What a difference a year makes. In our last graphics cards Labs, the 9600 GT was the knight in shining armour, a last-minute intervention to steal the award and the glory away from the best ATI had to offer. But in present company, it struggles against Nvidia's own cluttered line-up as much as the opposition.
With 64 stream processors, a 650MHz core clock and 512MB of memory at 900MHz, it's now more of a budget card than the mid-range gamer it once was.
In our tests, it couldn't quite manage Crysis at high settings, averaging an almost but not really playable 24fps, but it does pack just enough power to play Far Cry 2 at the same high level - a score of 33fps should have you playing smoothly at all but the most graphically intensive moments. Call of Juarez was beyond its reach at all but low settings, but Call of Duty 4 - a far easier game to run - was playable at all levels.
At $147, the 9600 GT has to compete with ATI's $150 HD 4670 (we'll discount the GSO from serious consideration). In Crysis and Call of Duty 4 the GT has the beating of the ATI card, although the roles are reversed in Far Cry 2.
The argument between the two is over a mere $3, and it could go either way, but it's put into perspective by the next cards up in the price order. If you want to game smoothly, a mere $44 extra will get you the more powerful HD 4830, and the performance boost that gives - similar to that of the $259 9800 GT as well - is certainly worth stretching your budget that little bit further for.