ATI has a definite contender at every level of the video card market, and although the lion's share of the press goes to the high-end models, the mid-range is also lucrative and hotly contested. This is the area where the various Radeon 9600-based cards really take charge, from the value Radeon 9600SE to the versatile All-in-Wonder Radeon 9600, all the way up to the top-end Radeon 9600XT. ASUS has also been making waves since the company embraced the ATI brand name, and their product line includes a wide range of cards, including Radeon 9800XT, 9800 Pro, 9600SE, and 9600XT models. The ASUS Radeon 9600XT/TVD 128-MB sits at the top end of the ASUS mid-range video card line, and along with the requisite 3D performance and features, also tosses VIVO functionality into the mix.
The ASUS Radeon 9600XT/TVD 128-MB is a standard Radeon 9600XT card in many ways, but also differs from the standard design in others. The card features a 500 MHz core speed and a 600 MHz DDR memory clock, both of which adhere to the ATI reference specifications. The card itself is definitely not reference design, and ASUS has slapped on a very attractive, and functional, silver heatsink-fan/memory heatsink combo. This is the first indication that the ASUS Radeon 9600XT/TVD is built with overclockers in mind, and the heatsink is also formed in the ASUS lettering, adding a bit of flash to the overall package.
ASUS has also added in VIVO functionality, for video input and output. The card's backpanel includes VGA, DVI-I and VIVO ports, and utilizes a break-out box (similar to the AiW ATI models) with S-Video and composite connectors. This is a much better solution that those inexpensive video in/out cables, and the break-out box can be placed on your PC or desktop for easy access.
It's also a blast to open up an ASUS retail box and see what extras are included. This time, along with the ASUS Radeon 9600XT/TVD 128-MB card, we find the VIVO break-out box, a DVI-I-to-VGA dongle, a quick install guide, a full hardware install guide, a software guide, and a CD carrying case full of driver, utility and game CDs. This CD pack includes utilities like ASUS GameFace (real-time A/V communications), ASUS Digital VCR (video capture and playback), and ASUS Smart Doctor II (overclocking, fan/voltage monitoring, etc.), along with multimedia programs like Ulead Cool 3D, Photo Express 4.9 SE, and PowerDirector Pro.
The bundled game selection is also impressive, and features full retail copies of GunMetal and Battle Engine Aquila, along with a 6-in-1 game demo CD. Of course, no ATI-based game bundle would be complete without a redeemable coupon for Half-Life 2. The ASUS coupon is the standard deal, which you can send in for an actual CD, or use to access the online STEAM game service. Once HL2 ships, this offer becomes null and void, and if you scratch the STEAM access code on the sticker, then the video card is non-returnable.
ASUS includes some nifty features and utilities with their latest video cards, including GameFace, Smart Cooling, Digital VCR, and Video Security, but the real meat and potatoes is the Smart Doctor II program. This program includes tabs for voltage and temperature monitoring, along with ASUS' own brand of dynamic overclocking/OverDrive (HyperDrive) and old school manual video card overclocking.
Smart Doctor II is a useful program, as it not only monitors system and video card voltages, temperatures, and fan speeds, but also provides the base for overclocking. Like the ASUS 9800XT card, the Radeon 9600XT/TVD does not support OverDrive through the Catalyst drivers, and when loaded, the OverDrive tab will not be present. This is due to the non-reference design of the Radeon 9600XT/TVD, and all dynamic and manual overclocking needs to be done through the Smart Doctor II program.