XFX 9800GX2 Review

ccokeman - 2008-03-10 15:10:08 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: March 18, 2008
Price: $561.60

Introduction:

What can two graphics processing units in one card do for you? First off, there is the ability to run SLI (Scalable Link Interface) using just one 16x PCI-E slot on your motherboard. Great if you only have one slot or if you have all the rest of the expansion slots filled up and just can't stand to get rid of one device to gain additional graphics performance. What about the opposite side of the fence where you want to use that X-Fi sound card instead of the onboard sound, but just don't have the available slots open because your graphics cards use dual slot cooling solutions. What do you do?

The XFX 9800GX2 can help in all of these situations. It features Dual DVI, SlI capability, HDMI output with HDMI certification for Hi-Definition gaming, 600MHz core clock speed, one gigabyte of 1000MHz (2000) GDDR3 memory and so much more. Will one card be able to handle the load imposed on a graphics card by many of today's hottest Direct X 10 games or is it just a pipe dream gone terribly wrong? Let's find out.

 

Closer Look:

The XFX 9800GX2 comes in a sinister looking black box. The Borg-like 9 denotes that something special is inside the package. The front highlights some of the attributes of the GX2. The rear panel gives a full size view of the card that is hidden inside, as well as giving information about the Hi-Definition gaming capabilities that the 9800GX2 possesses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 9800GX2 is housed inside the inner container colored in the traditional XFX green. Popping open the box, the documentation for the 9800GX2 is front and center. Under this sits a foam block that houses the video card. The balance of the bundle of accessories are in a side cardboard compartment.

 

 

 

The bundled accessories for the XFX 9800GX2 include a quick start guide, a tip and troubleshooting guide, a warning flyer reminding the user about the 8-pin and 6-pin power needs, the driver disk, a "Do Not Disturb" Tag, a full version of Company of Hereos including the DX10 patch, a dual 4-pin molex to 6-pin PCI-E adapter, two DVI to D-Sub adapters and an HDMI sound cable to connect to the motherboard. At last, someone puts the cable in the box!

 

 

Let's take a look at this beast up close and personal!

 

 

Closer Look:

The XFX 9800GX2 is a dual GPU graphics card for use in a 16x PCI-E 1.0 or 2.0 slot on the motherboard. It features clock speeds of 600MHz on the core and 1000Mhz on the one gigabyte of GDDR3 memory, 512bit memory interface that occupies two expansion slots. On one side the BORG-like 9 is shown, while the other side features the XFX logo. The card is housed inside a metal enclosure to both provide rigidity and support, as well as create a path for the airflow in and out of the enclosure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bag the card resides in has a warning label that again points out the supplemental power needs of the 9800GX2. Without these connections the card will not operate.

 

The business end of the 9800GX2 features dual DVI ports as well as an HDMI port to get connected to the display device. The back end of the card is slotted to allow cool air intake to cool the two GPUs.

 

 

On the top, or the rear end, of the 9800GX2 are the supplemental power connections as well as the HDMI audio in to the card. From the manufacturer both are covered up, so make sure you hook them up.

 

 

But wait, there's more. Where does the SLI bridge connector go? Well it is hidden as well. There is a removable cover where the bridge connector normally resides. Just pop it off and Quad SLI is in your future.

 

 

The slots at the top of the card enclosure, as well as the slots on the display port side of the card, provide the means to exhaust the hot air out of the card enclosure. This will provide an increase in case temperature if you do not have adequate ventilation.

 

You have seen how the card comes to the consumer and gotten a good look at what is included, as well as what the 9800GX2 looks like, now let's get it installed and test this beast out.

 

Configuration:

Just putting that brand new XFX 9800GX2 into your system does not guarantee that it will be optimized for the system. The drivers, or instruction set, need to be installed to get the most from the graphics card regardless of make. 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 9800GX2 and see if it's all that it's cracked up to be.

 

Specifications:

Model Number
PV-T98U-ZHF(*)
Packing
(4)
Version
Standard
Clk(MHz)
600
Memory Bus
512bit
Memory Type
DDR3
Memory  Size
1GB
Memory  Speed••
2GHz 
Shader Clk
1500MHz
Cooling
Fansink   
Output
Dual DVI, HDMI 
Profile
Double 
SLI
Yes 
Max Resolution
2560x1600
Card Dimension
26.7x 11.2x 3.8 cm  

 

Features:

 

All information gathered from promotional material supplied from the manufacturer XFX.

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 9800GX2 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:

Overclocking the XFX 9800GX2 was fairly simple. Just keep ratcheting up the clocks and the scores keep going up. I figured with a core speed of 600MHz I might be able to push to 700MHz. I went well beyond that and hit 768MHz, a 168MHz improvement over stock. The memory scaled very nicely as well, reaching 1106MHz, or 206MHz over the stock settings. The shader clocks scaled along with the core and ended up at 1944MHz. All things told, I was amazed at the increases in the clock speeds. The overclocked scores in this review do not tell all of the story. Sure there are increases in performance over the stock settings, but the CPU is the ultimate limitation with this kind of increase. I run the CPU at stock speeds and show the results good or bad for the sake of consistancy and to show what the average person can expect performance-wise. Just for kicks I wanted to see how it would do with a modest CPU overclock as well as the overclock on the 9800GX2. A 3DMark06 score of 18650 on stock air cooling was the result. No fan speed increase to help compensate for the temperature increase or any other tricks. 18650 with no OS tweaks is pretty sweet on a stock air cooled card. Oooh...the potential.

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 9800GX2 was slower than the true SLI setup at 1024x768 and fell behind at 1680x1050 by 1 frame per second to the 3870X2. Its performance degraded the least as the resolution increased.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Against its main competition the 9800GX2 takes all of the tests. The true SLI setup still wins in three out of four tests.

 

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 GX2 is competitive against the true SLI setup all the way up to 1920 x 1200 where it finally falls short. It beats the 3870X2 at the lower resolutions.

 

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:

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does the word "domination" mean anything? At least up to 1920x1200 where the GX2 falls 1 frame per second short of the SLI setup. The 3870 was beat in 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This game is severely CPU limited. It takes a serious overclock on the CPU to make a significant change in scores. The GX2 scores are indicative of this. There seems to be issues with the scaling of multi GPU graphics solutions as well.

 

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. At the lowest resolution, it keeps pace with the SLI solution and beats the HD3870X2. At 1920x1200 its performance is unbeaten by the comparison setups.

 

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 G92 8800GTS is a monster at 1024x768. As the scale rises though, its performance falls in line. The 9800GX2 performs better than its direct competition in all four resolutions.

 

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 9800GX2 falls to the HD3870X2 in this test. The clock speeds of the GX2 are 600MHz while the HD3870X2 are at 825MHz factory direct. This could play into the slightly lower scores. Once the clock speeds are a little closer, the 9800GX2 pulls ahead.

 

Conclusion:

In 18 out of 32 tests run, the 9800GX2 comes out on top, beating the HD3870X2 head to head. In some of tests by a wide margin, while in others it just squeaked by. The bonus with this card is the fact that it overclocks like there's no tomorrow. Increases in clock speeds well into the triple digits is pretty astounding. Nvidia and XFX have left some additional headroom for the enthusiast to play with to go for those graphics world records. Performance of the 9800GX2 in single card mode was about par for the standard 8800GT. The only thing to note is that the intial driver release did not automatically enable SLI mode on this card. As it turns out, the intial driver release was just horrible, no stability and crash after crash occurred. Some of the benchmarks could not even be completed, the driver was so bad. After a new driver was sent from Nvidia, the tables were turned on the stability and benchmark scoring. No more crashes is good!

The stock cooling is barely audible in a quiet room. It does ramp up a little, but not enough to be heard in a closed case. Something to appreciate when the 9800GX2 is used in an HTPC. Why would you do that with the gaming performance of the card? Well let me 'splain it Lucy. Imagine Call of Duty 4 gaming in Hi-Def on that brand new 60 inch plasma 1080i television via the HDMI output, as well as watching all of your favorite movies in Hi-Definition to boot! Starts to clear it up a little doesn't it? Having two GX2s in SLI would offer just amazing performance. Whenever a new technology becomes available, the early adopters usually take the price hit to get the latest and greatest. At an MSRP of $649.99, the early adopters will bear the initial hurt but getting closer to availability at retailers (e-tailers) the price will be dropping closer to a $619.99 price point. Unfortunately, that is more than two 8800GTs, which offer slightly better performance in SLI mode. Power wise, this card does use more juice than an overclocked 8800GT SLI combo. I watched my Kilowatt meter and while running a decent overclock on the system, as well as the 9800GX2, the system pulled 54 more watts from the mains. A pretty substantial increase if I must say so myself. The GX2, as you can imagine, puts out quite a bit of heat. It may be that it is more concentrated because of the metal surround on the card, but the discharge temperatures are quite warm, hitting 55 Celsius.

Despite some of the negatives, the XFX9800GX2 is a performer. It does what it was intended to do, go after its competition and come out on top. The thought of Hi-Defintion gaming on the big screen is quite appealing as I go check the balance on my credit cards!

 

 

Pros:

 

Cons: