XFX 9800GTX+ Review

ccokeman - 2008-09-09 18:06:24 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: October 9, 2008
Price: $159.99

Introduction:

This year has been the year of the launch and relaunch in the video card market. No sooner than one company brings in a new product, there is something to counter, be it on price or performance. This constantly changing technology, update or just rebranding has the effect of making more cards available at many more performance levels and price points than I have ever seen. ATI started the year with the 3 series and dropped a bomb with the release of the HD48xx series of cards. The G92 series were the top of the heap in the beginning of the year and by April the 9 series arrived with the 9600GT the 9800GTX to replace the 8800GTX and the 9800GX2, which is still a strong performer. The 9800GTX+ was brought into existence to offer direct competition to the HD4850 from ATI. The XFX 9800GTX+ features a die shrink to 55nm and increases in both the Shader and GPU core clock speeds to push the performance to the level of the competition. Not much else has changed from the initial release of the 9800GTX. Will the 9800GTX+ from XFX and Nvidia be able to compete in the price and performance arena that ATI is enjoying success in this year? Let's take a look and see.

Closer Look:

The packaging of XFX products while sometimes similar are ultimately quite unique from any other manufacturers. XFX has played on the 9 with different cards to project an image. This time the packaging is slightly smaller and is roughly the size of the 9600GT packaging. The front panel features the 9 as a high performance engine. The assumption is that the Video card is a hyped up beast. The front also shows some of the capabilities of the XFX 9800GTX+ including Physx, SLI and the 738MHz core clock speed. The rear panel goes into greater detail on the feature set of the XFX 9800GTX+.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The card is stored in an inner box in the Lime green I have become accustomed to from XFX. This box has a window that allows the end user to glimpse the card before opening the package. The 9800GTX+ is packed tightly in a form fitting foam block to minimize and chance of damage. Underneath the foam block is where the bundled accessories are stored during transit.

 

 

 

XFX provides a bundle that contains a manual, quick start guide, connection diagram, a "Do not Disturb" door tag featuring the Alpha Dog and an assortment of cables for both power and connectivity. There are two power adapters provided, one is an 8 pin PCIe to 6 Pin PCIe and one is dual 4 pin Molex to a 6pin PCIe connection. The thin cable is an S/PDIF cable to connect the digital out sound signal directly to the 9800GTX+ so that sound can be carried over an HDMI connection. Of course this requires a DVI to HDMI adapter.

 

 

 

Now you know how it comes to your door and what comes with this replacement for the 9800GTX, the 9800GTX+ from XFX. Let's see what it's made of.

 

Closer Look:

The XFX 9800GTX+ is still based on the Nvidia G92 architecture, but the GPU core has been reduced in size via a new 55nm manufacturing process. The GPU core and shader speeds get a significant bump up to the tune of 65 and 144MHz respectively. The GDDR3 memory though, stays right at the 1100MHz through a 256 bit bus specification of the 9800GTX. Other than those few things, the 9800GTX+ is not much different than the 9800GTX released earlier this year. The cooling solution and 9 series logo remain unchanged.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The business end of the XFX 9800GTX+ features two dual link DVI connections and an HDTX out that can be utilized with the supplied dongle. Just to the left of the heasink vent on the mounting bracket is a small LED. This LED will let you know if you have the correct power connections made to the 9800GTX+. The rear end of the card features a large vent that allows airflow through to the heatsink fan and is much needed when two of these cards are run in an SLI configuration because of the close proximity of the fan to the rear of the second card when installed in the motherboard.

 

 

Along the top edge of the XFX 9800GTX+ the connectivity remains the same as the 9800GTX so there is nothing really new. Two six pin PCIe power connections are used to power the card. The small two pin connection is an S/PDIF in for the HDMI sound when the card is used in this capacity. Of course a DVI to HDMI adapter is needed for this. Toward the front is the SLI bridge connection. You will notice that there are two connections available. This allows the card to be used in not only a dual card SLI configuration but a three way solution can be utilized for a nice increase in gaming performance.

 

 

The reference heatsink comes off of the XFX 9800GTX+ with the removal of quite a few spring loaded screws. Once off you can see that it is made with a copper contact plate with heat pipes running into the aluminum fin array. This method of construction utilizes the best properties of both materials to make a more effective cooling solution.

 

 

With the heatsink pulled clear of the PCB you can see how the components on the PCB are oriented. The GDDR3 memory modules surround the core with the power regulating circuits on the right hand side of the PCB. To let you know the 9800GTX+ has power, there is an LED that shines from the top of the PCB out to the mounting bracket. This lets you know it is indeed alive. As with most video cards the thermal paste is applied quite heavily and is the consistency of a dry peanut butter. This was replaced with something a little more suitable after the testing is done.

 

 

The XFX 9800GTX+ uses a 55nm version of the G92 gpu core. This replaces the 65nm version and should provide the same performance of an equivalently clocked 9800GTX. The 55nm product is seen on the left the 65nm is seen to the right. The memory used on the XFX 9800GTX+ is made by Samsung and is rated at 1200MHz. This explains the ease with reaching over 1200MHz on the memory clock speeds.

 

 

Will the higher clock speed on the GPU and shader processors provide an increase in performance? They should, so let's see just how much!

 

Configuration:

Once you get the XFX9800GTX+ installed into your computer you can fire it up and do just about anything. In order to get the performance you expect though you need to install the drivers to tell that nice new card how to do things. Of course once the drivers are installed you can configure the image quality in the control panel to heighten your experience.

You can start out one of two ways to install the drivers. For those that want to use the drivers supplied by XFX, you can insert the software disk into the optical drive and let the autorun feature bring up the installation GUI. Once open, there are several options you can choose from. The registration tab takes you to the XFX website so you can register that new toy. The bundled software tab only contains Adobe Acrobat, which you do need to read the manual stored under the driver tab. Press the windows driver tab to begin the installation of the driver specific to your system or download the most current one from the Nvidia website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 has completed, the place to configure the video card software is the Nvidia Control Panel. There are a ton of options, but to start you can use the preview page to give you a top line easy to use interface to adjust your preference between performance and quality. The Manage 3D setting allows you to manipulate the performance of the games you play. By installing the Ntune utility from Nvidia you will get the performance tab that will allow you to overclock your card as well as manage the cooling via the fan speed adjustment. The control panel is pretty comprehensive and allows for a myriad of adjustments to tailor the performance and visual quality to your liking.

 

 

With the drivers installed and the settings viewed and adjusted per user preference in the control panel, it's time to move on to testing the XFX 9800GTX+ to see just how much "Plus" there is.

 

Specifications:

 

Fabrication Process

55 nm

Number of Transistors

754 million

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

740 MHz

Shader Clock (Processor Cores)

1836 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

47.2 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 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 9800GTX+ 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 XFX 9800GTX+ 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. Will the additional clock speed on the GPU core and shaders be enough to add some much needed horsepower to your gaming rig? Let's find out.

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

Since the XFX 9800GTX had some decent overclocking potential, the expectation was that this card would be just as good or better. Better? Yes and no! How's that? Well this card has a starting point 65MHz higher on the core and 148MHz higher on the shader clocks than the standard 9800GTX we looked at back in April and usually that means less overhead is left over. Not a general rule but just an observation. Since this card higher speeds from the start I had to wonder how much was left in the tank. As it turns out the tank had some gas left. I kept bumping it up and up until I hit the wall on the core and then the same with the memory. Then I had to find the best combination of the three clock speeds. Once I reached about 840-850 MHz on the core I was getting crashes, so I used RivaTuner to unlink and back down the shader cores a touch to move the bar a little higher. This yielded an increase on the GPU core of 123MHz and a final speed of 863MHz. The shader core clock increased by 235MHz and 150Mhz on the memory. All pretty substantial increases on air cooling. Speaking of cooling the stock cooler does a great job cooling this smaller core.The maximum temperature I recorded was 66 degrees Celsius with the fan controlled by the drivers. Bump up the fan and the temperature drops a nice 15 degrees, although there is a noise penalty to pay for this. The best compromise between cooling and noise came at around 60% fan speed for me. Depending on your tolerance level this could be to loud but for me it was just barely audible outside the case.

 

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. Will the 9800GTX+ be that card? The Crysis single player demo includes both CPU and GPU benchmarks to test the performance of your processor and video card.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At least here in the Crysis testing the 9800GTX+ fell short of the perfomance delivered by the HD4850 and barely rose above the performance of the 65nm 9800GTX.

 

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 9800GTX+ fights to perform better than its predecessor. The performance improvement is at a maximum of 1 FPS starting at 1680x1050. By overclocking the 9800GTX+ the performance comes close to that of the GTX 260. The performance trend is that the GTX+ does not start to out-perform the 9800GTX until the higher resolutions.

 

Testing:

BioShock is one of the creepier games that I have played. 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.

 

Video Settings:

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The GTX+ out performs the 65nm version in two out of the 4 resolutions tested. Performance falls below the level of both the 9800GTX and the HD4850 at 1680x1050 and above.

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 GTX+ finally shows a little bit of muscle when compared to the HD4850 and 9800GTX. It out performs the HD4850 and 9800GTX in three out of the four resolutions tested. Not by much!

 

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

  

 

 

 

 

 

By 1920x1200 there really is not an advantage between the 9800GTX+, HD4850 and the 9800GTX. The trend of the GTX+ barely out performing the 9800GTX continues here.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is no denying the ATI cards outperform the Nvidia offerings in this benchmark. The GTX+ does finish at least one FPS better than the standard GTX in all four resolutions.

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. Play as the British or Germans. This Real Time Strategy game is brought to us by Relic Entertainment.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

The only time the 9800GTX+ out performs the HD4850 is in the 1024x768 and 1280x1024 resolutions. The 9800GTX is faster in two of the four resolutions.

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:

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally we see a strong result from the 9800GTX+. It outperforms the HD4850 and the 9800GTX in all four resolutions by virtue of the higher clock speeds.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 9800GTX+ is faster at the 1024x768 resolution than the HD4850 but when the CPU is no longer a help to it in the "Performance" and higher presets it fails to exceed the the performance of the ATI mid range card. The performance does exceed that of the 9800GTX. Again, not by much.

 

Conclusion:

The 9800GTX+ is supposed to be the green camps answer to the ATI HD4850. In this endeavor it does not entirely succeed. When the performance numbers are put down on paper the HD4850 and 9800GTX+ each won 18 out of 36 benchmark tests for a 50/50 split or you guessed it a 50% win percentage. With the increased clock speeds on the GPU core(740) and shaders(1836) the performance is almost there, almost. The smaller 55nm process does not provide increased performance but what it is supposed to do is reduce manufacturing costs for the manufacturer and reduce operating expenses for the end user by reducing the power consumption. To that end the 9800GTX+ can be paired with a Hybrid power capable motherboard to further reduce the power consumed by your system by disabling the discrete video card(9800GTX+) during non demanding 2D graphics use and then ramp up the performance by re-enabling the card for that demanding frag fest. Initially offered with a price point of $229 dollars this has dropped to a current price of $159 dollars after rebate at a popular e-tailer. This puts the price squarely in the price/performance point that the red camp has been so effective at during this last round of the video card technology wars.

The price point for the XFX 9800GTX+ is nice and makes the three way SLI capability that much more attractive. Of course you need the prerequisite 780i or 790i chipset based motherboard to make this happen. Usually with a card that has a clock speed increase there seems to be less headroom. On the XFX 9800GTX+ I was able to squeeze out an additional 21MHz on the core but the shader clock and memory clock speeds were just a tad short of the XFX 9800GTX I tested back in April. Does that mean this card is not as good? Not at all! In fact the performance scaled quite nicely with the overclocking even rivaling the performance of the GTX260 and HD4870 at the lower resolutions. With an increase of the GPU clock speed of 123MHz, an increase in the shader clock of 235MHz and the 150MHz on the memory make this card a solid overclocker. Match this card with a 4GHz quad core CPU and watch it fly. Usually increasing the operating speeds results in an increase in the operating temperatures, not to the extremes that you would think from an air cooled card. By letting the driver automatically control the fan speed the maximum temperature I recorded was 66 degrees Celsius under load overclocked. When I manually set the fan speed to 100% (noisy but not terribly offensive) that took a dramatic drop to 51 degrees Celsius. With a smaller GPU core using the same cooling solution as the 65nm version of the card uses the effect is a reduction in operating temperatures. The 9800GTX+ does offer an increase in performance over the 9800GTX but the margin is not really huge enough to make you go out and buy this card if you already have a 9800GTX. If you are in the upgrade mode and want a mid range card that performs well and overclocks for even better performance you really cant go wrong with the $159 dollar price of admission.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: