by Rob Williams on April 7, 2008 in Graphics & Displays
If on the lookout for a good GPU at a great price, it’s easier than ever. NVIDIA’s 9600 GT packs a punch and retails for well under $200. We are taking Gigabyte’s stock-clocked solution for a spin to see how it stacks up against our other models. And yes, it overclocks like a beast.
Defining a “Stable Overclock”
If you’ve read any of my processor reviews, you are probably aware that I don’t much care for an unstable overclock. To me, a high overclock is only good if it’s stable, because realistically, who purchases a product just to find a maximum overclock? Not too many, which is why I focus on finding the max stable overclock, rather than an overclock that can barely pass a minor benchmark.
To find a max stable overclock, I first find an overclock that I believe could be stable. Once I do that, I’ll run a single loop of 3DMark 2006 to test for stability and to look for artifacts. If that run passes successfully, I’ll jump into a game quickly to see if the same results are exhibited in real-world gameplay. If that proves successful, I then run a loop of 3DMark 2006 for 4 – 8 hours at 2560×1600 2xAA to stress the card to its limit.
If after that point, the card is deemed stable (as in, no crashes occurred and there are still no artifacts), then I will proceed with benchmarking four select titles again: Call of Duty 4, Crysis, Half-Life 2: Episode Two and also Unreal Tournament III.
All overclocked testing occurs at 2560×1600 for the simple fact that it’s such a strenuous resolution. For comparisons sake, I also include results from a card that’s a step up from our overclocked model.
Gigabyte’s 9600 GT
The reference clocks for a 9600 GT are 650MHz Core, 1625MHz Shader and 900MHz Memory. After a few hours of seeing what Gigabyte’s card is made of, I found 770MHz Core, 1925MHz Shader and 1100MHz Memory to be the max stable overclock. By comparison, ASUS’ EN9600GT TOP card managed a slightly higher overall overclock with a 785MHz Core and 1962MHz Shader.
I don’t think too many people would dispute the fact that the 9600 GT overclocked is an extraordinary performer. In both HL 2 and UT III, our overclocked card actually out-performed a stock-clock 8800 GT, so it really does show how amazing the new series can be.
For you 3DMark 2006 junkies, you’ll be happy to know that an overclocked 9600 GT is a happy 9600 GT, showcasing a huge 1,748 point increase at the default resolution and a 911 point increase at 2560×1600.
I should point out that the results shown here were not the only evidence that there was an increase in performance… I noticed it first-hand. The game where I noticed it the most was with Half-Life 2: Episode Two. Without the overclock, 2560×1600 lagged a little bit, but with the overclocked setting, it felt like I installed a card twice as powerful. It was quite a substantial and noticeable difference. This card is one case where if I did own it as my primary, I would have no hesitation in overclocking it and keeping it there.
The world of overclocking can be an unfair one, though, so please don’t pick up this card and expect the exact same overclock. Chances are good that you can achieve the same one, but different systems will display different results. To add to the chance factor, one batch of 9600 GT cores might be better than another. It’s all luck of the draw.
Also, this is our first GPU review that contains overclocking information in some depth, so if you have any recommendations or want to let us know if you find this kind of information useful, please feel free to tell us in our related forum thread, which can be found at the end of the review.