Nvidia intends for its new dual-chip, 1GB GeForce 9800GX2 3D cards to replace the venerable GeForce 8800 GTX as its flagship 3D graphics card. Featured here in the $600 Asus EN9800GX2, we found that Nvidia's new card does indeed surpass the 8800 GTX, and for most PC gamers looking for a high-end upgrade, this card and others like it will be the obvious choice. That said, we'd still like to see this or any 3D card take on at its highest DirectX 10 settings and deliver at least 60 frames per second. Until that happens, we'll have reservations about spending so much on a 3D card.
The GeForce 9800GX2 is similar in concept to ATI's recent Radeon HD 3870 X2, and also Nvidia's older GeForce 7950GX2. The design of all of those cards involves two graphics cards cobbled together into one physical package with a single PCI-Express interface at the bottom. Like the others, the 9800 GX2 does not require you to own a motherboard with two graphics card slots, because the circuitry necessary for the two chips to operate in tandem is built into the card itself.
Unlike the GeForce 7950GX2, there is no standalone, single-chip "GeForce 9800" card, at least at press time. Instead, your alternatives include the now $450 GeForce 8800 GTX (formerly $600), and the $800 (but impossible to find) GeForce 8800 Ultra. ATI currently offers nothing in the $500-plus price range, although you'll see in our performance charts farther down the page that Radeons and certain combinations of other Nvidia cards can still compete here and there with the 9800GX2.
|Nvidia GeForce 9800GX2||ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 (R680)|
|Lowest current price||$600||$449|
|Transistors||1,508 million||1,332 million|
|Stream processors||256 (per chip)||320 (per chip)|
|Memory||512MB (per chip)||512MB (per chip)|
|Memory speed (data rate)||1GHz (2GHz)||900MHz (1.8GHz)|
Nvidia assumes a few things about potential owners of the GeForce 9800GX2. The first is that you have an interest at playing PC games at very high resolutions, likely on a 24- or 30-inch LCD, and with the detail levels cranked. Our performance numbers show that anything lower than that and you're probably still fine with an 8800 GTX.
The second assumption is that you have a robust enough computer to handle this new card. This includes a power supply rated to a minimum of 580 watts, or 850 watts for two GX2s in SLI, quad-chip mode (for which Nvidia is still working on software support). Let alone 850 watts, a 580-watt power supply goes well beyond what you typically find in an off-the-shelf desktop. Also of note, the 9800GX2 requires both a 6-pin and 8-pin internal connection to that power supply. That's correct, a single GeForce 9800GX2 requires two power supply inputs, whether you overclock it or not.
The 8-pin connection in particular might cause you some grief. Our colleagues at GameSpot reported that they broke the plastic housing on their XFX card while trying to unplug the 8-pin connector. Nvidia's claim is that while it has followed the specification for the 8-pin female end, certain power supply vendors have not built their 8-pin plugs to spec. Our Asus card came with a 6-pin-to-8-pin adapter cable (which you might also need, as many power supplies don't have an 8-pin output) that we were able to insert and remove with no trouble.