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GeForce 9800 GT Roundup (EVGA, ASUS, Gigabyte & Palit)

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Our Impressions of the 9800 GT

Impressions of the 9800 GT


This roundup has proven to be quite interesting since we got to take a look at more cards than we normally do over the course of a few months. During this review we have come to an intimate understanding of the 9800 GT and for the most part our first impression is a good one but there are a few caveats we will get to a bit later. At this time Nvidia and their partners are busy phasing out the 8800 GT which is why we have seen its prices taking a hearty tumble in the last few weeks. This suits us just fine since the G92 core still has quite a bit of life left in it and with an eventual move to 55nm, it will only get better in our eyes. Unfortunately, none of the cards we received for this review used this smaller, more efficient manufacturing process (contrary to what some of our reps led us to believe) but they should be arriving sometime in mid September. When that happens we will hopefully see lower pricing for the 9800 GT which in addition to the optional HybridPower and HDMI features should make it a very tempting option for HTPC buyers and budget gamers alike.

From where we stand, there are several redeeming aspects about adding the 9800 GT to the Nvidia lineup. While there will be an unfortunate overlap as the 8800GT is phased out, the murky waters of the Nvidia lineup will clear up quite quickly. The GTX 280 and 260 will remain at the top with the 9800GTX+ and 9800 GT carrying the mid-range while the 9600GT will hit the lower-end price point. Another good thing about these cards is that Nvidia seems to be giving their board partners free reign when it comes to defining exactly what a 9800 GT is all about. We saw that ASUS took the step of designing a 9800 GT based off the 8800GTS 512MB rather than the 8800GT. This resulted in some pretty interesting scores and really drives home one thing: when it comes time to liquidate “old” cores, there are more than a few opportunities where customers stand to benefit. Not only that but when overall performance of even a stock 9800 GT is considered, you really do get a lot of gaming horsepower for your money.

Now that we are done with the good, let’s get down and dirty. The inclusion of HybridPower and HDMI output into the 9800 GT repertoire seems like nothing more than window dressing which is trying to make consumers feel better about Nvidia’s insistence that the 8800 GT should now be called the 9800 GT. Indeed, it seems to us like Nvidia is trying to right the wrong they did by unceremoniously including the 8800 GT and 8800 GTS 512MB into the 8-series in the first place. Now all they are managing to do is confuse the market even further with yet another 9-series card which is based off of an 8-series core. To be honest with you, at this point we see no point in buying a more expensive stock 9800 GT over one of the discounted 8800GT cards. Once 8800GT stocks are depleted and the 9800 GT falls in price, things will surely be different but right now those of you considering a 9800 GT have to question if HybridPower and perhaps the HDMI option warrants the price premium. As you can probably tell by now, we don't think the price difference is waranted at all, especially when the current crop of HybridPower-supported motherboards is so limited.


To confuse matters even more, we have been told by nearly every manufacturer represented here today that when the 55nm cores are released in mid-September, there may be no indication of the in the product numbers or on the packaging. Since I am sure you are all cringing right now, we have also been told that the more efficient manufacturing process will be transitioned into very slowly. This means that even though 55nm cards should start appearing in mid September, it could be months before all 9800 GT cards carry the revised core or at least we will see them when 65nm stocks die out.

All in all, the 9800 GT has promising new features which means it holds some allure over the 8800 GT but we can’t shake the feeling we have seen this all before. Sure Nvidia gave their AIBs the option to include technologies like HybridPower but honestly, dressing a horse up in a suit makes it a well dressed horse, not another animal. This is all simply being done to clear out stocks of 65nm cores in any way possible and for this reason alone, the whole "9800" naming of these cards doesn't sit well with us at all. That being said, there are some diamonds in the rough so let’s take a look at each card individually on the next page.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
12,861
Location
Montreal
Conclusions

Conclusions


Throughout testing, we have seen every aspect of the 9800 GT through the eyes of different board partners and each has its own allure. Some of these cards were overclocked while others were bone stock but one thing was apparent from the beginning; every one of the 9800 GTs we have here will hold something which will appeal to someone.


Gigabyte 9800 GT 512MB

Before this point we had yet to review a Gigabyte graphics card and let me tell you, we really were missing out on something. While Gigabyte has reference cards galore, where they really come into their own is with custom cards like the 9800 GT we reviewed here. Even though the Gigabyte 9800 GT 512MB is clocked at reference speeds, most of its allure come with the fact that it is quite a bit shorter than a standard 9800 GT while packing in the features. Not only does it include an HDMI connector but HybridPower as well. As for performance, it is right there with other stock-clocked cards but has slightly higher framerates which we are told comes from tighter timings on the memory. Its custom PCB also includes a much more efficient power distribution design and results in lower power consumption right across the board. Finally, we have to give Gigabyte a pat on the back since including a custom albeit slightly loud at times Zalman cooler.

While it may sound like we are heaping praise on this card, there is one thing which seems to have been forgotten: where is that S/PDIF cable? The card itself has the necessary connector and an HDMI dongle is included so the cable is definitely conspicuous by its absence. Nonetheless, low power consumption, good performance, an acceptable warranty, and a custom designed PCB contribute to make this Gigabyte 9800 GT unique in the grand scheme of things. Gigabyte really did go out of their way to make this card stand out and succeeded so their 9800 GT gets our Dam Innovative Award.



EVGA 9800 GT 512MB HybridPower

While EVGA may have numerous 9800 GT cards, their HybridPower version is quite unique since it comes with the feature it is named after as well as an on-board audio pass through via an S/PDIF connector and HDMI dongle. If you happen to have a HybridPower-supporting motherboard (there aren’t really many worthwhile ones out there yet) this will work to your advantage but if you are in the majority and don’t have a supporting motherboard, it will mean nothing to you. As for the rest of the features, this card sticks to the bare minimum with stock clocks and a reference cooler. Unfortunately, when push comes to shove the EVGA 9800 GT HybridPower is nothing more than a dolled up reference 8800GT with a slightly higher price.

What we do expect to see is this card coming down in price quite quickly as stocks of the 8800 GT start drying up. Once this happens it will be in a much more favorable position for those of you who are looking for the perfect match of price, good multimedia features and acceptable gaming performance. EVGA’s Lifetime Waranty and Trade-Up program definitely contribute to put this card at the forefront of its competitors when it comes to such things. Would we recommend this card? If you are looking for a card to compete with the new ATI cards in multimedia applications then yes but otherwise we recommend you to wait for the price to come down.


Palit 9800 GT Sonic 512MB

Palit has always had a special place in our hearts since they are usually among the first to release non-reference designs of the most popular cards and the 9800 GT Sonic is no different. With a completely custom PCB, higher than reference clock speeds and a custom cooler it should appeal to those of you looking for something with a little more performance than a run-of-the-mill 9800 GT or 8800 GT. Its overclocked nature definitely gives it a leg up in games over stock-clocked cards but at higher resolutions or instances where AA and AF are turned on, the 50Mhz increase on the core and 100Mhz extra the memory gets counts for very little. These are the increased clock speeds that make a customer feel more secure with their purchase but count for very little when it comes to real-world performance differences.

Our only real issue with this card is that there is absolutely, positively nothing to distinguish it from the 8800 GT Sonic. Every other manufacturer in this roundup added a little something to their 9800 GT card to distinguish it from the 8800 GT; be it HybridPower, or an HDMI dongle. Palit did not include anything of note and coupled with this card’s 2-year warranty there is really no reason for us to recommend it over a less expensive 8800 GT Sonic. On the positive side, once the 8800 GT version is completely replaced at retailers with this card and pricing evens out a bit, it will be a great competitor.


ASUS 9800 GT Ultimate

Up until we put this card into the test system we were really starting to wonder if anything in this roundup would catch our eye as being significantly different from the cards before it. Without a doubt, the ASUS 9800 GT Ultimate is nothing if not pure, unadulterated overkill. It doesn’t need things like HybridPower to justify its existence since it offers performance equaled to or bettered than of a stock 9800 GTX while retailing for substantially less. ASUS took the “How to Build a 9800 GT” book and threw it out the window when it came to putting together their Ultimate card since they decided to go with one of their spare 8800 GTS 512MB cards instead of the usual 8800 GT. Granted, you may say that this is nothing more than an overclocked 8800GTS 512MB but in this crowd it is unique and goes against what Nvidia think a 9800 GT should look like.

What makes this ASUS card really stand out is its price; at around $180 before rebates, punches far above its weight class and is an excellent value. It is even decked out in a cooler which may be of reference design but is both quiet and sufficient to keep its heat under control. If there is one card on this planet that deserves the Ultimate moniker, it is the ASUS 9800 GT Ultimate. With remarkable performance in the under-$200 price category this card gets our Dam Good Award. Bravo Asus.



Palit 9800 GT Super+ 1GB

Mid and lower-end 1GB cards have always been a hotly-debated topic across the net and with the Palit 9800 GT Super+ we were able to see first-hand what they can offer. Unfortunately for Palit and any other manufacturer out there we have to say that including 1GB of memory on a 9800 GT is next to pointless. The core just can’t take advantage of the bandwidth offered until you get to such high resolutions that performance stays well below playability levels. Look guys, if you have the money to spend on a monitor that WILL take advantage of the 1GB on this card, you can afford a higher-end graphics card as well. It is as simple as that.

While it may sound like we are coming down like a ton of bricks on this card, it is good to see that both an HDMI connector and S/PDIF cable are included for those of you who want a few other bangs and whistles with your 1GB card. That being said, a higher price than the overclocked 512MB Sonic edition coupled with the 1GB being nothing more than fancy window-dressing, an overly loud fan and a lowly 2-year warranty, you should all be aware that there are better performers out there. And they all come with 512MB…



Thanks to all the manufacturers for participating in this review​

 
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