Gigabyte 9600GT Review

Author: Kevin Spiess
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Tuesday, July 29th, 2008
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/giga9600gt/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

People look for different things when shopping for prospective new video cards. For the vast majority, it is probably safe to assume that gaming is their number one priority. They are looking for the card that can push out the most frames for the most reasonable price. But other people may have different considerations. Some may want an inexpensive card that is capable of decoding HD content for a HTPC setup. Some might look for a card that will let them contribute significantly to a Folding@Home project. Some may need a card with 4 DVI ports so they can use a bunch of displays. Some may want a graphics card that can handle new games but doesn't make a lot of noise.

Everybody has a video card with their name on it. Perhaps the Gigabyte 9600 GT might have yours on it -- especially if you are in that last group described above. 

Where does the Gigabyte 9600GT fit in?

Right now, between the $100 and $200 mark, a wealth of stellar video cards available. On the less expensive side of the spectrum, you have the HD 3850, then the 9600 GSO, today's 9600 GT, HD 3870's, 8800 GT's, and then around the $200 mark, you have the recently released HD 4850.

The Gigabyte 9600GT is currently selling for around $160, and should be able to keep pace with all the cards listed above, except for the HD 4850 -- a video card which offers a surprising amount of bang-for-the-buck. Without question, the feature that most stands out with today's 9600GT is the use of only passing cooling. Today's model is the "Turbo Force" edition -- it's overclocked, and makes use of "Multi-Core Cooling", which is an extensive bank of heat fins that is capable enough to keep this overclocked card cool without making any noise at all.

The 9600GT GPU only has 64 shader processors, but as shown in our Palit 9600 GT Sonic review, it is nonetheless a capable card able to handle today's games. 

Fans? Pfff. Plastic? Pfff. Not necessarily necessary.

Impressions

The last Gigabyte video card we reviewed featuring passive cooling was from about a year ago now, the Gigabyte 8600 GT, and the 8600 GTS. For those of who are not familiar with the term 'passive cooling,' it means that no mechanical parts are involved.The passive cooling for today's 9600 GT is much better than found on either of these two cards from last year -- both of the 8600's featured a sort of 'iron-grill', partially made of a lower quality material that sort of resembles something you might want to fry up breakfast on.

Gigabyte's passive cooling, circa summer of 2007 (8600 GTS)

Gigabyte's passive cooling, circa summer of 2008 (9600 GT)

Today's double-slot width passive cooler works quiet well: it is made with higher quality materials, and is able to rapidly radiate excess heat. The "Multi-Core Cooling" (as Gigabyte calls it) refers to two copper cooling nodes, which help control convection, leading to better thermal dispersion. Heat flows from the GPU via copper pipes to be dissipated out of two separate banks of aluminum fins. Furthermore (and I believe Gigabyte is only company to feature this) cooling fins extend through the rear bracket of the card, directly outside of your case, which is a nice touch, as it keeps internal case temperatures down just that little bit more than usual, in comparison with other passive cooling solutions.

Some CPU coolers have less aluminum and copper than does the Gigabyte 9600 GT's 'Multi-Core Cooling.' One thing to mention though: don't touch the fins or the heat pipes when this card has been in operation for a while - they both get pretty hot.

Besides the passive cooling system, the Gigabyte 9600 GT also features higher quality components (part of the 'Ultra Durable 2' branding), including ferrite core chokes, lower ESR solid capacitors, and lower RSD(ON) MOSFETs, which -- I am assured by many documents -- all contribute to better power management, and a steadier flow of electric current throughout the card. 

Some tough competition, left to right: Palit 9600 GT Sonic, Palit 9600 GSO, VisionTek HD 4850

Specifications

This 9600 GT comes with a healthy overclock. The core clock is 720, the shader clock runs at 1800, and the memory is pegged at 1008. You can see from the chart below that this is, as factory overclocks go, fairly aggresive.

Note that this video card comes in 1GB and 512MB configurations, and we are looking at the 512MB version today (model name GV-NX96T512HP.)

  9600 GT

9600 GSO

8800 GTS 512MB

8800GT 512MB

 HD3870

HD 3850

HD4850 HD4870

Processing Cores

64

 96

128

112

320

320

800 800

Core Clock

650

 550

650

600

775

668

625 750

Shader Clock

1625

 1375

1625

1500

775

668

625 750

Memory Clock (effective) 

1800

 1600

1940

1800

2250

1656

1986 3600

Memory Interface

256 bit

192 bit

256 bit

256 bit

256 bit

256 bit

256 bit 256 bit

Memory Type

512MB GDDR3

384MB GDDR3

512MB GDDR3

512MB GDDR3

512MB GDDR4

512MB GDDR3

512MB GDDR3 512MB
GDDR5

Fabrication Process

65nm

65nm

65nm

65nm

55nm

55nm

55nm 55nm

As per the usual 9600 GT standard, today's video card is DirectX 10.0 compatible, has Shader Model 4.0 support, and is a PCI Express 2.0 card. Additionally the 9600GT has NVIDIA's PureVideo HD decoder, which improves high-definition video playback by offloading the decoding of HD content off of your CPU, and on to your GPU.

 

 

Box'n'Bundle

The Gigabyte GeForce Turbo Force 9600 GT with Multi-Core Cooling comes in a pinkish, purple box (not the commonest color found on video card boxes.)  On the box, an Asian-stylized, purple-haired chick in a suit of armor sort of stares off into the distance, as if pondering upon a Final Fantasy sequel she had just escaped from. 

As for the bundle, this one accompanying the Gigabyte 9600GT is very complete as bundles go, even including a DVI to HDMI adapter. The rest of the package includes: two DVI to VGA adapters, a nice manual, a CD with the drivers and Gamer HUD (a usefull cards overclocking tool, which actually allows you to change the voltages to your card, which is quite nice), a molex to PCIe power adapter, a quick-start guide, and a SPDIF audio cable.

A good bundle overall.

Overclocking

As mentioned earlier, this GV-NX96T512HP from Gigabyte comes overclocked out of the box. The standard clocks for a 9600 GT are 600 / 1625 / 900 (core, shader, memory), while this Gigabyte card runs at 720 / 1800 / 1008 --- a very nice and healthy speed above the default clocks. 

From our initial testing of this 9600GT, the passive cooling system seemed quite capable, and up to the task of possibily supporting even higher clock speeds.

The Gamer HUD -- Gigabyte's included overclocking program -- turned out to be well executed piece of software. Besides the usual overclocking options, the ability to control the video card's voltage was great to see. The vast majority people probably think the only way to get more voltage through video card is to use a pencil mod trick, or by doing some soldering. This easy volt changing utility could single-handedly turn this Gigabyte card into the overclocker's choice for the 9600 GT. 

One thing that gave us pause when it came to overclocking was the memory -- while the GPU is ready to rock with the multi-core cooler, the Samsung K4J52324QE DRR3 chips are not connected to the cooling, and are rated to 1000 MHz. There probably is very little headroom when it comes to boosting memory performance here.

But we were happy to have things running smoothly at 786 / 1945 / 1008, which is a very substantial overclock from the 9600 GT's default standards. For this to work, we had a extra 120mm leaning against the passive cooler to lower temperatures. If you have a decent case with a side fan blowing on to your video card, you should be able to sustain these speeds -- but if you don't have many fans in your case, you might want to stick with a more modest overclock, otherwise, your going straight to Crash City. 

 

Hardware

We recently upgraded our benchmarking rig with a quad core processor and another 2 gigs of RAM. CPU bottlenecking should not be much of an issue:

To compare against the Gigabyte 9600GT, we selected the following cards: a Diamond HD 4870, a VisionTek HD 4850, a XFX 8600 GTS XXX, a BFG 8800 GT OC, an Asus EN8800 GTX, a Gigabyte HD 3870, and a Palit 9600 GSO.

Software

Driver-wise, we used NVIDIA's 175.19 Forceware drivers, while for the ATI cards, we used Catalyst 8.6 drivers, except for the HD4870 and HD4850, which used an unreleased driver supplied by ATI ('sample 5').

On the software side of things, here is the list of programs used:

Bioshock: For this benchmark, all of the Detail settings were set to 'High'. All of the graphic option switches were set to 'On', with the exception of the following three settings: Vsync, Windowed mode, and Force Global Lighting. We used FRAPS to measure frame rate performance. The FRAPS run was 138 seconds, triggered from pulling the switch in the sub at game's beginning. The sub's dive involves many big models moving around, which should strain the GPU's and be a good measure of the game's engine.

Call of Juarez: We used the stand-alone Call of Juarez DX10 benchmarking program for these results. For our AA testing, we used a setting of 2x.

Crysis: These benchmarks were performed using 'fly-by' GPU test found within the single-player pre-release demo version of the game. All graphic settings were on High.' For AA, we used a setting of 4x. DX10 mode was used. The game has also been fully patched.

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars: We use this id FPS benchmark to test out higher resolutions. We used the highest possible detail settings. We tested the resolutions at 4x AA as well as at 8x AA. 16x AF was also used.  

3DMark06: These popular synthetic benchmarking programs were used at a resolution of 1280x1024.

World In Conflict: We used the built-in benchmark of the demo version of this game. We ran the benchmark in DX9 rendering mode, with a 'High' level of quality. For the AA testing, we used a setting of 4x, and a setting of 16x for AF.

Media Error demo: A runner-up winner in the scene.org best demo category for 2007, this demo made by Fairlight , CNCD & Orange. If you have no idea what a demoscene demo is, you might want to go here for an explication, and it is recommended you follow the link above to see for yourself. Media Error in particular presents a serious work out for a video card. Although to my knowledge, no one before us here at Neoseeker have ever used a demoscene demo for benchmarking purposes, demos such as these are naturally well-suited to the task. This demo was run at a 1600x1200 resolution, with no AA and with 4xAA,  and FRAPS was used to measure framerate averages.   

If you would like any further information about our benchmark settings, feel free to ask us in the forums.

Overclocked or not, with only 64 shader processors the Gigabyte 9600GT gets left behind in the synthetic 3DMark06 benchmark tests. Performance in games is bound to be better.

The Gigabyte 9600GT does fairly well here, even beating out the HD3870. Unsurprisingly, the factory overclocked BFG 8800GT lends a better playing experience in Unreal Tournament 3 -- which is a bit of a concern, as it is usually priced quite similarly to the Gigabyte 9600GT.

It seems my comment on the last page was a bit premature -- in this game, the Gigabyte 9600GT keeps up with the BFG 8800 GT OC, which is as surprising as it is impressive for this passively cooled GPU.

Fairly average performance here, in this Call of Juarez bench. The HD4850 really out runs the 9600GT here. 

The 9600GT is capable of delivering a solid World In Conflict experience, and keeps up with the competition in this bench.

The Gigabyte 9600GT puts in a better show than the 8800GT here -- this video card is a bit faster than probably many would presume.

Although the Gigabyte 9600GT is by no means a slow card, it just doesn't have enough horsepower to really get things moving with the resource hungry Crysis -- though you'd have a no trouble playing this game on the medium settings.

If you are looking for a new video card to play Bioshock, perhaps this video card is not the best choice -- it doesn't really do all that well here when compared to other video cards selling for around the same price.

Power Usage

To measure power usage, we used a Kill A Watt P4400 power meter. Note that the above numbers represent the power drain for the entire benchmarking system, not just the video cards themselves. For the 'idle' readings we measured the power drain from the desktop, with no applications running; for the 'load' situation, we ran a demanding part of 3DMark06.

When it comes to power usage, a fan does not take all that much energy to operate.

The Gigabyte 9600GT compares favorably to the 8800GT OC here, putting in around the same performance in games, while requiring less power.

Conclusion

Overall, the Gigabyte 9600GT is a good card. It can be recommended, but with some reservations. There are a few good things going for this card, but there is one not-so-good thing happening here as well.

On the positive side of things, this card's cooler is exceptional. As said earlier, some $30 CPU coolers have less fins than does the cooler found on this fine video card. If you are looking for a quiet and capable video card, stop reading right here. This card is for you. This Gigabyte 9600GT is aggressively overclocked, yet the 'Multi-Core Cooling' keeps the video card running cooler than a stock HD4850.

A second positive thing worth mentioning is the Gamer HUD software that comes with this card. As far as video card board-partner overclocking software goes, Gamer HUD is the best program seen here at Neoseeker so far. Gamer HUD allows you to change the card's voltage, which is probably not something that many people will use, but for those looking for this option, they will be quite excited to find it -- currently Gamer HUD is the only card-bundled piece of software that allows for his amount of control over overclocking your video card.

The one negative that needs to be said is -- unfortunately -- one that Gigabyte could not do much about: the HD4850. For gamers that have performance as a primary, secondary (and maybe even tertiary) consideration, the speedy HD4850 offers more bang for the buck selling for less than $50 more and offering significantly more performance. However besides the paradigm-changing HD4850, this Gigabyte 9600GT stacks up better than would be expected to the other cards selling for a similar price, including the 8800GT, the HD3870, and the 9600GSO, thanks to a very aggressive factory-overclocking that the effective cooler has no trouble sustaining. 

Overall, the Gigabyte 9600GT is a fine video card. Kudos to Gigabyte for allowing voltage control through the Gamer HUD program. While when it comes to sheer gaming performance this video card might not be the first choice, the Gigabyte 9600GT is a well put together package with many things going for it.

 

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