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BFG 9800GTX 512MB Review

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SKYMTL

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Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts DX9 / DX10

Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts DX9

Company of Heroes has always been one of our favorite RTS games with visceral firefights and a gripping campaign. Opposing Fronts is the expansion to this great game and it introduces players to British campaign to liberate France from German occupation in the weeks and months following D-Day.

In this test we ran the in-game benchmarking program and pegged all the graphics settings to their highest levels. This was done for both DX9 and DX10 modes and the framerates were averaged after 4 runs.

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It looks like in DX9 mode this card is the fastest Nvidia single GPU solution and it provides playable framerates right up to the highest resolution. It isn’t quite able to outmuscle the HD3870X2 but it comes pretty damn close on a number of occasions.


Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts DX10

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In these tests it once again looks like the 9800GTX is on-upped by ATI’s more expensive flagship card. That being said, the increased memory speed seems to be paying dividends for this card since it stays ahead of the perennial favorite 8800GTX at 1600x1200 with AA tuned on.
 

SKYMTL

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Half Life 2: Episode 2

Half Life II: Episode 2

Half Life 2: Episode 2 is the newest installment in Valve’s long running Half Life series and this is without a doubt the best looking game in the series. For this benchmark a typical 10 minute exterior gameplay sequence was prerecorded and then played back using the in-game timedemo feature. The results were recorded with FRAPS.


1280 x 1024

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1600 x 1200

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2048 x 1536

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All of the more recent Half Life games have always benchmarked well with ATI cards and this time is no different. The CPU is obviously bottlenecking most of the cards all the way up to the highest resolution but when AA is turned on things become a little more clear-cut. We see the BGF 9800GTX is able to perform marginally better than the 8800GTS 512MB and beats out the 8800GTX in every benchmark.
 

SKYMTL

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Call of Juarez (DX10)

Call of Juarez (DX10)

Other than being one of the first benchmarkable DX10 games, Call of Juarez also received luke-warm reviews but it provides some stunning visuals. To benchmark this game we used the in-game benchmark tool and ran it 4 times to give an average score.


1280 x 1024

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1600 x 1200

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1920 x 1200

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As resolution increases, it seems like the 9800GTX falters a bit in this game but there is another more interesting story being told here. You will see in the charts that at the higher resolutions, the 9800GTX is somehow able to pull out pretty far in front of the 8800GTS 512MB. This may either be due to the higher memory clocks (though we doubt it) or the more likely possibility is that there have been driver improvements since the last WHQL driver was released. Indeed, we look forward to seeing what kind of performance increases the next Nvidia WHQL certified driver brings. At the higher resolutions, the 9800GTX falls slightly behind the 8800GTX which is probably due to a memory bandwidth limitation.
 

SKYMTL

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Prey / Unreal Tournament III

Prey

Even though Prey may be a bit older game compared against many of the other ones we are testing, it still provides a workout of even the best graphics cards on the market. This time we have enabled its Graphics Boost feature (Gboost in the charts) and run through a custom timedemo.

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This goes to prove that even though this game is quite old by hardware standards, with all its bangs and whistles enabled it still provides a good workout for higher-end GPUs. This time we see the 9800GTX playing third fiddle to both the HD3870X2 and the older 8800GTX.


Unreal Tournament III

With absolutely stunning graphics, this popular online FPS provides great visuals to go hand-in-hand with palm-sweating gameplay.

For these tests we set up a 15 minute Bot Match on the Serenity level and let it play though. All of the results were recorded with FRAPS.

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As is becoming routine, the 9800GTX stays a good 10% ahead of the slightly slower 8800GTS 512MB but is once again unable to bring down the HD3870X2 from the top spot. However, its performance against the 8800GTX (especially at higher resolutions) is extremely impressive for a $300 card.
 

SKYMTL

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World in Conflict DX9

World in Conflict DX9

This is one stunning game. World in Conflict has provided us with some of my most memorable gaming experiences since the first Homeworld game was released and it has not stopped wowing me. In its DX9 form it provides eye-popping visuals and pushes most modern GPUs to their limits. However, in DX10 mode this game will cause nearly every graphics card to beg for mercy.

For this test we used the in-game benchmarking tool.

1280 x 1024

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1600 x 1200

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2560 x 1600

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It seems that World in Conflict is extremely dependant on high amounts of video memory when AA is turned on. Thus, the 8800GTX surges past the 9800GTX whenever the eye candy is turned up. Other than that, the 9800GTX provides extremely good performance (in many cases almost EXACTLY 10% better than the 8800GTS 512MB) up to the highest resolution but falters in the last test with AA turned on.
 

SKYMTL

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World in Conflict DX10

World in Conflict DX10

1280 x 1024

GTX-72.jpg


1600 x 1200

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2560 x 1600

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First of all you will notice that we have not included any performance results at 2560 x 1600 with AA turned on and the reason for this is quite simple: none of the graphics cards were able to run this test at anything above the speed of a glorified slideshow. The next thing you probably noticed is that the 9800GTX actually gets beaten by a small margin by the 8800GTS 512MB at 1600 x 1200. This seems to be a minor driver issue and should definitely be considered an anomaly. Other than that it seems there is still a massive driver issue with the HD3870X2 at 1280 x 1024 resolution.

We must say, the 9800GTX performed up to our high expectations in every one of the World in Conflict DX10 tests even though it took a sound whipping from the 8800GTX at 1600 x 1200.
 

SKYMTL

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Heat & Acoustical Performance / Power Consumption

Heat & Acoustical Performance

For this test we loaded the core of the 9800GTX with 3dMark06’s Batch-Size rendering test at the highest triangle count with a resolution of 1600x1200 and 2xAA. This puts a constant high load on the core for the indicated time. All temperatures were recorded with nTune’s temperature logging program.

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It seems like the overclocked G92 core of the 9800GTX produces quite a bit of heat but it is kept well in-check by the stock cooling system. It is interesting to see that even though the clock speeds have not increased too much over the 8800GTS 512MB, the temperatures we saw peaked at 10 degrees higher. This is a bit unfortunate since as we will soon see, the second an aftermarket cooler is installed the overclocking potential of the GTX increases quite a bit.

Part of this decreased cooling performance seems to center around the fact that the fan on the 9800GTX spins at a much lower rpm rate than the one on the GTS. In our 8800GTS review we remarket that the fan tended to put out quite a bit of noise while the GPU was under high load but this cooler is damn-near silent. Only under protracted load does the fan increase its speed and even after 15 minutes of the Batch Render test it was quieter than the majority of case fans we have. So, with this card you get a quieter fan than the 8800GTS 512MB but it goes hand-in-hand with lower cooling performance.


Power Consumption

For this test we hooked up our power supply to a UPM power meter that will log the power consumption of the whole system twice every second. In order to stress the GPU as much as possible we once again use the Batch Render test in 3DMark06 and let it run for 30 minutes to determine the peak power consumption.

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Overall, power consumption for this card is extremely acceptable for the performance in offers. What is even more amazing is who well it performs versus the HD3870X2 yet it consumes about 20% less power. If the main theme of this review was performance per watt, it seems that the 9800GTX is indeed a giant among mere men.

We would recommend a good 600W power supply if you are running this card with a quad core processor.
 

SKYMTL

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The Trials of Overclocking

The Trials of Overclocking

Overclocking the BFG 9800GTX WILL void your warranty.

Max Overclocks

Core: 807Mhz
Memory: 2448Mhz (DDR)

Interestingly, when trying to overclock the core of the 9800GTX we constantly seemed to bump into a brick wall which was below the overclocks we achieved with our 8800GTS 512MB card. That card ran to 820/2234 without much hassle on stock cooling but our current GTX was stopped dead in its tracks at 807Mhz on the core. While this represents a 132Mhz overclock (which is not to shabby under normal circumstances) we were still left a bit disappointed. On the other hand, the memory clocked like on-one’s business all the way to 1224Mhz which equates a stunning 248Mhz (DDR) overclock.

As you can see below, our 3DMark06 score went up quite a bit but we will see what this card can really do when we pop on an aftermarket cooler.

 

SKYMTL

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Aftermarket Cooler Installation & Performance

Aftermarket Cooler Installation & Performance

Please note that aftermarket cooler installation will void your warranty. We are showing this for information purposes only and are not responsible for any damage done to your video card during the process of installing an aftermarket heatsink.

While the stock cooler is more than up to the task of cooling down the 9800GTX’s core, we were curious to see what kind of performance a good aftermarket cooler would give us. Since the 9800GTX is based off the same G92 core as the 8800GT and 8800GTS 512MB we thought it was safe to assume that any cooler compatible with the GTX’s siblings would work with it as well. There were some worries that the retention holes around the core would not be the same due to the move to a larger PCB but we broke out our trusty Thermalright HR-03 GT just to be sure.


After removing the stock heatsink and cleaning the loads of thermal compound Nvidia applied to the core the next step is to clean off the ram and VRM chips. Thermalright’s HR-03 GT comes with more than enough heatsinks for both the VRM and ram modules on the GTX so their exact placement is up to you. Just remember to use a heatsink wherever Nvidia has applied thermal pads on their stock heatsink since these are the areas which generate the most heat and need additional cooling.


SUCCESS!! The holes on the 9800GTX lined up perfectly with the retention bracket of Thermalright’s cooler without any problems at all. This leads us to believe that any cooler which is advertised to be compatible with the 8800GT and 8800GTS 512MB can be used on this card without any installation problems. This means owners of the Coolink GFXChilla, Arctic Cooling’s S2 Rev.2, Thermaltake DuOrb and other coolers will be able to reuse their products on the new GTX. However, please make sure you remember that some coolers which are compatible with these lower-end G92-based cards may not be up to the task of properly cooling the hotter-running 9800GTX.


Decked out in its black PCB, the 9800GTX looks simply badass with the Thermalright HR-03 GT installed. But, does it provide better cooling?


Thermalright HR-03 GT Performance Results

For this test we loaded the core of the 9800GTX with 3dMark06’s Batch-Size rendering test at the highest triangle count with a resolution of 1600x1200 and 2xAA. This puts a constant high load on the core for the indicated time. All temperatures were recorded with nTune’s temperature logging program.

A 92mm Zalman ZM-F2 fan was installed which operates at approximately 1600PRM with the Quiet Mode adaptor attached. Arctic Cooling MX-2 thermal compound was applied as per manufacturer’s instructions.

GTX-81.jpg

Wow. What else is there to say? The HR-03 GT provides a 20°C reduction in heat over the stock cooler which is incredible to say the least. The only downside of this cooler is that it takes up a full three expansion slots in the configuration we used it in which will be far too much for anyone planning on a SLI setup.

Another benefit of this cooler (and this is a first for us and G92 cards) is that it provided us with more overclocking headroom.


Max Overclocks with HR-03 GT

Core: 851Mhz
Memory: 2448Mhz (DDR)


So there you have it; we were able to get an additional 44Mhz on the core while the memory overclock stayed the same as with the stock cooler. It seems that once we reached 851Mhz, the core was held back by voltage rather than temperatures since it would shut down almost immediately after starting 3DMark06. These overclocks were enough to push the 9800GTX slightly over the 16,000 mark in this benchmark which is quite impressive.

 

SKYMTL

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Conclusion

Conclusion

There was a time when the inclusion of “GTX” on an Nvidia product meant performance above all else and went hand in hand with a price that would make even hard-core enthusiasts wince in sympathy for their bank accounts. With the 9800 GTX, Nvidia has taken a completely different route and has once again proven that high performance does not have to carry with it an astronomical price tag. In the new graphics card market, less and less consumers are looking to spend $600 and more on a single piece of hardware so they can play the latest games at the highest settings. Rather, they are looking for a card that will allow them to play the latest games, operate quietly, offer HD decoding, have compatibility for high-def output formats, not consume copious amounts of power and carry a reasonable price. Making that kind of Swiss Army Knife for the graphics card world is tall order to fill and I feel that the 9800GTX fits the bill perfectly.

Let’s be honest here for a second and cut through the majority of the marketing BS which accompanies every product on the market today. The performance figures don’t lie and in many cases the 9800GTX doesn’t look like the 2000lb gorilla so many people were hoping it would be. This is because these days Nvidia is only competing against itself in the $300 to $450 performance category so there really isn’t a need to release anything that blows the doors off the other cards on the market. What we have here today is another evolution in the G92 silicon rather than the revolution we saw when going from the G71 core to the ass-kicking G80 core. And is there even any need for Nvidia to release a completely new architecture which is leagues ahead of everything else? Absolutely not. As we saw in the tests today, unless you are playing at extreme resolutions, the $350 BFG 9800GTX is more than enough to play literally any game on the market and even if you intend to play on a 30” screen Nvidia still has you covered with the 9800 GX2.

After all this being mentioned, I am sure that there are plenty of you out there that are more than a little disappointed that the 9800GTX seems to be “just another” G92-based card that will perform 10% - 15% better than a stock 8800GTS 512MB. However, there is a flip side to the coin which shows that this card has an MSRP that is equal to that of most overclocked 8800GTS 512MB cards on the market while offering the functionality of optional full HDMI support for the HTPC buffs and Tri-SLI compatibility for those of you with deep pockets. There is also the additional HybridPower feature which is sure to appeal to those of you who are looking at a new Nvidia chipset for your AMD processor.

Nvidia is putting this card up against the ATI HD3870X2 and without a doubt it competes very well against ATI’s flagship card from a price / performance point of view. While the 9800GTX stays behind (to various degrees) the X2 in the majority of our tests, Nvidia’s card has much more going for it than raw performance figures. Not only does the new GTX consume much less power, run quieter and cost about $150 less but ATI’s dual GPU card relies on a game’s Crossfire compatibility for its performance. This means that in games like Crysis with spotty Crossfire support, the 9800GTX will pull ahead at nearly every resolution which equals more consistent performance across the board.

While the 9800GTX is a hell of a graphics card, BFG has only made it better by adding their own unique flair and making it more appealing to you, the consumer. Their Lifetime Warrany and 24/7 customer support are second to none and are reason alone to recommend the purchase of this particular 9800GTX. Add to that the newly-instituted 100-day Trade Up program and you would have to be nuts not to take a serious look at this card.

When all is said and done, the BFG 9800GTX has added a new wrinkle in the fabric of the graphics card industry by rewriting the rules of how much you have to pay for a high performance product. In addition to this performance, it consumes less power than its predecessors, has near-silent operation and offers optional HDMI output. What more is there to ask for?


Pros:

- Sets a new benchmark in the price / performance arena
- Features a-plenty
- Quiet Operation
- Lifetime Warranty
- Trade-Up Program


Cons:

- Somewhat disappointing overclocking with stock cooler
- Stock BFG version does not come with optional HDMI output accessories



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