XFX 9800GT Review
Reviewed by: Zertz
Reviewed on: November 11, 2008
The past year or so has been quite an exciting one in the video card industry. Exactly a year ago, nVidia released the G92 graphics processing unit, a die shrink of their flagship processor, G80. This one had held the performance crown for well over a year, but with ATI getting back on track they needed something cheaper to compete in the middle end segment. The 8800GT admirably accomplished this role back then. Fast forward to the end of this past summer, the green team ended up, once again, in the same situation - they needed something to counter the surprisingly affordable HD4850 as well as the newly released 4830 and it had to be rolled out quickly. The answer came in the form of the 9 series, which isn't much more than a bunch of rebadged GeForce 8 cards. Not a bad plan, it required very little engineering and has a good chance of success thanks to low prices. Fortunately, those cards weren't bad at all, in fact, they we're a pretty good value once prices settled.
The card sitting on the test bench today is the 9800GT coming from XFX, one of the main nVidia partner in America. This particular version is their vanilla version, with stock clocks going at 600 MHz for the core and the 512 megabytes of GDDR3 memory clocked at 1800 MHz. Those are the same speeds offered by the now defunct 8800GT so it will be interesting to see if a a new name as well as a possibly more mature manufacturing process will allow this unit to perform and overclock better. Enough speculation, let's see what we are dealing with and let the card show itself off.
With the 9800GT, XFX has stayed true to the GeForce 9 series logo on this card. Each and every member of its class has a unique design for the number 9. This representation has a bandolier of bullets feeding into a ton of various weapons on the front cover letting you know there is alot of firepower snugged inside that box. Additionally, the front cover reveals a core speed of 600MHz, the fact that this card is SLI capable, but not Tri-SLI as this is reserved to higher end cards, and that the full version of Assasin's Creed comes as part of the deal. The rear panel goes into detail on the features of this card as well as showing a render of the card.
The outer panels are really just a sleeve that fits over the inner box which holds the card and contents of the bundle nice and tight. True to form, the inner box proudly sports the colors of the green team and allows the beast to be seen through a window. Just a glimpse through it shows the rendering on the box is the real deal. The card is well packaged and protected, XFX isn't afraid to use plenty of thick foam. The benefits of having video cards well protected cannot be overstated since I have seen some damage here as of late on hardware that is not packaged this well. By the way, they offer a double lifetime warranty which means that, if you happen to sell the card, the second owner can rightly claim support.
The bundle of accessories hides into a side pocket of cardboard. This is where the game discs are found as well as the drivers, which were up to date when the card shipped. There's also a pair of DVI to VGA adaptors, a S-Video cable, a S-Video to component cable adaptor and, finally, a molex to PCI-E power connector which they recommend not to use. Lastly, XFX also added their famous do not disturb door hanger and a brief instruction manual.
Since we are, of course, within the rules of that scary warning, let's not wait any more and rip it off.
Choosing between different brands is often a hard choice and it usually boils down to a combination of price, bundle and cooling. All of those are important factors for us enthusiasts and XFX is certainly aware of it. Therefore, this card is available at an interesting price point, with a free game as shown within the last page and it's also equipped with their own cooling system. While it is still a single slot solution, the same used on their own Alpha Dog 9600GT, something tells me it most likely does a better job than the reference design.
This card features a pair of dual link DVI connectors along with a S-Video output. If you're still living in the analog era, one of those DVI outputs can be converted to VGA with the supplied adapter. Heading to the back side of the card, the single 6 pin PCI-e connector will be enough to feed the card with enough juice to unleash all its available firepower. XFX uses mostly solid capacitors except, for some reason, those two on the left.
The 9800GT doesn't have the possibility to run Tri-SLI, but only a more conservative dual card SLI. Here's also a close-up of the pretty awesome looking plate that covers the heatsink.
Now that you know what we're dealing with, let's get the card installed.
As you may know, installing a video card is relatively simple, but there's more to it than just inserting it in a free PCI-e slot. The first thing you want to do, although boring, is registering the card with XFX. This has to be done within 30 days of purchase, so you better do it now before you start gaming and entirely forget about it. Don't forget XFX offers a lifetime warranty, so it's not something you want to miss. Once that is done, then you can take a look at the manual and install drivers.
Just in case you don't have Adobe Reader installed, like it is the case when you're doing a fresh install, XFX includes a copy of the PDF reader along with the electronic version of the installation manual.
Drivers are primordial to exploit the full capabilities of your newly acquired video card since, otherwise, it will just use default Windows drivers which are made to provide very basic functionality, but wide compatibility. XFX bundles a disc with the latest drivers available at the time the card was packed, but with driver releases coming in every so often it's generally a good idea to check their website for the most up to date ones.
If the default level of performance or visual quality is not up to your expectations, you can use nVidia's Control Panel to modify some options in this regard. There are a bunch of different tabs where adjustments can be done, though I will only take you through a few of them which I find important to gamers amongst us. The Manage 3D Settings tab allows the Global (all situations) settings to be tailored to your liking, whether you want to gear the system towards performance or quality. Under this tab are some game specific settings as well. There are pre-built profiles that can be adjusted to activate all the eye candy or to minimize the settings in order to get higher framerates. The choice is all yours. This is also where you can activate, or not, SLI if you happen to have picked up more than a single card.
Before moving on to the testing phase, let's take a look at the specifications given by XFX.
|Manufacturing Process||65 nm|
|Number of Transistors||754 Million|
|Graphics Clock (Including dispatch, texture units, and ROP units)||600 MHz|
|Processor Clock (Processor Cores)||1,500 MHz|
|Memory Clock (Clock rate / Data rate)||900 MHz / 1,800 MHz|
|Memory Interface||256 bit|
|Total Memory Bandwidth||68,0 GB/s|
|Memory Size||512 MB|
|Texture Filtering Units||72|
|Texture Filtering Rate||48 GigaTexels/sec|
|HDMI Support||Yes (Using DVI-to-HDMI adaptor)|
|Connectors||2 x Dual-Link DVI-I 1 x 7-pin HDTV Out|
|Bus Technology||PCI Express 2.0|
|Form Factor||Single Slot|
|Power Connectors||1 x 6-pin|
|Max Board Power||105 watts|
|GPU Thermal Threshold||105 C|
- High-performance single-slot copper cooler
- 112 Processing Cores
- NVIDIA unified architecture
- Full Microsoft DirectX10 Shader Model 4.0 support
- NVIDIA SLIÂ®-Ready technology
- NVIDIA HybridPowerâ„¢ technolody
- NVIDIA PhysXâ„¢-Ready
- NVIDIA CUDAâ„¢ technology
- True 128-bit floating point high dynamic-range (HDR) lighting with 16x full-screen anti-aliasing
- PCI Express 2.0 support
- NVIDIA PureVideoÂ® HD Technology
- Two dual-link HDCP Capable
- OpenGL 2.1 support
At OverclockersClub.com, we use a set 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 XFX 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 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 177.79 for the nVidia cards and Catalyst 8.8 for the ATI video cards.
- Processor: Intel Q9450 Core 2 Quad 333x8
- Motherboard: Gigabyte X48-DQ6
- Memory: Mushkin XP2 Redline 8000 2 x 2GB 5-5-5-12
- Video Card(s): XFX 9800GT 600/900
- Power Supply: Mushkin 800 watt Modular power supply
- Hard Drive: 1 x Seagate 1TB SATA
- Optical Drive: NEC DV5700
- OS: Windows Vista Ultimate Edition
Comparison Video Cards:
- XFX 9800GT 750/1062
The 8800GT used to be a good overclocker, as seen in our review of the Asus 8800GT TOP earlier this year. I was expecting no less from this XFX card since it's newer and should carry at least some minor component upgrades, even though this one is the vanilla version. I was able to reach a healthy 750 MHz on the core, just 10 MHz under Asus's top end version, although still an impressive 150 MHz over the stock speed. That's a 25% increase, not too shabby since it's basically free extra performance. The GDDR3 clocked up to 1062 MHz, right on par with most GDDR3 overclocks. In order to get the clock speeds of 750 MHz on the GPU core and 1062 MHz on the memory I used an application called RivaTuner, which lets you clock the card high enough not be software limited. As you can see on the GPU-Z screenshot, even at 75% fan speed the card ran quite warm at 81 Celcius, although it was a quieter than a stock cooler set at the same speed.
- Knights of the Sea
- Call of Duty 4
- World in Conflict
- Call of Juarez
- Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts
- 3DMark 06 Professional
- 3DMark Vantage
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. Will the GTX 280 be that card? The Crysis single player demo includes both CPU and GPU benchmarks to test the performance of your processor and video card.
- Anti-Aliasing: x2
- Advanced settings to High
The XFX 9800GT keeps up with the other contestants at lower resolutions, but as soon as it reaches 1650x1080 it just can't display enough frames to achieve decent playability. Also, it's right on par with the 8800GT as it should be since it's essentially the same card. I can see that trend going on in the next tests as well.
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.
- Anti-Aliasing: x0
- Image Quality: High
- DirectX Version: 10
- All resolutions: 60Hz
While XFX' 9800GT still scores the same as the older 8800GT, the cards are able to keep a much tighter battle going in this benchmark and beat the ATI by a few precious frames. It's only bested by the more expensive 9800GTX and the even more expensive GTX260.
BioShock is one of the creepier games out the wild. The building of a perfect Utopian society undersea gone horribly wrong. Its inhabitants driven mad with 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 Daddys" 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 story line will wrap you up for hours on end.
- All settings to maximum
- V-Sync: Off
The 9800GT trails behind every other card in this game, although it still keeps a very respectable 63 frames per second even at the highest tested resolution. Don't forget this is also the cheapest card shown on those graphics so it's not such a bad showing.
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.
- Anti-Aliasing: x4
- Anisotropic Filtering: Max
- Texture Quality: Extra
- All settings max
The 9800GT manages to very slightly edge out the 8800GT in Call of Duty 4. However, it still trails behind the other modern graphic cards by a fair margin, by 10 FPS at best. Overclocking narrows down that difference and, fortunately, the card provides more than playable framerates across the board.
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..
- Anti-Aliasing: x4
- Anisotropic Filtering: x16
- Graphic Detail: Very High
This game is tough on graphic cards and the G92 GPU simply cannot deliver an enjoyable experience above 1280x1024. It's starting to show it's age and as soon as I cranked up the resolution, it was getting pounded by the newer cards. Even overclocking shows very little improvement over stock performance.
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.
- Details: High
- Shadowmap Size: 2048x2048
- Shadow Quality: Normal
- Anti-Aliasing: MSAA x4
This benchmark was one of the first to feature DirectX10 and it has always favored ATI cards. Once again, nVidia's 9800GT can only match the 8800GT - no more, no less. It really struggles at higher resolutions, 1680x1050 and up, and overclocking barely alleviates the issue. ATI's HD4850 still has nothing to fear with it's comfortable lead.
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.
- Anti-Aliasing: x8
- All other settings to maximum
At the lowest resolution, the 9800GT keeps up with the rest of the pack, but the benchmark is also clearly processor limited. Other than that, it falls right at the bottom of the scale with it's fellow 8800GT. However, it still delivers decently playable framerates up to 1920x1200, which is pretty good considering this really wasn't possible with a mainstream video card just a year ago.
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.
- SM2.0 Graphics Tests: GT1- Return to Proxycon, GT2- Firefly Forest
- CPU Tests: Cpu1- Red Valley, CPU2- Red Valley
- HDR/SM3.0 Graphics Tests: HDR1- Canyon Flight, HDR2- Deep Freeze
Futuremark's 3DMark06 confirms the kind of performance I've been experiencing with the real games, the 9800 stays behind the others along with the 8800 as usual although scoring a respectable 12000 points. However, it just can't keep up with today's card although overclocking lets it score an extra thousand points, enough to be within striking distance of the 9800GTX. Pretty good.
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.
- All default settings in each preset level
- Entry 1024x768
- Performance 1280x1024
- High 1680x1050
- Extreme 1920x1200
In 3DMark Vantage, the G92-based cards are getting a tough ride. They trail several thousand points behind the newer cards and the 9800 once again, unsurprisingly, scores basically the same as the 8800. The newer R700 and GT200 cores are able to keep quite a lead, so the 9800GT is far from being threatening.
When I got this XFX 9800GT video card, I wasn't expecting much more than a fancier looking 8800GT and that's pretty much what I found out during testing. Both cards use the same G92 core and sport the exact same specifications, whether it is the amount of stream processors or clocks, it's all the same. Therefore, performance wasn't only similar, but identical or within the margin of error. However, this card has a huge edge over it's predecessor, the 8800, and that is price. In fact, while the former sold for nearly 300$ when it was originally released, this newer part can be found for nearly a third of that price. It can be found on sale now for about $120. Price versus performance is quite good with this card, it makes a decent performer while being affordable. The bundled game, Assassin's Creed is a great addition which adds to the value and that might just be the reason I'd choose this card over the same model from competing brands. When it comes to cooling, XFX' cooling solution did a better job than the reference design. However, it was, although barely, quieter but it was still hardly able to keep the heat down since, obviously, it's the same heatsink used on the 9600GT which doesn't have nearly as much watts to dissipate. Fortunately, it was able to overclock very well at 750 MHz, up 150 MHz above stock. That enabled it to perform on par with the more expensive GTX of the same series.
While it falls short when it comes to today's performance standards, the card has wicked looks. The black printed circuit board, the cooler's cover and the green DVI ports make an awesome combination. Overall, the XFX 9800GT offer last year's performance at today's price. It's a pretty good deal, but competition is stiff in the mainstream market nowadays and nVidia definitely needs to give it's partners something with a bit more power. Indeed, if you can shell out a few more bucks you can grab a card, the HD4850 namely, from the red team which will be able to push out more frames while gaming. So do you think green or are you red at heart?
- Overclocking headroom
- Custom Cooling
- Runs hot