Gigabyte 9800GT Review

ccokeman - 2007-12-12 23:12:10 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: August 28, 2008
Price: $149.99

Introduction:

So many video cards to choose from these days. The market stratification is just amazing. At this point, there is probably a card for that will suit the need for just about any purpose you can imagine. For the enthusiast and gamer though, the choices are a bit more limited due to the needs ("Wants" as I am so often told) of the systems we design and build. There is the all-out bench rig, that needs the best of the best, all the way down to the casual gamer that is comfortable with medium quality settings and a low resolution. Somewhere in between is where the majority of consumers make their purchase. The 9800GT falls somewhere in the middle of these two performance extremes.

The Gigabyte 9800GT comes equipped with a Zalman heatsink to vastly improve the cooling performance, which in turn, could lead to higher overclocking potential. With clock speeds of 600MHz on the GPU core, 1.5GHZ on the 112 shader cores and 900MHz on the 512MB of GDDR3 memory, the 9800GT has on paper the same specifications as the 8800GT that came to us last year. So just where on the performance ladder will the 9800GT perform? Let's take a look.

Closer Look:

The packaging of the Gigabyte 9800GT shows a warrior princess ready for battle with ironically enough a Heads Up Display over her left eye. This is no doubt a subtle reference to the Gamer HUD application included with the bundle. Other highlights on the front panel are the fact that the 9800GT is Zalman cooled (a bonus) and is Hybrid power ready. The rear panel illustrates the Ultra Durable 2 properties and shows highlights of the Gamer HUD software and its capabilities. The main features are listed in 9 different languages highlighting their global business.

 

 

Pulling the inner box out gives us a glimpse of the 9800GT tucked up under the manual. The 9800GT is encased in a foam block as well as an anti-static bag to prevent damage. The included adapters are seen behind the card.

 

 

The included bundle contains the manual, driver disk, 2x DVI to D-sub adapters, a DVI to HDMI adapter and a power adapter in case your power supply does not have the required 6-pin PCIe power connection.

 

 

Let's see what the 9800GT looks like and how it comes apart.

 

Closer Look:

The one thing that stands out front and center when you remove the Gigabyte 9800GT from its cocoon of foam and the obligatory anti static bag, is the Zalman heatsink used to cool the GPU core. The Zalman equipped card should be able to handle the thermal load from the G92 core. Curiously absent are any RAM sinks for the GDDR3 memory. The 9800GT features a GPU core clock speed of 600MHz,1.5GHz on the shader cores and the 512MB of GDDR3 memory runs at 900MHz through a 256bit bus. Gigabyte uses Ultra Durable 2 construction on the 9800GT. What does this mean to the average Joe? It means that Gigabyte uses high quality components, including Ferrite core chokes, lower RDS mosfets and lower ESR solid capacitors allowing the components to run cooler and more efficiently for of course, longer life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Connecting the 9800GT up to the display of your choice could not be simpler. At this point, dual DVI-I dual link capable ports are the norm. In addition, there is an HDTV-out port that can be converted via the supplied dongle to a component output. The rear of the card features the 6-pin PCIe power supply connection and the components used in the Ultra durable 2 construction method. The solid capacitors, lower RDS mosfets and the ferrite core chokes. On the top of the PCB near the SLI bridge connection is the SPDIF audio input. This connection is made to the motherboard and allows the high definition audio to be carried along with the video through an HDMI cable to your display device.

 

 

The Zalman heatsink uses 2 heatpipes that transfer the thermal load from the GPU contact surface to the fin array to be dissipated.The contact face is mirror smooth, allowing more of the contact surface to actually contact the GPU core. This is much better than some manufacturers that have obvious machining marks that can be felt when running a nail over the surface. The heatsink is held on by four spring loaded nuts, providing a secure mount. Not that this would be an issue with the thermal interface material used. Whatever was used is definately meant to be on for the long haul, since it required acetone to remove it.

 

 

The 9800GT has just a single SLI bridge connection, meaning it only supports a two card SLI setup. From the factory, this connection is protected with a plastic cap to prevent any damage to this connection that could spoil the SLI goodness.

 

 

Last but not least, I have to see what is under the hood er.. heatsink! After some rigorous cleaning with 90% alcohol and finally acetone, the thermal paste finally came free, to reveal the G92 core. This core looked a little familiar, so I pulled out some pictures of an 8800GT I had looked at previously and bingo bango - the cores are identical. So it seems the 9800GT is just a refresh of the 8800GT with a few more features. Both cards have a GPU core clock speed of 600MHz and are built using the 65nm process so this should make for an interesting comparison. The GDDR3 memory used on the 9800GT is made by Samsung and is rated at 1000MHz or 1ns.

 

 

 

Now we can see just what kind of performance the Gigabyte 9800GT can deliver. Will its overclocking tool set be enough to make this card stand out from the crowd? We shall see.

 

Configuration:

Just because that shiny new graphics card physically fits in the PCIe slot on the motherboard, does not mean it's going to give you the pretty pictures and flowing graphics we have grown accustomed to having. No, Johnny, there is another step involved. You need to install the drivers or instructions to tell the video card how it is supposed to work, as well as when it should run at the maximum settings or slow down to conserve energy and reduce the heat signature. This you do, by starting with the installation disk included with the card. Since in many cases the drivers have been updated in the time frame between manufacturing and purchase, it is usually best to download the drivers straight from the manufacturers website. That way you are guaranteed that the latest performance and bug fixes have been addressed.

You can start off by inserting the driver disk into the optical drive of your computer and letting the autorun feature bring up the installation GUI. From this GUI you can choose to install Direct X 9, the display driver, the Gamer HUD, a Yahoo toolbar, open the readme file or browse the disk for a manual install.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first option is to install Direct X 9. This should already be on your system but make sure the version is the latest. Next would be the installation of the drivers. Choosing this option opens the Nvidia driver installation GUI. Follow through the installation answering the questions when prompted and follow up with the the required system reboot to finalize the installation.

 

 

Once the installation is complete, you can modify the performance or visual quality of the signal sent to the display. Under 3D Settings, you can adjust the video quality via a preview that offers three options, or you can manually set up a general profile, and set up individual profiles for many of the games on the market today. Setting the Multi GPU mode can be used to turn off multi GPU mode (SLI), so that multiple monitors can be utilized. This, of course, can only be used when two 9800GT video cards are installed on a motherboard supporting that function. Each subsection allows for adjusting certain parameters, and can be explored and manipulated to give the best viewing experience.

 

 

 

Gamer H.U.D.:

Gigabyte has included a compact application to maximize the overclocking that can be achieved with the 9800GT. The Gamer H.U.D. - or Heads Up Display for those unaware of the acronym -  has several functions. As a monitoring tool, you can view the temperature and GPU usage to the right of the clock speed window. Beneath these two windows a scrolling message reads of your video card specifications.

 

 

By disabling the 2D/3D switch under the clock speeds, you can manually adjust the clock speeds and voltage to the GPU core. This voltage starts off at 1.15 and works its way to 1.4 volts - just what's needed to help this card perform at its maximum. The maximum adjustment goes far beyond what would be normally attainable, but it does not hurt to try.

 

 

Once the sliders for the GPU, shader core and memory have been set, it's time to apply the settings and to test them out. But first you have to agree to the disclaimer about how the increased voltage should not be set too high and may cause damage to your components.

 

 

Now let's get to testing out this 9800GT and see if it compares favorably with the 8800GT and the rest of our test bench video cards.

 

Specifications:

 

Chipset
NVIDIA GeForce 9800GT
GPU
G92
GPU clock speed
600MHz
Processor clock speed
1500MHz
Technology
65nm
Shader Cores
112 Unified
ROPS
16
DirectX support
10/SM 4.0
Open GL support
2.1
Memory Type
GDDR3
Memory
512MB
Memory clock speed
900MHz
Memory Bus
256 bit
Hybrid Power
Yes
Pure Video HD
Yes
Connections
Dual Link DVI, HDTV,HDMI(Via Adapter)
Audio Input for HDMI
SPDIF
Maximum resolution
2560x1600(Digital) 2048x1536(VGA)

 

Features:

 

Testing:

At OverclockersClub.com, we use a series of benchmarks to stress the graphics card. We will use a series of newer gaming benchmarks, as well as some that are more seasoned, to show how well the Gigabyte 9800GT compares to some of the other enthusiast video cards on the market. We'll be using single GPU models exclusively, to show just how much the Gigabyte 9800GT brings to the table. All driver settings and clock speeds will be left at factory defaults for both the CPU and GPU, in an effort to minimize or eliminate any variables that could impact the results. The test system used in this review is listed below. After testing the card at stock speeds, I'll overclock it to see what kind of performance can be gained. All testing is done with the default settings in the respective control panels, as well as default settings in the BIOS of the motherboard used in this test. For this round of testing, our drivers have been updated to the 177.79 for the Nvidia cards and the Catalyst 8.8 for the ATI video cards used in this review.

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

Great googly moogly! The Gigabyte 9800GT has some game. The little 9800GT is no doubt helped by the Zalman cooler that keeps temperatures down. I figured I might as well go for broke with the added voltage offered in the Gamer HUD and pushed the needle to 1.4 volts. The clock speeds kept scaling upwards until I finally landed at 787MHz on the core (up from 600MHz), 1075MHz on the memory and 1863MHz on the shader cores. These clock speeds are higher than any of the 8800GT video cards that Overclockersclub has tested and represents increases of 24% on the GPU core, 16% on the memory and close to 20% on the shaders. Not too bad if I say so myself. At this level of performance, there were nice increases in all of the benchmarks used. Why the comparison to the 8800GT? Because the 9800GT is the basically the same card.

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Crysis
  2. Knights of the Sea
  3. BioShock
  4. Call of Duty 4
  5. World in Conflict
  6. Call of Juarez
  7. Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts
  8. 3DMark 06 Professional
  9. 3DMark Vantage

 

Testing:

Crysis has been out for quite some time now. In that time, there has yet to be a single or multi GPU setup that can fully showcase the graphics performance of the game. Just how well will the 9800GT from Gigabyte fare? The Crysis single player demo includes both CPU and GPU benchmarks to test the performance of your processor and video card.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gigabyte 9800GT performs almost identically to the 8800GT it is replacing. Performance against the HD4850 falls off after the 1024x768 resolution.

 

Testing:

PT Boats: Knights of the Sea is a new DX10 title that features its own proprietary graphics engine currently in development. The game is a combination of Real Time Strategy and Simulation. You have the ability to control the entire crew or just a single member. Play as the German, Russian or Allied navies, and prove your mettle on the open seas.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Performance in Knights of the Sea is identical between the 9800GT and the 8800GT. No surprise there. The 9800GT stays ahead of the HD4850 in all four resolutions. That is a surprise.

 

Testing:

BioShock is one of the creepier games out. The wild, chronicling the building of a perfect Utopian society undersea gone horribly wrong, with its inhabitants driven mad by the introduction of tonics and genetic modifications. Now, Rapture is just a shadow of its former glory, with little girls looting the dead of what little they have left, while being shadowed by guardians known as "Big Daddies." It is a demanding game that will make your hardware scream for mercy. This First Person Shooter allows for an infinite number of weapons and modifications to provide a unique experience each time it is played. The environment, as well as the storyline, will wrap you up for hours on end.

 

Video Settings:

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The frame rates for the 9800GT and the 8800GT again are almost identical. Anyone see a trend? Although the performance is lower than the rest of the comparison cards, the frame rates are easily playable without and lag or stuttering. Turning Vsync on of course, makes all of the cards equal in terms of maximum frame rate. The minimum frame rate is where the benefits will be seen with a faster video card.

Testing:

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is the successor to the Call of Duty crown. This iteration of the game is fought in many of the world's hot spots with modern armaments and firepower. You can play as either a US Marine or British SAS trooper. Since this game does not feature an in-game test, I will run through a section of the game and measure average FPS using Fraps 2.9.3.

 

Video Settings:

   

 

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

The 9800GT allows seamless play at the maximum settings and the highest resolution in Call of Duty 4, even though it is tied for the slowest card in terms of average frame rates.

 

Testing:

World in Conflict: Released last year, World in Conflict is a Real Time Strategy game that simulates the all-out war the world hopes never comes. The difference in this RTS game is that it is not the typical "generate wealth and build" type of game. Instead, you advance by conquering your foe with limited opportunities to replenish your troops.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 
 

  

 

 

 

 

 

The performance of the 9800GT and 8800GT again are for all intents identical. Each card performs slower than the HD4850.

Testing:

Call of Juarez is a DX10 First Person Shooter set in the Wild West of the late 1800's. The game is inspired, in part, by the movies of the Wild West genre of the seventies and eighties. The game can be played in both single player and multiplayer modes. The game focuses on realistic graphics and gameplay designed to take advantage of the latest video cards on the market.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even with the large overclock, the 9800GT just cannot compete with the latest from ATI. The differential in performance at 1920x1200 is 8 frames per second. Again, we see the parity between the 8800GT and 9800GT.

 

Testing:

Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts is the latest chapter in the Company of Heroes series. The scene is WWII. The mission is Operation Market Garden, the first Allied attempt to break into the Third Reich. You can play as the British or Germans. This Real Time Strategy game is brought to us by Relic Entertainment.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

Since this game is not an FPS shooter, the frame rates at 1680x1050 should be playable. Performance against the comparison cards shows deficits of 9 fps and 14 fps versus the HD4850 and HD4870 respectively.

 

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of those benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest breaks out. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings:

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 9800GT keeps pace with the HD4850 across all four resolutions, beating it in the 1024x768 resolution. Again, the 9800GT and 8800GT perform almost identically.

 

Testing:

Just added to the Overclockersclub suite of benchmarks is the newest from Futuremark, 3DMark Vantage. Featuring all-new game tests, this benchmark is for use with Vista based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. 'Entry' is 1024x768 progressing to 'Extreme' at 1920x1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.

 Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Identical performance from identical cards is the ongoing theme when it comes to comparing the performance of the 9800GT. Easily the slowest two cards in this field, the 9800GT and 8800GT again perform identically.

Conclusion:

So what does the Gigabyte 9800GT offer to you, the purchasing public? It offers the performance of a G92 based 8800GT. Why, you ask? In essence they are one and the same. Each card offers identical specifications with little added in the way of features. Pure Video HD and Hybrid power capabilities have been added. Of course, you will need the prerequisite Hybrid power capable motherboard to take advantage of this power saving feature. Other than that, there is not much new. What is new, is the cooling solution used on this 9800GT. Manufactured by Zalman, this cooling solution kept the Gigabyte 9800GT nice and cool to the tune of 61 degrees Celsius when under load, while over volted and overclocked. All this while looking good and not being audible from outside the chassis. As good as this cooling solution works, there is a downside to this type of cooling solution. Good case airflow is a must, since the heat is dumped into the enclosed case. I saw an increase of 4 degrees Celsius with just the addition of the card to my test setup. Not major, but something to be aware of.

When it came time to push the 9800GT from Gigabyte, the card responded quite well to the increases in clock and memory speeds. In fact, this card overclocked better than any of the 8800GT (it's really the same thing) cards OCC has tested. With the increases in clock speeds, came the improvement in frame rates across the whole benchmark suite. Pretty impressive! Part of the praise has to go to Gigabyte for including a small application with the 9800GT to help achieve the massive clock speed increases. The Gamer HUD (Heads Up Display), allows the user to enable or disable the 2D/3D clock switch, so that clock speeds for the memory, GPU core and the Shader cores can all be adjusted. But Gigabyte goes one step further. They include a voltage adjustment for the GPU core to allow access to that last MHz of power. By using this tool, I was able to increase the GPU core speed from 600MHz to 787MHz, which was a 24% improvement. The memory had a similar increase going from 900MHz to 1075MHz.

To take advantage of the Pure Video capabilities of this card, Gigabyte has included a DVI to HDMI adapter. This connection will allow the best picture quality to be sent out to the display of your choice. Unfortunately, there was no cable included to send the sound output from the motherboard to the 9800GT. Even with not much new, the 9800GT is a good upgrade path for those with a lower 8 (8600,8500) series card or even lower. Add in the price point and the card represents good value. If you want to take advantage of the new features, the 9800GT is better value, but for gaming performance and price, the 8800GT presents a slightly better value at this time.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: