ATI's next step

The graphics company announces faster versions of its cards and a deal that will bundle Half-Life 2 with the new cards.

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ATI today announced its newest graphics cards, the Radeon 9800 XT and Radeon 9600 XT. Both are faster versions of the current Radeon 9800 Pro and 9600 Pro and are scheduled to be in stores in October. ATI has also struck a deal with Valve that makes the company the "preferred graphics partner" for Half-Life 2, and those who purchase the two new Radeon cards will receive a free copy of the game when it's released.

The $499 Radeon 9800 XT runs significantly faster than the current card. The core chip speed is 412MHz, and the card is equipped with 256MB of 365MHz DDR2 memory, as compared to 380MHz and 340MHz for the 9800 Pro. Between the raw speed increase and efficiency improvements, ATI expects the new card to have roughly 20 percent better performance than the 9800 Pro. The card also features a new cooling system with a larger, slower fan that's designed to be quieter.

The Radeon 9600 XT will cost less than $200 when it's released this fall. It uses a "low-k" .13-micron design that allows it to be clocked faster and require less power, which means it's quieter and is one of the few current-generation high-performance cards not to require a direct connection to a PC's power supply. ATI said that the chip will run at over 500MHz, and the 128MB of memory will run at over 300MHz.

Both cards have an on-chip temperature sensor that will work with an automatic overclocking feature, called Overdrive, which ATI will release in a driver update near the end of the year. Since card speeds are normally set with a wide safety margin so that they don't malfunction in a very hot room, with Overdrive turned on the chip and memory speeds will increase and be automatically regulated at a level that's faster than the factory settings. ATI suggested that the increases will average around 10 to 15 percent for most situations, and since the overclocking is done in a controlled manner, Overdrive does not void the warranty.

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