Summary: When it was introduced, the GeForce 7800 GTX ran over two times faster than the 6800 Ultra, and the 8800 GTX was 2X faster than the 7800 GTX. So naturally you'd assume today’s GeForce 9800 GTX introduction would bring another revolutionary performance leap. Unfortunately that assumption would be wrong. Read today’s article for the full scoop!
These cards, as well as the GeForce 9600 GT and Radeon HD 3850, have revolutionized the amount of performance gamers can get from a mainstream graphics card. Thanks to their 256-bit memory interface and high clock speeds, these cards are capable of delivering over two times the performance of prior mainstream graphics cards, and under the right circumstances can give high-end GPUs costing over $400 a run for their money at significantly lower price tags.
With these mainstream GPUs delivering such incredible price/performance ratios, gamers and hardware enthusiasts with bigger budgets have been eagerly awaiting the debut of new high-end graphics cards: after all, if AMD and NVIDIA can rewrite the rules when it comes to mainstream performance, they should be able to do the same at the high-end of the market right?
Unfortunately this assumption has so far proven to be incorrect.
Both AMD and NVIDIA’s latest GPU refreshes were a bit of a disappointment. With the Radeon HD 3870 X2, AMD merely slapped two RV670 GPUs on one card, bumped up the clocks slightly, and called it a day, while NVIDIA’s GeForce 9800 GX2 follows the same formula, fusing two G92 GPUs onto one card. And while the GeForce 9800 GX2 is the fastest single graphics card on the market today, even it plays second fiddle to a pair of GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB cards running in SLI.
With this in mind, gamers looking for a high-end card to truly displace the GeForce 8800 GTX and Ultra have been anxiously awaiting today’s release of the GeForce 9800 GTX.
If you fall into this category we’re going to cut to the chase – the 9800 GTX isn’t the GPU you’ve been waiting for. It’s yet another G92 variant, which was an evolutionary progression of NVIDIA’s G80 GPU used in the GeForce 8800 GTX/Ultra last year.
So what clock speeds has NVIDIA chosen for this G92 release? Take a look at the speeds and feeds in this chart:
As you can see, NVIDIA configures the GeForce 9800 GTX with 128 stream processors and a 256-bit memory interface, just like the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB. The key difference is that the core clock speed on the 9800 GTX is 675MHz, 25MHz higher than the 8800 GTS 512MB. Like previous GeForce GPUs, the stream processors run 2.5 times faster than the core clock, resulting in a shader clock speed of 1688MHz, a figure which is 63MHz higher than the 8800 GTS 512MB.
The other aspect of the 9800 GTX that stands out in the chart above is the price. According to NVIDIA, the GeForce 9800 GTX is supposed to sell for $299-$349, which is the exact same figure we’ve been given for the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB! Don’t believe the estimated MSRP for the 9800 GTX in the chart above though, all the board partners we’ve asked have said that their cards will carry an MSRP of $349.99. Now certainly actual street prices could be higher or lower than the MSRP we’ve been given, but we have a feeling that 9800 GTX board prices will be closer to $350 than they’ll be to $300.
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 you’ll 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 you’ll 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 card’s 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 NVIDIA’s HybridPower technology. HybridPower is an energy saving feature that powers down the GPU when it isn’t being used. HybridPower-compatible motherboards haven’t been released yet, so we haven’t 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 we’ve received retail GeForce 9800 GTX cards from BFG, EVGA, and XFX. All GeForce 9800 GTX manufacturers are being required to stick with NVIDIA’s reference 9800 GTX board design, cooling, and clock speeds, so there’s no differentiation between the various GeForce 9800 GTX cards from a hardware perspective.
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 don’t physically damage the card in the process, your warranty isn’t 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 don’t. 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 aren’t 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.
Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650
EVGA nForce 780i SLI motherboard
4GB OCZ DDR2-8500 Platinum
GeForce 8800 GTX
GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB
GeForce 8800 Ultra
GeForce 8800 GT 512MB
GeForce 9800 GX2 1GB
300GB Western Digital Caviar SE
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 1
Company of Heroes 1.71
Crysis High – Direct3D
The card performs basically on par with the GeForce 8800 GTX based on our testing. As a result, the 9800 GTX will replace the GeForce 8800 GTX in NVIDIA’s lineup, while the GeForce 9800 GX2 replaces the GeForce 8800 Ultra.
The way NVIDIA sees it, the GeForce 9800 GTX basically gives end users all the performance of an 8800 GTX card with all the benefits of G92; namely better power consumption thanks to the 9800’s smaller manufacturing process, and better video thanks to its new VP2 video processor. The GeForce 9800 GTX also supports HybridPower. It does all this while selling for around $350, which is considerably less than the GeForce 8800 GTX when it was launched back in November 2006. That’s their belief at least.
The problem though is that the graphics landscape has changed quite a bit in the past six months. As we stated before, the introduction of the GeForce 8800 GT and 8800 GTS 512MB were game changing products that really raised our expectations when it comes to performance. Because of its conservative clocks, the 9800 GTX adds so little over the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB that a factory OC’ed GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB card like the EVGA e-GeForce 8800 GTS SSC should be able to outrun it in games! Because of this, we’re really not sure why this GPU is needed at all. In our opinion, this card’s introduction is only going to confuse consumers more because it adds so little over the 8800s despite the new name.
If there’s one bright spot when it comes to this GPU, it may be overclocking. NVIDIA obviously bins the best G92 chips for use in GeForce 9800 GTX cards, and it definitely showed in our OC’ing results. We were able to hit speeds of 785MHz core/1229MHz memory! That’s much better scaling than we were expecting considering the rather conservative stock clocks.
In all honesty, the excellent scaling we saw just confuses us more. With NVIDIA locking all of their board partners down to the same (stock) clocks for today’s launch, you’d think it was because the GPU doesn’t OC very far, but apparently it does. If they’d clocked the GPU a little higher, or at least allowed the board manufacturers to OC, the 9800 GTX would fare a little better in comparison to the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB. Instead our impression is that it’s just a mild performance upgrade over the GTS 512MB.
Fortunately we’re hearing that the first factory OC’ed boards should be announced in the coming weeks. Hopefully these boards will really push the envelope when it comes to clock speeds, because as it stands now, we think most of our readers should probably save a little money by picking up the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB and OC’ing it on your own.
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