XFX 9600 GT Alpha Dog Edition Review

ccokeman - 2008-03-22 11:16:27 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: March 27, 2008
Price: $169.99 USD

Introduction:

When new video cards come out, the push is to get as many out as possible and get the product on the shelves and to the e-tailors. Many times the top of the line models are not available right off the bat. With the Nvidia 9600GTs released just over a month ago, the time has come for the manufacturer's top of the line cards to start showing up ready for action. The designation for XFX's top of the line card is the "Alpha Dog." The standard 9600GT has a GPU clock of 650MHz, a shader clock of 1625MHz, and a memory clockspeed of 900MHz. All of these are pretty respectable numbers. The Alpha Dog, on the other hand, has a 740MHz core clock on the GPU, 1000MHz on the 512MB of GDDR3 memory, and a shader clock of 1850MHz. All substantial increases over the stock specifications. Additional features of the 9600 series include Pure Video technology for dazzling high definition video playback and SLI compatibility. Will the Alpha Dog become the leader of the pack or fall in line like the rest of the pretenders? We shall see.

Closer Look:

The package that the Alpha Dog Edition comes in is strangely devoid of any gaudy references to this being the top of the line overclocked card. There are just a couple of stickers to show off what lies inside. One shows the Alpha Dog Edition name and that the bundle of accessories features the full version of Call of Duty 4, while the second sticker lists the core clock speed of 740MHz. All of this is very understated. The rear panel shows off some performance numbers in comparison to the 8600 series of cards and highlights the Hi-Def capabilities of the 9600 series.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pulling off the outer sleeve allows access to the Alpha Dog. The card is viewable through the window in the package, and is securely held in place and protected by a foam block on all sides. XFX takes great care in making sure the product arrives in one peice.

 

 

The accessory bundle lies under the foam enclosure protecting the 9600GT. It includes a quick start guide, a helpful tips and techniques brochure, a door tag with the Alpha Dog asking for people to respect the fact that you don't want to be disturbed, the driver and Call of Duty 4 disks, and all of the cables and adapters that might be needed for the 9600GT.

 

 

The cables and adapters included in the bundle will get you connected whatever the need may be. There are two DVI to D-Sub adapters, a DVI to HDMI adapter, an HDMI audio input cable, an S-Video cable, an S-Video to composite dongle and last, but not least, a dual 4-pin molex to 6-pin PCI-E power adapter. The documentation shows this type of connection to be less than ideal for supplying power to the Alpha Dog 9600GT.

 

 

We've seen the bundle and how the 9600GT is sent to the enthusiasts out there, so now let's dig into the 9600GT Alpha Dog Edition up close and personal!

 

Closer Look:

The XFX 9600GT Alpha Dog Edition is designed for use in a 16x PCI-E slot and features a 740MHz core clock, Yes, that's right, no typo here, 740MHz is where the clockspeeds were set by XFX. But wait, there's more! Shader clocks of 1850MHz and 512MB of GDDR 1000MHz memory wrap up the basic specs on the Alpha Dog Edition. On first glance you will notice the fact that XFX has used a non reference heatsink on this version of the 9600GT.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The XFX Alpha Dog Edition has the standard connectivity options for the 9600 series of video cards. Dual DVI slots and an S-Video out. What is not standard is that with the included DVI to HDMI adapter and HDMI sound input cable, you can output the video to that High Definition screen. The tail end of the card features the 6-pin PCI-E power connector. This card, just like all of the 9600 series, is SLI capable.

 

 

The heatsink on the Alpha Dog Edition is not the standard reference cooler from Nvidia but rather a solid copper piece. No copper slug in aluminum but good ol' fashioned copper. Both the reference cooler and this one exhaust the hot air back into the case. The heatsink has raised pads for the memory so that the thermal interface material can make contact.

 

 

One thing this 9600GT sports is a shim around the GPU core for added protection. By using a non reference heatsink, XFX added a strengthening rib to the backbone of the card for added support.

 

 

Now that we have a good idea what we are looking at, let's take a look at how the Alpha Dog performs.

 

Configuration:

Just putting that brand new XFX 9600GT into your system does not guarantee that it will work as it is intended to. For that to happen, you need to configure the card using the drivers and settings to optimize the performance for your needs.

Start out by inserting the software disk into the optical drive and let the autorun feature bring up the installation GUI. Once open, press enter to move on to the installation of the drivers. Choose video drivers and move forward.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choose Windows drivers and the installation process will begin. Allow the installer to complete and you will be prompted with a message that the computer must be restarted to complete the installation. Do so to finish the installation.

 

 

Once the installation is completed, the place to configure the video card software is the Nvidia Control Panel.

 

With the drivers installed and the settings viewed in the control panel, it's time to move on to testing the XFX 9600GT.

 

Specifications:

Chipset
NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GT

Bus Type                          

PCI-E 2.0

GPU Clock                      

740 MHz
Shader clock
1850 MHz
Memory Bus 
256-bit
Memory Type 
DDR3
Memory Size 
512 MB
Memory Speed       
2.0GHz
Thermal Solution
FANSINK
Minimum Power Supply Requirement                  400 Watt / 6-pin connector
400 Watt / 6-pin connector
Outputs
TV out
HDTV
VGA
0
DVI
2
Dual-Link Support
DUAL
HDMI
No
Max Supported Resolution (DIGITAL)
2560 x 1600
Max Supported Resolution (ANALOG)
2048 x 1536
Turbo Cache Technology
NO
RoHS
Yes
HDCP
Yes
NVIDIA-SLI READY
2 way
Low Profile Compatible
No

 

Features:

 

All information sourced from XFX @ http://www.xfxforce.com/web/product/listFeatures.jspa?series=GeForce%3F+9600&seriesId=2037685

Testing:

At OverclockersClub.com, we use a series of benchmarks to stress the graphics card. We will use a series of newer, as well as a few more seasoned, gaming benchmarks to show how well the Alpha Dog Edition of XFX's 9600GT compares to some of the other enthusiast video cards on the market. All driver settings and clock speeds will be left at factory default settings on both the CPU and GPU to minimize or eliminate any variables from impacting the results. The test system used in this review is listed below. After testing the card at stock speeds, I will overclock the video card to see what kind of performance can be gained.

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

Pushing for additional performance on a heavily overclocked manufacturer released video card is often akin to pulling a chicken's teeth. It just does not happen because the card's performance is already maxed out. With that in mind, I began leaning on the card and achieved a core clock of 761MHz, a boost of 21 MHz while gaining an additional 69 ticks on the memory. Both substantial gains for a mid range, already overclocked video card. The huge gains over stock speeds are just not there because the card's capabilities fall within the overclocked range the card is already running in. A performance increase is still a performance increase, no matter how you look at it.

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Crysis
  2. Knights of the Sea
  3. Bioshock
  4. Call of Duty 4
  5. World in Conflict
  6. Call of Jaurez
  7. 3DMark 06 Professional

 

 

Testing:

Crysis is a new addition to the gaming benchmark suite used at OverclockersClub.com. This game is one of the most anticipated, system intensive games to be released to the gaming community. The Crysis single player demo includes both a CPU and GPU benchmark to test the performance of the processor and video card installed in the system.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Running at its default clock speeds, the 9600GT Alpha Dog Edition actually outperformed the 8800GT in the 1024x768 resolution. The average frames per second delivered bested the HD3870 in all four resolutions.

 

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.

 

The settings we will use are below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The XFX Alpha Dog keeps close to the 8800 at the lower resolutions, but falls to it at the higher end of the spectrum by five frames per second.

 

Testing:

Benchmark: BioShock

BioShock is one of the newest games on the market. 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.

 

Settings:

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The XFX Alpha Dog 9600GT takes the first two resolutions and stays within four frames per second of the HD3870.

 

Testing:

Call of Duty 4 : Modern Warfare is the latest successor in the Call of Duty series. 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 U.S. Marine or British S.A.S. trooper.

 

The settings used are listed below:

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Results for the 9600GT Alpha Dog edition show that performance at the 1024 x 768 resolutions is better than the comparison cards. It just doesn't scale as well as the HD3870 and 8800GT in this game. The frames per second still show that the game is quite playable at all resolutions.

 

Testing:

World In Conflict is a newly released DX10 real time strategy game that simulated the all out war that 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. You advance by conquering your foe.

 

The settings we will use are listed below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 9600GT has a hard time in this game. As an overclocked card, the performance is dramatically better than the stock speed cards at lower resolutions, but at the top of the scale the frames per second difference is 1 FPS.

 

Testing:

Call of Juarez is a DirectX10 First Person Shooter set in the Wild West of the late 1800s. The game is inspired in part by the movies of the Wild West genre of the seventies and eighties. The game can be played as both single player and multiplayer. The game focuses on realistic graphics and gameplay designed to take advantage of the latest video cards on the market.

 

The settings we will use are listed below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The XFX 9600GT overclocked card was obviously the faster card in this benchmark at 1680x 1050 and above.

 

Testing:

Benchmark: Company of Heroes (Opposing Fronts)

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. Play as the British or Germans. This real time strategy game is brought to us by Relic entertainment.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Alpha Dog 9600GT performs slightly better than the HD3870 and the rest of the 9600GT cards. The margin between the HD3870's performance and that of the XFX 9600GT Alpha Dog is at most four FPS.

 

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest is begun. 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At all resolutions tested, the Alpha Dog beat the HD3870. It could not quite match the 8800GT muscle though.

 

Conclusion:

So how well does XFX's Top Dog perform? In 25 tests out of 32 at its rated clock speeds, it was able to tie or beat the HD3870. Performance-wise, it beat the standard XFX 9600GT's maximum overclocked scores in all of the benchmarks run. Purchasing an overclocked card is a way to get a guaranteed level of performance without the "I hope it will" syndrome when buying a lower speed rated video card and hoping that it will get "close" to the higher cards' performance. Fortunately with the XFX 9600GT Alpha Dog Edition, you don't have to worry about that. In fact, throw a couple of the Alpha Dog 9600s together into an SLI setup and you will have a graphics solution capable of playing all of the latest games at higher resolutions with more of the eye candy on. Just for kicks, I put the Alpha Dog in with a standard XFX 9600GT into an SLI capable board with the CPU overclocked to 3.6 GHz and clocked it up a bit to get close to the overclocked card and promptly pulled a score over 17000 in 3DMark06. Even though the 9600 is the replacement for the mid ranged 8600 series, the performance is anything but midranged. With the price factor thrown into the equation, grabbing two of the Alpha Dog 9600 GT cards from XFX would make for a strong graphics solution without breaking the bank. And in today's economy, that means plenty!

 

Pros:

 

Cons: