XFX 9800 GTX Black Edition 512mb Page: 1
A little while ago we looked at the 9800 GTX and although results were good and undoubtedly the single card performance was solid, it just didn't blast away the older cards.
This time we're looking at XFX's big bad 'Black Edition' 9800 GTX. Clocked to the max with a bundle that most gamers would jump at, the Black Edition is XFX's new Top End range 9800 GTX.
A bit of info about XFX:
XFX dares to go where the competition would like to, but can't. That's because, at XFX, we don't just create great digital video components--we build all-out, mind-blowing, performance crushing, competition-obliterating video cards and motherboards. Oh, and not only are they amazing, you don't have to live on dry noodles and peanut butter to afford them.

XFX is a division of PINE Technologies, a leading manufacturer of state-of-the-art processing components.
XFX are one of Nvidia's leading OEM's and as such seem to get clock speeds that are bordering on what your average overclocker gets.
The specification of the card speaks for itself:
Dual Link DVI - Supporting digital output up to 2560x1600
Yes (Dual)
Shader Clock
1900 MHz
Clock rate
760 MHz
Memory Clock
2.28 GHz
Game Bundle
PV-T98F-YDB9 w/ Assassin's Creed
GeForce 9800 GTX
512 MB
Bus Type
PCI-E 2.0
Memory Type
Memory Bus
HDMI w/ HDMI upgrade kit (included)
Highlighted Features
SLI ready , Vista , HDTV ready , Dual DVI Out , RoHS , HDCP Ready
More info and extra specs can be found here
 I just wanted to highlight that XFX's Black Edition GPU's are hand picked from it's XXX Edition GPU's and hot and cold chamber tested to give the customer 100% stability when it arrives at their door. In addition to this, XFX have said:
all customers will receive priority Live help support when registering the product and we have ensured our system allows for priority action on any customer requests.
Obviously this adds to XFX's manufacturing costs, but XFX have said this is something they wanted to give their loyal customers who go out and buy their top end GPU's. 
XFX have gone for some (surprisingly!), black packaging to put their Black Edition in. The packaging looks nice and the lettering of "Black Edition" is only visible at certain angles which should give it some shelf-cred.
 box front  box logo
Inside the box is well packaged as you would expect from XFX, top quality stuff.
inside box
As I have said previously, XFX have put together a very nice bundle for the Black Edition. We have:
* Quick Install Guide
* Hint and Tips Booklet
* S-Video Guide
* "Don't disturb me I'm gaming" door card
* Driver CD
* Assiassins Creed Full Game
* 1 x S-Video to Component Cable
* 1 x DVI to HDMI adaptor
* 2 x DVI to VGA adaptors
* 2 x Dual Molex to PCI-e Power
* 1 x S-Video to S-Video cable
* Motherboard/Sound card cable for HDMI sound pass-through
The bundle is quite frankly, awesome and Assassins Creed will certainly attract those buyers wanting an AAA title in with their top end card.
XFX have said that as an update on the bundle, they have exclusively given SCAN an exclusive deal. You would also get:
Includes XFX Gamers Bundle Exclusive to SCAN Only,
• Assassins creed.
• Assassins creed book
• XFX TShirt
• XFX Key Ring..

XFX 9800 GTX Black Edition 512mb Page: 2
XFX 9800 GTX Black Edition Close up
XFX have gone for the stock cooler for the 9800 GTX Black Edition so it's not going to be a whole lot different from Asus's card in our previous review. They have changed the sticker on it which looks pretty funky.
It's what lies under the bonnet that XFX have really changed, but it is worth mentioning that XFX test every overclocked card in a warm air chamber to ensure that it is 100% stable when it gets to the customer.
xfx 9800 gtx black edition  xfx black edition rear
The sticker looks a little more subtle in the flesh, with the words Black Edition almost like a hologram.
black edition  side
I think XFX have missed a trick here and we could have seen a nice custom logo for the side of your case instead of the generic GeForce logo.
black edition side on
Again following the stock design, which is not always a bad thing. Triple SLI should be pretty good cooling-wise on this card.
black edition caps
As we have seen on previous Nvidia cards, the capacitors are all top quality Japanese solid caps which should make for a very stable card.
dual DVI
Two Dual-Link HDCP enabled DVI ports abound the end of the 9800 GTX Black Edition as you would expect. XFX have also included a DVI to HDMI converter for your HDTV. An S-Video TV-out connector is also included as an output.
The Cooler
Again, there's not a whole lot to say about the cooler on the XFX 9800 GTX Black Edition as it is the stock cooler from Nvidia. In addition, it's boiling hot in the UK at the moment so Ambient room temperature was a fairly warm 28°C.
Having said all this, it's clear XFX have pushed the card a little more than the stock speeds (understatement!), as it runs at 60°C idle and 71°C load. The fan is pretty good and I never noticed too much noise, despite the card sitting right next to me on a bench table.

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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:
XFX 9800 GTX Black Edition 512mb. Core Speed: 760MHz. Memory Speed: 1140MHz (2280MHz). Stream Processor Clock: 1900MHz.
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 Black Edition was running the latest 174.74 Nvidia drivers.
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.

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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.
The Black Edition gives a good show in 3dMark03 compared to the stock 9800 GTX and does indeed beat out all of it's competitors by a fair bit.
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.
Again you will notice that the XFX Black Edition 9800 GTX plays out a nice tune, just about crowning over 22k in 05.
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.
A common theme throughout the benchmarks, the Black Edition GTX beats out the single GPU cards in our tests. High res benchmarks also show that the card holds good numbers throughout the testing, even when pitted against some more serious scaling.

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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
The first of our real life benchmarks shows the 9800 GTX Black Edition give a small boost in numbers when playing games at 1920 x 1200, although not a noticeable difference in gameplay.

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.
F.E.A.R. showed a huge improvement in FPS with the 9800 GTX. I'm not quite sure exactly why the difference was so marked but after several re-tests I confimed that the numbers are correct.

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 didn't prove a massive boost in minimum or average FPS over the stock 9800 GTX, but the average FPS was a nice increase; although again I don't think gameplay was different.

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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 again showed that the XFX Black Edition leads the single GPU field right out of our test cards with a nice boost in FPS average.
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 really showed a good increase for the XFX 9800 GTX Black Edition, I think perhaps due to being a more DX10-based game.

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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.
The XFX 9800 GTX Black Edition performed very nicely again in UT3, although I think all of the cards here can quite easily cope with that engine right now.

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 was definitely the most marked improvement for the 9800 GTX Black Edition. The average FPS was superior to the other cards tested and it definately a more enjoyable experience playing the game with the new XFX card.

XFX 9800 GTX Black Edition 512mb Page: 8

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. With an ambient room temperature of 28°C and a card already heavily overclocked, I had a feeling this wasn't going to be too easy.
I was actually surprised how much I managed to squeeze out of the XFX Black edition. Achieving a respectable 806/1202 in the freaky England spring heat, it didn't do too badly at all.
The overclock produced a small gain in points in 3dmark06. Nothing to shout too loudly about, but not a bad increase.

XFX 9800 GTX Black Edition 512mb Page: 9
XFX have set out to make a top end 9800 GTX and I feel they have achieved this perfectly. The 1900MHz stream processors coupled with a pretty blazing overclocked core clock really do give a boost to both the scores and FPS in real life. Here comes the but...the real life difference in gaming is really only shown in Crysis. This does mean that if you buy this card, Crysis will certainly be more playable than the stock 9800 GTX though.
It really comes down to choice of whether you value several things in your graphics card. XFX have put together an exceptional package with the Black Edition 9800 GTX. The box is both hardware and software packed and Assassins Creed is certainly an awesome game worth a look if you don't have it. Priced at £246 @ Scan, the bundle is a little more expensive than a stock GTX.
So as I said: it comes down to personal choice. If you just want the stock card then look elsewhere, but if you want a hot-to-trot pre-overclocked single card with a superb bundle and warranty to match, you won't go much wrong with XFX's 9800 GTX Black Edition.
The XFX 9800 GTX Black Edition get's an OC3D Recommended Award with a Performance Award companion for being steamingly fast for a current gen single GPU card.

The Good
+ Fastest single GPU card we've tested
+ Good looking
+ Awesome hardware bundle
+ AAA title included in the box
+ Peace of mind XFX Black Edition testing and support

The Mediocre
* Debatable if you pay the extra

The Bad
- A bit overpriced compared to other GTX
recommended  performance 
Thanks to XFX for the review sample.
Want to add some blackness inside your PC or prefer to save the pennies and overclock your own? Talk about it here