Asus 9600 GT - G94 unveiled Page: 1
Introduction
 
Nvidia rumours have abounded and been promising something new for a little while now. Instead of going straight in at the top end, Nvidia have decided that they will beef up their mid-range, which is obviously the highest selling of their add in cards.
 
9600 gt core
 
This makes sense, especially after ATI released a couple of stonking cards in this price-range in the HD3850 and the HD3870. We've got an Asus card in the labs for some serious testing, so firstly let's look at what we've got.
 
G92 G94
 
Yes, that right, Nvidia haven't exactly done a lot from their last 8800 GT incarnation. G94 is basically half a G92. Armed with 64 shaders and the same 256bit memory architecture, the 9600 doesn't break a lot of moulds when it comes to features.
 
This particular 9600 GT from Asus, the Asus 9600 GT comes stacked with 512mb GDDR3 and a stock clock of 650MHz. The Samsung K4J52324QE - BJIA is clocked to 900MHz, although it should be capable of 1000Mhz or 2000MHz effective. Armed also with 1650MHz stream processors, there's certainly still some speed in this baby.
 
It's also worth mentioning that Nvidia have done a lot of R&D on the 9600 GT to get SLI working well with the chips, one of the downfall's of the 8600 GT.
 
Moving swiftly on then...
 
 
Packaging
 
Asus have kept roughly the same packaging we've seen recently from them with a CGI female character on the front of the box and the rest looking pretty business-like. The packaging this time is lime green and should be pretty stand out on the shelves.
 
packaging front  packaging rear
 
Inside of the box we see that Asus have done their usual job of keeping the graphics card nice and safe, which is reassuring.
 
inside box
 
As usual, Asus do not disappoint us with the box.
 
 
Package
 
It's good to see that Nvidia and it's partners are recognising that more and more GPU's are being used with HDTV's. You'll see why I've said this when you look at the bundle.
 
* 1 x S-Video to Composite video
* 1 x DVI to VGA converter
* 1 x DVI to HDMI converter
* 1 x SP-DIF pass-through cable for HDMI
* 1 x Quickstart manual
* 1 x VGA driver disk
* 1 x Utilities disk
* 1 x HDMI
 
package  HDMI
 
The package has every bit of hardware you should need to connect to all the various sources you'd be using this card and Asus have done well here. There's no game added into the package which is a shame as a lot of gamers like getting a game with the card. Having said that, there hasn't been a decent new release in a while so you should have most of the best games of 2007 already!
 
 
Specification
 
Here are the specs of the GPU:
 
 Graphics Engine GeForce 9600GT
Video Memory 512M DDR3
Engine Clock 650 MHz
Shader Clock 1625MHz
Memory Clock 1.8GHz (900MHz DDR3)
Memory Interface 256 bit
DVI Max. Resolution 2560 * 1600
Bus Standard PCI Express 2.0
DVI Output DVI-I *2
HDCP compliant YES
HDMI Output YES, via DVI to HDMI adaptor **
D-Sub Output YES, via DVI to D-Sub adaptor
HDTV Output YES, via HDTV Out cable
TV Output YES, via S-Video to Composite
Adaptor/Cable Bundled DVI-to-D-Sub adaptor
HDTV-out cable
Power Cable
DVI-to-HDMI adaptor
Software Bundled ASUS Utilities & Driver
Notes The card size is 4.376 inches x 9 inches
 
The stock clock speeds aren't hugely great so it will be interesting to see how the card performs.


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Card looks - Asus 9600 GT
 
Asus have gone with a proprietary cooler for their 9600 GT. This is a cooler not dissimilar to a lot of Zalman's efforts and should cool the card sufficiently.
 
The PCB is a blue-green colour and comes with the GDDR uncovered. All capacitors on the board are high quality Japanese solid state caps so you shouldn't have a problem with longevity there.
 
There's not a whole lot remarkable apart from the cooler to point out.
 
asus 9600 gt front  asus 9600 gt
 
9600 gt nekked
 
As you can see, the card isn't unattractive and the green and gold actually compliment each other. The PCB is much cleaner than we've seen in G92 and Nvidia say the TDP of the 9600 GT is 95w, although still included is a power plug.
 
 card power  card caps
 
 The chips on the card are Samsung K4J52324QE - BJIA as I have said previously, meaning that they are GDDR3 capable of 1000MHz, although Asus are running them at 900MHz on this card.
 
chips
 
The card offers two Dual DVI ports and TV-out via S-Video. Both DVI Ports are HDCP enabled and I believe one is yellow so you know where to plug the HDMI adaptor in!
 
dual link dvi + HDCP
 
 
The Cooler
 
The cooler on the 9600 GT is as I said a proprietary affair Asus are calling the "Glaciator Fansink". Crap name aside, it's actually not a bad cooler and keeps the card at a steady 31°C idle, whilst holding it to 48°C load.
 
heatsink close in  Asus cooler close in
 
9600 gt nekked heatsink
 
The fan Asus have used for the cooler makes a mild clicking noise and seems to be set to 100% all of the time, most likely due to the fact a 2 PIN plug is used on it. Whilst you can hear thing when you have your ear next to it, the noise is drowned in a normal PC system. Something worth bearing in mind if you're PC is totally silent though.


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Test Setup
 
To test all of our GPU's, we use a system that bottlenecks them as little as possible. here's the trusty test rig:
 
Intel Core2Quad Q6600 @ 3.6GHz
Asus P5E3 DDR3 Motherboard
Kingston HyperX PC3-11000 CL7 DDR3 2gb Kit
Tagan 1100w Turbojet
Hitachi 7K160 HDD
Samsung DVD-RW
Silverstone TJ09S Case
Noctua NH-U12P Cooler
Dell 2405FPW Display
 
Please note that we have set the overclock on the Q6600 to be able to keep our test setup fairly consistent as the speeds of CPU's increase in the near future. 
 
 
Benchmarks Used
 
Again, Overclock3D has revised it's benchmark setup to really test the new DX10 GPU's, while still including some old favourites in there:
 
games tested
 
Synthetic Benchmarks
 
Please note all Synthetic benchmarks were run at stock settings; just as the free ones would be, as well as 1920 x 1200, with 4 x AA added. All benchmarks are repeated three times for consistency.
 
FutureMark 3DMark03
FutureMark 3DMark05
FutureMark 3DMark06
 
 
Gaming Benchmarks
 
All gaming benchmarks are run through at a demanding stage of the game with no savepoints to affect FPS. These are manual run-though's approximating 3 minutes and all gaming benchmarks are run three times through the same points for consistency. We hope that this gives an accurate and interesting depiction of "real-life" gaming situations. Note the resolutions and AA each game was run at.
 
All gaming tests were performed in Windows Vista Ultimate, under DX10 if available.
 
Call of Duty 4 - 1920 x 1200, 4 x AA set in-game
Oblivion - 1920 x 1200, 4 x AA set in drivers and HDR set on in-game. Settings on "Ultra"
F.E.A.R. - 1920 x 1200, 4 x AA set in game, soft shadows enabled
Bioshock - 1920 x 1200, all settings to maximum in-game
Unreal Tournament 3 - all settings set to maximum in-game
Company of Heroes - DirectX10 patch. 1920 x 1200 with in game settings as here.
Crysis - 1680 x 1050, all in-game settings set to "High"
 
Again, all game run-through's are repeated three times for consistency and accuracy.
 
We hope that this represents a good band of games and benchmarks for people wanting a performance overview of gaming at this current time.
 
 
Cards tested
 
Here are the cards tested in the benchmarking:
 
Asus 9600 GT. GPU: 650MHz. Memory: 900MHz (2000MHz). Stream processor clock: 1650MHz.
 
Asus 8800 GT Top Edition. GPU: 700Mhz. Memory: 1000MHz (2000MHz). Stream processor clock: 1650MHz
 
XFX 8800 GTS 512 XXX Alpha Dog Edition. GPU: 678Mhz. Memory:  986 (1972MHz). Stream processor clock: 1650MHz.
 
Powercolor HD3850. GPU:  720Mhz. Memory: 900MHz (1800MHz).  Stream processor clock: 690Mhz.
 
MSI 8800GTX. GPU: 575Mhz. Memory: 900 (1800). Stream processor clock: 1350MHz.
 
Note that we did have an 8800 GTS in for testing but unfortunately there was a hardware issue with the card and as such we could not include the results from this card.
 
Overclocking of all of the Nvidia cards tested was performed in the Nvidia drivers using the Ntune add-on.
 
The 9600 GT was tested using Nvidia beta drivers 171.16
 
For the previously released cards the Nvidia drivers used in the testing were ForceWare Release 169 WHQL and ATI drivers were ATI Catalyst™ 7.12 Display Driver for Windows Vista (32 bit)


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FutureMark - 3DMark03

3DMark03 is a benchmark that uses mainly a DirectX 8 featureset including several pixel fillrate tests. I included this test in the review to see an approximation of how well old games will play on the current gen cards, as well as how well each card copes with the fill-rate tests.
 
3dmark03
 
3DMark03 is good for the 9600 GT in as far as it scores higher than the HD3850 at the higher resolution and AA, albeit not by much.
 
 
FutureMark 3DMark05

3DMark05 is a benchmark based on DirectX 9 with more advanced shading and bump-mapping techniques, as well as a tough CPU test integrated.
 
3dmark05
 
Again the 9600 GT's scores are below that of it's rival.
 
 
FutureMark - 3DMark06

3DMark06 is a more complex 3D benchmark, using many of the more advanced techniques found in DirectX 9.0c such as utilising Shader Model 3.0 and HDR lighting to create a tough benchmark that stresses the GPU and CPU.
 
3dmark06
 
The newer benchmark sees the 9600 trail at behind the cheaper HD3850, even at high resolution with AA.


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Call of Duty 4

Call of Duty 4 is a stunning DirectX 9.0c based game that really looks awesome and has a very full featureset. With lots of advanced lighting, smoke and water effects, the game has excellent explosions and is fast and furious, perfect for our test suite.
 
CoD 4
 
CoD 4 shows the Asus 9600 GT has the guts to stay in competition with the big boys of the 8 series. Notice that it also beats out it's HD3850 rival.
 
 
F.E.A.R.

F.E.A.R. is a game based on the Lithtech Jupiter EX engine. It has volumetric lighting, soft shadows, parallax mapping and particle effects. This is a fairly old game but was a very testing one at the time of release and still looks fantastic, so we've kept it in.
 
FEAR
 
In F.E.A.R. the HD3850 has it's revenge with a great performance, although the Max FPS of the 9600 GT is higher. Gaming in F.E.A.R. was great as it should be with this mid range GPU.
 
 
Bioshock

Bioshock is a game based on the Unreal Engine 3. It uses some DirectX10 features such as awesome water and smoke effects. The detail level in the game, combined with a frantic pace makes for an excellent benchmark.
 
Bioshock
 
Bioshock again shows that the 9600 GT plays a good game, especially with the DX10 effects. However, the HD3850 wins through again here.


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Oblivion

Oblivion is a game that really taxed all of the cards at the time of it's release. Well over a year on and the current generation of cards simply fly through it. However, with advanced HDR, excellent draw distances, detailed grass and scenery as well as fantastic water/magic effects it's a good game to gauge performance for those who love RPG's.
 
Oblivion
 
Oblivion shows the 9600 GT to be a capable enough, keeping up with all of the other GPU's. However, again the HD3850 beats it by a margin.
 
 
Company of Heroes

Company of Heroes is a WWII-based RTS game that has an enormous amount of world detail. I played a DirectX patched version of the game that gives modern GPU's a bit of a workout.
 
Company of Heroes
 
The 9600 GT does well in COH, keeping up with the top end cads and also beating out the HD3850.


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Unreal Tournament 3

I have included UT3, even though it is another UE3 game as it is a fast, frantic and furious multiplayer mash-up experience. Using advanced DirectX 9.0c features, the Unreal Engine looks fantastic and runs on almost all half-decent modern GPU's making it an ideal all-round test.
 
Unreal Tournament 3
 
Again the HD3850 beats out the newer Nvidia 9600 GT, seeing a trend yet?
 
 
Crysis

Crysis has to be our most challenging benchmark to date. Running under Windows Vista and using DirectX 10 path, Crysis is currently limited to using "High" settings, rather than "Very High" using any of today's single cards. I also ramped down the resolution to 1680 x 1050 to make sure that I was happy with the framerates.
 
Crysis
 
Crysis, our last and most testing benchmark so far still shows a gap in performance, albeit without AA.


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Overclocking

Overclocking was performed using Nvidia's drivers and the nTune plugin. No hard or soft mods were performed on the cards and overclocking in this way is meant to represent an "easy overclock", giving value for money on each card without making too much effort.

Results

Here's what happened:
 
overclock
 
Overclocking has given us a fantastic overclock of 796/1006. That's a drastic improvement of 146MHz on the core and 106MHz on the video RAM, pretty damn fantastic.
 
3dmark06 overclocked
 
As we can see by the 3DMark test, this affects the performance of the card substantially, providing a bit of value for your money with an improvement of 1887 3DMarks over stock.
 
Unfortunately due to time constraints we have been unable to sample any power consumption data at this time.


Asus 9600 GT - G94 unveiled Page: 9
Conclusion
 
The 9600 GT leaves me a little confused if I'm honest. The reason being is that Nvidia know how the HD3850 performs. They know what numbers it puts out and yet they made a card that basically rivalled it rather than beat it. Sure, I know that it is very close and so much so that it could come down to personal choice, but it still erks me somewhat that Nvidia are relying on their loyal fanbase to buy cards that lose out to ATI's current generation.
 
Not that the Asus 9600 GT is a bad card, indeed it performs well, but to my mind it's a little close to the pricing of the 8800 and above the pricing of the HD3850. The Asus 9600 GT reviewed today is suggested to go out at about £127, which is slightly more than the quicker HD3850's (around £110ish). That means that even though the ATI card we tested was not stock-clocked, it is still £17 cheaper than this 9600 GT and armed with the same features.
 
As such it leaves this card a little in no-mans land as far as pricing and performance. Now I know the drivers I am using are beta's (albeit retail shipping drivers) so we should see some performance increase there. I'm also aware that pricing will drop after launch...but there's just something in the back of my mind that leaves me wanting more.
 
Either way, looking at performance and pricing, I don't think I can recommend the Asus 9600 GT for you to buy right now, perhaps a price cut or two down the line will change my mind.
 
The Good
+ Excellent hardware bundle
+ Good cooler
+ Excellent overclocking
+ Decent Performance

The Mediocre
* Looks a bit dated

The Bad
- Loses out to ATI's HD3850 in a lot of our tests
 
 
 
Thanks to Asus for the review sample
 
Agree with me? Want to abuse me for slating Nvidia? Go ahead, right here