XFX GeForce 9800 GTX Hands-On Preview

We go hands-on with Nvidia's latest GPU, the GeForce 9800 GTX.

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New video card releases are bittersweet events for PC enthusiasts. The excitement created with the unveiling of new technology is often tempered with the sad realization that the all the existing video cards we currently have just became slightly less relevant. The pain is especially acute for the people who own the exact card model that has just been replaced, and this is the moment GeForce 8800 GTX owners have been dreading--the launch of the GeForce 9800 GTX.

XFX GeForce 9800 GTX Video Power SPDIF Accessories

The GeForce 9800 GTX's specifications are actually very similar to its GeForce 8-series counterpart. They both have 128 processing cores, but the GeForce 9800 GTX's are clocked at a higher 1.69GHz compared to 1.35GHz for the GeForce 8800 GTX. The 9800 GTX's core clock and memory speeds are also higher at 675MHz and 1.1GHz, respectively. The frequency increases will help offset a few sacrifices Nvidia made by reducing onboard memory to 512MB and switching to a smaller 256-bit memory interface. The new card also includes a molded plastic exterior that hides the internal printed circuit board.

GPU GeForce 9800 GX2 GeForce 9800 GTX GeForce 8800 GTX GeForce 8800 GT
Price $599-649 $349 $399 $189
Stream Processors 256 128 128 112
Shader Clock 1.5GHz 1.69GHz 1.35GHz 1.5GHz
Core Clock 600MHz 675MHz 575MHz 600MHz
Memory 512MBx2 512MB 768MB 512MB
Memory Clock 1GHz 1.1GHz 900MHz 900MHz
Memory Interface 256-bit 256-bit 384-bit 256-bit

Like other GeForce 9-series cards, the GeForce 9800 GTX offers full support for DirectX 10 and PCI Express 2.0. Board manufacturers, such as XFX, will also be happy to sell you two or three cards for 2-way and 3-way SLI. Power, of course, is always a concern in today's video cards where buyers have to make sure that their systems have enough power capacity and the right power connectors to support a new card. The GeForce 9800 GTX has two 6-pin power connectors, and Nvidia recommends a 450W power supply for single-card operation. Two cards in SLI bump the PSU rec up to 750W, and you're looking at 1kW for 3-way SLI. Our XFX GeForce 9800 GTX package included two 4-pin to 6-pin power adapters, so we only had to worry about the card's wattage requirement.

The card supports Nvidia's new energy-saving HybridPower feature that lets you switch between the card and onboard graphics, depending on the software application. HybridPower won't work with all integrated graphics--you'll need a motherboard with HybridPower-compatible graphics, such as those based on the nForce 780a chipset.

The GeForce 9800 GTX can accelerate high-definition video playback from Blu-ray, HD-DVD, and video files that use the associated HD compression formats. The card comes standard with a 7-pin analog out and two DVI connectors. The 7-pin connector can output S-Video natively and component using an included cable adapter. The card supports HDCP, but getting the card to output HDMI will take some extra effort. You'll need a separate certified DVI-to-HDMI adapter and hook up the system's sound to the GTX's SPDIF input for the audio feed. XFX went the extra mile by including the DVI-to-HDMI adapter and SPDIF cable in the box along with two analog DVI adapters.

We obtained a pair of GeForce 9800 GTX cards for single-card and dual-card SLI testing. We put the single GeForce 9800 GTX up against a GeForce 8800 GTX, an ATI Radeon HD 3780 X2, an ATI Radeon HD 3870, and a GeForce 8800 GT. We put our GeForce 9800 GTX SLI up against the GeForce 9800 GX2, the GeForce 8800 GTX SLI, and the GeForce 8800 GT SLI.

Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9775, Intel D5400XS, 4GB FB-DIMM (2x2GB), Windows Vista SP1, Windows XP SP2, 750GB Seagate 7200.10 SATA Hard Disk Drive. Graphics Cards: GeForce 9800 GX2 1GB, GeForce 9800 GTX 512MB, GeForce 8800 GTX 768MB, GeForce 8800 GT 512MB, Radeon HD 3870 X2 1GB, Radeon HD 3870 512MB. Graphics Drivers: ATI Catalyst 8.3, Nvidia ForceWare beta 174.74.

Our XFX GeForce 9800 GTX edged out the GeForce 8800 GTX in all of our test games except for Call of Duty 4. The GeForce 9800 GTX also performed well against its closest ATI competitor, the Radeon HD 3870 X2. The GeForce 8800 GT looks like an interesting value now that online prices are dipping into the $200 range.

The Windows Vista framerate performance tax strikes again. The ATI cards seem to handle Vista better than the Nvidia cards.

Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9775, Intel D5400XS, 4GB FB-DIMM (2x2GB), Windows Vista SP1, Windows XP SP2, 750GB Seagate 7200.10 SATA Hard Disk Drive. Graphics Cards: GeForce 9800 GX2 1GB, GeForce 9800 GTX 512MB, GeForce 8800 GTX 768MB, GeForce 8800 GT 512MB, Radeon HD 3870 X2 1GB, Radeon HD 3870 512MB. Graphics Drivers: ATI Catalyst 8.3, Nvidia ForceWare beta 174.74.

It appears that GeForce 8800 GTX owners can breathe a sigh of relief. Your investment has declined in value during the past year, but it hasn't completely crashed with the introduction of the new GTX. However, that's not to say that the GeForce 9800 GTX isn't an improvement over the GeForce 8800 GTX. The new card is faster, supports HDMI, has HybridPower for power efficiency, and is considerably cheaper. Two GeForce 9800 GTX cards running in SLI will also give the GeForce 9800 GX2 a serious challenge. At a $299-349 estimated retail price, the GeForce 9800 GTX looks to be an affordable successor to the GeForce 8800 GTX.

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