I've had my Radeon 9600 Pro graphics card since 2005, and the card has been with me through 3 PCs! This introductory sentence should tell you two things straight away. First of all, this is not a brand new graphics card, and second of all, it is a reliable and rock solid card!
I've had many graphics cards throughout my life, the highlights being my first 3DFX Voodoo 16mb card, from when 3d hardware accelleration cards were starting to make it into the consumer market in a major way, the Radeon 9600 Pro I am reviewing here, and my newer Ati Radeon HD card. Interestingly, I am still using the Radeon 9600 Pro today in one of my PCs, and I would still be using it in my main PC had it not been for the fact that the 9600 card has AGP aperture, while my newest PC requires PCI-E. I am, however, using the 9600 in my second PC, which I am still using today.
The card has 512mb of RAM, VGA and DVI connectors, support for simultanous use of 2 monitors and TV-out. It has a dedicated cooler and fan. Although I haven't had the opportunity to test out the use of 2 simultanous monitors, I have used both the VGA and DVI connectors, one at the time, and it has all been plug and play. The TV out function is uncomplicated and works out of the box as expected. Obviously, the very latest games might not run on this card, however, I have played quite graphically demanding games, like Oblivion, with this graphics card, and performance was flawless. I keep this card in my secondary computer so that I can play games on that computer, as most of them would not run with the stock card. This ensures I can play games like aforementioned Oblivion, Quake 3, Half-Life2, Max Payne, several GTA games and others that escape my memory. If I am not mistaken, I don't think new computers support AGP aperture any more, I think they are all PCI-E these days. Because of this the 9600 can be seen in context of the hardware that goes with it. As far as AGP graphics cards go, if you find yourself in need of one, I would recommend this card, and if your processor and RAM is adequate, the 9600 does perform well for the games you would expect to run on the card, such as the ones mentioned above.
ATI provide the same driver software for all their cards. This includes a program were you can make adjustments to colours and performance options. So, both for my primary PC with a new ATI card and my secondary PC with the 9600, I am using the same drivers and the same software. I've never experienced any problems of any sorts with any of my ATI graphics cards. This can easily be taken for granted, however, recently having had gone through a headache trying to install drivers for an Nvidia card on a laptop, I feel I need to stress this point. ATI in general, also regarding the 9600, has been a striaght forward and easy process, completely free of any issues whatsoever.
Initially the new price of the card was around £130. It was then targeted at the mid to high end of the market. Today it can't be bought new, but if anyone on the second hand market is in need of a decent AGP graphics card, this would be worth considering.
Obviously, the majority of readers today will have onboard graphics on their mainboard, and if they have or wish to buy a dedicated graphics card, most of us will have PCI-E slots. The Ati Radeon 9600 Pro requires an AGP slot, and would hence be incompatible. However, in the event that you may have a PC with an AGP slot and you want a bit more juice from your system in terms of graphics performance, I would recommend this card if you could find it reasonably priced second hand. I am still using mine today. I was considering to sell mine, but instead decided to upgrade the graphics in my secondary computer, which does have an AGP slot. This ensure I can run that computer with a higher resolution and that I can play some games on that computer.
This is an excellent graphics card, however, i don't think alot of people are looking at this card with the long term in mind. This card currently performs slightly slower then the Radeon 9500P, in most tests. I say "most" tests because it does out perform the R9500P in some cases. The card averages out to be fairly even with the Radeon 9500P overall. I think this card at later dates will pull ahead of the Radeon 9500P with newer drivers and future games. Both ATI and nVIDIA have had this problem before. Releasing cards optimized for future technology, that lags behind in current tests. But then blaze ahead once games start using, and supporting it's optimizationsOverall, the Radeon 9600P is an excellent card, but its label is a little misconceiving to the average consumer, especially since the Radeon 9600P can't beat its older brother. Still, its good to see that ATI is moving their cards over to the .13 micron process and that the card can still offer admirable performance. It will be interesting to see how this card competes against NVIDIA's 5600U, as that will be ATI's direct competition in this segment. The question is, should you go out and buy this card? My answer to that is...well it depends...If you currently have a 9500 or better, there is obviously absolutely no need for this card. Moreover, if you're looking to upgrade and can manage to find a 9500P before ATI phases them out, you'd be much better off buying that, as it is still the performance king in this segment. If you don't fall in either of those groups and you're looking for a card with good performance and a decent price, then look no further. Overall, this card is a good performer, and is more then enough to run most of today's games. And I think this is a perfectly good option for value gamers. Whether it be running default settings or utilizing higher quality imaging, the Radeon 9600 Pro has more than enough power t
o spare. Those looking to have solid frame-rates without a large price-tag are nearly forced to look at this card as it represents an excellent price/performance ratio.