Pros: Affordable, high performance, great set of user configurable tools.
Cons: You have to pay for technical support after 30 days.
The Bottom Line: The Radeon 9200Se is a winner. Not only does the sub-$100 offering from ATI fit my budget, but it delivers outstanding performance with plenty of room to grow.
Authors Note: This is one in series of reviews I am posting evaluating the hardware products I placed into my new home built computer. I am hopeful that this will help others make an informed choice when embarking on a similar adventure.
It was time. Time once again the change out the old and usher in the new. I am of course referring to my primary desktop computer which had become so unstable that I was almost afraid to touch it. The self-built PC had been giving me fits and starts since I built it some two years ago. Finally, after countless hardware swaps, and Operating Systems (OS) reinstalls I gave up and decided to build a brand new system centered on the AOpen AX4C Max Mother-Board (MB), the Pentium 4 2.4GB, 533Mhz FSB 875P (Chipset) Canterwood Central Processor Unit (CPU), and the ATIRadeon 9200Se 128MB AGP 8x (Dual Display; analog & digital output) graphics card.
I am a loyal fan of ATI graphic cards and I have used ATI cardsprincipally the Radeon 7000 Seriesin all of the systems I have put together for myself, family, friends, and clients over the last two years. And all have utilized the AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) form factor. But I have outgrown the Radeon 7000; I wanted more performance, more memory, and dual display capability all for an affordable price, and wanted to stay with ATI, a reliable brand I have come to trust. After doing the research, I settled on the Radeon 9200Se, the lower end of a trio of cards (which also includes the 9200 & 9200 Pro) geared toward entry-level graphics card purchasers who do not need the power of a true gaming card, but want the performance those high end cards have come to symbolize.
Technical Interlude: The ABCs of AGP
If you have an available AGP slot in your computer (it is usually the small black or brown slot in close proximity to the CPU), you'll want to select an AGP video card over a PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) video card, because AGP offer much faster throughput. Lets spend a few moments discussing AGP.
The AGP standard was originally designed by Intel for Pentium II based motherboards. AGP can deliver a peak bandwidth 4 times greater then PCI using advanced bus-mastering techniques. AGP is designed to enable the graphics cards to execute texture maps directly from system memory instead of forcing it to pre-load the texture data into the graphics card's local memory first. As a result, graphics cards using AGP present a much smoother frame rate and the ability to display 3D graphics and video that is much more realistic and much at a much higher quality than heretofore found on a PC. Such performance used to be the province of high-end graphics workstations.
Though AGP is geared towards the Pentium class processor and its Dual Independent Bus (DIB) architecture, you do not need a Pentium processor to take advantage AGP, since the use of AGP doesn't depend on the CPU type; i.e. AMD motherboards can also utilize the form factor.
Details details details
Optimized for Pentium 4 SSE2 and AMD Althon 3Dnow! Processor instructions, the Radeon 9200Se supports 3D resolutions (32-bit color) up to a 2048x1536 monitor resolution. The Radeon 9200Se is the slightly less capable brother of the Radeon 9200 which utilizes a core clock speed of a 200MHz Graphics Processor Unit (GPU) vs. the 250MHz GPU of the 9200. Also, the Radeon 9200Se has a 64-bit memory bus, while the Radeon 9200 utilizes a 128-bit memory bus; the Radeon 9200Se supports 333MHz DDR memory, while the 9200 make use of 400MHz DDR. The Radeon 9200 Pro, by comparison, has a 275MHz GPU, utilizes 550MHz DDR memory, and 128 bits of memory bandwidth. All three cards support AGP 8x, DirectX 8.1/9.0 & Open GL 1.3 features. And the Radeon 9200Se also supports 4x and 2x.
The Radeon 9200Se rear panel outputs include straight analog video out, Digital Visual Interface (DVI) outputideal for the newest breed of flat panel displaysand analog S-video out for DVD playback to an audio/ video receiver, or directly into a television. The Radeon 9200Sealso supports NTSC/PAL TV/VCR output functionality, and full-frame rate & full screen MPEG-2/DVD video playback.
Although its price ($69.00 retail) is modest in stature, the Radeon 9200Se is still a full-height video graphics card. Because the memoryand covering heat sinkare positioned along the back end of the card, it cant utilize a half-height design, which may prevent it from populating some small-form-factor desktops.
Installation of the Radeon 9200Se is a pretty straight forward affair; the card sits comfortably in the AGP slot. Once locked into place the Radeon 9200Sewas ready to use.
Once the OS was in place I installed the software for the Radeon 9200Se, opting to skip most of the gee-wiz extras ATI bundles with the card, and choosing instead to install just the drivers and control panel. By default the control panel will install itself on the desktop, in a configuration not unlike the MS Office tool bar. This can be annoying so I banished the tool to the tray area. Of course the same controls can be accessed via the display properties /settings /advanced under control panel on any Windows 9.xx/ 2000/ XP platform.
The controls themselves are a mixed bag of the useful and not so useful; i.e. useful if you know what you are manipulating, not so useful if you dont. ATI specific controls include:
Smartgart: automatically performs a variety of bus tests to determine the optimal setting for the graphics card. AGP speed and fast write can be manipulated from here. 3D: setting for Open GL and Direct 3D can be set here. VPU Recover: allows the ATI display driver to reset the graphics accelerator when and if it stops responding to commands from the display driver. Enabling the VPU recover setting will, in most cases, allow the graphics card to recover without a system re-boot. Displays: allows you to switch between Monitor, TV, and Digital device, if multiple displays are connected to the card. lows you to set Gamma, Brightness, and Contrast, as well as configure profiles for the screen; i.e. Desktop or Full Screen 3D. Options: allows you to set various drive and software tool options. Overlay: controls the look and feel of video playback; these setting are automatically set when any video playback begins.
Most of these settings I have left at default.
I am loving this card! Even without the installation of the ATI specific drivers, the cards performance was exceptional, however the drivers deliver an imposing set of tools which give me unmatched control over my graphics environmentif like I stipulated above you know what you are manipulating.
The Radeon 9200Se is the best video graphics card I have ever owned, bar none. The picture is clear, crisp, bright, and well defined; the colors are vibrant and true to life; the text is sharp and remarkably in-focus and crisp; and the monitor flickers not a bit even at refresh rate of 60Hz. I am seeing images in a whole new light with the Radeon 9200Se; the colors no longer blend together in a confusing mix of off-hued pixels; indeed colors are realistic down to the most minute of details.
As I stated earlier I am not a gamer, nor a graphics designer, so I will come nowhere close to putting this card through its true paces, or realizing the full potential of the AGP technology. Nonetheless I like the feeling of knowing that I have barley touched the potential of the card, that as I place new demands on it, it will deliver without hesitation.
Video, VCD and DVD playback are the most impressive improvement over the Radeon 7000. Video playback through the Radeon 9200Seis outstanding at the standard size, and I am happy to report that image quality suffers only minutely at full screen with DVD, VCD, .ASF, .MOV, or Mpeg formats.
In the Radeon 9200Se I have picked a winner. Not only does the sub-$100 offering from ATI fit my budget, but it delivers outstanding performance with plenty of room to grow. ATIis one of the oldest and most trusted names in computer graphics, and the Radeon 9200Secontinues their tradition of offering superior products at a reasonable price. If you are looking for the perfect mate for Windows 9.xx / 2000 /XP below $100.00, look no further than the ATIRadeon 9200Se.
Radeon 9200Se Specifications & System Requirements:
Intel® Pentium® 4/III/II/Celeron, AMD® K6/Duron/Athlon®/Athlon XP® or compatible with AGP 2X (3.3V), 4X (1.5V), 8X (0.8v) or Universal AGP 3.0 bus configuration (2X/4X/8X). 64MB of system memory Installation software requires CD-ROM drive DVD playback requires DVD drive
Memory configuration 128MB of DDR memory Radeon 9200SE available with 64MB or 128MB DDR
Operating system support Windows® XP Windows® 2000 Windows® Me Windows® 98/98SE
Display support Register compatible with VGA Supports VESA PnP compatible displays BIOS compatible with VESA for super VGA DDC1/2b/2b+ monitor support VESA Display Power Management Support Separate horizontal and vertical synchronization at TTL levels
Radeon 9200Se Features:
Charisma Engine II
Four parallel rendering pipelines process up to 1.1 billion pixels per second. High performance 2nd generation hardware transform & lighting engine. Advanced vertex shader support for the latest programmable effects.
Full support for DirectX ® 8.1 programmable pixel and vertex shaders in hardware. Complete feature set also supported in OpenGL ® via extensions. Programmable shaders provide enhanced 3D effects in over 100 existing and upcoming game titles.
Image quality enhancement features for Direct3D and OpenGL ® applications. Programmable full-scene anti-aliasing supports 2 to 6 samples with user selectable performance and quality modes. Advanced anisotropic filtering supports 2 to 16 samples for high quality texture rendering with minimal performance impact.
Video Immersion II
Delivers industry-leading DVD playback. Integrated MPEG-2 decode including iDCT and motion compensation for top quality DVD with lowest CPU usage. Unique Adaptive per-pixel de-interlacing feature combines the best elements of the "bob" and "add-field" (weave) techniques. YUV to RGB color space conversion. Back-end scaler delivers top quality playback. 4-tap horizontal and vertical filtering. Filtered display of images up to 1920 pixels wide. Hardware mirroring for flipping video images in video conferencing systems. Supports 8-bit alpha blending and video keying for effective overlay of video and graphics.