Asus 9800 GX2 1GB (EN9800GX2) Page: 1
Introduction
 
Launched last week to an expectant enthusiast scene, the 9800GX2 was always going to be a card that would divide opinions even before launch. Nvidia had launched the 7950 GX2 before which had blazing performance but was always felt to be a slightly middle-ground attempt at a new card.
 
Well, the 9800 GX2 has been in the pipelines a while and is now sitting in stores (and indeed already in some enthusiasts PC's), ready to go. We take a look at a model from Asus to see exactly how the card gets on in the labs.
 
 
Background
 
It's hard to think what exactly to put in this section as the 9800 GX2 is based on the G92 architecture, which in turn is based on Nvidia's awesome G80 architecture. This time though, Nvidia have grabbed two G92 cores on two PCB's with a total of 1GB memory and wrapped it all up in a (rather large) but tidy package.
 
This means that the card has two banks of 128 Stream Processors, working off of a 256bit memory bus equipped with 1GB GDDR3. These together produce 128 GB/sec of memory bandwidth and a super-fast 76.8 billion/sec Texture Fill Rate.
 
 
Specification
 
Taken from Nvidia's website
 
Stream Processors 256
Core Clock (MHz) 600 MHz
Shader Clock (MHz) 1500 MHz
Memory Clock (MHz) 1000 MHz
Memory Amount 1G
Memory Interface 512-bit
Memory Bandwidth (GB/sec) 128
Texture Fill Rate (billion/sec) 76.8
 
* PCI Express 2.0 Support
Designed for the new PCI Express 2.0 bus architecture offering the highest data transfer speeds for the most bandwidth-hungry games and 3D applications, while maintaining backwards compatibility with existing PCI Express motherboards for the broadest support.
* NVIDIA® PureVideo® HD Technology1
The combination of high-definition video decode acceleration and post-processing that delivers unprecedented picture clarity, smooth video, accurate color, and precise image scaling for movies and video.
* Dynamic Contrast Enhancement & Color Stretch
Provides post-processing and optimization of High Definition movies on a scene-by-scene basis for spectacular picture clarity.
* HDMI Output
Integrated HDMI™ connector enables sending both high-definition video and audio signals to an HDTV via a single cable.
* NVIDIA HybridPower™ Technology2
Lets you switch from the GeForce 9800 GX2 graphics card to the motherboard GeForce GPU when running non graphically-intensive applications for a silent, low power PC experience.
* Enthusiast System Architecture
The new ESA-enabled NVIDIA control panel provides a state-of-the-art interface for performance tuning and monitoring of your GeForce 9800 GX2-based graphics card on NVIDIA nForce 790i platforms.
 
 
The Packaging
 
Asus have stuck with their packaging featuring Company of Heroes for the 9800 GX2. They've also stuck with the huge box as well, good if you like OTT size boxes but it would be nice to have a little smaller box for a card that only takes up a 6th of the size (max).
 
asus 9800 gx2 packaging  asus 9800 gx2 packaging
 
The inside of the box shows that Asus have taken care to make sure that the card is well protected although being so huge, there's a lot of spare room in the box itself.
 
asus inside box
 
Still, it's not going to end up in a broken card unless you get a particularly nasty courier.
 
 
Package
 
Here we have:
 
* 1 x Asus CD Wallet
* 1 x Driver CD
* 1 x User Manual CD
* 1 x Speed Setup Guide
* 1 x 2 x 6-PIN PCI-e to 8-PIN PCI-e power
* 1 x Dual Molex to 6-PIN PCI-e power
* 1 x DVI to VGA adapter
* 1 x Graphics card to Motherboard sound pass-though
 
bundle
 
The package supplied by Asus is a decent one and covers most angles from a hardware perspective. The game included is Company of Heroes which is a very good popular title, but perhaps getting a little long in the tooth. Still, at least it has a DX10 patch, enabling you to make use of your DX10 GPU.


Asus 9800 GX2 1GB (EN9800GX2) Page: 2
The card - close up
 
The 9800 GX2 is a huge card. No really, it's massive. It sits at a rather large 10.5" (L) x 3.75" (W) x 1.5" (H) and is pretty heavy being wrapped in a metal shell outer casing.
 
9800 gx2 and hd3870 x2  asus 9800 gx2 vs hd3870 x2
 
As you can see, the Nvidia card is equal in length to the rather huge HD3870 X2.
 
9800 GX2 REAR  asus 9800 gx2
 
The 9800 GX2 is totally covered in metal all the way around. The dual PCB's are enclosed and out of view, making the card not look so much like a dual PCB card. This does bring me to thinking that Nvidia could have left out the extra metal in the casing and saved some cost, but I suppose it does integrate the cooling solution.
 
It's a little odd that Asus have only gone for a CGI character on the side of the GX2 and not some sort of Asus branding there. Still they've more than made up for that on the side of the card.
 
asus 9800 gx2  9800 gx2 side on
 
As I said earlier, Asus have emblazoned their logo on the side of this particular 9800 GX2 on a cool looking gold plate.
 
 9800 gx2 power  asus 9800 gx2 rear end
 
The 9800 GX2 needs two lots of PCI-e power: 1x 8-PIN and 1x 6-PIN. This is a first for Nvidia cards and a little frustrating for those who want to use their existing PSU's. However, Asus have thoughtfully included an adaptor for 2 x 6-PIN PCI-e power to 8-PIN PCI-e power. Notice right by the top power port is a rubber grommet: this is where the sound for HDMI sound is carried through.
 
asus 9800 gx2 outputs  HDMI out
 
The 9800 GX2 carries a fully fledged HDCP enabled HDMI port, along with two DVI ports. This is a great thing for those with HDTV's wanting to plug their PC into them.
 
SLI bridge
 
An SLI bridge adorns the 9800 GX2's side, which means 9800 GX2 SLI....which should be nice...
 
 
The Cooler
 
The cooler on the GX2 is half sensible and half strange in my opinion. The rear vent blows out hot air from the fan that sits in the middle of both the PCBs. However, the card also blows hot air out of the top of the cooler. This means that not only does your room heat up when the cards loaded, but all that hot air gets trapped in your case too. This is a big concern for those who have small cases and I would go as far to say that it could get so hot that it would affect other components.
 
9800 gx2 fan
 
cooler  GPU design
 
Having said that, Nvidia have designed the 9800 GX2 pretty cleverly. The heat from one GPU doesn't affect the other too much and the whole thing looks like one card, rather than two. The cards face each other in this cooling solution with the fan in the middle moving air.
 
The fan on the GX2 sits between both PCBs and blows out hot air when the card is fully loaded. This is pretty effective as far as temps are concerned on the GPU's:
 
 IdleLoad
GPU 157°C68°C
GPU 259°C76°C
 
This isn't too bad, but remember that the card was out of a case with an ambient temperature of 23.4°C. The hot air blowing out of the cooler and what would be into the case is 55°C, which would quickly lead to a very hot case.
 
The sound coming out of the cooler is very low, I was impressed that even at load and out of the case there was only a very slight noise coming from it. This is definitely due to the fan being throttled down. Whether this is a good balancer for the sheer amount of heat omitted from the card, I'll leave up to you.


Asus 9800 GX2 1GB (EN9800GX2) Page: 3
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
CoolerMaster Realpower Pro
Hitachi 7K160 HDD
Samsung DVD-RW
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 9800 GX2 1GB
 
3 x XFX 8800 Ultra's in Triple SLI: Core Speed: 650. Memory speeds: 2200 (1100). Stream processor clock: 1500MHz.
 
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 wanted to include benchmarks from an HD3870 X2, but we had some technical difficulties with the combination of graphics card and motherboard and so have not included these results.
 
Overclocking of all of the Nvidia cards tested was performed in the Nvidia drivers using the Ntune add-on.
 
The 9800 GX2 was tested with the 174.53 Vista drivers.


Asus 9800 GX2 1GB (EN9800GX2) Page: 4
Futuremark Benchmarks
 
All of the cards were run through several 3DMark benchmarks. Note that both the 9800 GX2 and the 3 Way SLI setup were both run through an extra benchmark at 1920 x 1200 with 8 x AA.
 
 
FutureMark - 3DMark03

3DMark03 is a benchmark that uses mainly a DirectX 8 feature set including several pixel fill-rate 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 was where Triple SLI really put some scores up and the 9800 GX2 just couldn't quite keep up. Still, scaling is pretty decent with resolution and AA.
 
 
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
 
The newer 3DMark05 benchmark shows that the 9800 GX2 puts out some pretty decent numbers and certainly beats out the 3 way SLI setup.
 
 
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
 
In the very latest 3DMark06, the Triple SLI setup beats out the new double GPU 9800 GX2, but not by a huge margin and scaling is again, pretty damn nice from the new card.


Asus 9800 GX2 1GB (EN9800GX2) Page: 5
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 feature set. 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
 
Call of Duty 4 shows that the performance of the new 9800 GX2 is generaly in the region of double that of the previous generation single 8800 GT, which is about right.
 
 
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. F.E.A.R. is a little older game so Tri SLI should handle this well and look fantastic.
 
FEAR
 
Again the 9800 GX2 shows that it is a very fast card, performing just below the numbers for 3 way SLI again.
 
 
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. I've found Bioshock behaves strangely sometimes in benchmarks so it will be interesting to see how it does here.
 
Bioshock
 
Bioshock without the crazy 8 x AA shows the 9800 GX2 hitting high numbers. Adding that amount of AA in the Unreal Engine lags out the GPU, but that is to be expected.


Asus 9800 GX2 1GB (EN9800GX2) Page: 6
Oblivion

Oblivion is a game that really taxed all of the cards at the time of its 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 is pretty even among all of the GPU's, but we see that the scaling when 8 x AA is added to the scene shows no drop in performance whatsoever, which is pretty fantastic.
 
 
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.
 
CoH
 
Results from Company of Heroes was quite interesting. The game was played in DirectX 10 mode and all settings set to the highest. The 9800 GX2 seemed to keep the same numbers, even having a slightly higher minimum FPS for the 8 x AA run. Playing the game never seemed to lag at all, so I don't think you'll have any problems running CoH at any res or AA detail you choose.


Asus 9800 GX2 1GB (EN9800GX2) Page: 7
Unreal Tournament 3

I have included UT3, even though it is another UE3 game as it is a fast, frantic and furious multi player 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.
 
ut 3
 
The Unreal Tournament benchmarks show that the 9800 GX2 can't quite cope with the 8 x AA on the UE3 engine.
 
 
Crysis

Crysis has to be our most challenging benchmark to date. Running under Windows Vista and using DirectX 10 path, I tried running both the 9800 GX2 and Tri SLI at 1920 x 1200 at "Very High" settings, no AA and also at 1920 x 1200 "high" settings.
 
Crysis
 
The 9800 GX2 played Crysis very well with High settings at 1920 x 1200, with acceptable framerate. Unfortunately, playing with Very  High settings just wasn't playable at all, with a lot of very visible lag.


Asus 9800 GX2 1GB (EN9800GX2) Page: 8
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.
 
Overclock
 
The 9800 GX2 overclocked very well with a speed of 745MHz on the core clock and 1052MHz gained on the memory.
 
3dmark06 overclocked
 
The overclock on the 9800 GX2 didn't seem to improve the 3DMark score very much which is a little strange, but it does show that the 9800 GX2 has a decent amount of headroom for Nvidia's partners to work with.


Asus 9800 GX2 1GB (EN9800GX2) Page: 9
Conclusion
 
The 9800 GX2 is a very fast card no doubt about that. With far superior SLI scaling from what we've seen previously from Nvidia and the ability to deal with high amounts of AA at very high resolutions the card is a cracker performance wise.
 
What Nvidia have managed with the 9800 GX2 is almost a proof of concept. When I installed the card and the drivers I had zero issues. All in all the whole review went very smoothly with no issues. Scaling was excellent and the drivers did the job they were supposed to do.
 
Price is going to be a big sticking point for those choosing a GPU to get with the 9800 GX2. The HD3870 X2 doesn't outperform the Nvidia dual-GPU beast at high resolutions and suffers from having AA handling that isn't up to par, but it is demonstrably cheaper than the 9800 GX2, of which the Asus GX2 reviewed today is set at £414 @ SCAN.
 
However, at this point if you want the very fastest GPU money has to buy (under £1000), then the ~£400 for the 9800 GX2 is worth paying.
 
I'll leave you to make up your mind if you have the monitor resolution and money to justify the purchase, but the 9800 GX2 is certainly a speedy card, warranting the Overclock3D Performance Award.
 
 
The Good
+ Excellent performance
+ Looks "beastly"
+ Decent Bundle
+ Quiet

The Mediocre
* Not quite the "next gen" we thought it would be

The Bad
- Price
- Heat fed into the case
 
 
performance 
 
 
Thanks to Asus for the review sample.
 
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