Palit 9600GSO Sonic Review

Author: Kevin Spiess
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Wednesday, June 4th, 2008
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/s/palit9600gso/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

NVIDIA's ninth generation of video cards gained a new member last week, with the introduction of the GeForce 9600 GSO.

The 9600 GSO will sell on the shelves beside the first 9600 out, the 9600 GT. In the accepted hierarchy of things, the 9600 GSO should sell for less than the 9600 GT, and offer slightly less performance. However this might not be the case in all gaming situations,because the 9600 GSO has more shader processors than the 9600 GT. If you were to compare the 9600 GSO to the current ATI lineup, it would land somewhere between the HD 3850 and HD 3870 when it comes to gaming.

Although the 9600GSO is the newest addition to NVIDIA's ninth generation, it isn't exactly as new as one might think. The standard 9600GSO shares all of the same specifications as does the 8800GS, which came out in January of this year. Although the under-reviewed 8800GS did not weigh down many North American hardware shelves, in Europe this card obtained a slightly more noticeable reputation as a less expensive, well-performing, sort-of “8800 GT Lite”, with  significant overclocking potential. While being re-packaged as 9600 GSO might annoy those who believe they are getting the latest product still hot out of NVIDIA's fabs, this card nonetheless has a combination of enticing specifications that could point towards a gaming bargain.

Today we will be reviewing a 9600GSO Sonic, from Palit. Similar to other Sonic models from Palit, this particular card is overclocked, has more memory, and has a custom cooling solution. With that out-of-the-box overclock it should make things interesting as we see how its performance compares to a host of 10 other video cards in our benchmarks.

Selling for $139.99 the 9600 GSO has the potential to be a cheap ticket to NVIDIA's ninth.

 

Impressions

The Palit 9600GSO Sonic shares a few similarities with the Palit 9600 GT Sonic which we reviewed in February. One feature making a return is the eye-catching orange plastic covering around the video card.

The covering is flat-sided and rectangular, and has both pros and cons. On the pro side, the shroud isn't a solid, unbreathing covering (such as found on some recent NVIDIA reference design coolers) -- instead, the plastic cover has many horizontal openings that both helps air circulate over the card's PCB, while at the same time, allowing hot air many possible escape routes. Additionally, this plastic shroud (or as some describe it, a plastic 'cage')  wouldn't be all that bad for a 9600GSO SLI setup -- some non-reference designs of 8800 GT / GS cards have non-standard coolers that  work well cooling a single card, but are too large for proper air flow in a dual card setup. But that isn't the case here -- having two Palit 9600 GSO cards right beside together wouldn't be all the bad, in terms of airflow. One the con side of things, this orange plastic shroud is destined to become the ultimate Alacatraz for dust in your computer case, making the occasional cleaning session a chore.

Let's compare the designs of the Palit 9600GSO Sonic with Palit 9600GT Sonic a bit more, shall we?  One of the best features of the 9600GT Sonic was its unsurpassed assortment of output options: besides the usual dual DVI and TV out, the older Sonic came with a DisplayPort, a HDMI port, and a SPDIF audio port. That collection of ports really seperated the Palit 9600GT Sonic from the rest of the back -- but unfortunately, the 9600GSO Sonic only has the standard dual DVI and TV out.

One feature the 9600GSO Sonic has that the 9600GT Sonic does not is a metal plate on the back of the card. This orange-painted metal plate helps cool the 768MB's of GDDR3 memory. While in operation, this plate gets quite hot -- for the overclocking inclined, putting a fan right on the backplate, or using some other direct cooling methods, could help get the Palit 9600GSO out-of-the-box overclock up to new heights.

Specifications

That out-of-the-box overclock just mentioned is is fairly healthy, as such overlcocks go. The standard 9600GSO runs ats 550 /  1375 / 1600 (core / shader clock / memory), and, as you can see from the chart below,  the 9600 GSO Sonic has an appreciable gain in all three of these areas. It'll be interesting to see in the benchmarks how the GSO compares to the GT: while the GT's clocks are faster, the GSO has more stream processors.

  Palit 9600GSO Sonic 9600GT 8800GT 512MB 8800GT 256MB HD 3870 HD 3850
Stream Processors 96 64 112 112 320 320
Core Clock 600 650 600 600 775 668
Shader Clock 1500 1625 1500 1500 775 668
Memory Clock 1800 1800 1800 1800 2250 1656
Memory Interface 192 bit 256 bit 256 bit 256 bit 256 bit 256 bit
Memory Type 768 MB GDDR3 512MB GDDR3 512MB GDDR3 256MB GDDR3 512MB GDDR4 256MB GDDR3
Memory Bandwidth (GB/s) 43.2 57.6  57.6 57.6 72.0 52.9
Texture Fillrate (billion/sec) 25.2 20.8 33.6 33.6 12.4 10.6
Fabrication Process 65nm 65nm 65nm 65nm 55nm 55nm

The Palit 9600GSO has the following notable features:

 

Box and bundle

Today's video card comes in a light green box dominated by a giant cyber-frog. A large sticker on the front outlines the important specifications of the card. Unfortunately, there is no information on the box that lists the hardware requirements for the product. And while there are hardware requirements on the video card's manual on the bundled CD, the information is woefully out of date. The manual lists the requirements for this card as a free AGP slot, a Pentium II processer, and 64 MB's of RAM!

Not to dwell on it too much, but the Palit 9600 GSO's manual is the least helpful, and the least complete, that I've have ever seen supplied with a video card. It is in dire need of a rewrite. Palit does not offer toll-free tech support so, if you had do something that you were unfamiliar with -- such as connecting your video card to a HDTV for instance -- you'd would not find much help without having to resort to Google, or perhaps, an agreeable local nerd.

The bundle includes a driver CD, a HDMI to DVI adapter, a VGA to DVI adapter, a SPDIF to RCA audio cable, a molex to PCIE power adapter, a S-video out cable, and a quick-start installation guide. For a card in this price range, this is a very complete bundle.

Overclocking

'Sonic' editions are Palit's overclocked line, so this 9600 GSO runs at 600 / 1500 / 1800 (core / shader / effective memory speed), which is a healthy increase from the card's default 550 / 1375 / 1600 clocks. Usually with pre-overclocked video cards, you generally can't get your hopes up that high that there will be much more gains to be had. But this card is a bit different. The 9600 GSO is basically a 8800 GS, and the 8800 GS where basically 8800 GT cards with less stream processors activated. With the Palit overclock, the 9600 GSO has the same clock speeds as a 8800 GT -- so, it stands to reason that there would be some additional headroom to be gained with a bit overclocking. The card's nice cooler, and metal back plate which helps cool the memory, also doesn't hurt the overclocking potential either.

Using RivaTuner, we started the overclocking adventure at a modest 640 / 1600 / 1860. This card seemed to have absolutely no troubles with that at all, so we kept on going further. We eventually settled on a 729 / 1836 / 1900 and the card still was running crash-free. It wasn't until we reached 745 / 1862 / 1958 that the super-Sonic 9600GSO started running into stability problems after five hours of overnight stress testing. Operating this card at a very zippingly fast 742 / 1858 / 1954 clock should not cause you that much trouble though, which is a very impressive 24% / 24% / 9% overclock.

(By the way, if you are going to go the overclocking route with this card, I'd recommend directing any spare fans you may have lying around right onto the back metal plate of the card. This will help prevent your memory from overheating, and should make your system more stable. Of course, if you have a six fan computer case or something similar, than you can safely ignore this advice.)
 

Hardware

This time around, we used the following benchmarking setup:

We rounded up most of the competition that the 9600 GSO is likely to find on the market. In order of average price, from least expensive to most expensive, the cards in this benchmark include the following: a XFX 8600 GTS XXX, the Palit 9600 GSO Sonic, a PowerColor HD3850 Xtreme PCS 512MB, a Palit 9600GT, a Gigabyte HD3870, a BFG 8800 GT OC, an Asus EN8800 GTS 512MB TOP, a XFX 9800 GTX, and a dual-GPU Asus EAH3850X2.

Software

Driver-wise, I used NVIDIA's 174.74 Forceware drivers, and ATI's Catalyst 8.4 drivers.

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 (1.1).

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.  

Unreal Tournament 3: We tested the game using a fly-through of the vehicle capture-the-flag map 'Suspense.'ShangriLa (map) running for 90 seconds. Details were set to 'High', and a AF setting of 16x was used.

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.

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

Hmm..some interesting results crop up in this last time we benchmark using 3DMark06 (we will be switching to the newer Futuremark benchmark program, 3dMark Vantage, for future reviews.)

For the pixel shader performance, the 9600 GSO puts in better numbers than one might expect for its price-tag. For the fill-rate bench, the 9600 GSO lags a bit behind for the single-texturing score, probably due to its 192-bit memory interface (the 8600 GTS utilizes a 128-bit memory bus, while the other cards have a 256-bit or greater bus.) However, the 9600 GSO puts in fine numbers when it came to multi-texturing fill rates. The particles score for this card is ho-hum, while the vertex shader performance numbers are poor.

Palit's 9600GSO Sonic does seem to be performing fairly well for its price -- let's see if this trend continues.

The Palit 9600 GSO does quite well here, just coming within a few frames of reaching the BFG 8800 GT's performance -- and keep in mind that this 8800 GT is a factory overclocked model -- as well as coming close to the more expensive Gigabyte HD3870 and PowerColor HD3850 Xtreme PCS 512MB. Not bad at all.

The other Palit card in the mix, the 9600 GT Sonic, does very well here as well.

If this performance level continues through the rest of the benchmarks we could be looking at a great gamer-on-a-tight-budget card here -- the Palit 9600GSO puts in more impressive numbers, when you consider that it is one of the least-expensive cards in the line-up.

When push comes to shove in this GPU intense benchmark, the Palit 9600GSO Sonic gets out-played by the superior horsepower coming from the HD3870 and 8800GT cards. Not that this card does poorly here -- it's just that it performs more where you'd expect to be in relation to the competition.

The 9600GSO compares quite well to its competition: the HD3870, the HD3850, the 9600 GT, and the 8800 GT. But with the high processing demands in Crysis, the 8800 GT does maintain a lead over the 9600GSO that would be noticeable when playing the game.

Although the Palit 9600GSO Sonic doesn't get within arm's reach of the BFG 8800 GT OC here, it nonetheless puts in another great performance, virtually tying with the HD3870, and running smoother than the Palit 9600GT Sonic.

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.

The Palit 9600GSO Sonic requires one 6-pin PCIE power connector, and your going to want a 450W or higher power supply to keep your video card and computer happy.

As for power usage, the 9600 GSO seems take a more power than you might expect. Idling, the card almost took as much juice as the EN8800GTS 512MB, which is a surprise.

One more thing on the topic of power -- like other Sonic models, this Palit card has a 3-phase power solution, which basically means that the GPU is feed a steadier stream of power, resulting in a longer life, and a better overclock, for your card.

So many cards, so many options

It's a very tight market between the $100 and $200 mark right now, and the Palit 9600GSO faces some tough competition, but manages to fit farily well into the current video card landscape.

This video card is a bit of paradox -- sort of puzzling in some ways. While it has less memory bandwidth available than the 8800 GT, it has a reasonable amount of steam processors, and is set to respectable clock speeds. This combination of specifications leads it to out-perform some more expensive cards, in some games. For a video card that will retail for $139.99, sometimes it outperformed, and sometimes it underperformed, its primary competition: the HD3850, HD3870, 8800GT, and 9600GT. If you are really into one particular game, you might want to check out the charts and judge for yourself if this card is for you.

In comparison to other 9600GSO cards, the Palit Sonic edition looks like a good deal. While this is only the first 9600 GSO that we have tested, judging from prices featured on some major online e-tailers, the Palit 9600GSO Sonic 768MB is sitting comfortably at the $139 price mark. With the complete bundle (besides the awful manual), the effective cooler, and reasonable overclock, this 9600GSO is selling at the price many other 384MB 9600GSO's are selling at.

Speaking of the 384MB configuration of the 9600GSO, Palit will be releasing a Sonic with 384MB of memory, and selling it for $119.99 initally. If that card overclocks as well as the 768MB cards seem to, it could be a excellent budget -- yet still quite fast -- gaming card. While 256MB is not really enough memory to satisfy high-resolution gaming, 384MB (for the time being at least), is an acceptable amount. I would not expect there to be much real-world performance differences at all between the 384MB and 768MB models. However, a possible exception to that claim would be that the 384MB and 768MB cards are from different batches of cards completely -- which isn't likely, but is possible.

But back to the card at hand.

Really, the situation with the 9600GSO is fairly straight -foward: it's all about price. This conclusion is focused heavily on price -- but probably, for most people looking for a card at $139, they want to know whether or not, in the end, the Palit 9600GSO Sonic is a good deal or not. For most consumers, the answer is yes: this card offers a good bang-for-the-buck; however, for those that love bargain shopping, and looking for deals, a patient gamer may be able to pick up a HD3870, or perhaps even a 8800GT, for the same price -- or even less -- than what this card will initally retail for -- -- and in many gaming situations, and especially at higher resolutions, the horsepower of the HD3870s and 8800 GT cards will be greater than offered by the 9600GSO.

The problem here is that although a newly released video card, the 9600GSO is exactly a new card, as detailed on the first page of this review. So while the price of $139 is a good intial offering for this product, it has to compete with in a fierce buyer's market right now for video cards. This last AMD/NVIDIA battleround was a particular doozy; and right now, its a real cut-throat market for video cards. (Which, of course, benefits the PC gamer!)  

But there is one catch to all of this -- overclocking. This particular Palit 9600GSO tested was an excellent overclocker. While results unfortuantely may vary from video card to the next, judging from other review sources, it does not seem that my particular card was any exception. Going from the already overclocked clocks of 600 / 1500 / 1800 (core, shader,memory)  to 745 / 1862 / 1958 was very impressive -- even considering that this card is, in many respects, a laser-neutered 8800 GT. With not much effort at all you can really boost the performance of the Palit 9600GSO Sonic -- and with every dollar counting in the sub-$150 dollar range, you can turn this card into better deal compared to the other cards in this price range, such as inexpensive HD3870s.

While this card is probably not the best deal for everyone, for some people, the Palit 9600GSO Sonic could make a good fit.

 

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