ATI All-in-Wonder 9600XT

Review

posted 4/5/2004 by John Yan
other articles by John Yan
ATI’s line of All-in-Wonder cards have been one of my favorites. For the amount of money you pay, you sure get a lot with each package. ATI has a wide range of cards in various dollar amounts and today we’re looking at one of their mid-range cards, the All-in-Wonder 9600XT. If you want a nicely priced AIW card with some good gaming power, this is the card to get.




The All-in-Wonder 9600XT offers the popular RV360 VPU that offers a lot of bang for the buck. On its own, it’s an inexpensive card that supports DirectX 9 and delivers great performance. Paired with a TV/FM tuner, the All-in-Wonder 9600XT becomes a Swiss Army knife of video cards, allowing it to offer a complete multimedia experience.

The card itself features an interesting heatsink/fan combination. The gold heatsink covers a good portion of the right side of the card with a small fan to cool it off. It certainly is pretty unique to the card compared to the other All-in-Wonder ones I’ve reviewed.

Comparing the card with the ATI Radeon 9600XT, the All-in-Wonder 9600XT actually gets a minor bump in clock and memory speed. While the Radeon 9600XT is clocked at 500MHz/600MHz, the All-in-Wonder 9600XT is actually at 525MHz/650MHz bumping the fill rate from 2.0 Gpixels/sec to 2.1Gpixels/sec. We’ll see how much of a speed increase it translates when compared to a regular Radeon 9600XT. 128MB of ram is onboard.


The Remote Wonder II is finally packaged with an AIW board and it’s a very nice change from the original. A new physical design encompasses the new Remote Wonder II. From the onset, the remote looks longer but has the same width and is not as deep as the old one. It’s also got a lighter feel to it. As you can see from the pictures, there are plenty more buttons albeit smaller than the original remote. I did enjoy the feel and size of the old Remote Wonder but it didn’t take me long to get used to the newer sized buttons and I actually do have some remotes that have the same sized buttons. To be a little nitpicky, I would’ve liked the size to just be a little bit more though. To compare the number pads on both remotes, the new one has smaller but more spread out buttons and also has letters labeled next to each one that are similar to cell phone labels.



Change in the directional keys are present with wide yet thinner directional buttons but a bigger center OK button. I do like the newer design over the old one. The C-D and E-F buttons are now grouped together and are placed in a pattern that corresponds with the newer VCR control placements. Where the old VCR buttons are placed in a square pattern, the new remote has the buttons in an arc. I would’ve preferred the record button on the outside so that I don’t accidentally hit it as much as I would in the position it is now.

There are four AUX buttons that are new to the remote and which I will get into more a little bit. Depending on which function is active (i.e. an AUX or the PC), that particular button will light up when you are using the remote to easily tell when a command is sent and for which component you are controlling.

The volume and channel buttons have changed from one long button to two separate ones. In my opinion, the change is pretty insignificant although I do know some that do like the one button design. The channel and volume up buttons are also larger than the down buttons to help distinguish them.

The mouse control button has been completely redesigned and now protrudes from the remote a little. Moving the button with the thumb was pretty comfortable and the button is pretty sensitive to your movements. The mouse click buttons has moved from the bottom of the mouse control area to the top on the new remote.

I found holding the controller to be pretty comfortable even with the increase in length. There’s a nice indentation on the bottom that helps gripping the remote easier. One less AAA battery powers the remote with the Remote Wonder II needing three batteries instead of four. Instead of a two-by-two configuration, the three batteries now lay side by side across the remote.

Besides the remote itself, the receiver has gone quite a metamorphosis also. Gone is the small silver rectangular receiver with a wire hanging off the front. Now, a large, black, round receiver takes its place and a long generous USB cable allows you to place the receiver a good distance away. The receiver receives remote signals in the 433MHz band. On one side of the receiver there are two 2.5mm plugs. HTPC users should be excited to know these are expansion ports for IR blasters so that you can control your traditional components with the Remote Wonder II. There’s no timetable as to when it’s going to be released but the sooner the better I say. This is one feature I’ve been waiting for on the Remote Wonder so that I can consolidate my remotes for my HTPC in the living room. That’s where the four AUX buttons will come into play.

Range for the remote is rated at 60 feet but I had problems getting it to work from that far away. In fact, my optimum range was around 30 feet before the remote stopped working. It seems that my limit on range is not the norm as I’ve read a few other reviews saying they have achieved the range listed. The improved remote featured with the product should make a lot of multimedia users very happy with it’s improved functionality and expansion capabilities.


Multimedia Center 8.9 is the suite that ATI produces to control a wide range of multimedia functions. Recently, EAZYSHARE was added to allow sharing of TV functions on the server. As a free multimedia suite, MMC is a pretty good and offers many features that are in the other commercial products. I do wish ATI would change the guide program as Guide+ is pretty archaic and doesn’t allow for automatic updates. I am partial to having easy to use guides that don’t need manual updating but there’s no setting to have Guide+ download listings during a set time. With EAZYLOOK starting to allow for a completely professional PVR display, Guide+ takes it back a few steps with the non-automatic update and look. There are other features of MMC that help provide a good multimedia experience and it is “free” with the card.



The tuner produces a good picture on all my coaxial connections with MMC. Various PVR functions worked as advertised. Those looking for hardware MPEG-2 encoding will be disappointed though as the All-in-Wonder 9600XT still does it in software. Therefore, you won’t be able to use this card with programs such as SageTV or MythTV. Snapstream and Showshifter users can use this card as both of those programs support the card.

Dual monitor users will be happy to know this card does support that feature, like the All-in-Wonder 9600 Pro. The output adapter features two VGA connectors but no DVI connectors. Native support for dual monitors has been a much requested feature and it’s nice to see the All-in-Wonder cards starting to have this feature standard. 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.




FM-On-Demand is like TV-On-Demand where you can pause and rewind live radio. You can also record radio to MP3 format with the card and unlike the All-in-Wonder 9600 Pro, ATI has included an antenna this time around. It’s nice to see this as you had to either make your own or purchase an antenna with the previous product. There’s no support for AM though. Some other 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. I did enjoy the FM-On-Demand while working at the office, providing me with total control over listening to the radio.

Gamers will be disappointed to see no game bundled with the card. What you do get though is Pinnacle Studio 8, muvee Autoproducer, and Matchware Mediator 7 for your audio authoring pleasure. Combined, the amount you pay separately for each piece of software would come close to more than what you would pay for the card. ATI has always offered a good value bundle of multimedia software with the All-in-Wonder cards and this is no exception. I would’ve liked to have seen a game or two in there as well though.




Our testing configuration is as follows:
AMD64 3200+
ABIT KV8-MAX3
2 PC2700 256MB Crucial RAM
120 GIG Maxtor 7200RPM hard drive
Windows XP Service Pack 1
Catalyst 4.3

With each test except for Final Fantasy Online, we ran each test at three resolutions (800x600, 1024x768, 1280x1024). For comparison, we have a regular Radon 9600XT from ATI. And I’ll also quickly explain the anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering settings when we get to them. First up, as usual, are the synthetic benchmarks.




3D Mark 2001 SE is the first up and a synthetic benchmark from Futuremark. It’s primarily a DirectX 8.1 benchmark. Here are the scores:



You can see here how the increased clock and memory speed gives the All-in-Wonder 9600XT a slight edge over the Radeon 9600XT.



Our last synthetic benchmark is Aquamark 3, which is based off a real game engine. The test was conducted with default settings at 1024x768.



Again, the All-in-Wonder 9600XT edges out its regular brother. Let’s move on to games now.




Halo is the Microsoft/Bungie/Gearbox first person shooter. Tests were done at three resolutions and using pixel shader 2.0. Here are the scores.



Both cards run pretty close with the All-in-Wonder 9600XT pulling out farther ahead at higher resolutions.



Splinter Cell is Ubi Soft’s third person stealth game that uses a modified Unreal Tournament engine. We used Beyond3D’s demo and the latest patch for Splinter Cell to run the tests.



The All-in-Wonder 9600XT pulls ahead again in this test.



Tournament 2003 was run with [H]ardOCP’s little utility. Tests were run with high quality and at three resolutions. Most tests were consistent in terms of performance difference between the two across the board so I’ll just show the scores for DM-Phobos2 flyby.



No matter what the resolution here, the All-in-Wonder Radeon 9600XT absolutely flies in Unreal Tournament 2003. With Unreal Tournament 2004 recently releaed, I’m interested to see how it holds up and we’ll be looking at that once the game is in my hands. In any case, the card is more than enough to run UT2K3.




The full version of X2: The Threat is used here at Gaming Nexus. The benchmark goes through various outer space environments with different ship architectures and sizes. Shadows were turned on and three resolutions were tested.



Like most of the previous tests, the All-in-Wonder 9600XT pushes ahead of the Radeon 9600XT due to the clock and memory speed increase.



Finally, we have Final Fantasy Online as the final game benchmark. The benchmark takes you through various environments with some dancing characters.




For the anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering test, I ran X2: The Threat through three settings at 1024x768. Here’s what came out of it:



Not surprisingly, the All-in-Wonder 9600XT performs a little better when turning on some image enhancing functions.

In all tests, the card doesn’t pull ahead of the Radeon 9600XT by that much but it does so nevertheless. Using the card to play a variety of games from Command and Conquer: Generals to some current ones like Unreal Tournament 2004, the card did really well and produced great image quality.

The product is pretty aggressively priced to allow for those who want a good gaming card and multimedia capabilities to not have to break the bank to get one. I applaud ATI for upping the speed of the card a bit. I remember the days when the AIW line was crippled compared to the same regular card of the same chipset. Those days are long gone and the opposite has happened in fact with the speed bump. Remote Wonder II is a great product and should work at the 60 foot advertised range for most. Running even faster than a stock Radeon 9600XT the All-in-Wonder 9600XT gives you the best of both worlds (multimedia, gaming) at a very attractive price.





A-
Sporting one of the best midrange chipsets for gaming, the All-in-Wonder 9600XT gives you multimedia capabilties and even better performance than a stock 9600XT.