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Feature Articles

Voodoo Beginnings - 10 Years of GPU Development

By Kenny Yeo - 15 Jan 2009

Timeline: 2003


  • The R300 core in the Radeon 9700 proved to be a smash hit and to build on its success, ATI soon released the Radeon 9500 chipset, aimed at the mid-range market. We got our hands on a Gigabyte MAYA II GV-R9500 Pro 128MB , which we tested. Considering it was only about 30% slower than the 9700 Pro speed-king and that it was, in some instances, faster than a Ti 4600, it was an instant winner.

    The 9500 PRO chipset was ATI's mid-range champion. It was faster, in some instances, than even NVIDIA's TI4600. Furthermore, you could even mod it to give 9700-levels of performance.

    Moreover, there were stories of how a regular 9500 could be modified into a 9700. The basis behind this is that the 9500 is simply the same as a 9700 save for four less rendering pipelines. The four missing pipelines are actually on the regular 9500, just that they have been disabled. So to turn a regular 9500 to a regular 9700, one would in theory just have to enable these four rendering pipelines. Industrious hackers soon found two ways to go about doing this. One is through a simple software hack; the other is to physically modify the card, which, as you can see , requires utmost skill and precision.

  • NVIDIA responded to the Radeon 9700 with the FX 5800. We tested the NVIDIA GeForce FX 5800 Ultra which we aptly nicknamed 'The Dustbuster' (no prizes for guessing why). It was a good attempt, but given its astronomical price and lackluster performance, it never caught on.

 The Dustbuster debuts, much to everyone's disappointment. It was incredibly expensive, yet wasn't much faster than the 9700 PRO, making it a difficult purchase to justify.

  • The FX5800 was eventually improved on, resulting in the FX 5900. We had a MSI NBox N5900 ULTRA in our labs and although we weren't exactly blown away by its performance, it redeemed itself by its very comprehensive package. And you must check out its cooling.

Again, the 5900 Ultra from NVIDIA wasn't exactly ground-breaking, but this card still worthy of a mention because of its radical cooling solution.

  • In the meantime, ATI strengthened its grip on the mid-range market by releasing the Radeon 9600 PRO. The Triplex REDai RADEON 9600 PRO 128MB was one of the best examples. We were especially fond of its funky cooler and all-silver PCB.

    Based on the 9600 PRO chipset, not only was this card a capable performer, it had looks to boot as well. We simply adored the all-silver PCB. Very funky.

    Another excellent example of the 9600 chipset is the GeCube RADEON 9600XT 128MB Extreme Edition . Not only did we give a full five out of five stars, it also garnered our most overclockable award. The memory on a stock card is clocked at 700MHz, but we managed to get ours all the way up to a nausea-inducing 810MHz!

    Needless to say, it achieved stunning results. With the memory overclocked to such levels, it was a whopping 20% faster than most other 9600XT cards and could even go head-to-head with NVIDIA's FX 5800 and FX 5700 Ultra!

This was one of the few cards to ever receive the full 5 stars from us. Not only that, it was also awarded the most overclockable award!

  • Inevitably, with increased performance comes increased heat. MSI's FX5600-VTD128-J (A.C.T.) was one of those graphics cards to employ some radical cooling technology called A.C.T. - Aeronautical Cooling Technology. It did away with the need of the fan, but at the cost of onboard real estate.

Not exactly a fast performer, but this card still got our attention thanks to its radical cooling solution. The Silent-Snake amongst graphics cards then?