9800 GTX board analysis
Despite its similarities with the 8800 GTS 512MB, the GeForce 9800 GTX brings with it yet another board design and cooler for NVIDIA.
The most obvious change is the addition of a second SLI connector. This extra SLI connector is required for running 3-Way SLI. The other big change youíll notice is the additional 6-pin PCIe power connector located on the right edge of the board.
NVIDIA states that the GeForce 9800 GTX can draw up to 156 watts at peak load. In comparison, the max board power of the 8800 GTS 512MB is just shy of 150 watts. The second connector is needed because each PCIe connector can only run up to 75W, and the PCIe interface itself also maxes out at 75W. This provides a total of 150W; just 6 watts shy of what the 9800 GTX needs. Rather than turning down the clocks to compensate, NVIDIA added the second PCIe connector. NVIDIA has also added a SPDIF connector to the GeForce 9800 GTX located near the PCIe power connectors. This is needed for sending audio over HDMI, and must then be hooked up to the SPDIF header located on your motherboard or sound card (9800 GTX board partners include the SPDIF cable youíll need to accomplish this).
Like other GeForce boards, the 9800 GTX is equipped with two dual-link HDCP-compliant DVI connectors as well as a 7-pin analog video-out port that supports S-Video directly, plus composite and component (YPrPb) outputs via adapter. The card also supports HDMI when paired with a DVI-to-HDMI adapter.
The cooling unit used on the 9800 GTX is very similar to the cooler NVIDIA first introduced on the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB last year. The cooler is a dual-slot design with the fan mounted lower than the rest of the body of the heatsink. This change provides additional clearance around the fan, improving airflow when 9800 GTX cards are housed next to one another for SLI.
The cardís fan is a variable speed unit that adjusts RPMs based on temperature, the hotter the GPU gets, the higher the fan spins up. Fortunately the fan runs quiet, even when the GPU is overclocked and running under load. Like many other dual-slot coolers from NVIDIA, hot air from the GPU is exhausted out the back of the system case.
The GeForce 9800 GTX supports NVIDIAís HybridPower technology. HybridPower is an energy saving feature that powers down the GPU when it isnít being used. HybridPower-compatible motherboards havenít been released yet, so we havenít had a chance to test this technology out firsthand, but it is a great idea that should appeal to enthusiasts, as well as the HTPC crowd. SLI users for instance should see enormous benefits, as both cards can be completely shut down for non-gaming applications.
The retail GeForce 9800 GTX cards
So far weíve received retail GeForce 9800 GTX cards from BFG, EVGA, and XFX. All GeForce 9800 GTX manufacturers are being required to stick with NVIDIAís reference 9800 GTX board design, cooling, and clock speeds, so thereís no differentiation between the various GeForce 9800 GTX cards from a hardware perspective.
Physically, the only difference separating the three manufacturers represented here today is the sticker used on the cardís cooling. EVGA uses a sticker that encircles the entire fan shroud. BFG and XFX use stickers that cover the front of the cooler. Thatís really the only difference youíll find between the cards themselves. This means that other traits such as price, game bundle, availability, and tech support/warranty will play the most important role.
When it comes to warranty and tech support, the three manufacturers represented here are really in a class of their own among all
graphics card manufacturers, AMD or NVIDIA-based: BFG, EVGA, and XFX all provide 24/7 toll-free tech support for North American card owners, and all three provide lifetime warranty programs. The EVGA and XFX lifetime warranties allow modding, say for instance you want to swap out the stock GeForce cooler for a liquid-based setup. As long as you donít physically damage the card in the process, your warranty isnít voided.
With their double lifetime warranty program, XFX actually goes one step beyond the traditional lifetime warranty, offering lifetime coverage to the person who originally owns the card, as well as its second owner.
One unique feature EVGA has enjoyed over other manufacturers is their Step Up trade-in program. Step Up allows EVGA card owners to trade in their existing EVGA graphics card for a new one, provided the upgrade occurs within 90 days of the original card purchase. Now BFG has entered the game with their own trade-in program for North American users. Under their trade in program, BFG card owners can trade in their card within the first 100 days of the initial card purchase.
In terms of pricing, all three cards included here officially carry an MSRP of $349.99. The XFX GeForce 9800 GTX comes with a game bundle (Company of Heroes), while the other two cards donít. XFX also includes two DVI adapters and an HDMI adapter with their GeForce 9800 GTX card, as well as a SPDIF cable, two power adapters, a component video output block, and S-Video cable. Meanwhile, the EVGA e-GeForce 9800 GTX ships with two DVI adapters, two power adapters, component video cable, and S-Video cable, but HDMI and SPDIF cables arenít included.
The BFG card came with the fewest accessories, with BFG opting to include one DVI adapter, a component video cable, S-Video cable, and power adapter.