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BFG 9800GTX OCX Graphics Card Review

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SKYMTL

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BFG 9800GTX OCX Graphics Card Review




Manufacturer Product Page: BFG Tech - BFG NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GTX OCX 512MB PCIe 2.0
Product Number: BFGR98512GTXOCXE
Availability: Now
Warranty: Lifetime
Price: Click Here to Compare Prices



Just a few weeks ago Nvidia launched their highly anticipated 9800GTX and while we can debate forever about the public’s response to this particular card, it is here for the time being and it is a hell of a performer according to our past tests. Nvidia has pretty much achieved what they set out to do; to completely dominate nearly all of ATI’s offerings while christening the 9-series with a card worthy of the GTX name. In our original BFG 9800GTX review we saw that with relatively little effort, Nvidia released a card which brought new features to the table like full HDMI support and at the same time offered performance in the $350 category people only dreamed about a year ago.

Meanwhile, even though next to no time has passed since the release date of the 9800GTX, prices have already begun to fall to the point where some cards are retailing for under the $320 CAD mark. At that price we believe they represent a phenomenal value for that they bring to the table. This has also opened the door for companies to release pre-overclocked versions which may carry a higher price but they also offer performance which is uncompromising in every sense of the word. Nvidia lifted the veil from these cards a little while after the official launch so finding them is a bit hard but if you look hard enough, pre-overclocked 9800GTX cards ARE out there in the wild. As you may have already guessed, this review will be focusing on a certain card from BFG called the 9800GTX OCX.

To give you a little backgrounder, BFG is one of the largest Nvidia board partners here in North America and they have been offering their products to consumers for longer than many of us can remember. BFG prides itself in having some of the best after-sales service around while offering competitive prices to consumers who demand the best performance for their hard earned money. With a lifetime warranty and a newly introduced step-up program, they are truly forging their way into the forefront of consumers’ minds. They have also been known to release pre-overclocked cards more often than not but in the past many of these cards offered what could only be called severely limited overclocks. However, with the release of their OC2 and OCX lines (in addition to their normal OC line), they have brought more extreme factory overclocks to their customers. Their BFG 9800GTX is now being offered in four flavors based on how far they are pre overclocked; there is the stock card, the OC model has a moderate overclock, OC2 has slightly higher clocks while the OCX card we have here today is the best of the best.

As we already mentioned, the overclocked 9800 GTX cards come with a price premium over stock cards as is usual in the graphics card industry. However, be prepared for a bit of sticker shock when it comes to the BFG 9800GTX OCX since you will be shelling out about $400 Canadian if you want to hold this beauty in your sweaty little palms. While some of you may have gagged slightly at that price, I suggest you wait to pass judgment until you see how this thing performs in our battery of tests.

 
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SKYMTL

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The Current Nvidia Lineup / BFG 9800GTX OCX Specs

The Present Nvidia Lineup


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.


(Click on image for larger view)

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.


BFG 9800GTX OCX Specifications


BFG has taken the already high clocks of the G92-based 9800GTX and has pushed them to quite high levels with their OCX model. The core gets a modest overclock of 80Mhz to 755Mhz which is not that much considering we were able to get our stock-clocked 9800GTX to 807Mhz on the stock cooler without much problem at all. The same goes for the memory which gets a somewhat lethargic 100Mhz boost for a total of 2300Mhz (DDR) which is still a far cry from that we able to achieve with the first 9800GTX card we reviewed. While these clocks may not make it the fastest 9800GTX on the block, the BFG OCX definitely boasts some impressive stats compared to most of the competition. It should be interesting to see if all of this can translate into real-world performance increases.
 

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


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


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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


The exterior packaging of the BFG 9800GTX OCX is nearly identical to that of their stock card with a predominantly black color scheme along with some greenish accents. Both the front and the back carry quite a bit of information which discusses the card, its features and gives a fair amount of face time to BFG’s Lifetime Warranty.


The only distinguishing feature which marks this box as different is the inclusion of the BFG OCX logo. We love understated and since this card is not due to hit brick-and-mortar stores anytime soon, anything more would have just been window dressing.


The accessories which are included with this card are what really make it stand out. Even though it doesn’t have any of the games or bag-o-extras the some of the competition offers, the BFG 9800GTX OCX does include things their stock-clocked card does not. Other than the usual Molex to 6-pin adaptor, VGA to DVI dongle and HDTV-out connector you also get the SPDIF and HDMI connectors that were missing from BFG’s stock offerings.




The HDMI connector is a basic DVI to HDMI adaptor which along with the 9800GTX’s hardware audio processing ability and the SPDIF connector, is able to deliver audio through this adaptor to any high-def audio system you may have.




BFG also provides easy-to-understand step by step installation instructions that walk you through the process of properly connecting the HDMI and SPDIF connectors to the 9800GTX and your motherboard or audio card.
[/CENTER]
 

SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the BFG 9800GTX OCX

A Closer Look at the BFG 9800GTX OCX


Upon first glance there is absolutely nothing to distinguish this card from a stock 9800GTX. It is still the same length (about 9.5”) and it even has the same heatsink housing sticker as the vanilla version. BFG doesn’t equip their overclocked cards with aftermarket cooling solutions either so this stays the same as well.

That being said, the black heatsink shroud covers the entire length of the card from stem to stern and it cuts a pretty imposing figure. Even though it has a somewhat feminine look to it when compared to the somewhat brutish design of the G80 coolers of yesteryear, we have seen that it does its job well.


The only distinguishing feature which sets this card apart from its “slower” brethren is a small OCX sticker on the fan hub. That’s it; no flashy graphics and no fireworks and we happen to like this subtle approach. It’s like having a stock-looking Ford Mustang but under the hood lies a blown 600 horsepower behemoth of an engine which is ready to rip the doors off anything you will encounter.


Due to its high core and memory clocks, the 9800GTX OCX has a pair of PCI-E 6-pin connectors on the outside edge of the card. According to Nvidia, its maximum power consumption of the stock version is around 160W and since this card is overclocked, it should consume quite a bit more.

The side of the fan shroud also holds an SPDIF input connector for use with the HDMI output which BFG has supplied with the 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.


As we have already mentioned, the DVI to HDMI connector connects directly to a DVI port in order to stream both video and audio over an HDMI cable. Meanwhile, the SPDIF connector attaches directly into the side of the card in order to link it to an external audio source. Unfortunately, if you are working in a dark case it may be a bit hard to find but don’t worry, you will manage.
 

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


(Click on images for larger view)

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.


(Click on images for larger view)

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 OCX
ATI HD3870 X2 (Engineering Sample)
XFX 8800GTS 512MB (stock)
BFG 9800GTX (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.




Even though both the core got an approximate 10% overclock from stock and the memory was overclocked 100Mhz, these overclocks seem to boost performance quite a bit. The OCX ekes out about 800 points more in this test than the original 9800GTX we tested a short while ago.
 

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.



In Crysis, the BFG 9800GTX OCX starts kicking ass and taking names at lower resolutions with and without AA turned on. However as resolution increases and AA is applied, the amount of memory and its 256-bit bus starts becoming a bit of a bottleneck where it can’t stretch its legs much beyond the scores shown by the stock card. Nonetheless, seeing these framrates in Crysis was unheard of until the advent of the 9800GTX.
 
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