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BFG 9800GTX 512MB Review

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SKYMTL

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GTX-36.jpg


BFG 9800GTX 512MB Review




Manufacturer Product Page: TBD
Product Number: BFGR98512GTXE
Availability: Now
Warranty: Lifetime
Price: Click Here to Compare Prices



It seems that within the last few months, no matter which way we look there is always another graphics card launch on the horizon. It used to be that the high-end cards were launched first and were then followed by the mid-end and lower end cards a few months down the road. Well, recent trends have been anything but normal and the market has been rife with all manner of cards from both ATI and Nvidia which are squarely targeting the more budget-minded consumer. There has never been a better time than now to be looking for a graphics card even though Nvidia’s lineup in particular has become extremely confusing for any first time buyer. Today marks the release of yet another assault on the sub-$400 price point by Nvidia with their eagerly-anticipated 9800 GTX.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and this holds true for the tried, tested and true Nvidia 8-series graphics cards. With the release of the 9800 GTX we are seeing another step away from the 8-series naming convention which has stuck with us like an old friend for the better part of 16 months. If you think about it, 16 months is a hell of a long time in the ever-changing world of faster processors and Moore’s law. So, after nearly a year and a half the 8800GTX will get the axe while being replaced with a less expensive and supposedly more versatile card. The new 9800GTX is billed as a card that offers not only extreme HD gaming but also offers a one-stop-shop of a bevy of other features which were not offered on the outgoing 8-series cards. With these new features, Nvidia is taking the road less travelled of forgoing brute force graphics power and instead focusing on a balanced entertainment experience.

When the last GTX went on sale, we saw its retail prices hit over $700 here in Canada but a lot has changed in the last 16 months and we are now in the glory days of price / performance wars between Nvidia and their rival ATI. So, instead of sticker shock the consumer is now saddled with the new 9800GTX retailing for between $300 and $360…or about half the price of the GTX of yesteryear. Not only is the price extremely good but our contacts are telling us that there will be plenty of stock on hand when retailers begin listing these cards. As usual, there will be prices running the gamut and overclocked versions galore but today we will be focusing on a stock clocked 9800 GTX from one of the more easily-recognized Nvidia board partners: BFG.

BFG has long been known as one of the premier graphics card manufacturers here in North America and in Europe. Not only do they have a dominating market presence but they back up this clout with some of the best warranty and RMA support around. The 9800GTX they sent us is their stock-clocked version (which will retail slightly above a bargain-basement 9800GTX) but in true BFG tradition, they will also have overclocked versions on their way in the form of cards with the OC2 and OCX monikers. So, without further delay, let’s dive right in and see what this new GTX is all about.


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SKYMTL

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The Present Nvidia Lineup

The Present Nvidia Lineup

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Looking at the current Nvidia lineup, it is easy to see where some of the confusion comes from since there are so many different cards targeting basically the same $200 to $300 performance bracket. We didn’t include all the other more “minor” and vendor-specific cards like the 8800GS and 8800GT 256MB to keep some semblance of order to the chart above but you can see where we are coming from when we say noobies will do nothing but scratch their heards.

Some people have said (quite loudly too) that with the lack of competition from ATI, the market has stagnated to the point where Nvidia has faced the envious proposition of competing with itself. The HD3870 did provide a spark in the price for performance race but it has mostly been relegated to an also-ran with the swift output of new Nvidia releases. Even the powerhouse HD3870X2 was quickly countered with Nvidia’s dual GPU card which is aptly named the 9800GX2. Yet, while the GX2 retails for upwards of $600 and the ATI HD3870X2 is currently retailing for around $480 here in Canada, Nvidia was still being beat out in the price category; enter the 9800GTX to take up some of the slack.


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In one fell swoop Nvidia is aiming to replace the 8800GTX while offering a card which can compete on a price / performance level with the HD3870X2. To do this, they have taken the tried, tested and true 65nm G92 core from the present 8800GTS 512MB and massaged it and the Stream processors so they run at higher clocks. They also added memory which is significantly faster but even though this card is supposed to be close to the top of the Nvidia lineup, it is still saddled with a 256-bit memory interface. On paper, the new 9800GTX looks to be able to perform slightly above the 8800GTS 512MB which means at around $300 this new GTX is priced just right for what it hopes to accomplish.
 

SKYMTL

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9800GTX Features

9800GTX Features

By now some of you may be wondering how this card really differs from the 8800GTS 512MB since that at face value the 9800GTX looks like an overclocked version of its smaller cousin and nothing more. Let’s be honest here: the 9800GTX IS an overclocked 8800GTS 512MB with faster memory but there is much more than what first meets the eye. Let’s take a look at some of the features this card has going for it.


3-Way SLI

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As multi-GPU solutions become more and more popular Nvidia is moving towards giving consumers the option to run as many as 3 graphics cards together in order to increase performance to insane levels. Before the release of the 9800GTX, the only cards available for 3-way SLI were the 8800GTX and 8800 Ultra which meant shelling out over $1500 for trio of cards. Luckily for all of those who want the highest performance possible, Nvidia has made the 9800GTX 3-way SLI compatible which means you would “only” have to shell out around $900 to $1000 for three of these cards. Let’s push these mind-numbing prices aside for a moment and just bask in the possibilities…


Optional Full HDMI Output

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All 9800GTX cards come with the option for full HDMI output over a DVI to HDMI adaptor. Notice we said “option”? This GPU has integrated HDMI support but it is up to the manufacturer to provide the necessary hardware for this to be possible. While every 9800GTX card will come with an SPDIF input connector on the card itself, manufacturer has to choose whether or not to include a DVI to HDMI dongle so the card can output both sound and images through a HDMI cable. Coupled with the fact that the GTX fully supports HDCP, this feature can make this card into a multimedia powerhouse. Unfortunately, in order to keep costs down we are sure that there will be quite a few manufacturers who will see fit not to include the necessary hardware for HDMI support. With this in mind, make sure you keep a close eyes on the accessories offered with the 9800GTX of you choice if you want full HDMI support.


Purevideo HD

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To put it into a nutshell, Purevideo HD is Nvidia’s video processing software that offloads up to 100% of the high definition video encoding tasks from your CPU onto your GPU. In theory, this will result in lower power consumption, better feature support for Blu-ray and HD-DVD and better picture quality.

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In addition to dynamic contrast enhancement, Purevideo HD has a new feature called Color Tone Enhancement. This feature will dynamically increase the realism and vibrancy for green and blue colors as well as skin tones.


HybridPower

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By far, the most interesting feature supported by the 9800GTX is Nvidia’s new Hybridpower which is compatible with HybridPower-equipped motherboards like the upcoming 780a and 750a units for AMD AM2 and AM2+ processors. It allows you to shift power between the integrated GPU and your 9800GTX so if you aren’t gaming, you can switch to integrated graphics to save on power, noise and heat.

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While we have not seen if this works, it is definitely an interesting concept since it should allow for quite a bit of flexibility between gaming and less GPU-intensive tasks. There has been more than once where I have been working in Word in the summer where I wished my machine would produce less heat so I wouldn’t be roasting like a stuffed turkey. If this technology can deliver on what it promises, this technology would be great for people who want a high-powered graphics card by night and a word processing station by day.

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This technology even works if you have 9800GTX cards working in SLI and once again you should (in theory) be able to shut down the two high-powered cards when you don’t need them.

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All HybridPower-equipped motherboards come with both DVI and VGA output connectors since all video signals from both the on-board GPU and any additional graphics cards go through the integrated GPU. This means you will not have to switch the connector when turning on and off the power-hungry add-in graphics cards. All in all, this looks to be great on paper but we will have to see in the near future if it can actually work as well as it claims to. In terms of power savings, this could be a huge innovation.
 

SKYMTL

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The BFG Advantage: Lifetime Warranty & Trade-Up

The BFG Advantage: Lifetime Warranty & Trade-Up

With dozens of manufacturers vying for your attention in the highly competitive graphics card market, companies are always looking for ways to distinguish themselves from their competition. Some have gone the route of offering highly overclocked cards while others tend to focus on the customer satisfaction aspect of their business before thinking about increasing the performance of their products. BFG has been making a name for themselves by offering the best of both worlds by releasing both overclocked versions of their cards while giving a customer service experience that is second to none. Two of the major aspects of BFG’s commitment to their customers are their Lifetime Warranty and newly-introduced Trade-Up program.


Lifetime Warranty

One of the longtime marquees of BFG has been their Lifetime Warranty on all their graphics cards sold here in North America. From personal experience, all someone has to do is call BFG’s 24/7 customer support hotline, troubleshoot with the representative and if nothing comes of it an RMA number will be issued. This may seem too easy to be true but numerous posts across several tech-centric forums bear nothing but praise for BFG and the way they handle their customers. Indeed, our own http://www.hardwarecanucks.com/forum/troubleshooting/1829-canadian-rma-experience-3.html thread has several posts about good experiences with BFG’s Lifetime Warranty. Just remember: in order to be eligible for the lifetime warranty you must register your card with BFG within 30 days of purchase.

Unfortunately, some manufacturers have one-upped BFG by offering their own lifetime warranties but unlike BFG they also cover aftermarket cooler installation and overclocking.

For more information about BFG’s Lifetime Warranty, please visit their website here: BFG Tech - Warranty


Trade-Up Program

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BFG has recently introduced their Trade-Up program which is in effect for 100 days after the purchase of a new BFG graphics card. This program gives a BFG customer piece of mind by offering them the opportunity to trade in their graphics card for a newer model within 100 days plus pay the difference in cost. The worth of the BFG graphics card you trade in is based off of the pre-determined MSRP of the card in question at the time you apply for the trade-up so this price will probably be quite a bit less after a few months. For now, there is only one graphics card listed on the Trade-Up listed with its current trade-in value but that will change as more come out: BFG Tech - tradeupmatrix.

This means if you purchase this 9800GTX we are reviewing here today, you will be able to trade it in for a better card if one is released within 100 calendar days of your invoice date. The only caveat about this is that your card’s value will be based off of the pre-determined BFG price whenever it is you choose to trade it in. In addition, you must register your card within 30 days to have a chance at trading it in for something better.
 

SKYMTL

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories


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The BFG 9800GTX comes in a box which is chalk-full of information and decked out in a classy black and green Nvidia themed color palette. Unlike other BFG cards which have the “I have a headache” mascot printed on them, the 9800GTX makes due with a tattooed superhero-like guy whose likeness is plastered almost everywhere. For novice buyers, the front of the box has an easy-to-understand “Good” to “Best” scale on it which represents where this card sits performance-wise.

The back of the box holds the usual marketing information which includes supported resolutions, gaming benefits, HD video information and a brief introduction from BFG. It should be noted that since this package comes from the States it is not yet printed in French but when it goes on sale here, it should have both official languages printed on it.


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The accessory bundle you get with this card is nothing to write home about but we have to remember that this is BFG’s least expensive 9800GTX model. With it you get a HDTV-out connector along with a Molex to 6-pin adaptor, a DVI to VGA dongle and a pouch containing the driver CD, case badge and other documentation. There is also a huge yellow pamphlet reminding all those forgetful people out there that they have to register their cards to get the lifetime warranty.

Unfortunately, BFG didn’t see fit to include the optional SPDIF connector and DVI to HDMI adaptor with this card for HDMI high definition output. According to BFG we will see this on their OC2 and OCX versions even though it would be nice to see the HDMI option included with their lower-end 9800GTX.
 

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A Closer Look at the BFG 9800GTX

A Closer Look at the BFG 9800GTX


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And here we finally have our first glimpse at the card so many have been anticipating for the last few months and it definitely looks unique. While the outgoing 8800GTX had a rugged, masculine and almost brutish look to it, the 9800GTX looks much more streamlined, refined and a bit more…feminine. The whole 10.5” PCB is covered by one massive fan shroud that directs airflow from the lone fan out the back of the card so the heat from the G92 core won’t increase your case temperatures too much. It also looks like Nvidia has gone back to their sexy black PCB color which was such a hit from the early 8-series cards, people have basically been counting down the days until they see it again. Beautiful, isn’t it?


Something that we also noticed the second we took the 9800GTX out of the box is that it is a LONG card compared to its 8800GTS 512MB cousin. At 10.5” this card is the same length of other Nvidia flagship cards such as the 8800GTX which makes it a good 1.5” longer than the 8800GTS 512MB.


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Due to its high core and memory clocks, the 9800GTX has a pair of PCI-E 6-pin connectors on the outside edge of the card. According to Nvidia, its maximum power consumption is around 160W and if overclocked, that number increases exponentially so the inclusion of two 6-pin connectors is understandable.

The side of the fan shroud also holds an SPDIF input connector for use with the optional HDMI output even though BFG is not supplying the necessary adaptors with this particular card. The SPDIF connector is bordered by a GeForce logo which is positioned in such a way that it will be right-side up when installed into a case with a standard ATX layout.


BFG’s decal on the fan shroud is classy without any overly gaudy logos, colors or winged pixies which is a relief to say the least. Working our way along the top of the card we also see that BFG has applied their logo to the fan hub in order to add a bit more interest to an otherwise drab black design.


The backplate of the 9800GTX holds a pair of DVI connectors as well as the HDTV-out connector. It also looks like Nvidia is going for a bit of “bling” on their new 9-series cards since there is a small green light right next to the exhaust grille. This really comes in handy when you are searching around the back of your case trying to hook up a DVI connector and now you have a green light to guide you home. Some may say this is an LED but in reality it is a fiber-optic cable which transmits the light from an LED on the PCB all the way up to the backplate.


The last stop on our tour takes us to the back of the card where we can see that there seems to be a large portion of the PCB which is not used closer to the rearmost end of the card. This is a bit of an illusion since as you will see a bit later; this area is populated by the VRM modules and capacitors which don’t need traces on the back of the PCB.
 

SKYMTL

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Under the Heatsink

Under the Heatsink

Please note that removing the heatsink from this card will void your warranty.


After popping off the ridiculous number of screws holding down the stock heatsink, we get our first glimpse of what makes this graphics card tick. The basic layout is very similar to that of the 8800GTS 512MB but there have been some massive changes made to the back end of the card in particular. Both the capacitors and the voltage regulation sections have taken a good hit of steroids and have beefed up quite a bit when compared to other G92 cards since the 9800GTX uses a 4+2 phase power module


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Note to all the more inexperienced users reading this article: this is NOT what a good application of thermal compound looks like. After taking a good thirty minutes to remove the Nvidia-applied goop we were finally able to see the exposed core of the 9800GTX in all its glory. The heart of this beast is the “new” 65nm G92-420 core in its A2 revision and it should be noted this is NOT the exact same core which was used on neither the 8800GT (G92-270) nor 8800GTS 512MB (G92-400).


The memory modules used on the 9800GTX are Samsung K4J52324QE-BJ08 units set up in an 8x64MB pattern around the core. These are GDDR3 modules which are rated at a blistering 1200Mhz (2400Mhz DDR) at 0.83ns which means there should be quite a bit of overclocking headroom left as well.


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At first we had thought that the green light on the backplate was a dim LED but upon closer inspection it looks like Nvidia has used fiber-optic cables to transmit the light generated by an LED on the PCB. The optical filaments are housed in black plastic sleeving so exterior light doesn’t affect their illumination in any way.

The SPDIF connector sits all by its lonesome on the PCB and unfortunately, we were not able to test whether it works with aftermarket connectors since we could not find a compatible DVI to HDMI adaptor.


The dual SLI connector is used for running three 9800GTX cards in 3-Way SLI and is a major contributing factor for the additional length of this card over the other G92-based cards.


By taking apart the cooler assembly we see that the 9800GTX uses the same 3-heatpipe heatsink as the 8800GTS 512MB. There are 3 copper heatpipes which make contact with a copper GPU contact plate before running through the aluminum fins of the main heatsink that are used to disperse the heat generated by the core.


Underneath the 80mm fan, there are black aluminum-painted columns that are used to disperse the heat from the VRM modules. Meanwhile, the copper base is quite flat but is definitely not polished to a mirror finish which would be quite pointless considering the amount of thermal compound Nvidia applies.
 

SKYMTL

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Test System & Setup

Test System & Setup

System Used

Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 @ 3.5Ghz
Memory: 4GB Corsair Dominator DDR3 @ 1556Mhz
Motherboard: Asus Blitz Extreme
Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Seagate Barracuda 320GB SATAII
Fans: 5X Yate Loon 120mm @ 1200RPM
Monitor: Samsung 305T 30” widescreen LCD
OS: Windows Vista Ultimate x64


Graphics Cards:

BFG 9800GTX 512MB (stock)
ATI HD3870 X2 (Engineering Sample)
XFX 8800GTS 512MB (stock)
Asus 8800GTX 768MB (stock)
EVGA 8800GT 512MB (stock)


Drivers:

Nvidia 174.74 (9800GTX)
ATI Catalyst 8.3 WHQL
Nvidia 169.25 WHQL

Due to the unpredictability of some beta drivers in Windows Vista x64, we have decided to only use WHQL drivers for all graphics cards other than the one being tested.


Applications Used:

3DMark06 Professional
Call of Juarez
Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts
Crysis
Half Life 2: Episode 2
Prey
Unreal Tournament III
World in Conflict


*Notes:

- All games tested have been patched to their latest version

- The OS has had all the latest hotfixes and updates installed

- All scores you see are the averages after 4 benchmark runs

- If the game did not support 2560 x 1600 resolution, the closest resolution to that was used

- NO demos were run. Only full games were benchmarked.
 

SKYMTL

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3DMark06

3DMark06

While some may wonder at the use of still including 3DMark06 in the tests it gives us a good idea of the basic limitations of a graphics card. Since the standard test runs at 1280x1024 there will be a fair amount of CPU bottlenecking with higher-end cards and remember that in some cases a higher 3DMark score does not equate better performance.

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Overall, it looks like the BFG 9800GTX is able to perform marginally better than the 880GTS 512MB card due to its higher clock speeds. It should be interesting to see how this translates into real-world performance.
 

SKYMTL

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Crysis

Crysis

Crysis is one of those games that comes along every now and then and totally humbles every graphics card on the market. While some people have pointed towards shoddy programming, it is undeniable that this game looks ridiculously good when played at higher settings.

For this test we recorded a custom timedemo on the Harbor level equaling about 15 minutes of game time. All results were recorded with FRAPS over the course of the timedemo. All settings were set at High and DX9 mode was used.

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The 9800GTX looks to have no trouble playing this game above 1600x1200 resolution even with AA turned up to 2x. What shocked us the most was how well this card stuck with the 1GB HD3870X2 through all of the tests and even beat it and the 8800GTX when more eye-candy was turned on.
 
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