XFX 9600GSO 384mb vs Sapphire HD4670 512mb Page: 1
Introduction
 
Life is so much easier when things are labelled correctly don't you think? A Sweater, XL for me please. A car, I'll take a 3.0i thank you very much. A mid range graphics card....er, now I'm lost. You see, I honestly believe ATI and more to the point, NVidia, are slowly running out of numbers and letters to label their cards. So much so, in fact, that the mid range area of the GPU market is so muddled it is hard to separate the chaff from the wheat. Take the two cards up for review today - the 9600GSO and the HD4670 are both mid-range cards that don't follow suit in the general scheme of things, but instead spawn a new mid-high-mid range that only NVidia and ATI themselves can decipher. So as the dust settles at the top of the pile, a new war is waging in the bread and butter mid-range sector where both these cards are aiming to be top dog in their own department.
 XFX Logo
In the green corner may I present to you the XFX 9600GSO. The card is currently priced aggressively at £69.31. Although the 9600GSO is a new addition to the NVidia lineup, it isn't exactly new technology. The 9600GSO shares the same technology as the 8800GS, which was a slightly cut-down version of the mid/high-end favourite, 8800GT. While this may seem annoying to those who thought they were buying into new technology, it is a stroke of genius from NVidia and possibly a great bargain should it perform anywhere near that of the 8800GT, especially considering it weighs in at a paltry £69. Nvidia then it seems, are sticking to the tried and tested method of offering cut down versions of last generation (but high performing) GPU's at a knock down price. It will be intriguing to see if this was a wise move with ATI spreading their new technology across the range.
 Sapphite logo
In the red corner and costing a little under £5 less than the NVIDIA card at £64.59, we have the RV730XT, otherwise known as the HD4670 512mb version from top tier ATI partners - Sapphire. A new card based on the same 4000 architecture as the mighty 4850 and 4870 cards which have all seen off NViIDIA competition at the higher end of the market. It will be interesting to see if it can do the same with a trimmed down version. Having the same number of stream processors as the HD3870 and a similar core to the 4870 should see the HD4670 perform quite well. Especially when AA is applied to games which is unusual for a mid range card as this is an area where they tend to suffer. With an estimated price of around £60 this could out-strip the 9600 GSO as the bargain of the year should it match its low price with high performance.
 
 
Specification
 
So then, the scene is set and the battle lines are drawn. While the two top tier manufacturers' get rubbed down in preparation for the head-to-head benchmarking, lets take a closer look at each card.
 
 
 As per usual, ATI cards are clocked much higher than their NVIDIA counterpart. The interest for me however is whether the 512mb of memory the ATI card has will offer much of an advantage over the GSO. The Sapphire also has many more processors than the XFX card and along with an improved fabrication process, the Sapphire card looks to be a very strong contender.
 
Lets take a look at each of the cards in turn, starting with the XFX 9600GSO.


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XFX 9600GSO Packaging & Appearance
 
XFX are renowned here at OC3D for being the best in the business when it comes to presenting high-end GPU's and motherboard's so I was interested to see if these same high standards would be carried through on cheaper cards. Sure enough the quality of materials used are the same here as they are for the range topping GTX280. The box features a  picturesque outer sleeve with the '9' series dominating the front, along with a few unused bullets and a brief description of the card. The rear of the outer sleeve is where you will find the feature list and various warnings regarding the included Company of Heroes game. The sides of the box display the recommended specification (500w PSU single/600w SLI) and the need for a 6 pin PCIe cable. The remaining side displays the usual 'Nsist on Nvidia' blurb.
 
Sleeve Front Sleeve rear
 
Nsist on NVidia Specification
  
The inner box is a lime green affair, and synonymous with XFX which is both sturdy and adequate enough in preventing anything but deliberate crushing of the box. A cutout shows the card itself behind a plastic window. Opening the box we can see the card in all its glory. Surprising and somewhat worrying, the card is not supplied in any anti-static bag although the cardboard and foam packaging should most likely prevent any static from reaching the card anyway. It would be nice to have that little reassurance, regardless.
 
Innerbox Inner box opened
 
The included accessories are basic but enough to get you going with the graphics card. Company of Heroes, along with the DX10 patch is the high point and a nice addition to what is a mid-range package. Unfortunately, there is no VGA to DVI adapter so hopefully your monitor will natively support DVI or you have a spare adapter yourself. Also missing is a molex to PCIe 6-pin adapter so ensure you have a 6-pin PCIe cable on your PSU.
 
Accessories
  
The card itself is a very sleek affair, being single slot and cooled by a half size fan/heatsink assembly.. Being just 8.4 inches long it could quite easily fit in an media pc and while the fan is small it is only really audible when the card is put under stress. At full tilt, the fan can be a little whiny but that's the price you pay for such small form factor cooling I guess.
 
Card Top Card Rear
 
Side 1 Card front
  
The actual cooler is a full copper affair which is a true bonus considering that many manufacturers tend to cheap out and use aluminium of late. Or if you are 'lucky', copper coated aluminium. One problem with a cooler design such as this is that the hot air is expelled into the case, so decent case cooling is a prerequisite. I was also slightly concerned that not only is there no cooling on the power regulators but the hot air being exhausted from the GPU will be blowing over them. The heatsink is easy enough to access with the removal of 6 small screws and so cleaning should not be an issue.
 
Coppertop Copper fins
  
Going that one step further, we removed the heatsink assembly to investigate the application of Thermal Interface Material (TIM). The contact area was good but the amount of putty like material was a tad excessive. The memory had thermal pads in place of TIM and notable was the addition of an extra pad cooling an empty space for memory. This is perhaps a throwback to the 512mb card which people were soft modding to 8800GTS! Sadly there will be no such shenanigans with this card.
 
Open Sesame GPU TIM should be a full contact sport 
 
I love the smell of silicon in the morning Look Sir - Droids!
  
Overall, a very nice looking card which is well presented in typical XFX style. I do like a card with a black PCB as it can find itself at home in any colour coordinated PC build. Sadly, the same cannot be said about other manufacturers, so a big thumbs up to XFX and NVIDIA for sticking to the classic black PCB. The full copper block is a major plus but the actual design is poorly thought out. Hopefully the MOSFETS will not be affected when we come to put the card under a full days worth of testing.


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Sapphire HD4670 Packaging & Appearance
 
'Prepare to Dominate'. I'm not to sure how much domination is going to be done with what is in effect, an entry level gaming graphics card but the outer sleeve certainly sets the scene well with a typical red and black Sapphire package. The front of the outer sleeve advertises the card's 'dominating' features such as CrossfireX technology and HDMI. The 512mb GDDR3 emblem signifies the total memory of the card which is 128mb more than the 9600 GSO, so should give it an advantage when filtering options are applied. The rear of the package goes into greater depth regarding the features. Boasting a 55nm fabrication process, the HD4670 should result in less heat and less power consumption. 
 
Outer sleeve front Outer Sleeve Back
  
The inner box is a basic affair and Sapphire opted to package their card in a sloppy fashion compared to the XFX card. Two sleeves of foam protect the card, which itself is deposited in a padded anti-static bag. While the card should arrive in perfect condition, I do have some concerns regarding the packing methodology as shaking the box revealed the card could indeed move around inside the box, despite the foam. The accessories are both comprehensive and complete. Everything you need is there to get your HD4670 up and running and apart from the usual driver CD, there is also bundled software (PowerDVD and DVD Suite as well as 'Ruby ROM'.  A Crossfire bridge, DVI-VGA, HDMI and S-Video adapters are also included.
 
Inner Box Accessories
  
I was surprised at the size of the card, which measures just 7.5 inches in length. Being a single slot, card it could well find itself at home in an media PC. However, I would hope you have some meaty speakers, as the little 60mm fan does tend to make quite some noise. To the rear of the card, we see an extension of the memory with 4x64mb chips on the back matching the 4x64mb on the front of the card. Also note that Sapphire have opted to use screw fixings to attach the cooler to the card, making it a cinch to change to an after market cooler should the noise of the stock cooler become unbearable.
 
Card front Card Rear
  
The side and front of the card are nothing special other than the card is very slim and should present no clearance issues whatever your motherboard. Noteworthy is the lack of an external power port, the HD4670 does not require any external power source, instead taking all its required power from the PCI-e slot. Great news for small form factor lovers.
 
Card side Card Front
  
The I/O area has the usual host of connectivity with 2 x DVI ports as well as an TV-out slot nestled between them. The card is also CrossfireX capable so it is possible to take advantage of this feature should you have the available PCI-e slots and a compatible motherboard.
 
Connectivity CrossifreX
  
As stated previously, taking the cooler off was indeed very easy with just four screws holding the cooler onto the typical Sapphire blue PCB. The thermal paste used was ample and much better quality than the type used by XFX, this resulted in a much tidier mount and also made the cooler removal so much easier as it wasn't 'cement like' in application.
 
Cooling GPU
 
Here's the core itself, 55nm manufacturing at its finest. Cooler running and requiring less power than the previous generation, the HD4670 might also spring a surpise or two in the overclocking department.
 
Close up
  
Despite my initial concerns over the lackluster packaging, I was impressed overall with the package. The included software, while nothing starting is a bonus at this price point and the card itself was attractive as it was diminutive. With both the XFX and Sapphire stock clocked at a conservative level, lets take a look at how far we can push the two cards on test today.


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Test Setup 

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.
 
Test Setup
  
 
Overclocking
 
With the 9600GSO weighing in at an already impressive 580mhz Core/1400mhz Memory (up on the stock 550mhz employed by other manufacturers despite this not being any sort of special edition card), I was intrigued to see how much further it could be pushed, especially considering that this is not the range topping XXX edition which can clock to 680mhz on the core.
 
I was also interested in how much further the HD4670 could be pushed given that it is based on a 55nm fabrication process. Cooling however may become an issue for this card, given that the stock cooler is half the size of the 9600GSO's.
 
 
Impressive is not the word. Taking the 9600 GSO up to 700mhz/2000mhz certainly made a noticeable difference to 3DMark06 adding an extra 2000 points. The HD4670 actually managed a 100mhz overclock too but the overclock didn't have such a drastic effect on the 3DMark score. We managed to pin another 50mhz on the memory but any more resulted in a BSOD. Let's see how the synthetic benchmarks run with the cards set back to their factory settings...


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3D Mark
 
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.
 
 
 
 
  
Throughout the testing the 9600GSO consistently outperformed the Sapphire card in the synthetic benchmarks. Although on occasions the HD4670 drew close, the 9600GSO got the better of its ATI rival on all but one of the tests. The gap shortened when the resolution increased but despite this it is clear the 9600GSO is the better card in this area regardless of resolution. This surprising considering the HD4670 has more memory. Let's see if this translates to 'real world' gaming...


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Crysis
 
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.
 
 
 
Anything higher than the 'medium' settings resulted in unplayable framerates in Crysis, and the same went for AA/AF settings so we ran a few quick tests a varying resolutions. True to form, the 9600GSO had the upper hand in Crysis by a good 2fps. A slightly higher CPF by a couple of pence resulted in this minor advantage though due to the £5 difference in price.
   
 
Bioshock
 
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.
 
 
  
A similar story was to be had with Bioshock. The 9600GSO taking the lead in the lower resolutions with the HD4670 catching up once we arrived at the max resolution on test - most likely due to the extra available memory on the HD4670.


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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 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.
 
 
 
 
 
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. 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.
 
 
 
In both Call of Duty 4 and F.E.A.R we see pretty much identical patterns with the 9600GSO once more having the advantage despite its lack of memory. This advantage was once more depleted when the higher resolutions were reached. The CPF (Cost Per Frame) for each card was pretty evenly matched throughout the testing - proving you do actually get what you pay for with regard to the two cards on test today.


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GRID
 
Race Driver: Grid is a visually taxing game that presents a challenge to any graphics system. Results were recorded using FRAPS to log the average FPS over a 2 minute race. To ensure consistency, the same track, car and general path of travel was used in each of the 5 benchmark runs for each graphics card, with an average FPS being calculated from the median three results. 
 
 
 
 
Unreal Tournament
 
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.
  
 
 
Once again we see the same pattern emerging with our final two game benchmarks which pretty much tells the same story throughout our testing today. Performance-wise, the 9600GSO is the better card while both cards are evenly matched at resolutions above 1900x1200.


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Conclusion9600GSO vs HD4670
 
Over the past couple of years NVIDIA has led the way with their high-end GPU's while ATI had to settle for competing in the mid-range sector. That was until the advent of the formidable 4870X2, where the performance crown has recently been snatched away from NVidia. So then, it's only fair that NVIDIA should return the favour in the mid-range area, taking the initiative and reclaiming the entry/mid-level crown. With only the price of a pie and pint separating the cards on test today, they couldn't be be better matched and the results show that they are pretty much even in performance too. The 9600GSO does however, just edge it and if we were to run the cards while at their maximum overclocks, I have no doubt the GSO would run away with the lead.
 
So then, it comes down to what screen you are looking to game on. If you are looking for high-res gaming with AA/AF,  I would look elsewhere. Most modern games bring these two cards down to a stuttering halt when the highest settings are applied, Vantage especially became a slide show on the extreme setting. If you are happy playing without AA or don't mind gaming on a smaller screen, then these cards should suit your needs and you wallet perfectly. It has been a while since I tested low/mid-range cards and I was pleasantly surprised at how it cut through the benchmarks at the nominal resolutions. For a shade under £70, you can game with satisfaction that you are certainly getting 'bang-per-buck' as it were. If it were my £70 though, I would be pumping my money into the lean mean green machine that is the XFX 9600GSO.
 
 
XFX 9600 GSO
 
The Good
- Amazing overclocking
- Copper cooling
- Great packaging
- Included game
 
The Mediocre
- 6-pin PCIe needed
 
The Bad
- Nothing to report
 
Recommended Award Value For Money Award
 
 
Sapphire HD4670
 
The Good
- Small
- No external power needed
- Good at high res

The Mediocre
- Aluminium Heatsink

The Bad
- Noisy fan
 
VFM Award
 
Many thanks to XFX and Sapphire for supplying the cards we reviewed today. Discuss this review in our forums