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ASUS EN9800GTX 512MB

Date: April 9, 2008
Author(s): Rob Williams

It’s not too often that the fastest single-GPU available is also affordable, but the 9800 GTX is just that. At just over $300, it delivers incredible performance at all resolutions and also turns out to be amazingly overclockable. It’s just too bad that the 8800 GTS 512 is not much slower…



Introduction, Look at the EN9800GTX 512MB

When thinking about NVIDIA’s usage of the term “GTX”, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For me, I think of “Good To The Xtreme”. Granted, I threw in a second T in there, but that’s not what’s important. GTTX doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. But it stands true… GTX is a moniker that to me, represents incredible performance… performance that’s the top of its class.

We saw that first with the 7800 GTX and then with the 8800 GTX. The 8800 GTX is particularly a perfect example of that fact. Despite the fact that it was first released in late 2006, it remained the biggest performer all the way until this past December, where it was succeeded in performance by the 8800 GTS 512. There was of course the 8800 Ultra, but that was a quick release with a simple speed bump, whereas the GTS 512 had substantial upgrades that made a real difference.

But it stands to reason, for a single GPU to hold the top spot for an entire year… is impressive. So with that, welcome to the 9800 GTX, a card that makes a mockery the GTX moniker.

Blunt? Perhaps. Truth? Most definitely. It might sound like I don’t like the 9800 GTX, but that’s far from the truth. I just don’t feel it deserves to wear the GTX name, in any shape or form. In reality, this is a 9800 GTS, as it’s clearly a successor to the 8800 GTS 512.

At the root, the 9800 GTX is indeed an 8800 GTS 512 card, only with higher clocks. In fact, as we found out in our recent review of the ASUS EN8800GTS 512, the 9800 GTX doesn’t even stand a chance where a small overclock is involved. Even though the ASUS 8800 GTS 512 card was equipped with a modest overclock, it beat the 9800 GTX in almost every test.

Should a next-gen graphics card be trumped so easily be a last-gen card? I don’t think so.

Closer Look

Contrary to how that introduction sounded, the 9800 GTX is an incredible graphics card, and one that should be considered for a new build or as an upgrade. I mentioned in the introduction that when the 8800 GTX was first released, it was the top of its class for quite a while. What I didn’t mention was that when that card was first released, it cost near $600. The 9800 GTX, on the other hand, can be had for $330. What a difference a year and a half can make.

The fact of the matter is, NVIDIA is kicking some serious ass right now. Their lineup fills every market segment, and regardless of what you are looking for, NVIDIA has it. Take a look at the recent 9600 GT for example. That card is impressive, and with a modest overclock, it can match the performance of a slightly more expensive 8800 GT, making it a great purchase decision for most anyone.

Or how about the ability to go Quad-GPU with the help of two 9800 GX2s? It doesn’t matter what your budget is, or what you are going for. Both AMD or NVIDIA have what you need. Lately, however, NVIDIA is pushing out the faster performing parts, making their cards a more realistic choice, unless revamped pricing skews things.

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

If I sounded disinterested in this card in the intro, I think this specs table could explain why. Yes, the 9800 GTX is indeed faster than the 8800 GTS 512, but it’s far from being “next-gen” material. The Core Clock has been bumped up 25MHz, the Shader Clock is up 63MHz, while the Memory Clock has been pushed to a very healthy 1100MHz. That extra boost in memory should make up for any lack of overall memory density, if there is such a thing with today’s games.

With their EN9800GTX, ASUS chose to stick to the reference cooler, but not before adorning the face of the card with a mythical beauty. After all, she’s what makes the card run faster. Right?

The cooler itself runs itself to the very end of the card, with air holes at the end to allow cool air to come in, which the leaf-blower fan then picks up to push out through the back. You might also notice the two PCI-E power connectors. Allow me to rant again.

The 9800 GTX is, in essence, a higher-clocked 8800 GTS 512, as I’ve established about fifteen times so far. What’s the reason for dual PCI-E connectors, then? While this doesn’t make much sense to me, it will allow for better and more stable overclocking, although I’m still not going to assume that the card wouldn’t have worked fine with a single power cable.

If SLI is in the cards (no pun), then you have two choices. Either pick up a beefier PSU, or try your luck with using Molex-to-PCI-E power converters, which your cards would include. As long as you have a sufficient PSU, there should be no issue in doing things this way.

The reference 9800 GTX cooler is identical at the back to the previous 8800 GTX cooler, which makes sense as it’s practical. There is an opening large enough to allow an ample amount of warm air to escape throughout the back. Also here is a TV-Out port and dual DVI ports.

For those pondering a purchase of an after-market cooler, here is a shot of the back that should help. The layout is similar, but not identical, to the 8800 GTX layout, so 8800 GTX after-market coolers will not likely fit. So if you are to purchase a cooler, make sure that the manufacturer explicitly states support for the 9800 GTX.

The ASUS bundle with this card isn’t terribly impressive, but sometimes, it doesn’t need to be. Included is a Molex-to-PCI-E converter, TV-Out cable, driver and manual CDs and also a nice leather-like CD holder.

I admit… I would have liked to see a game bundled here, but most often, those are given to post-launch cards, or TOP cards, to help sweeten the deal. Even an HDMI adapter would have been nice, though, as even the lowly EN9600GT included one.

On the next page, we will take a look at our current testing methodology, which we recommend you take a look at if you have not already. Our methodologies tend to be far different than most sites. On page 3, we will jump straight into our test results.


Testing Methodology and Test System

Regardless of the OS we are running or product being reviewed, there are a few conditions that are met to assure 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, 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 we have screenshots for each game.

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 results we see here are going to be quite similar throughout the review. Because the ASUS EN8800GTS TOP is a pre-overclocked model, it in effect becomes faster than the 9800 GTX. We’ve included stock NVIDIA 8800 GTS 512 results as well, since it’s more fair for a stock-to-stock comparison.

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.

Picture with me, the fact that not too long ago, the 8800 GTX retailed for well over $500, but we are now seeing a $330 offering out-perform it. You have got to love progress.


Half-Life 2: Episode Two, 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 we have screenshots for each game.

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.

Half-Life 2 might have superb graphics, but even a modest mid-range card is sufficient to deliver excellent gameplay value. In this case, the 9800 GTX fared well against the competition, but we can see significant gains from the modestly overclocked 8800 GTS 512 card in all tests except our 2560×1600, where the results become much tighter.

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.

As we can gain from our results, CoJ is a game that will either benefit from more GPU memory, or higher clocks, which is why this is one of the few tests where we see the 8800 GTX actually out-perform the 9800 GTX. Nothing compares to a dual-GPU solution like the HD 3870 X2, but that’s to be expected.


S.T.A.L.K.E.R., 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 we have screenshots for each game.

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.

STALKER is another game that can benefit from having more memory on hand, but primarily at higher resolutions where the memory requirement is much higher. Because of this, though, the 8800 GTX once again outpaced the 9800 GTX in the test, but not by much. We did gain almost 3FPS over the stock-clocked 8800 GTS 512 at our highest setting, however.

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.

Again, the 9800 GTX held it’s own here. In reality, our top offerings all display similar results, so no higher mid-range card is going to hold you back. Dual GPU’s make a huge difference in this particular title.


Need for Speed: Pro Street, 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 we have screenshots for each game.

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.

Our 9800 GTX somehow got beat out by the 8800 GTS 512 at 1680×1050, but the 9800 GTX struck back at 1920×1200. Like our past few tests, anything above an 8800 GT is going to deliver exceptional performance in this title.

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.

Yet another result showing that extra GPU memory can indeed make a difference in certain titles. The 9800 GTX didn’t perform out of our expectations.


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.

On the next page, I’ll take a brief look at power consumption and I’ll wrap up with my final thoughts.


Overclocking the ASUS EN9800GTX 512MB

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.

ASUS’ EN9800GTX

As seen on the first page of this review, the stock clocks for the 9800 GTX are 675MHz on the Core, 1688MHz for the Shaders and finally, 1100MHz on the Memory. Sadly, we were unable to boost the memory at all, but luckily, the other clocks went sky-high.

After much testing, my max stable overclock was 820MHz Core, 1820MHz Shaders and a retained 1100MHz Memory. While the 9800 GTX might be lacking a little in the stock frequencies, the card overclocks like a dream. 145MHz is no small increase. But will we see real-world differences?

The answer would be yes, but it depends on the title. We saw a nice 7FPS increase in Call of Duty 4, but only a 1.4FPS increase in UT III… odd. We did see a 3.5FPS increase in Crysis, however, where any extra FPS is truly appreciated. That game ran really well with our overclock.

For those looking to boast high 3DMark scores, you’ll be happy to see nice improvements here. Overclocking our card gave us almost a 1,000 point boost at 1280×1024, and a respectable 600 point increase at the uber-high resolution of 2560×1600.

Overclocking Note: The world of overclocking is an unfair one, in that one persons max overclock might be much lower than anothers. 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 is booted 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 reported the majority of the time. Sometimes the wattage might go higher, but scale right back down, and vice versa.

Not surprisingly, the 9800 GTX hit the top of the of the charts here, only to be topped by the 8800 GTX and the dual-GPU EAH3870 X2. Comparing the 8800 GTX to the 9800 GTX shows the benefits of the smaller 65nm process though, with a savings of almost 18W, despite being the faster card.

Final Thoughts

In some respects, the 9800 GTX is a disappointing card, but on the flip side, it’s the most powerful single-GPU available, making it a great choice for some people at the same time. Admittedly, the 8800 Ultra will outperform the 9800 GTX in some regards thanks to it’s higher clock and beefier memory width, but that card still retails for over $500, making this card look that much better.

The 9800 GTX didn’t break new ground, but it is a blazing fast card, and one that will appeal to either those with 3-Way SLI in mind, or those who simply want the fastest single-GPU solution available. The best thing about it all, is that the card retails for $330 on average, with this particular ASUS offering hitting $340.

I find it hard to outright recommend this card to most people, because the fact is, most 8800 GTS 512 cards can be had for $260 – $280, meaning it’s at least $50 less expensive than most 9800 GTX cards. This would be a small issue if the 9800 GTX blew past the 8800 GTS 512 in our tests, but that wasn’t the case. As we saw with ASUS’ modestly overclocked EN8800GTS 512, even a small overclock can drive a 9800 GTX to shame.

To save money but still acquire amazing performance, the 8800 GTS 512 is a good deal, since if taking the SLI route, you are saving almost $100 for similar performance. Overclock a bit… and you match or even surpass 9800 GTX performance. With that information, it confuses me even more as to why this is a “GTX” card. It would make much more sense as a “GTS”.

Still, for the price, this is a great card and the fastest you can pick up. As proven on the previous page, it also happens to be insanely overclockable, so it’s hard to go wrong if you do decide to take this route. All I hope is that NVIDIA has something a lot more exciting up their sleeves for their forthcoming high-end GPUs, because it’s been a while since we’ve last been blown off our feet.

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