Asus 9800 GTX 512MB EN9800GTX Page: 1
Nvidia have been piling the pressure on ATI recently with a swathe of high spec, high speed cards. Today sees the launch of yet another speedster, the 9800 GTX. With a super-clocked GPU running at 675MHz and the 128 stream processors clocked at 1688MHz, the GTX really is cranked up a notch. Nvidia also saw fit to grab some GDDR3 that weighs in at 2200MHz, not bad.
g92 9800 gtx gpu
Asus sent us a 9800 GTX to put through its paces in the labs so we grabbed the usual benching suspects off of the shelf and started to bench it.
Read on to see how it gets on.
Asus are returning to the CGI character style packaging with the box of this stock clocked GTX. Its bright lime green should stand out from the crowd but for the sake of the environment: please Asus: make the packaging smaller!
asus 9800 gtx packaging  asus 9800 gtx packaging rear
The inside is the usual Asus affair with a lot of room and a decent amount of packaging to ensure that the GTX stays safe.
asus 8800 gtx inside box
Now onto the bundle...
The package with this particular Asus 9800 GTX is pretty sparse and doesn't seem to come with much out of the box at all.
We have:
* 1 x Leather CD wallet
* 1 x Quick start guide
* 1 x Driver CD
* 1 x CD-based instruction manual
* 1 x DVI to VGA connector
* 1 x Dual molex to PCI-e 6PIN power
* 1 x S-Video to component out
asus 9800 gtx package
The Asus 9800 GTX is a stock clocked example of the 9800 GTX, so perhaps you can forgive Asus for a slightly sparse bundle. I'm sure a "Top" Edition will be out there with a game bundle and an armful of hardware floating around inside that capacious box.
The specs on the 9800 GTX are as follows:
8600 GTS
HD 3850
HD 3870
9600 GT
8800 GTS
8800 GT
8800 GTS
HD 2900 XT
8800 GTX
9800 GTX
8800 Ultra
Shader units323203206496112128320128128128
ROPs816161620161616 x2241624
Transistors289M666M666M505M681M754M754M700M681M754M 681M
Memory Size256 MB256 MB512 MB512 MB320 MB
640 MB
512 MB512 MB512 MB768 MB512 MB768 MB
Memory Bus Width128 bit256 bit256 bit256 bit320 bit256 bit256 bit512 bit384 bit256 bit 384 bit
Core Clock675 MHz670 MHz777 MHz650 MHz500 MHz600 MHz650 MHz742 MHz575 MHz675 MHz 612 MHz
Memory Clock1000 MHz828 MHz1126 MHz900 MHz800 MHz900 MHz970 MHz825 MHz900 MHz1100 MHz 1080 MHz

The 9800 is basically an 8800 GTS with a bit more horsepower. Nvidia keeps the 256bit bus which many feel hinders the G92 chips, but we'll see how it goes.

Asus 9800 GTX 512MB EN9800GTX Page: 2
Asus 9800 GTX - a close up
The 9800 GTX looks a little bit more of a "beast" than its earlier G92 counterparts. It does feature the rather excellent design shared by the 8800 GTS G92 , whereby the sink dips in a little where the fan is to protect the airflow in an SLI situation. This is a darn good idea by Nvidia, especially since the card is Triple or 3 way SLI ready.
asus 9800 gtx front  asus 9800 gtx rear
A black PCB is used by Asus which always makes me happy and the sink is obviously the stock Nvidia affair with a rather attractive "EN9800GTX" sticker featuring a digital maiden.
asus 9800 gtx different angle  asus 9800 gtx angle it baby
As you can see, photos of the card sideways show the dip where air can flow into the fan. This should allow the GPU's that are usually cramped up next to each other in to SLI breathe a little more freely, which is always a good thing, as we had some problems with 3 Way Ultra SLI.
asus 9800 gtx logo
Asus have put a nice blue coloured logo on the side of the card, a must for those with case windows.
asus 9800 gtx power  asus
The Asus 9800 GTX has two 6PIN PCI-e power which will be a relief for those of you who don't have brand spanking new expensive PSU's but want to play with Nvidia's latest baby. Above you can also see the end of the card enclosed in its plastic casing. I'll have a closer look at the PCB below.
9800 gtx piccy
The logo is an add-on sticker but not an eyesore.
The 9800 GTX has two Dual-Link HDCP-enabled DVI ports and a TV-out. I was surprised not to find an HDMI port here or an included adaptor, a slight oversight on Asus' part perhaps, although most enthusiasts will have a DVI input of some description.
dual SLI bridge
Two SLI connections round off the card with room for dual SLI bridges and of course, 3 Way SLI!
gtx vs gtx  gtx vs gtx sideways on
The Cooler
The cooler on the 9800 GTX barely makes a noise at idle, although there is a definite rush of air through the cooler that is audible outside of a case. Once fully loaded, the noise has a very slight pitch change but I'd be willing to take a bet that inside a case you'd hardly notice at all.
asus 9800 gtx fan  asus 9800 gtx fan 2
Idle temperatures sit at 51°C and the card loads up at a pretty cool 67°C (ambient 23.7°C), so the cooler does its job pretty well.
cooler off
Taking off the plastic clothing of the 9800 GTX reveals a standard Nvidia style heatsink with a nice flat copper base, an aluminium surround for the memory and VRMs and aluminium fins for heat dissipation. You can see the fan draws air in from the side of the heatsink and blows it through the fins directly over the GPU core and out the back of the casing. Note all of the VRM's are covered by the heatsink too.

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Test Setup
To test all of our GPU's, we use a system that bottlenecks them as little as possible. Here's the trusty test rig:
Intel Core2Quad Q6600 @ 3.6GHz
Asus P5E3 DDR3 Motherboard
Kingston HyperX PC3-11000 CL7 DDR3 2gb Kit
CoolerMaster Realpower Pro
Hitachi 7K160 HDD
Samsung DVD-RW
Noctua NH-U12P Cooler
Dell 2405FPW Display
Please note that we have set the overclock on the Q6600 to be able to keep our test setup fairly consistent as the speeds of CPU's increase in the near future. 
Benchmarks Used
Again, Overclock3D has revised its benchmark setup to really test the new DX10 GPU's, while still including some old favourites in there:
games tested
Synthetic Benchmarks
Please note all Synthetic benchmarks were run at stock settings; just as the free ones would be, as well as 1920 x 1200, with 4 x AA added. All benchmarks are repeated three times for consistency.
FutureMark 3DMark03
FutureMark 3DMark05
FutureMark 3DMark06
Gaming Benchmarks
All gaming benchmarks are run through at a demanding stage of the game with no savepoints to affect FPS. These are manual run-through's approximating 3 minutes and all gaming benchmarks are run three times through the same points for consistency. We hope that this gives an accurate and interesting depiction of "real-life" gaming situations. Note the resolutions and AA each game was run at.
All gaming tests were performed in Windows Vista Ultimate, under DX10 if available.
Call of Duty 4 - 1920 x 1200, 4 x AA set in-game
Oblivion - 1920 x 1200, 4 x AA set in drivers and HDR set on in-game. Settings on "Ultra"
F.E.A.R. - 1920 x 1200, 4 x AA set in game, soft shadows enabled
Bioshock - 1920 x 1200, all settings to maximum in-game
Unreal Tournament 3 - all settings set to maximum in-game
Company of Heroes - DirectX10 patch. 1920 x 1200 with in game settings set to maximum.
Crysis - 1680 x 1050, all in-game settings set to "High"
Again, all game run-through's are repeated three times for consistency and accuracy.
We hope that this represents a good band of games and benchmarks for people wanting a performance overview of gaming at this current time.
Cards tested
Here are the cards tested in the benchmarking:
Asus 9800 GTX 512MB: Core Speed: 675MHz. Memory Speed: 1100MHz (2200MHz). Stream Processor Clock: 1688MHz.
Asus 9800 GX2 1GB: Core Speed: 600MHz. Memory Speed: 1000MHz. Stream processor clock: 1500 MHz.
3 x XFX 8800 Ultra's in Triple SLI: Core Speed: 650. Memory speed: 2200MHz (1100MHz). Stream processor clock: 1500MHz.
Asus 8800 GT Top Edition. GPU: 700Mhz. Memory: 1000MHz (2000MHz). Stream processor clock: 1650MHz
XFX 8800 GTS 512 XXX Alpha Dog Edition. GPU: 678Mhz. Memory:  986 (1972MHz). Stream processor clock: 1650MHz.
MSI 8800GTX. GPU: 575Mhz. Memory: 900 (1800). Stream processor clock: 1350MHz.
Note that the 9800 GTX was running the 174.40 Nvidia drivers supplied by Asus.
Note that again we wanted to include benchmarks from an HD3870 X2, but we had some technical difficulties with the combination of graphics card and motherboard and so have not included these results.
Overclocking of all of the Nvidia cards tested was performed in the Nvidia drivers using the Ntune add-on.
The 9800 GX2 was tested with the 174.53 Vista drivers.

Asus 9800 GTX 512MB EN9800GTX Page: 4
Futuremark Benchmarks

All of the cards were run through several 3DMark benchmarks. Note that both the 9800 GX2 and the 3 Way SLI setup were both run through an extra benchmark at 1920 x 1200 with 8 x AA.

FutureMark - 3DMark03

3DMark03 is a benchmark that uses mainly a DirectX 8 feature set including several pixel fill-rate tests. I included this test in the review to see an approximation of how well old games will play on the current gen cards, as well as how well each card copes with the fill-rate tests.
3DMark03 shows a small improvement over the GTS, but the overclocked GT beats it out. At a higher resolution and AA the 8800 GTX surpasses the 9800 GTX pretender by a margin.
FutureMark 3DMark05

3DMark05 is a benchmark based on DirectX 9 with more advanced shading and bump-mapping techniques, as well as a tough CPU test integrated.
3DMark05 again shows the same pattern, but this time at the higher resolution the 9800 GTX beats the 8800 GTX.
FutureMark - 3DMark06

3DMark06 is a more complex 3D benchmark, using many of the more advanced techniques found in DirectX 9.0c such as utilising Shader Model 3.0 and HDR lighting to create a tough benchmark that stresses the GPU and CPU.
Nudging ahead in the newer 3dmark06, the 9800 GTX tops the single GPU chart by a way in both low and high resolutions.

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Call of Duty 4

Call of Duty 4 is a stunning DirectX 9.0c based game that really looks awesome and has a very full feature set. With lots of advanced lighting, smoke and water effects, the game has excellent explosions and is fast and furious, perfect for our test suite.
cod 4
Call of Duty 4 shows us that the 9800 GTX seems to do a much better job at keeping the minimum frame rate smooth.

F.E.A.R. is a game based on the Lithtech Jupiter EX engine. It has volumetric lighting, soft shadows, parallax mapping and particle effects. F.E.A.R. is a little older game so the 9800 GTX should handle this well and look fantastic.
Some very odd behaviour in F.E.A.R. showed the 9800 GTX to have a smooth playable frame rate of between 23 and 31 FPS, but it did not go above this. I am putting this down to a driver bug I experienced as gameplay was as gorgeous and smooth as it should be.

Bioshock is a game based on the Unreal Engine 3. It uses some DirectX10 features such as awesome water and smoke effects. The detail level in the game, combined with a frantic pace makes for an excellent benchmark. I've found Bioshock behaves strangely sometimes in benchmarks so it will be interesting to see how it does here.
Bioshock shows that again the 9800 GTX doesn't give huge max frames per second, but does give a more stable framerate all over, rather than the erratic performance some of the cards tested gave.

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Oblivion is a game that really taxed all of the cards at the time of its release. Well over a year on and the current generation of cards simply fly through it. However, with advanced HDR, excellent draw distances, detailed grass and scenery as well as fantastic water/magic effects it's a good game to gauge performance for those who love RPG's.
Oblivion showed more of the same from the 9800 GTX. The overall feel of the game was very smooth, but the FPS didn't get the real high numbers other cards did.
Company of Heroes

Company of Heroes is a WWII-based RTS game that has an enormous amount of world detail. I played a DirectX 10 patched version of the game that gives modern GPU's a bit of a workout.
Company of Heroes proved that the 9800 GTX can really cope with DX10 content, producing some very nice numbers rivalling the multi GPU setups.

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Unreal Tournament 3

I have included UT3, even though it is another UE3 game as it is a fast, frantic and furious multi player mash-up experience. Using advanced DirectX 9.0c features, the Unreal Engine looks fantastic and runs on almost all half-decent modern GPU's making it an ideal all-round test.
Again UT3 showed the 9800 GTX top the graph for smoothness and had the smallest high to low FPS range of the cards. UT3 isn't ridiculously demanding of the graphics cards but the 9800 GTX produced a smooth performance.

Crysis has to be our most challenging benchmark to date. Running under Windows Vista and using DirectX 10 path, the single GPU cards are running at 1680 x 1050 with "High" set in-game. The multi GPU setups are all set at 1920 x 1200, on both "high" and "Very High" in game.
Crysis seems to be "the one" people turn to when looking at the new card. The stunning graphics (set on the 9800 GTX to "High") simply blow you away.
Again here with Crysis we see the trend continue. Whilst the 9800 GTX didn't put out the highest numbers, the performance overall was far smoother than any of its single GPU brethren and the game did feel a lot smoother to play.

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Overclocking was performed using Nvidia's drivers and the nTune plugin. No hard or soft mods were performed on the cards and overclocking in this way is meant to represent an "easy overclock", giving value for money on each card without making too much effort.
The Asus 9800 GTX achieved a nice overclock of 783/1208, with a fantastic memory overclock of 108MHz. The GPU felt like it had a bit more headroom but it was very hot in the bench room and I think heat was holding it back.
A decent increase in performance was given when we overclocked the 9800 GTX. I did notice that overclocking the memory gave a significant points bump over just overclocking the GPU core itself.
The 9800 GTX definitely represents a value for money in the overclocking department and I was a little disappointed I couldn't have more time with the card to play some more and perhaps get some serious cooling on it!

Asus 9800 GTX 512MB EN9800GTX Page: 9
The 9800 GTX represents a refresh of the G92 chip and as such it's hard to get overly excited by it. Whilst performance is good and certainly edges out the GTS and the GT G92 parts, at points the G80 8800 GTX gets a one up on the young pretender to its crown.
Asus have bundled and priced the card to sell at an RRP of £227, with Microdirect stocking it at a decent £223. Whilst some G92 8800 GT's have dropped in price, the £200 mark is a good place for a graphics card to be so it's sensible move by Nvidia positioning the 9800 GTX in this price segment.
This brings me to another good point: availability. The cards are out there and sitting in the shops. Nvidia slightly delayed the launch of the card to enable partners to get it out there to the e-tailers in time for launch and you can actually buy the card as of today, which is very good.
In the benchmarks I ran the 9800 GTX seemed to make gameplay generally a little more smooth and noticeably Crysis was a fair bit smoother with no jerky frame jumps that you sometimes see. The thing is, the performance isn't "next gen"'s just not impressive and overclocking an 8 series G92 chip will get you pretty much the same performance.
So herein lies my problem: what do I give the card? It's good, but not very "new".
I'm going to give Nvidia some leeway and say that if you have an 8 series G92 (or 8800 GTX) card then I would keep it, but if you're after a new card and want a good performing, well priced mid-high end GPU then get the 9800 GTX: you won't be disappointed.
The Asus 9800 GTX gets a "Recommended" Award along with a "Gamers Choice" Award for being a good all-rounder and playing all of the games benchmarked very well.
Recommended Award  Gamers Choice 
The Good
+ Excellent performance throughout
+ Smoother gameplay
+ Good heatsink design
+ Fairly quiet
+ Good looking
+ Decent overclockability
The Mediocre
* Very close in performance to 8 series cards
* Not a fantastic bundle
The Bad
- An Nvidia marketing stunt??
Thanks to Asus for the review sample
Want one? Happy with your 8 series card? Want to see ATI smash the 9800 GTX in their next gen cards? Let us know here.