The Radeon 9600 series is the mid range series. It competes, or rather competed with Nvidia's GeForce FX 5600. However the Radeon 9600 was such a better performer that Nvidia were forced into releasing the FX 5700 just to remain competitive in the mid range section of the market.
ATI cards work along the lines of the bigger the number then the faster the card. So the 9600 series is better than the budget 9200 series and slower than the premium 9800 series. Besides that, each graphics chip comes in several versions. There is the standard version, the faster Pro version, the cheaper and slower SE version and the fastest, extreme XT version.
This is the 9600 XT, and hence this is simply the fastest mid range graphics card there is. It also has 128 MB of dedicated video RAM which means that this card should be easily capable of running games from 2003 to 2005 but may struggle thereafter.
Sapphire are a well known and respected brand. This card provides great performance, and whilst this one may not include it, at one point this card was bundled with a voucher for a free copy of Half Life 2.
The card itself is still a great piece of equipment, but there is better out there, both in performance and in value for money.
I aquired the 256 MB version of the Sapphire 9600 XT to replace an ATI 9000 All in Wonder card a few months back.
The card doesn't come with an awful lot of stuff. You get the card itself, an S-Video cable, a Catylist CD and a "Fuelled by Sapphire" case badge and that's about it. The 128 meg version comes with Half Life 2 but is actually more expensive than the 256 meg version as a result.
This card is nice, it has a fan for cooling but it is fortunately very quiet and you probably wont notice it. Another good thing about this card is it can get enough power from AGP alone, it doesn't need a Molex connector. I'm using it in a Shuttle Small Form Factor PC so power consumption Another factor is overheating. I am sure overheating played a part in the death of my previous card, but this one seems to run nice and cool in the case, even when heavily loaded with a 3D game. The 9600 XT supports AGP 8x. While some people have reported problems with this AGP speed, I have not run into any problems after several months of use.
I have a TFT monitor which has, like most 17 inch TFTs, a native resolution of 1280 x 1024. For desktop work, running the XT at these resolutions is fine and the results with a DVI connection between the card and the monitor are stunning. But when it comes to playing 3D games you may find that running at 1280 x 1024 will overtax the card a little and you wont get framerates that are quite up to the job. I found this to be the case in Unreal Tournament 2003. Dropping the resolution to 1024x768 overcame this problem but then the monitor has to interpolate the image so you lose some detail. If you have a CRT monitor this wont be a problem.
The Catylist drivers provide a dynamic overclocking feature called Overdrive. This system accelerates the graphics card's core to about 525 MHz maximum. It also monitors the core temperature and if it starts to climb too high then the clock speed is automatically throttled back, the more the card is overheating the more throttling will occur, right the way down to the card's native speed of 400 MHz if necessary. In theory this is a nice feature and certainly a big win for the marketing department but in reality you'll see very little performance gain from the overclocking. On the bright side the temperateure monitoring will make it impossible to break your card so you've got nothing to lose by turning it on.
All in all the 9600 is a good card with good performance and power and heat requirements that make it safe for use in mini PCs. It would have been nice if the framerate at high resolutions had been better though.