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Reviewed: ATi All-In-Wonder 9600XT plus ATi HDTV Wonder
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: February 24th, 2005
Page: 2

The All-In-Wonder 9600XT

First up: the ATi All-In-Wonder 9600XT. For the gaming phase of testing, I was fortunate enough to have the card's high-end predecessor on hand, the old reliable ATi All-In-Wonder 9700 Pro. ATi's own spec sheets reveal where the strengths of each card lie.

Bus Type AGP 2X, 4X, 8X AGP 4X, 8X
Memory Amount (MB) 128 128
Memory Type DDR DDR1
Memory Interface 256-bit 128-bit
Memory Clock Speed (MHz) 310 325
Engine Clock Speed (MHz) 325 525
Pipelines 8 4
Pixel Fillrate 2 Gpixels/sec 2.1 Gpixels/sec
Geometry Rate 325 MTriangles 263 MTriangles

As you can see, the two cards - the old generation, and the new - are very similar in most respects. In fact, in terms of their capabilities to record video, they remain identical - ATi's driver updates applying to them both, users of All-In-Wonder boards as far back as the original All-In-Wonder Radeon are enjoying the basics, and the filtering options haven't changed at all between these two generations. So it falls to their gaming abilities and "extras" to decide which is a better buy.

Despite swapping them out repeatedly to do benchmarks, I couldn't get a tremendous difference nailed down, at least not one that would justify buying the 9600XT over the 9700 Pro for sure. The 9600XT benefits from ATi's OVERDRIVE technology, but it's dubious worth on any card that's not top of the line. Indeed, setting them side by side, I wound up with nearly identical results in most games. The lower the frame size, the better the 9600XT did, and the higher the frame size, the better the old 9700 Pro held up. On the most recent games like Doom 3 and Half-Life 2, with geometry cranked ALL the way up (to simulate the effects of games that will come later), the 9700 Pro's geometry rate likewise gave it an edge. The OVERDRIVE capacity was also hindered by the fact that my test system, containing four hard drives, two optical media (DVD and CDRW) drives, and the HDTV Wonder, runs surprisingly hot and was no doubt holding the OVERDRIVE clock back. In a living room system, where cooling solutions may be scaled back in order to keep the computer as quiet as possible, the situation is quite similar.

The other culprit was the memory interfaces; when faced with the 256-bit interface of its older counterpart, the fact that the 9600XT's newer GPU could hit 525+ MHz with OVERDRIVE didn't mean much, because at higher resolutions the CPU was literally starved for data to crunch. A similar experiment throwing the same conditions at a Radeon 9800 Pro (256 MB) confirmed the analysis, as it blew both of the cards away the higher the resolution got.

That being said, if you're looking for a card to interface with your HDTV setup, then the 9600XT might be your card. It's also worth noting that we're comparing two cards from different lines, and two differing tiers; even today on Pricewatch, the 9700 Pro All-In-Wonder still runs for $180, while the 9600XT All-In-Wonder is down to $130 (plus another $20 for the HDTV adapter).

On the upside, the 9600XT also came with the beauty of a remote on the right:

The remote on the left is the standard old ATi Remote Wonder, that's been coming with most every remote-capable ATi card for some time. It's a decently sturdy remote, and has nice range, but they've been kludgy to use in practice. Plagued by sticky buttons, an unresponsive mouse "disc" that had only 8 directions, and just a bland look, it was time for a major makeover.

Thus ATi came up with their next generation of remotes. The Remote Wonder II, on the right, took most of the functions and vastly improved them. The old, unresponsive mouse disc is replaced with an analog thumbstick-style mouse controller, that's much better for mousing. The rubber buttons are more responsive and laid out flatter, for easier use. The old red dot to show activity (upper left on the Remote Wonder) has been replaced with a brighter LED on the ATI button, which is also tuned to call up ATi's main menu in their multimedia interface. If your primary focus is multimedia and/or price, the presence of the RW2 in the 9600XT All-In-Wonder's bundle makes it the card of choice.

The HDTV Wonder

Stepping up next for testing was the HDTV Wonder.

Compared to the old-style TV Wonder boards, users will be wondering what to do with this one - and due mostly to competing standards, there will be the occasional crosswired hookups. That can't be really blamed on ATi, however, as both HDTV and standard antennas use the "old reliable" coaxial cable to deliver their signal. In terms of image delivery, the board's quite reliable and delivers (for the most part) a clear picture. One or two takes may be required to get a good shot, as seen in the final example below where the HDTV Wonder carefully and reliably captured an image that was blurred on transmission:

One of the coaxial lines on the unit goes to the HDTV Antenna. Unfortunately for ATi, HDTV broadcasters in America aren't heavily invested yet, and even their most powerful signal isn't all that great. An experiment in driving around Houston, finding places to set up and test the signal, revealed that at any given point in that large, sprawling market about 1/4 of the signals were strong enough for the card to lock on to cleanly. Additionally, lower-power signals required more CPU power to process, which is bad news for those who want to use their spare or secondary motherboard to set up a PVR based on one of these; while the box says they'll work with a 1.3 GHz CPU, 1.8+ is a better idea.

The other coaxial line on the HDTV Wonder is reserved for the standard antenna or cable TV input, and the purple connector goes to their standard S-Video/RCA panel. Here's where the secondary downside to the HDTV Wonder comes into play, as the lack of component video inputs to the card effectively cuts off the idea of using it as a PVR setup if you've got high-definition satellite or cable TV, because the HD signal out of the adapter box will be in the form of component video.

This does help keep the cost of creating a PVR, if you're on the cheap, or offer a secondary bonus if you're pairing the card with an All-In-Wonder; ATi's software can be set up with the two cards to run picture-in-picture modes, the same as hooking up a standard TV Wonder/All-In-Wonder combination. If you're being cheap, getting a standard ATi video board and an HDTV Wonder, along with investing in a powered HDTV antenna, is also workable.

All in all, they're good products; the 9600XT is, like its predecessors, a great first step for anyone wanting to create a PVR, but I would hesitate to invest in the HDTV Wonder unless you're willing to spend money on a powered antenna, and are willing to accept that no other HDTV device can be plugged into it.

Added:  Thursday, February 24, 2005
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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