The high-end of the video card market may get all the press, but the money is made at the mid-range and entry-level. At a more economical price, sales are higher, market penetration is greater, and OEM deals are much easier to come by. This makes cards like the ATI Radeon 9800 XT necessary to fill the enthusiast sector, but a company had better have a compelling video solution for the more budget-conscious as well.
ATI has done well in the mainstream area, first with the incredible Radeon 9500 Pro, and then later using a more economical 0.13-micron RV350 core to power the Radeon 9600 Pro. ATI is the performance leader in this area as well, but let it be said the company does not rest on its laurels. Right on the heels of the Radeon 9800 XT release comes a similarly designed Radeon 9600 XT, which features an upgraded core speed and increased gaming power. ATI also hasn't forgotten that even mainstream gamers want to squeeze as much juice as possible out of their video cards, so the Radeon 9600 XT has been designed with the same overclocking options as the Radeon 9800 XT, but at a different price-performance mark.
ATI has followed the same basic format of the Radeon 9800 XT, and have created a new, mid-range powerhouse that is basically a higher clocked revision of the popular Radeon 9600 Pro. The Radeon 9600 XT is clocked at 500 MHz core and 600 MHz DDR memory speeds, which is a core upgrade of 100 MHz, compared to the 400 MHz core/600 MHz memory format of the Radeon 9600 Pro. ATI used an enhanced core technology for the Radeon 9800 XT, and a similar core tweak to the 0.13-micron RV350 allows higher speeds with the Radeon 9600 XT.
The overall card design remains quite consistent, with the main upgrade being a heftier, silver-colored heatsink-fan on the Radeon 9600 XT. Other than the upgraded cooling hardware, the card itself is unchanged, and features 128-MB of DDR memory, along with VGA, DVI-I and S-Video outputs. As with all RV350-based cards, the Radeon 9600 XT does not require an external power source.
The Radeon 9600 XT also features ATI's OverDrive technology. This allows automatic overclocking through the drivers, and is similar to on-demand 4WD on an SUV; it's there when you need it, but you cannot enable it fulltime. Core and system temperatures, along with application demand, will determine the end-user speed. OverDrive for the Radeon 9600 XT is not currently enabled in the Catalyst 3.8 drivers, but ATI's white papers state a top-end core speed of 523 MHz or higher.