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Gigabyte Maya 9500 PRO - getting acquainted
Gigabyte are well known for their motherboards. Packed with features and at an impressive price point Gigabyte have managed to strike a good balance of price and performance. Being one of the largest ATI board partners has helped Gigabyte propel themselves into the video card market and this; their Maya 9500 PRO is a popular board for many reasons.

Following our review of ATI's Radeon 9600 PRO (and others around the 'Net), many people have been trying to get their hands on a 9500 PRO before they disappear from the shelves. It's easy to underestimate the 9600 PRO and there are many things going for it, but the 9500 PRO has proven to be one of the most popular cards on the market in the past 5 months. Why? It's price/performance ratio was good to start off with. The many well publicized modifications that can be done to the 9500 PRO in order for it to operate at 9700 levels is another reason.

The Maya 9500 is based on the now legendary R300 GPU from ATI. Originally this powered the 9700 and 9700 PRO to the top of the performance pile last year and made NVIDIA look rather amateurish. As a more cost effective alternative we saw a cut down version of the R300 appear in 9500 boards. It promised much the same hardware support as the 9700s (DirectX 9.0) but at much less cost. The drawback was core and memory frequencies along with the memory bandwidth taking a hit. In the 9500 "non-PRO" we also saw the number of pipelines drop to 4, thus causing fillrates to drop.

R300 "Pro" : Core - 325MHz | Memory - 310MHz (620MHz DDR)
R300 "non-Pro" : Core - 275MHz | Memory - 270MHz (540MHz DDR)

The above speeds were taken from our Sapphire 9700 review. The frequencies we see on stated as R300 "non-Pro" ends up in the 9500 PRO.

Initially this was met by a mixed reaction, and while the price point was tempting enough it wasn't until people started to get wind of the modifications that could be done to enhance the performance further, that the 9500 PRO became a rare commodity. The rarity of these cards also added a certain novelty value along with an extra sense of being something special.

While the 9600 PRO overclocks very well, and can exceed 500MHz core speed without the need for a Geforce FX style heatsink, it's 4 pipe architecture still can't match the 9700 in most benchmarks. Of course this is not a major compliant from a card that doesn't pretend to be a 9700/9700 PRO, but some say the real aim of the 9600 is to replace the 9500. It's no secret that the 9500/9500 PRO is costing ATI far too much to make, and we've also confirmed this from a source within a board partner.

So, the clock has started ticking on these cards, and today we look at Gigabyte's Maya 9500 PRO.

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On the outside you are presented with a nicely designed box, on the front you have all the important information, DirectX 9.0 support and the amount of RAM that is present amongst other useful tit-bits. On the rear Gigabyte has gone full-on with the technical details, even showing a data path diagram of the internals from the R300 GPU. We're not quite sure whether this is a good idea for general customers, but if all else fails, dazzling technophobes with technical babble usually does the trick.

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Inside the packaging isn't bad, and the card is firmly held in place by the cardboard flaps, although parts underneath are able to slide about with great ease. A little more padding to the graphics card would be better, rather than just being firmly held in place. However it's not the worst bit of packaging we've seen and the card certainly survived it's 10,000 mile journey from Taiwan in perfect working condition.

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The usual array of cables and games, with the ever present Serious Sam 2 are included. Sadly for ATI and Gigabyte there isn't a good DirectX 9 game to bundle that can really show off the unit. All the CDs come in a nice plastic case which gives that little added touch of quality and thought.

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Straight away we recognize the heatsink. The unit we see on a 9700/9700 PRO card is present here too. Not a great surprise since the 9500 PRO is based on the same GPU as the 9700, but Gigabyte has decided to add a little glamour to the cooling unit by spraying it in a shade of gold. We think it goes fairly well with the blue PCB.
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Here you can see the Maya 9500 PRO lining up against a 9700 PRO from ATI. There isn't a whole lot of difference between the two units apart from colours. One major difference between the ATI board and the Maya is the location of the BGA RAM modules and subsequently the 4-pin power connector. We will discuss this at greater length a little later on.

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Looking around the card you see many solder pads left bare, especially near the backplane. The board is busier near the end, with a number of towering capacitors being present. Usually we expect to see BGA RAM chips there.

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Taking a closer look at the cooling that is present, we see that it isn't a large unit and it's fan doesn't produce a great deal of noise. Underneath we found a pink thermal pad which had some adhesive properties. Replacing this with your preferred compound would be recommended in order to enhance overclockability. The heatsink may be small, but you aren't going to suffer any PCI slot horrors.

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Having the BGA RAM modules placed at the top of the board, we see an interesting and novel problem arise. The power connector is hanging over the first module, and should you wish to cool these modules, a heatsink or waterblock would be unable to cover the first module whole. Certainly when a power connection is made to the card, getting a heatsink on the first module would be almost impossible.

This isn't a major issue if you do not intend to overclock this card, but sadly for those that do, this is a major shortfall.

We've already discussed at length the R300 core and it's features in previous reviews. Here we are intending just to focus on the card itself. If you want more information regarding the features that are present in the R300 core, we recommend you read this article.
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