ATi All-in-Wonder 9600 Pro

ATi All-in-Wonder 9600 Pro

Written by John Yan on 11/6/2003 for PC  
More On: ATi All-in-Wonder 9600 Pro
For those that don’t have the money to spend on the bad ass All-in-Wonder 9800 Pro or even the All-in-Wonder 9700 Pro, ATi has released their latest All-in-Wonder card using a chip that provides a lot of bang for the buck. It's not the new XT version but it's still a very good chip. The All-in-Wonder 9600 Pro is nicely priced at $220 and gives you some new features that I am really looking forward to in the next high end All-in-Wonder cards.

Based on the RV350 core, the All-in-Wonder 9600 Pro’s based on a .13u process producing a smaller and cooler center. It’s got four pipelines: half of the All-in-Wonder 9800 Pro. DirectX 9 support with SmartShader 2.1 and Smoothvision 2.1 gives this card support for future games.

Besides the card, the purple breakout box and a few of the cables make their return. The dongle is a different and I will go more into this a little bit later. The breakout box has all your input connections so that if you want to plug in a console or record from an external source, you can hook it into this little purple box. The breakout box has an S-Video in, left and right audio in, and composite video in. ATi also includes one S-Video cable and a composite cable for your connection needs.

There are a few new and very welcomed features to the All-in-Wonder line. The first and arguably the most sought after feature is that the card now has dual monitor support. As a developer, I know the advantage of using two monitors and while the non All-in-Wonder versions of these cards allowed for dual monitors, this is the first time an All-in-Wonder card has official dual monitor support. It’s two VGA connectors and not DVI though but still, it’s true dual monitor support.

To support the extra connections, ATi has re-engineered the output dongle. It still has the digital out, composite out, stereo mini-plug, and S-video out. But now the two VGA connectors are also attached to the dongle to achieve the extra connections without having to expand the card to two slots. Whereas the previous All-in-Wonder cards had one DVI output on the card’s bracket, it’s been removed on the All-in-Wonder 9600 Pro and all VGA outputs moved to the dongle. Those with LCDs that have DVI will be disappointed to see no DVI option now. But since this card is geared towards more to the budget consumer, most budget LCDs contain a VGA connector and ATi has provided this option according to their product target base. Word is that ATi will be working in a DVI solution in future mid to high end products in their All-in-Wonder line.

Another first for the All-in-Wonder line is an FM tuner. For listening tunes, the All-in-Wonder 9600 Pro allows you tune into you favorite local stations. But ATi didn’t just throw on a tuner and let you just listen to music. You can experience radio stations like TiVO owners experience TV. The latest Multimedia Center lets you timeshift live radio and record them in MP3 format. Yes, you can pause, rewind and fast forward live radio letting you listen to the radio on your own terms. Say you’re working and you’re listening to your favorite sports program. A meeting comes up that would normally cut into the program. Well now you can just pause it, attend the meeting, come back and continue right where you left off. Fast forward through any commercials and you’ll eventually catch up to live radio. Just like a TiVO, the MMC functionality puts radio listening in your hands and on your time frame. You can even schedule recordings for radio stations, just like setting a VCR to record a TV show at a certain time. Radio lovers rejoice! Some shortcomings of the feature are that you have to manually program the stations in. There’s not a way to retrieve a list of stations in your area and have the program automatically set them up yet. Also, MP3 format is the only format you can record for now, but if the other updates to MMC are any indication, there’ll probably be more formats later on down the road. You’ll also need to purchase an antenna as ATi does not include one in the box.

The software bundle comes with Pinnacle Studio again but game readers will be very happy to hear that a full version of Half-Life 2 is also included. Well, since the game isn’t released yet, you’ll see a flyer with a scratch off that reveals a key code. You can either get the game through Steam or send in some proof of purchase to ATi for a CD version of the game. Finally, Morrowind is laid to rest and the inclusion of one of the most anticipated games of the year makes this a very nice software bundle.

Multimedia Center 8.6 is included with some updates and support for the FM tuner. You can now record media to a burner. This update should please a lot of people who want to archive their recorded shows onto a DVD or CD media. I’d like to see some replacement or update to the Gemstar Guide+ program as it’s not very TV friendly. When I was using the card in my PVR setup, I found it hard to read the guide on a TV and there were no adjustments I could make to the display. It’s still free though, but I’ve used a few other PVR programs that offer a substantially nicer looking guide with more recording options. The file manager now gives you some greater control by protecting certain files from deletion. There are a lot of multimedia functions that the software is capable of and what’s nice about MMC is that it’s constantly being updated.

I was disappointed to find the new Remote Wonder II missing from the package. You do get the original Remote Wonder and there is a pamphlet in there for a free upgrade to Remote Wonder II. It’s still a good remote though and from the looks of it, there’s more labeling of the buttons. The original RF remote’s still a cool unit though and it was nice of ATi to give purchasers of the video card to get a free upgrade.
So let’s get to the gaming portion of this review. The All-in-Wonder 9600 Pro uses the RV350 and.13u architecture. The smaller die size enables the card to use less power and run cooler at the same time. Because of this, the card doesn’t need an external power supply like the All-in-Wonder 9700 Pro and All-in-Wonder 9800 Pro. Unlike the regular Radeon 9600 Pro, the All-in-Wonder 9600 Pro features faster memory that is clocked higher than the non-AIW counterpart. The regular Radeon 9600 Pro’s core is at 400 MHz clock speed with the memory at 600 MHz. The All-in-Wonder Radeon 9600 Pro is a tad faster at 400 MHz and the memory is at 650 MHz. The Radeon 9600 XT has a faster core but slower memory with 500 MHz and 600 Mhz respectively. Below you can see the comparison chart between the 9600 variations.

Here’s my testing configuration:

AMD Barton 2500+
ABIT NF7-S motherboard
512MB PC3200 Crucial memory
Maxtor 120GIG 7200 RPM hard drive
Windows XP Service Pack 1
Catalyst 3.8 drivers

During normal gameplay with the 3.8 drivers, I had one problem and that was with Call of Duty. For some reason, the card just didn’t like the game and would crash randomly. The other games I tried ran fine such as Command and Conquer: Generals, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, and all the games in the tests. Going back to Catalyst 3.7 drivers fixed the problem. But for testing purposes, I ran them with 3.8 drivers. The card was compared to the other variations of recent All-in-Wonder cards to let you see the range of performances between the three.

Let’s start off with a synthetic benchmark, 3D Mark 2001 SE.

The All-in-Wonder 9600 Pro’s score is very respectable when compared to the other two. One more synthetic benchmark is up and this time it’s the new Aquamark 3.

Aquamark 3 is actually based on a real game engine used in AquaNox 2: Revelation. The test was run at the base configuration at 1024x768. Let’s see how the All-in-Wonder 9600 Pro does.

The card scores within 30% of the All-in-Wonder 9800 Pro and within 25% of the All-in-Wonder 9700 Pro. Enough with the synthetic benchmarks, lets move onto games.
First up is Dungeon Siege from Microsoft. For some reason, the benchmark had problems running in every other resolution other than 1024x768 on all cards. Either the screen would blank out or it just wouldn’t change resolution when I specified it. Either way here’s how the game ran at 1024x768.

As you can see, the game ran pretty speedy and was only a few frames behind the other cards. I would’ve liked to have seen the difference at higher resolutions but from this single test, the All-in-Wonder 9600 Pro performed admirably.

Comanche 4 is a helicopter simulation that relies more on CPU than a video card. The demo from Novalogic was used with the sound disabled. Here are the scores for three resolutions.

There isn’t much separation in performance between the three so the video card here isn’t the piece holding it back.
For our third person action game, I used Splinter Cell from Ubi Soft. The latest patch allows for benchmarking and I used Beyond3D’s demo to test the cards. Here are the scores for the resolutions tested.

Here you can see a bigger separation between the higher end cards but the All-in-Wonder 9600 Pro does well at lower resolutions. At 1280x1024 the frames per second goes down to about half of what the All-in-Wonder 9800 Pro can churn out but, then again it also costs twice as much as the All-in-Wonder 9600 Pro.

Using [H]ardOCP’s utility, I ran benchmarks for Unreal Tournament 2003 for all the levels. I’ve decided to just post the scores for DM Phobos 2 here though. Settings were set to high and Direct3D. [Update: I know the pictures say Unreal Tournament 2004 but it really is just Unreal Tournament 2003. Sorry for the confusion and my bad typing. -JY]

All cards run the game very well and the All-in-Wonder 9600 Pro does give great performance for this game.
Turning on anti-aliasing will give any card a good hit in performance. I decided to turn on 4xAA and run 3D Mark 2001 SE and Unreal Tournament 2003 again to gauge the performance difference.

The scores in 3D Mark 2001 SE fell dramatically. The card’s performance drops 22% at 800x600 and 36% at 1280x1024. For Unreal Tournament 2003, the drop wasn’t as big with a 17% drop at 800x600 and 29% drop at 1280x1024. The game is still very playable even with the drop and I do prefer going at a lower resolution with anti-aliasing on than at a higher one with no anti-aliasing at all.

After playing various games in my collection for a few weeks, I was pretty happy at how the card performed, especially for the price of this unit. With Catalyst 3.7 drivers, all the games I tried ran flawlessly. Picture quality seemed pretty good to the naked eye and I didn’t see any glaring anomalies throughout my testing period. All in all, I was very happy with the performance of this "budget" All-in-Wonder card.

The price of this card is only $200 and for that money you get a LOT. From dual monitors to FM tuner to good game performance to free Half-Life 2, the All-in-Wonder 9600 Pro is a great buy for multimedia and gaming enthusiasts. It’s not the fastest card out there but you can’t fault the performance you get for the money. There are plenty of features and the dual monitor support will make many happy. While no Remote Wonder 2, you do get a free upgrade to it later on down the line.
The card's nicely priced with the features it has and a free copy of Half-Life 2 is included. If you're looking for a nicely priced all-around card, you can't go wrong with the All-in-Wonder 9600 Pro.

Rating: 8.9 Class Leading

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

About Author

I've been reviewing products since 1997 and started out at Gaming Nexus. After writing for a few different sites that went under, it's nice to bring back a site that's not dependent on revenue and just wants to deliver news and reviews of products.

I'm  married, and enjoy first person shooters, sports games, and real time strategy games.

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