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Today, we will be taking a look at the 9800GT from Asus. The 9800GT, on the surface at least, appears to be a clone of the overclockers favourite from the previous generation, the 8800GT. You would therefore be forgiven in believing that NVidia have done nothing, other than to change the marketing of the 8800GT to a 9800GT. NVidia it seems though, have kept very quiet about this card and the 9600GSO. Instead, the green camp have kept silent over its release, letting the cards do all the talking while they sit back and liquidate the remaining 8800GT 65nm cores.
So what does this mean for the consumer? Well, confusion for a start. Adding yet another card to the NVidia line-up serves only to confuse matters further than it already is. Especially when you consider that when stripped down to the bone, the 9800GT is simply a re badged 8800GT. There are a few added extras though such as Pure Video and Hybrid Power compatibility, should you have an NVidia based chipset supporting those features. To their credit Asus have not just sat back and released a reference design, but they have included a blue PCB and a 'Glaciator' heatsink which is much the same as the one found on the Asus EAH4850 1GB version we reviewed earlier.
Let's take a look at the specifications:
As you can see, the EN9800GT is startlingly similar in design to the 8800GT. In fact, it's almost an exact clone bar the chipset features.
Let's take a look at the card itself which includes the 'Glaciator' cooler. A cooler which Asus claims to allow a 7c temperature drop on the reference 9800GT. Theoretically, the Glaciator should allow for higher overclocks.
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Packaging and Appearance
Similar to most Asus' mid-range cards, the package is attractive yet basic looking by design. A green and black outer sleeve with a short run down of features sits on the front along with a picture of the Asus Exclusive 'Glaciator' cooler. The rear of the package goes on to describe the features, Asus exclusive innovations and the requirements to run the card (400w PSU- 26A).
The inner box is solid by construction and should be enough to prevent damage to the card which itself is set in an anti-static bag, eliminating the possibilities of damaging the card through not following static precautions. The contents as per usual from Asus, are both thorough and complete. An HDMI-DVI adapter; VGA-DVI adapter, as well as an S-Video cable and Molex to PCI-e 6-pin adapter are present. The manuals and driver disks complete the accessory list but sadly there is no game included
The card itself is very pleasing to the eye. The dominating Glaciator cooler taking pride of place on the card, along with a matching VRM cooler. In testing we found the cooler to be virtually silent but users should be aware that even though this card has a single backplate, the height of the cooler puts it into the 'dual slot' category. To the rear of the card we see that both the cooler and the VRM heatsink are attached to the PCB via screws. I do like it when manufacturers' consider the end user who might wish to use their own cooling solution. The spring loaded screws should also create an even mount - effectively increasing the cooling properties of the cooler even further.
To the rear of the card, we can see the 6-pin PCI-e power requirement. And at the backplate end of the card please take note of the connectivity. The orange DVI connector is actually the HDMI port which Asus have kindly provided a DVI to HDMI adapter for. The other slot is for DVI connections but again Asus have included a DVI-VGA connector should your monitor not support DVI. The remaining connector is for S-Video. Note the two SLI tabs available on the 9800GT. NVidia have seen fit to make the 9800GT TRI-SLI compatible should your motherboard support this feature.
This is the jewel in the EN9800GT's crown - its cooling capacity. Not only have Asus implemented the Glaciator cooler, but they have also decided to cool the VRM's with a matching heatsink. On test, the cooler was inaudible and managed to keep temperatures well within the realms of safety regardless of what benchmark we threw at it. The memory has no cooling but that did not appear to affect the running of the card, even when overclocked.
Stripping the card of its cooling, we get to see the actual core and memory as well as the Mosfets. Taking the cooler off was a simple affair with just four screws holding it in place. The Thermal Interface Material used was typical Asus gunk and acted more like glue than thermal paste. Removing the cooler screws was easy, however, removing the cooler from the core was an altogether different matter. This stuff was like cement! The actual contact area was good and the mount was near perfect but I would prefer to have seen a little less paste. A thermal pad sits beneath the VRM cooler which is sufficient enough to allow for imperfections in Mosfet height but looking at the imprints left on the tape, some of the Mosfets were only half covered.
All in all a nice looking card with some awesome cooling power. Gigabyte owners will rejoice at the choice of colour for the PCB as it matches the standard Gigabyte boards perfectly. Personally, I prefer black PCB's but then Asus have at least shown a little originality here.
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For this review, we will be using a test setup consisting of parts normally found in a mid- to high-end PC. A common mistake made when benchmarking graphics cards is that the rest of the PC system isn't sufficient enough to test the GPU to its limits. This results in a bottleneck situation, where the system can only run at the speed of its slowest component. For this reason, the test configuration chosen below has been specially selected to give each of the graphics card on test the headroom they require in order to produce the best results. To ensure we had no CPU bottlenecks we also overclocked the Q6600 to 3.6ghz for all of the tests. A fresh Vista installation along with Service Pack 1 updates were installed for each video card, along with the latest video card drivers available at the time of the review.
With stock clockspeeds set to 600Mhz on the core and 1800mhz on the memory, I was eager to see how much further I could clock the EN9800GT. Using the latest version of Rivatuner, I prepared the overclock by setting the fan to 100% which surprisingly didn't increase the volume level too much. I then went about overclocking the core and memory reaching 710Mhz and 2000Mhz respectively. Any further pushing and 3dMark 06 showed instability by either loss of detection of the card, BSOD or artefacting.
Over 100Mhz on the core and 200Mhz on the memory saw the 3DMark score increase by over a thousand points. Nothing to be scoffed at I'm sure you will agree. Temperatures were kept well under control with the 'Glaciator' cooler topping out at 72c while running 3DMark 06. I was also pleasantly surprised at how quiet the cooler was regardless of the stress the core was under.
After setting the clocks back to stock levels I then ran a group of benchmarks to see how well the EN9800GT faired against its closest competitor, the HD4850 also from Asus. While I don't expect the 9800GT to make any great shakes, as it costs £25 less than the HD4850, it will certainly be interesting to see how the 9800GT fairs with regard to Cost Per Frame - a key factor in the mid-range sector.
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3DMark is a popular synthetic gaming benchmark used by many gamers and overclockers to gauge the performance of their PC's. All 3DMark runs were performed a total of 5 times, with the highest and lowest results being removed and an average calculated from the remaining 3 results.
Well I think the results speak for themselves. The synthetic benchmarks clearly favour the HD4850 with the card gaining an even greater advantage when the resolutions and filtering are turned up a notch. Synthetic benchmarks don't always paint a picture of 'true' performance, however. Lets take a look at how the two cards perform in real world games.
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Crysis is without doubt one of the most visually stunning and hardware-challenging games to date. By using CrysisBench - a tool developed independently of Crysis - we performed a total of 5 timedemo benchmarks using a GPU-intensive pre-recorded demo. To ensure the most accurate results, the highest and lowest benchmark scores were then removed and an average calculated from the remaining three.
BioShock is a recent FPS shooter by 2K games. Based on the UT3 engine, it has a large amount of advanced DirectX techniques including excellent water rendering and superb lighting and smoke techniques. All results were recorded using F.R.A.P.S with a total of 5 identical runs through the same area of the game. The highest and lowest results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
The results again show that not only is the HD4850 the faster card, but it is also the better buy - giving better cost per frame than its NVidia counterpart. Crysis specifically was a weak showing for the 9800GT and although we did use high settings, 23fps would simply be unplayable at that setting. I dread to think of the outcome should we have added AA at the higher resolution.
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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 along with fast gameplay. Using the in-built Call Of Duty features, a 10-minute long game play demo was recorded and replayed on each of the GPU's using the /timedemo command a total of 5 times. The highest and lowest FPS results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
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Unreal Tournament 3 the latest game in the long running Unreal series from Epic Games and Midway. The game uses the latest UE3, which combines fast gameplay along with high quality textures and lighting effects. All benchmarks were performed using UTbench with a fly-by of the DM-BioHazard map. As usual, all benchmarks were performed 5 times, with the highest and lowest results being removed and an average calculated from the remaining three.
Quake 4 is a game built on the Doom 3 engine. Benchmarking was performed using Quake4Bench and a custom timedemo recording. The benchmark was set to run a total of 5 times, with Quake4Bench automatically calculating an average result at the end of the run.
In the Unreal and Doom engines, we see that the 9800GT gives the best bang per buck. Though the HD4850 is the clear winner again for raw FPS once the resolution is increased and filters are applied.
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It is plainly obvious that the 9800GT is little more than the 8800GT we had known and loved. However, times change, technology advances and while ATI have made some significant progress, NVidia have continued to churn out cards based on last generation technology. The 9800GT is one such example.
That isn't to say the 9800GT is a bad card as it's quite clearly a capable piece of hardware. It is stylish, silent and powerful enough to play all but Crysis at high settings with AA and AF applied which, weighing in at under £100, is an great achievement.
Previously, the 8800GT had little competition from ATI and the NVidia card ruled supreme as the mid-range card of choice. This year there is a new kid in town and ATI have pulled out all the stops to release a formidable mid-range card that simply blows the 9800GT (or 8800GT depending on your preference) out of the water with regards to raw performance. While NVidia have been resting on their laurels, ATI have developed a card that not only outperforms the NVidia offering but also has a better Price/Performance ratio in the majority of games -bucking the trend that the more you pay the less ratio you get. So with that said, why would anyone buy the 9800GT?
The 9800GT is TRI SLI capable and also has slightly updated OpenGL support (2.1). As its name suggests the EN9800GT is HybridPower™ and Hybrid SLI® compatible should you be lucky enough to own a motherboard supporting these features (780a chipset). These are perhaps the only worthwhile improvements to the 8800GT. However, why anyone would want to TRI SLI 3 9800GT's when for the same price they could have a single 280GTX that costs less, and on most occassions, would outperform the three cards is beyond me.
Before reviewing this card, my one hope for the 9800GT was for it to be cheap. It needed to be cheap if it was going to generate sales and be competitive so while £95 is hardly expensive, there are better options that give much more bang per buck. Therefore, I think we have shown that while the ASUS EN9800GT is a very attractive, cool and silent running card, it ultimately fails to deliver the goods when compared with the current competition.
- Blue PCB
- Solid capacitors for long life
- SLI capable
- No included game
- So 'last year'
Thanks to ASUS for providing the EN 9800GT 'Hybridpower' and HD4850 for this review.