XFX 9500 GT Alpha Dog Edition review

£48
Price when reviewed

While recent graphics card releases have mostly all been hugely powerful gaming cards – or products that offer stunning power for a surprisingly low price – the latest offering from Nvidia is a little more sedate.

The GeForce 9500 GT is a low-end option and, as such, is meant more as a Media Center card than a pure gaming pixel-pusher. However, XFX has seen fit to try and eke a bit more power out of the modestly-specified GPU by introducing an Alpha Dog version.

The performance gains have been achieved through overclocking: the 550MHz core clock speed of the stock card has been improved to 680MHz – faster than the ATI Radeon HD 4850 with its 625MHz core clock. The shader clock has increased from 1,400MHz to a more respectable 1,700MHz, and the memory now runs at 1,900MHz – the original RAM was clocked at 1,600MHz.

Other specifications, though, hint at the more modest power available from the 9500 GT. There are only 32 stream processors, compared to the 112 from the 9800 GT, for instance, and half as much RAM as in most top-level cards, with only 256MB of GDDR3.

As such, gaming performance isn’t fantastic. In our low-quality Crysis benchmark the XFX card managed a respectable 63fps, although this figure dropped to 30fps when the graphics were set at medium-quality with a resolution of 1,280 x 1,024.

It may not match up to more expensive cards – the next GPU in the range, the 9600 GT, managed 50fps in our medium test – but it’s perfectly respectable from a £48 card. It’ll still manage to play most modern titles if you’re willing to tone down the graphical pizzazz.

Another addition to the 9500 GT is the inclusion of improved PhysX capabililties. While this has been something of a damp squib in the past – few games have offered meaningful support for physics-based graphical extras – the latest Nvidia drivers enable PhysX in all 8000-series cards and beyond, so gamers may finally see the worth in having added particle effects.

Whether you’re swayed by PhysX, though, will be determined by the games you play. While there’s some big hitters on the list – including Gears of War, Unreal Tournament 3 and new arrivals Mass Effect, Medal of Honour: Airborne and Pirates of the Burning Sea – it’ll be largely wasted unless you already own these games or are planning to buy them. In any case, we’re not convinced that PhysX – for now at least – will provide anything more than a cosmetic improvement to most supported titles.

It’s not fair to merely concentrate on the 9500 GT’s gaming performance alone, though, as a cheaper GPU can provide plenty of benefits in a media centre system, too. While top games at high settings are beyond the Alpha Dog’s reach, there’s more than enough power here to encode video or plough through Blu-ray movies without any problems.

It’s also worth noting that the pair of DVI-I sockets on the card are both HDCP compliant, and it’s a smaller, quieter card than we’re used to seeing from Nvidia. Plus the single-height design will fit into a smaller Media Center chassis.

If you’re looking for a card to play the latest games, then, this isn’t ideal: you’ll have pay between £80 and £120 and indulge in a GeForce 9600 GT or Radeon HD 4850.

For a mere £48, though, the Alpha Dog is an impressively powerful card for a media centre or home PC. Sure, if it’s just video you’re after you could spend less, but the overclocked GPU provides more than enough power and, as a bonus, there’s even some remedial gaming ability on top.

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