Palit 9800 GTX: Review and SLI testing

Author: Kevin Spiess
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Tuesday, April 8th, 2008
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/palit9800gtx/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

A steady stream of new video cards has been flowing out over the last little while, but the GeForce 9800 GTX have been perhaps more anticipated than any other product from NVIDIA's ninth generation so far released. The 9800 GTX is one of the fastest cards available in the world right now, and today, we have one in for review, courtesy of Palit.

When the 9800 GTX was unveiled for the first time last week, reviews were mixed. Across forums and hardware reviews, opinions generally fell into one of two camps. The first camp was decidedly unimpressed with the 9800GTX, primarly for its inability to significantly surpass the 8800 GTX in gaming performance and in some technical specifications, such as memory bandwidth. The second camp met the introduction of the 9800GTX more favorably, arguing that the new product stacked up nicely to current cards on the market, offering a solid level of performance for around the $325 price-point.  

While the 7800 GTX and 8800 GTX cards from NVIDIA's last two generations introduced new GPU's and significant design changes, this time around, the 9800 GTX bore strong similarities to one other G92-based video card, the 8800 GTS 512MB, which was released back in December. As opposed to being a flagship design of change, the 9800 GTX instead showcases the evolutionary advancements made by NVIDIA over the last year. And while not offering anything too radical, the 9800 GTX nonetheless is powered by one of the most complex GPUs ever made, containing a whopping 754 million transistors, and has a few advantages over the 8800 GTS 512MB that secures the new GTX into a class of its own.

With a high-end card such as this, many are no doubt wondering what a 9800 GTX SLI system would be capable of. So this is something we wanted to take a look at today, comparing a pair of 9800 GTX cards against a 9600 GT, 8800 GT, and 8800 GTS 512MB SLI configurations. How nice would be to come home from work one day and see a pair of these powerful cards sitting in your motherboard?

 

 

 

Impressions

As mentioned, the 9800GTX shares many similarities with the 8800 GTS 512MB, and these similarities hold true when it comes to appearance. The 9800 GTX is a bit longer than the 8800 GTS 512MB, in part to accommodate the second SLI connector, which allows for something the 8800 GTS 512MB can not do: run in a 3-way SLI setup. The 9800GTX is a very long card, and will most definitely hang off the end of your motherboard. The 9800GTX is also very thick, and it takes up every possible millimeter allowed for its designation as a double-width card.

So far, every 9800GTX released has followed the standard reference design, and our Palit 9800 GTX is no exception. Appearance wise, there is nothing that separates it from our recently reviewed XFX 9800 GTX, besides the sticker bearing the Palit logo, and the infamous cyber-frog Frobot. Underneath Frobot, the cooling is supplied by an array of heat fins, which are cooled by a fan placed just right of the GPU. Thanks in part to an extended plastic shroud, the cooler pushes most of the exhaust hot air out of the bracket, out of your case. Another favorable attribute of this cooling solution is that it is fairly quiet: only when the GPU is very stressed does the fan get loud enough to really notice.

The 9800GTX has a trouble-shooting LED on the end of the card, which changes colors depending on any problems that you might run into. This move to use LEDs appeared recently with ATI's HD3870X2, and then on the 9800 GX2 -- making it seem likely that all future higher-end cards may contain this feature. Another specification of this card that stands out is the S/PDIF connector along the top of the card, which when used with a optional dongle (which is unfortunately absent in the Palit 9800GTX bundle) audio can be transmitted from a sound card to your video card to be channeled through the HDMI output.

Specifications  

In many respects, the 9800 GTX can be seen as a overclocked 8800 GTS 512MB with higher quality GDDR3 memory. However, as testing has shown, 9800GTX cards do have superior overclocking potential, on average, compared to their 8800 GTS 512MB brethren.

Leading to disappointment among many of members of the gaming public, the 9800GTX actually has less memory bandwidth than the 8800 GTX. This has been only the second time that that NVIDIA has released a subsequent high-end card that is has less memory bandwidth than the previous flagship model. NVIDIA has countered that their internal testing has shown this not to be a severe limitation to the 9800 GTX's performance -- and in most situations this may be true, but common sense says that at extremely high resolutions, the 8800 GTX's 384 bit memory interface will give a natural advantage in comparison to the 9800GTX.

 

  Palit 9800GTX

XFX 9800 GX2

9600GT (reference)

8800GT 512MB (reference)

8800 GTS 512MB (reference)

HD 3870 (reference)

HD3870X2 (reference)

Stream Processors

128

 256 (128x2)

64

112

128

320

640 (320x2)

Core Clock

675

 600

650

600

650

775

825

Shader Clock

1688

 1500

1625

1500

1625

775

825

Memory Clock

2200

 2000

1800

1800

1940

2250

1800

Memory Interface

256 bit

 512 bit (256x2)

256 bit

256 bit

256 bit

256 bit

512 bit (256x2)

Memory Type

512MB GDDR3

1024MB GDDR3

512MB GDDR3

512MB GDDR3

512MB GDDR3

512MB GDDR4

1024MB GDDR3

Memory Bandwidth (GB/s)

70.4

 124.0

57.6 

57.6

62.08

72.0

115.2

Texture Fillrate (billion/sec)

43.2

 76.8

20.8

33.6

41.6

12.4

26.4

Fabrication Process

65nm

65nm

65nm

65nm

65nm

55nm

55nm

Left image: Asus EN8800 GTX, Palit 9800 GTX, BFG 8800 GTS 640MB       Right image: Palit 9800 GTX beside a Asus EN8800GTX

Two of the more notable features that the 9800 GTX has -- that are not found on the 8800 GTX -- is HybridPower capability, and the potential for 3-way SLI. HybridPower is an energy efficient feature that allows your system to run in reduced power mode when in 2D mode, only supplying full power to your video card when more GPU performance is required (such as when you are playing games.) While this feature is great to see, it unfortunately is only able to be taken advantage with HybridPower capable motherboards, which so far, have not yet been released. 3-way SLI is a welcome feature to have -- but out of the gates, it will only be the extremely few that will want to shell out the money for three 9800 GTX cards. However, if you have the motherboard that supports 3-way SLI, having three cards could become a reasonable upgrade path down the road, when say, two years from now, you might be able to pick up a used 9800 GTX for maybe $150.

The Palit 9800 GTX is also HDCP capable, and with the PureVideo engine, can decode high quality DVD movie and video with only putting a minimal strain on your CPU. The 9800 GTX also is supports DirectX 10.0, OpenGL 2.1, and Shader Model 4.00.

Box

On the front of the bright green Palit 9800 GTX box we have a large Frobot, 'GeForce 9 Series' written in sparkling letters, and a 9800GTX sticker listing features.

On the back of the box, some very brief technical specifications are offered, in 12 different languages.

Bundle

The Palit 9800 GTX comes with a driver CD, a quick installation guide, a DVI to VGA adapter, and a S -Video out cable. Additionally, this package comes with Tomb Raider, Anniversay edition. While this game is nice to see, as bundles go for other 9800 GTX's -- and other higher-end cards in general -- it would be nice to see a bit more, such as a HDMI adapter, SLI bridges, SPDIF cable, molex to PCIe power adapter, or something similar.

Overclocking

While the default performance of the 9800 GTX is quite good, the real strength of this new video card lies in its overclocking potential. Our last adventures in overclocking a 9800 GTX turned in some excellent results, with a roughly 17% gain in performance, once pushed to the limit.

Using RivaTuner and running the fan at 100%, we are able to reach a very solid overclock, but not to the extent as we did with our last 9800 GTX. Often overclocking is like that -- luck plays a significant role. While the stock clocks of the Palit 9800 GTX are 675 / 1100 / 1688 (core / memory / shader), we were able to overclock our Palit 9800 GTX to 806 / 1212 / 1958. Particularly with that significant shader clock increase, the 9800 GTX absolutely laughs at any game running at these speeds. The only game that will not absolutely fly on an overclocked 9800 GTX right now is Crysis.

 

We used the following system for our benchmarking:  

For this review, we wanted to focus on the SLI potential of a dual 9800GTX rig, so we tested some popular, recent SLI configurations. The 9800GTX SLI numbers will be compared to 8800 GTs in SLI, as well as a pair of 9600GT, and a pair of 8800 GTS 512MB cards in SLI. The second 9800GTX we used was from XFX, and runs at the same clock speeds as the Palit 9800GTX.

In addition to the SLI numbers, for our benchmarks we tested the following cards: a Gigabyte HD3870, a Palit 9600GT, a Asus 8800 GTX, a Asus 8800GT T.O.P, and a XFX 9800GX2.

Software Setup

We tested all of our cards using Microsoft Vista. As for drivers, things got a little complicated this time around, with different drivers not working with different cards. While all of ATI cards used Catalyst 8.3 drivers, the NVIDIA drivers were a bit more of a mash-up. Both the 9800GX2 and 9800GTX used Forceware 174.74 drivers, while the rest used 164.44 Forceware drivers.

For our games we using for benchmarking, here is some information on our chosen settings:  

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 (1280x1024,1600x1200,1920x1200). 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, please feel free to make use of our forums.

Let's start off of our look at the benchmarks with Unreal Tournament 3.  Due to how well this game runs on almost any video card, all of the results collected turned out to be fairly similar to one another. All four of the SLI configurations put in performances within a few frames of one another, with the 8800 GT SLI coming in at the top of the charts. The non-SLI results are a little more intresting with the Palit 9800 GTX taking top-spot, trailed closely by the 9800 GX2.

The full potential of the dual 9800 GTX cards running in SLI seems to become unleashed in Bioshock -- our system almost reaches 200 FPS at 1280x1024!  Not too bad. 

Surpisingly, the Palit 9800 GTX out-perfoms the XFX 9800 GX2 here, showing that sometimes one GPU is sometimes better than two; this again reinforced when the single 9800 GTX beats out the pair of 9600 GT's.

 

The Palit 9800 GTX running in SLI continues to dominate the charts (as most would expect it to), though the results are not much different than the 9800 GX2.  After a week or two, prices will start to settle, and a single 9800GX2 will probably end up costing around the same as a pair of 9800 GTX cards, making seem not really advantageous to choose the 9800GX2 over two 9800 GTX's -- but this may change. Meanwhile the Palit 9600 GT SLI seems to be offer the best price-to-performance ratio -- two of these overclocked Palit cards would sell for about 2/3rds of the price of a single 9800 GX2, but would be more expensive than a single 9800 GTX.

The 8800 GTS 512MB SLI setup continues to perform poorer than would be expected -- perhaps there are some driver issues slowing things down.

 

The Palit 9800 GTX dominates the top of the charts, both in SLI configurations, and on its own.

Crysis, easily the most demanding game out today, challenges even the 9800 GX2 at higher detail settings. Nonetheless the 9800 GX2 once again takes out the competition in SLI and on its own, with a fairly significant margin. However with the one exception of the 1600x1200 setting with AA enabled, the Palit 9600 GT SLI does impressively well.

Unlike in the game performance benchmarks, in 3DMark06 the 8800 GTS 512MB SLI often out-performs the 9800 GTX SLI setup. The Palit 9800 GTX also scores surprisingly low on the Vertex Shader Performance test.

Both the single and dual 9800 GTX configurations only put in mediocre numbers in the World In Conflict benchmark. For a top-end card, you'd expect the 9800 GTX to seperate itself further from the rest of the pack here.

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.

If you are going to be investing in a high-end card such as a 9800 GTX, you are going to not want to skimp on your power supply. If you have a quality 500W PSU -- and not an excessive amount of hard drives and other components -- you should be okay. With a 9800 GTX SLI setup, you are going to want something around the 680W mark, or higher.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that the Palit 9800 GTX is a one of the fastest cards you could get today. In fact, with this amount of GPU power, one problem you may have is finding a game that will give your video card any sort of challenge to run! Retailing for around $330 USD currently, the Palit 9800 GTX fits in nicely at the upper-end of segment of NVIDIA's current line-up. In an SLI configuration, the 9800 GTX -- as expected -- dominates the benchmarks. However, in both single and dual card configurations, the 9800 GTX often only maintains a small performance lead over much of the competition.

Price-saavy consumers would probably notice that the Palit 9600 GT Sonic in SLI put in some solid results in our benchmarks, often doing much better than you would expect from a card with 64 stream processers. With prices as low as they are for standard-clocked 9600 GT's (even sometimes dropping around the $120 mark), a user-overclocked 9600 GT SLI setup might be a new sweet spot.  Although, for those who are not watching their wallets as closely, if you after the top levels of performance, a reasonably overclocked Palit 9800 GTX running in SLI would be almost impossible to beat.

While the Palit 9800 GTX will satsified all of our demands for performance, it was perhaps lacking just a little that would seperate it from the rest of the pack. When you look at the price gap between the 9800 GTX and the rest of the NVIDIA line-up, and to a lesser extent ATI's HD3870, many gamers would probably hope that the 9800 GTX would absolutely trounce the competition, instead of merely just beating it. Another bone to pick with the Palit 9800 GTX was the lack of adapters in the bundle. While a pretty good offering from Palit, with so many intruiging options out there, the Palit 9800 GTX does not seem to offer anything notably more than any of the other 9800 GTX cards on the market today.  And while it's hard to argue with top-of-the-chart performance, with the price of mid-range cards such as 8800 GT's and 9600 GT's (such as the Palit 9600 GT Sonic, which did so well in our tests), it becomes difficult to justify going the distance and getting this 9800 GTX, because for those extra dollars, in the end, the less-expensive challengers will offer fairly similar gaming experiences. But for those of you who have a top-end display, or buy video cards only every 4 or 5 years, the Palit 9800 GTX look a bit more enticing.

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