games at 1024×768 and would do much better at 800×600. DirectX 9 and AGP 8x features should not confuse your purchasing decision here as these features require faster GPU’s and memory that this card does not have.

Though this card isn’t a good gaming card, I can see some use of this card in workstations and in living room PCs. It would also be a very cheap video-editing solution as many FX5200 bundles come with this functionality.

Price~$80 USD


GeForce 4 Ti4800SE
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The Ti4800SE falls into the same category as the GeForce FX5600, and the Radeon 9500. It performs optimally at 1024×768 and suffers at 1600×1200 gaming. The general pattern we see with the Ti4800SE is that when you have just anti-aliasing enabled, it performs faster than the FX5600. But when you enable anisotropic filtering, we see performance numbers drop drastically and sometimes below that of the FX5600.

Price: ~$150 USD

The Final Word

The numbers, images, and current prices tell the story best – NVIDIA really needs to reconfigure their product offerings to make it more competitive compared to ATI. With issues such as poor shader performance (like in Half-Life 2, Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness), driver optimizations, map and game specific optimizations, it gets hard for a reviewer like me to appear objective when there are so many things going on. That isn’t to say ATI doesn’t have their share of problems, but it would appear that ATI has avoided running into major product design issues (like the ones that are currently plaguing NVIDIA) and it’s making them look stronger in the market.

The next few months leading up to the December holiday season will be very interesting for the graphics industry. First off there will be a whole new batch of games that are coming out that will demand more from your hardware, notably Half-Life 2 and Deus Ex 2 (not to mention Doom 3 sometime next year). There’s also the Computex show in Taipei at the end of September where companies will be showing off their latest products and prototypes (look for a perspective from Ryan in the near future). ASUS, MSI, Gigabyte, and ECS are now manufacturing ATI cards in addition to NVIDIA cards… expect to see increased competition over the next few months as the boundaries between product lines get blurred.

As always, I’m humbled by the responses, suggestions, and questions I get from readers. Please keep those emails coming. Expect to see another round-up update very soon with another card (which will be reviewed separately).


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