Techgage logo

ASUS EN9600GT Silent 512MB

Date: May 5, 2008
Author(s): Rob Williams

Looking for excellent gaming performance but also want to keep PC noise to a minimum? The EN9600GT Silent from ASUS is the card to buy. It couples the power of the 9600 GT with pure silence, and costs little more than the stock model, making it a great choice for either the HTPC or desktop.



Introduction, Closer Look ASUS’ 9600 GT Silent

When I first took a look at NVIDIA’s 9600 GT in late March, courtesy of ASUS’ EN9600 TOP, I was impressed. Here we had a new GPU that was considerably less expensive than the 8800 GT, but performed almost just as well. Even better, with overclocking, the card can reach 8800 GT heights, as we saw in that article.

For its price though, I have no problem recommending the 9600 GT to anyone looking for an affordable GPU that will not limit their gaming in any shape or form. The fact of the matter is, I can’t help but picture the card to be more expensive while using it. Any card that can handle Call of Duty 4 at 2560×1600 with little issue isn’t one that should be brushed off.

Things might change up a bit with the 9600 GSO, but until they get reviewed and we see cards with a price tag attached, it’s difficult to outright recommend them. What we do know about that card is that it’s essentially an underclocked 9600 GT, with lesser clock speeds but more stream processors. So it’s up in the air right now exactly how it will perform compared to the GT. At the price point the 9600 GT is at though, it would be difficult to purchase one and later regret it. Most cards cost $150 or less (much less with MIR at some e-tailers), so for anyone who cares about gaming, there’s no sense of going lower.

But what about a similar card for those who want great performance in an absolutely silent package? Don’t worry, ASUS has got you covered with their EN9600 Silent. The name says it all.

Closer Look at ASUS’ 9600 GT Silent

Now more than ever, there are many graphic card models to choose between, and for some, that might be a difficult task. It was made more interesting, though, with NVIDIA’s 9-series launch this past February, and also with the few cards that followed the 9600 GT. Interestingly, this is one of the few times where the highest-end single-GPU offering retails for around $300… contrast to the $500+ GPUs that we are used to.

Of course, dual-GPU cards are becoming ever more popular, and for mostly good reason. Twice the power for (usually) not twice the money. However, like all current multi-GPU set-ups, the performance scales only if the game in question can take full advantage. It also helps when ultra-high resolutions are used, such as 1920×1200 and beyond.

For those looking to throw ~$150 at a new GPU and want to squeeze performance out of every dollar, the 9600 GT is the card to buy.

Model
Core MHz
Shader MHz
Mem MHz
Memory
Memory Bus
Stream Proc.
8600 GT
540
1190
700
256MB
128-bit
32
8600 GTS
675
1475
1000
256MB
128-bit
32
8800 GS
550
1375
800
384MB
192-bit
96
9600 GT
650
1625
900
512MB
256-bit
64
8800 GT
600
1500
900
512MB
256-bit
112
8800 GTS 320/640
500
1200
800
320/640MB
320-bit
96
8800 GTS 512
650
1625
970
512MB
256-bit
128
9800 GTX
675
1688
1100
512MB
256-bit
128
8800 GTX
575
1350
900
768MB
384-bit
128
8800 Ultra
612
1500
1080
768MB
384-bit
128

The cooler on the EN9600GT Silent is about twice the width of a reference cooler, but it’s compact, so SLI won’t be a problem. It also deserves some sort of award for most random design, as it seems the fins can’t decide on one direction.

It may look hefty, but the cooler itself isn’t that much heavier than a reference design. The bulk is made up of the black portion of the sink, while the remaining silver fins add very little to the overall weight. The lone PCI-E power connector is hidden underneath one corner, but is not difficult to access.

The card features both dual DVI-D ports and also a TV-Out. For those looking to hook up to an HDMI display, ASUS has you covered with the included DVI-to-HDMI adapter. Since the card supports HDCP, using this adapter won’t affect the playback of protected high-definition content.

Looking top-down on the card, it looks to be more solid than a steel door, but that’s not the case. Looking at the side, you can see there is still plenty of room for airflow.

The back is no different than most other 9600 GT’s, but one thing I found interesting was that Gigabyte’s 9600 GT is about 1/4th of an inch longer than this card. Why that’s the case, I have no idea, but it’s nice to have the same power in a smaller, quieter package.

This card might look a little funky, but it actually utilizes a very efficient design, as we’ll see later. The question now is whether or not a silent 9600 GT can manage to keep up to one with a reference cooler and fan. We’ll tackle that on page three.

On the next page, we’ll tackle our testing methodology. If you haven’t read one of our GPU reviews before, we highly recommend you read through as we conduct testing differently than most other sites.


Testing Methodology and Test System

Regardless of the operating system or product being reviewed, there are a few conditions that are met prior to testing to assure we receive accurate, repeatable results.

Below is our testing machine, which remains untouched throughout all testing except for the graphics card.

Testing Machine

In previous GPU reviews, we’ve used Windows XP Professional due to it’s stability (when compared to Vista), but as Vista becomes increasingly popular and the choice for many, it makes sense for us to make the switch as well. We choose to use the 64-Bit version of the OS due to it being the logical choice for gamers who want to use more than 2GB of RAM in their machine.

Game Benchmarks

Depending on the graphic card being reviewed, we split up models into two different categories: Low-End to Mid-Range and Mid-Range to High-End. The former will see the GPUs tested using 1280×1024 and 1680×1050 resolutions, since those are the most common resolutions for gamers looking to purchase a GPU in that price-range.

For our Mid-Range to High-End category, we test GPUs at 1680×1050, 1920×1200 and also 2560×1600 to better reflect the resolutions for those looking for a solid GPU offering.

We do not use time demos in our reviews except where necessary, and in the case of our current GPU reviews, the only game to be subject to a time demo is Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. This is due to that game disallowing greater than 60FPS without the use of a time demo. But since the game is a popular choice for multiplayer gamers, it should be included in some form or another.

Manual Benchmarks

In an attempt to deliver “real-world” results, all games except the above mentioned title are played through manually, with the average FPS recorded with the help of FRAPS 2.9.4. In our personal tests, we have found that manual benchmarks are the best way to deliver accurate results, since time demos rely heavily on the CPU.

In order to deliver the best results, each title we choose is explored to find the best possible level for our benchmarking. Once a level is chosen, we play through in order to find the best route, and then in future runs, we stick to that route as close as possible. We are not robots, so we cannot make sure that each run is identical, but they will never be far off from each other. As we see in our results, scaling is good, so we are confident that our methodology is a good one.

Crysis

1680×1050
1920×1200
2560×1600



Call of Duty 4

1680×1050
1920×1200
2560×1600

Half Life 2: Episode Two

1680×1050
1920×1200
2560×1600

Call of Juarez

1680×1050
1920×1200
2560×1600



S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

1680×1050
1920×1200
2560×1600

Unreal Tournament III

1680×1050
1920×1200
2560×1600



Need for Speed: Pro Street

1680×1050
1920×1200


Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

1680×1050
1920×1200
2560×1600



Note that the reason we do not test Need for Speed at 2560×1600 is because it’s a resolution not supported by the game. EA tends to be a little slow when it comes to supporting high-end hardware.


Crysis

Each graph for our benchmarking results are labeled with the resolution that the game was played at, while omitting secondary settings such as Anti-Aliasing, Anisotropic Filtering, texture quality, et cetera. To view all specific settings that we used, please refer to our testing methodology page, where screenshots show the exact settings used.

Crysis

It’s not often that a game comes along that truly pushes our hardware to the utmost limit. Crysis is one of those few games, and that will be the case for at least the next year. Don’t believe me? Boot up your top-end machine, max out your resolution and set the graphics to “Very High”. I guarantee tears will be shed within a few seconds of loading a level.

The level we chose here is Onslaught, also known as level five. We begin out in a tunnel, but what’s important is that we are in control of a tank. What could be more fun? Our run through consists of leaving the tunnel and hitting the other side of the battlefield, killing six or seven enemy tanks along the way.

It goes without saying that any level in Crysis would make for a great benchmark, but this one in particular is gorgeous. Using the “Medium” settings, the game looks spectacular and is playable on all of our graphic cards, so we stick with it. Throughout the level, there is much foliage and trees and also large view-distances. Explosions from the tanks is also a visual treat, making this one level I don’t mind playing over and over, and over.

Settings: Due to the intensiveness of the game, no AA is used at any resolution, and the secondary settings are all left to Medium.

The EN9600GT Silent is off to a great start, scoring on par with the other 9600 GT’s we have here. While the cards scored last in all three graphs (which will be common throughout the review), their performance is still quite good in real gameplay.

The best playable setting was 1920×1200, but 2560×1600 wasn’t horrible. The particular level used was just fine at that setting, despite the FPS hovering under 20 on average. Please note also that the ASUS EN9600GT is a pre-overclocked version of the card, which is why it will always dominate between the three.


Call of Duty 4

Each graph for our benchmarking results are labeled with the resolution that the game was played at, while omitting secondary settings such as Anti-Aliasing, Anisotropic Filtering, texture quality, et cetera. To view all specific settings that we used, please refer to our testing methodology page, where screenshots show the exact settings used.

Call of Duty 4

While Crysis has the ability to bring any system to its knees with reasonable graphic settings, Call of Duty 4 is a title that looks great no matter what setting you choose, even if you have it running well! It’s also one of the few games on the market that will benefit from having more than one core in your machine, as well.

The level chosen here is The Bog, for the simple fact that it’s incredibly intensive on the system. Though it takes place at night, there is more gunfire, explosions and specular lighting than you can shake an assault rifle at.

Our run consists of proceeding through the level to a point where we are about to leave a building we entered a minute before, after killing off a slew of enemies. The entire run-through takes about four minutes on average.

Settings: High details are used overall throughout all tests, although 4x AA is used for our 1920×1200 setting. That AA is removed in our 2560×1600. As we can see in the graphs below, both of those settings are quite similar in performance.

The Silent is once again able to keep up with the others. This is one particular game that constantly impresses me, because with this lowly $150 card, we are able to play this masterpiece at the staggering resolution of 2560×1600 with no issue. Now that’s value!


Half-Life 2: Episode Two

Each graph for our benchmarking results are labeled with the resolution that the game was played at, while omitting secondary settings such as Anti-Aliasing, Anisotropic Filtering, texture quality, et cetera. To view all specific settings that we used, please refer to our testing methodology page, where screenshots show the exact settings used.

Half-Life 2: Episode Two

If there is one game in our line-up that most everyone has played at some point, it would be Half-Life 2. The most recent release is Episode Two, a game that took far too long to see the light of day. But despite that, it proved to be worth the wait as it delivered more of what fans loved.

We are using the Silo level for our testing, which is a level most people who haven’t even played the game know about, thanks to Valves inclusion of it in their Episode Two trailers during the year before its release. During our gameplay, we shoot down a total of three Striders (their locations are identical with each run, since we are running a saved game file) and a barn is blown to smithereens.

Overall it’s a great level, but the Strider’s minions can prove a pain in the rear at times – most notably when they headbutt you. Nothing a little flying log won’t solve, however! This levels graphics consist mostly of open fields and trees, although there is a few explosions in the process as well, such as when you blow the Striders apart with the help of the Magnusson Device.

Settings: High graphic settings are used throughout all three resolutions, with 4x AA and 8xAF.

The card performed well here, but like Crysis, 1920×1200 is the preferred resolution. While 2560×1600 handled well enough, it wasn’t as smooth as the lower resolutions.


Call of Juarez

Each graph for our benchmarking results are labeled with the resolution that the game was played at, while omitting secondary settings such as Anti-Aliasing, Anisotropic Filtering, texture quality, et cetera. To view all specific settings that we used, please refer to our testing methodology page, where screenshots show the exact settings used.

Call of Juarez

Western FPS games are not common, so when one hits, people notice. Luckily for FPS fans, Call of Juarez delivered great graphics, solid gameplay and a very high difficulty. It’s a great game to benchmark due to its ability to run in DX10 mode, under Windows Vista. This mode is far more demanding than the DX9 mode, but the results are better.

We take the role of Billy Candle in the level we chose, which is rather simple in concept. We begin out at the end of a linear path that we must follow in order to reach a ravine that we must cross.

The goal of the level is to sneak through a farm and ride off with a horse in order to make the jump, but since that process takes far too long, our run through consists of following the exact same path each time, which ends up on the opposite side of the farm near an edge with water below.

Settings: Very high graphic settings are used here, although AA is never used. The fact that the game uses DX10 is enough to drag performance down.

It may not look it, but CoJ in DX10 mode is a hardcore test on a GPU, and it was only at 1680×1050 where the 9600 GT really strutted its stuff. At higher resolutions, the game played, but not well. Please note that the card handled a lot better in DX9 mode, however. We chose DX10 mode as it’s more aggressive.


S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

Each graph for our benchmarking results are labeled with the resolution that the game was played at, while omitting secondary settings such as Anti-Aliasing, Anisotropic Filtering, texture quality, et cetera. To view all specific settings that we used, please refer to our testing methodology page, where screenshots show the exact settings used.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

Post-apocalyptic FPS games have been done over and over, but S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl was unique in many ways. First was the fact that the story was loosely based off of a real-life tragedy, the Chernobyl nuclear plant explosion, with the player starting out post-disaster working to survive in the now very brutal world.

One of the areas where the game excelled was with the depth. It was an open world with non-linear gameplay. AI was not top-rate, but reacted in a mostly realistic way, so it’s pretty much impossible to just stroll through the game and not expect to die. Coupled with the ability to keep an inventory and sell artifacts you find along your journey makes this game an immersive experience.

The level we use for our testing is a “Thumb Drive” mission that occurs earlier in the game. The premise is simple… walk into a small camp that’s being inhabited by enemy Stalkers, wipe them out and go deliver a thumb drive to a lone Stalker huddled around a campfire. The entire quest takes between four and five minutes from our starting point.

Settings: Static lighting and medium quality is used for our lowest resolution here, while 1920 and 2560 use full dynamic lighting along with high quality settings.

Like Half-Life 2: Episode Two, the EN9600GT Silent handled up to 1920×1600 just fine. At 2560×1600, the gameplay was playable, but sluggish in certain areas. Though 30FPS seems entirely playable, the real gameplay said different. However, with the game at 2560×1600 with lesser texture settings, the performance would improve.


Unreal Tournament III

Each graph for our benchmarking results are labeled with the resolution that the game was played at, while omitting secondary settings such as Anti-Aliasing, Anisotropic Filtering, texture quality, et cetera. To view all specific settings that we used, please refer to our testing methodology page, where screenshots show the exact settings used.

Unreal Tournament III

The Unreal series has always been one that’s pushed graphics to the next level. Surprisingly, though, as the graphics improve, the game still remains playable on a reasonable machine, with good FPS. How often is that the case?

“Gateway” is our level of choice for a few different reasons. The first and most notable is the fact that it’s a great level, and chock-full of eye-candy. The entire level consists of three different areas that can be accessed through portals, or “gateways”. The area we begin out in is a snow-filled wonderland, similar to Lost Planet’s winter levels, with a futuristic city and waterfall area also being accessible.

Settings: All in-game settings are maxed out, with physics and smooth frame rate disabled.

Both stock-clocked 9600 GT’s kept extremely close to one another throughout all three resolutions, so the Silent card certainly has no trouble handling any game so far while remaining completely silent at the same time.


Need for Speed: Pro Street

Each graph for our benchmarking results are labeled with the resolution that the game was played at, while omitting secondary settings such as Anti-Aliasing, Anisotropic Filtering, texture quality, et cetera. To view all specific settings that we used, please refer to our testing methodology page, where screenshots show the exact settings used.

Need for Speed: Pro Street

Electronic Arts is one of the largest game publishers in the world, and because of that, they have plenty of fans and plenty of enemies. Even if you don’t like them, it’s hard to dispute the fact that many of their games are solid, one being anything from the Need for Speed series.

“Pro Street” received rather poor reviews upon launch, and for mostly good reason. It removes the freedom of being able to explore a city at your leisure, which to many, is a huge step backwards. But despite that fact, it’s still a great game if you enjoy the series and want an offering that’s a little more realistic than previous versions (in terms of money and damage).

Our run through consists of racing through two laps at the Chicago Airfield, something that takes about three and a half minutes to accomplish from the moment we begin recording frames. The beginning of each race shows an automated camera fly-by over the cars in the race – we begin recording our FPS as soon as this clip begins.

Settings: Our lowest resolution uses fully default settings, while the 1920 resolution ups the AA to 4x and enables Anisotropic texture filtering.

Once again, the Silent card kept up to our Gigabyte 9600 GT. Like our other 9600 GT’s though, this game is not friendly at 1920×1200. The game handles well for the most part, but at certain points during the gameplay, it will stick for half a second, which is entirely annoying. I found even removing the AA at that resolution did not help. If you do want to use 1920×1200, you will have to lower texture settings as well.


Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

Each graph for our benchmarking results are labeled with the resolution that the game was played at, while omitting secondary settings such as Anti-Aliasing, Anisotropic Filtering, texture quality, et cetera. To view all specific settings that we used, please refer to our testing methodology page, where screenshots show the exact settings used.

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

The last game we will be using in our benchmarks is ET: Quake Wars. This is also the only game in our testing that’s executed as a time demo, as opposed to the manual play through like the rest of our games. The reason for this is twofold.

The first reason is that we like to include at least one time demo, despite it’s CPU-boundedness, in order to see how our cards scale when run in such a situation. The second is the fact that this game caps its FPS at 60, except during time demos.

Our time demo takes place in the Area 22 level, with the main goal to destroy the jamming generator. The actual play through took around five minutes, but the time demo goes far quicker, as is the case with most time demos.

Settings: Maxed settings are used here for the most part. Our 1680 resolution uses 2x AA while 1920 and 2560 use 4x.

The proof is in the pudding! The passive card can keep right up to an equivalent card with a fan. This is a good sign, as it shows our card is not overheating, despite the lack of any forced airflow. Next up, we’ll take a quick look at 3DMark 06 and then our overclocking reports.


Futuremark 3DMark 06

Welcome to the most loved and hated benchmark on the planet, Futuremark’s 3DMark 06. This benchmark was launched back in January of 2006, so it’s tests are not exactly up to par with today’s graphic cards, but it’s still a decent way to gauge how today’s cards scale with each other. The next version of 3DMark, Vantage, will be a complete revamp of the benchmark we know today and will no doubt make our computers feel useless once it’s released.

Up next, overclocking!


Overclocking the ASUS EN9600GT Silent

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. As far as I am concerned, a high overclock is only good if it’s stable, because realistically, no one purchases a new GPU for the sake of only finding the maximum overclock. That is why I focus on finding the max stable overclock, rather than an overclock that can barely pass a benchmark run.

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.

ASUS’ EN9600GT SILENT

The stock clocks for a 9600 GT are 650MHz Clock, 1625MHz Shaders and 900MHz Memory. On our previous 9600 GT reviews, we’ve managed to hit upwards of 785MHz Core, 1962MHz Shaders and 1100MHz Memory, however here, we didn’t get quite that high. My final overclock settles at 750MHz Core, 1925MHz Shaders and 1000MHz Memory.

While not a record 9600 GT overclock, it’s still impressive given that no fan is used whatsoever. That in itself is what sell this card. Having a good overclocking ability is just a bonus. But does our overclock do any good?

Yes, no question. In all of our tests, our overclocked card kept right up to the 8800 GT… not bad for a card that costs at least $45 less. Oh and did I mention, this card is silent? I’m finding it difficult to come up with a reason to complain about this card.

Overclocking Note: The world of overclocking is an unfair one, in that one persons max overclock might be much lower than another. Chances are good that you could reach the same overclock we did here, but of course, different computers can, and will, deliver differing results. Lots of factors can come into play, so please don’t be upset if you are unable to attain the same overclock we did.


Power Consumption, Final Thoughts

In testing power consumption for our graphic cards, the system components are kept consistent to help keep accurate results. To capture wattage, a Kill-a-Watt is used. It is plugged straight into the wall and the PSU is plugged in directly to it. After the computer boots into Windows and is left idle for five minutes, the idle wattage is captured.

To capture the average, a run of 3DMark 2006 is run while keeping an eye on the voltage for the first two minutes. I record the value that the Kill-a-Watt reports the majority of the time. Sometimes the wattage might go higher, but scale right back down, and vice versa.

While our EN9600GT Silent doesn’t perform right up with the 8800 GT without an overclock, it uses a lot less power. The reference-style Palit 8800 GT Super+1GB helped our system suck a total of 263W on average, while our lowly passive card brought that down to 202W. That is a substantial difference.

Final Thoughts

Simply put, I love this card. I made no secret in the past that I like what the 9600 GT offers. It’s a fantastic performer regardless of the price, evidenced by the fact that it can handle a gorgeous game like Call of Duty 4 at 2560×1600 with no issue. It’s a great time to be looking for a graphics card – there’s never been so much value for your dollar.

To make the 9600 GT better though, ASUS came along and created a model with a silent cooler, perfect for HTPC buffs or those who generally want their computer to be as quiet as possible. While the design of the cooler is a little strange, it is effective, and that’s all that matters. In their original press release, they boast that their Silent cooler is around 10°C cooler than a reference cooler, and in my tests, that’s not a bad figure to go by.

In three different tests comparing the temperature of the EN9600GT Silent to Gigabyte’s 9600 GT which uses the reference cooler design, the ASUS card came out on top each time, by 5°C at a minimum. On one occasion, the card did perform 10°C cooler on average, but I’ve been unable to duplicate that.

Like passive coolers of any sort, this one thrives on a cooler environment. If your computer room hovers around 90°F all the time, then you will see different results than me. If the air is cooler, then the card won’t be stuck with warm air to deal with. At 90°F and higher though, the card just sits there along with the hot air, and that’s bound to increase temperatures. All my testing was performed in 78°F – 82°F and I ran into no issue.

Because ASUS considers their products to be of the premium variety, they tend to cost a little more on average. I was surprised to see that this card doesn’t stand by that, however. At NewEgg, for example, ASUS’ 9600 GT cards are priced right in line with the others. Even better, this particular passive-cooled card only carries a meager $5 premium over the original.

I can’t find a single reason to not like this card. It may be bulkier than other 9600 GT’s, but that’s the trade off for having pure silence. Plus, despite it’s thicker body, it’s still perfectly suited for SLI mode, for those interested in even more performance while retaining a quiet machine. This card would compliment both an HTPC or desktop rig where low-noise is a concerned, and as a bonus, it’s priced right. I didn’t have to think too hard about awarding the EN9600GT Silent an Editor’s Choice award. It well deserves one.

Now if only we could see a silent cooler on a 9800 GTX. Then we’d be set!

Discuss in our forums!

If you have a comment you wish to make on this review, feel free to head on into our forums! There is no need to register in order to reply to such threads.

Copyright © 2005-2018 Techgage Networks Inc. - All Rights Reserved.