XFX 9800GTX Review

ccokeman - 2008-03-22 11:34:24 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: April 1, 2008
Price: $299.99

Introduction:

Over the past month, Nvidia has launched its 9 series graphics cards one at a time. Each launch is eagerly awaited by the enthusiast community just to see if the expectation that something new has got to be better actually holds true. With the 9600GT, the performance improvement over its predecessor was on the order of 77% or greater in my testing. The 9800GX2 was supposed to compete with the 8800GT when in SLI mode, but the early drivers were a bit buggy and so performance should increase as the drivers mature. The one everyone has been waiting for is the 9800GTX. Specifications and comparison data have shown up on the Net in recent weeks, as well as the associated speculation and rumors about the 9800GTX's performance. At last, after a few delays, the top single GPU card in the Nvidia food chain has arrived.

The XFX 9800GTX features a GPU core clock speed of 675MHz, a shader clock of 1688MHz, 1100MHz on the 512MB of high speed GDDR3 memory, and 128 Stream processors that run at 1.69GHz. The GPU core is built on a 65nm process and has 754 million transistors packed into that small patch of silicon. Will the 9800GTX be a worthy successor to the G80 8800GTX crown? Let's find out.

Closer Look:

The box that houses the XFX 9800GTX lets you know that this is the factory hot rod. The 9 that lets you know what series this card belongs to shows some of the parts typically used to modify the engine in a car to increase performance attached to it. This says high performance all the way. The front panel lists several of the 9800GTX's specifications, such as the 675MHz core speed, its SLI capability and the fact that this card has 512MB of memory and is HDMI ready. The rear panel shows both of the capabilities of the 9800GTX; excellent gameplay and the top-of-the-line home theater capability are the highlights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sliding the inner box out, it is the familiar XFX/Nvidia green with the XFX logo on top. Opening this box reveals the documentation and software for this card. Under the software is where the 9800GTX is housed. Much like the XFX 9800GX2 we recently reviewed, the 9800GTX was packed tightly in a soft foam enclosure. Beside the foam is where the accessory bundle is stored. This includes the cables and adapters to get you connected.

 

 

 

The accessory bundle includes everything you will need to get connected, from a D-Sub to DVI adapter to the digital audio cable for the High Definition experience. Included are the S-Video cable, an S-Video to component dongle, DVI to HDMI adapter, DVI to D-Sub adapters, digital audio cable, a quick start guide, troubleshooting and tips guide and the driver and Company of Heros discs.

 

 

Now that you have seen how the card is shipped, packaged and what comes with it, I can break down the card and show it off.

 

Closer Look:

The XFX 9800GTX is a full size video card that is designed to be used in a x16 PCI-E 1.0 or 2.0 slot on the motherboard. The 9800GTX features a GPU clock speed of 675MHz with a memory speed of 1100MHz on a 256-bit memory interface. The card uses a dual slot cooling solution, so two slots will need to be available to use the 9800GTX. The front side shows the Hot Rod number 9 again, leading one down the thought path that this is the fastest card there is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The available connectivity for the GTX includes two DVI ports that support Dual link DVI, as well as an S-Video port that can be used with a dedicated cable or hooked to the included S-Video to component dongle. Hot air is discharged out of the grill area, helping eliminate any chance of recycling hot air in the case. The rear of the card is open to allow cool air to flow into the fan enclosure and cool the capacitors on the way to the heatsink.

 

 

Along the top of the card are the power connections. Two 6-pin PCI-E power cables are required to power the 9800GTX. If one is not connected, the card does not function as intended. The overclcoking features are disabled when only one connection is made.  XFX includes two 4-pin molex to 6-pin adapters, but that setup is less than ideal according to the literature sent with the card. The digital audio connection can be seen just to the right of the power connectors. The GTX is Tri-SLI capable and uses two bridge connections instead of the one seen on all of the other 9 series cards.

 

 

Pulling off the heatsink we can see what lies beneath the shroud. The tail end of the 9800GTX carries the voltage regulation circuits while the mid section is dominated by the GPU and memory.

 

 

The cooling solution used on the 9800GTX is a copper/aluminum composite piece. The memory goes to the main aluminum body and the GPU core has a copper base that has several heatpipes running into aluminum fins to dissipate the heat. With the fan on automatic, I never saw the high side of 70 Celsius during testing.

 

 

The GPU is lettered G92-420-A2. The core is manufactured using a 65nm process and has 754 million transistors. XFX and Nvidia have used a shim around the core to prevent damage from occurring. Probably a good thing since these cards are bound to be put under subzero cooling by the extreme crowd! The memory used is manufactured by Samsung and is rated for 1200MHz. Looks like a good bit of head room is built into the 9800GTX, at least on the memory.

 

 

You have seen the bundle and seen what the card has to offer, so let's get it installed and running.

 

Configuration:

Just putting that brand new XFX 9800GTX 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.The driver version on the disk is version 174.40. 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:

 

Fabrication Process

65 nm

Number of Transistors

754 million

Core Clock (Including dispatch, texture units, and ROP units)

675 MHz

Shader Clock (Processor Cores)

1688 MHz

Processor Cores

128

Memory Clock (Clock rate / Data rate)

1100 MHz / 2200 MHz

Memory Interface

256 bit

Total Memory Bandwidth

70.4 GB/s

Memory Size

512 MB

ROPs

16

Texture Filtering Units

64

Texture Filtering Rate

43.2 GigaTexels/sec

HDCP Support

Yes

HDMI Support

Yes (Using DVI-to-HDMI adaptor)

Connectors

2 x Dual-Link DVI-I 1 x 7-pin HDTV Out

RAMDACs

400 MHz

Bus Technology

PCI Express 2.0

Form Factor

Dual Slot

Power Connectors

2 x 6-pin

Max Board Power

156 watts

GPU Thermal Threshold1

105° C

 

Features:

 

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 XFX 9800GTX compares to some of the other enthusiast video cards on the market. All driver settings and clockspeeds 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. 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.

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

One thing the XFX 9800GTX does really well is overclock. Finding the highest GPU core and memory clocks individually results in higher clock speeds, but the idea is to find the area where the two work well together and don't crash the application and driver. 842MHz on the GPU core and 1280MHz on the memory with the shader clocks just a hair over 2100MHz results in a nice performance boost. Overclocking the GPU core while leaving the memory at the stock 1100MHz resulted in a core clock speed of 862MHz. Overclocking the memory with the GPU core clock at the stock 675MHz resulted in a memory clock speed of 1288MHz. Unfortunately, I could not manage to boost both clockspeeds to their independent maximums. But the final results are more than I was expecting after the 8800GTs that I have worked with. In many of the benchmarks, the performance increases were not huge, showing the CPU to be the bottleneck in this system. To prove this theory, I overclocked the CPU to a modest 3.0GHz just to see if a larger increase in performance resulted from the video card overclock. In 3DMark06, the score increased to 14683 with just the increase in CPU clockspeed. After the controversy surrounding the 9600GT cards being linked to the PCI-E bus clock as well as the onboard 27MHz clock, I thought I would test and see if the same thing happened with the 9800GTX. I raised the PCI-E clock to 108MHz and proceeded to increase the clockspeeds until I reached the maximum I could achieve, 816MHz on the GPU core and 1224MHz on the memory. Comparing performance at the two overclocked speeds showed performance to be almost identical with the two scenarios. In my book, the increase is an increase no matter how you look at it. If this is indeed true, it is just another tool in the overclocking toolbox that can be used.

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 and 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 9800GTX performed better than all of the cards tested in Crysis. At 1024 x 768 it performed worse overclocked than stock, on the rest of the resolutions it performed better than the baseline number.

 

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 9800GTX outperforms the 8800GTX until 1920 x 1200, where each card's score is the same.

 

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 closest competition for the 9800GTX is the 8800GTS. No surprise there.

 

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:

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Call of Duty 4 is not kind to the GTX. It loses to the GTS in three out of four 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This game is severely CPU limited. Scores barely move from the baseline across the range of resolutions. By overclocking the CPU, significant changes in performance can be expected.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It takes some serious graphics power to run this game at high settings. The 9800GTX stays just barely ahead of its predecessor in all of the resolutions.

 

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 9800GTX is beat by the 8800GTS at 1024 x 768 and 1280 x 1024. The 8800GTX was outperformed in every resolution.

 

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 9800GTX outperforms the entire suite of video cards in the 3DMark06 testing, including the 768MB 8800GTX.

 

Conclusion:

So is the 9800GTX the next greatest thing since sliced bread? Yes and No! In 23 out of the 32 tests run, it outperformed the entire suite of cards tested. In 28 out of 32, it outperformed the 8800GTX that it is replacing; in two tests it equaled the performance and in two it outright lost. For a card that looks every bit like a hopped up 8800GTS (G92), the performance is an increase over the previous generation hardware. The only problem is that the 8800GTS is close on its heels or ahead of it in the benchmarking. In the tests that the 9800GTX placed second, in almost all it was to the 8800GTS. Seeing as how the 9800GTX is priced between $299 and $349, the 9800 series comes in at half of the G80 GTX card's price. So you have the fact that it's priced right, better performance for the most part (28 out of 32 tests) than the G80 8800GTX, so where can you go wrong? The overclocking headroom on the XFX 9800GTX is huge, 141MHz on the GPU core and 124 MHz on the memory make increasing the performance of the 9800 a simple task. The gains from overclocking the GTX this high are not fully realized until you increase the speed of the CPU by overclocking it. With a small overclock on the CPU to 2.8GHz, an additional 17 frames per second was realized on the Knights of the Sea benchmark. The noise level on the XFX 9800GTX is nearly silent with the fan speed set to be automatically controlled. I never heard it ramp up even with repeated looping of the benchmarking tests. Instead of automatically controlling the fan speed, there is the option to manually control it via the Nvidia Control Panel as well as with Riva Tuner 2.08. While monitoring the temperatures, the loaded temperature never went above 70 Celsius, so it appears the dual slot cooling solution does the job quietly and efficiently. Cool and Quiet is a good thing when you consider the Hi-Def capabilities of the 9 series GPUs. You really don't want to hear the fan spool up and down while in the quiet parts of a movie.

If one card won't give the performance you are after, how about two, or better yet three? Tri and Quad SLI (9800GX2 x 2) are now realities. In the Nvidia 9 series of graphics cards, the 9800GTX is the only one capable of running Tri-SLI at this time. The G80 8800GTX and Ultras have the ability to be used in a Tri-SLI setup. The correct motherboard is of course required for either generation to use this option. There is one more SLI option to consider, Hybrid SLI. Hybrid power is part of Nvidia's Hybrid SLI technology. This option is available for use as a power savings feature that allows an onboard graphics processor to do the low power 2D graphics work, but then allow the one, two or three discrete graphics cards to come online for that all night fragfest. The most important part is the Hybrid Power compatible motherboard.

The real bottom line is that the XFX 9800GTX is a step above the the 8800GTX. Not much of a step, but a step nonetheless. The world domination and massive performance increase that the G80 8800GTX offered over the preceding generation of video cards is not realized with the latest from Nvidia. This release is not just about raw performance, but about giving the whole package to the end user. Hybrid Power capabilities for the energy conscious, performance scaling with Tri-SLI, HDMI output for High Definition gaming or for that Hi-Def HTPC you are building. The XFX 9800GTX can meet just about any need there is for a graphics card. Play Hard!

 

Pros:

 

Cons: