(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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So what of those benchmarks? First, on both Call of Duty 4 and Unreal Tournament 3, the GeForce 9600 GT pushes past the hallowed ground of 60 frames per second (fps). We kept the resolutions reasonable in the interest of playability, and as long as you do the same, you can expect the GeForce 9600 GT to surpass the Radeon HD 3850 and at least tie the Radeon 3870. Hitting 60 fps on Crysis remains elusive, even at medium detail settings, but the GeForce 9600 GT comes closer than anyone else in its price ballpark, and at 48 fps, you should find it playable most of the time.
For fun, our compatriot Sarju Shah at Gamespot threw in the older 320MB GeForce 8800 GTS card when he conducted his testing (and then graciously shared his results with us). That card cost $300 when it launched last February, but now hovers around $200 online. If you can find it for that price, we'd suggest you pick it up, but we don't think it will remain in stock for too much longer.
Of course, that 8800 GTS card does not come with PCI-Express 2.0 support. In the short term, that won't mean too much. PCI-Express 2.0 is aimed at future PC gaming titles that may require more data bandwidth than older PCI Express ports can offer. A few PCI Express motherboards are starting to trickle out now, but from what we've seen, they offer no performance advantage in current titles, including Crysis. That the GeForce 9600 GT cards have PCI-E 2.0 support means that when those games do become available, and if you have a supporting motherboard, at least you'll know that with this card the graphics slot itself isn't the choke point. But by the time PCI-E 2.0 becomes necessary, you might very well be shopping for a new graphics card. So don't purchase this card, or any other today, just because it supports PCI-Express 2.0. It's mostly a future-proofing consideration.
If we're disappointed about anything having to do with the GeForce 9600 GT, it's that Nvidia didn't include an onboard audio chip in the new design. That remains one of ATI's advantages, in that it saves you from having to connect a separate internal audio pass-through cable from your PC to your graphics card in order to send audio through the HDMI output. It's a minor feather in ATI's cap, and Asus helps take the edge off by including both a DVI-to-HDMI adapter as well as the audio cable in the box with its EN9600 GT card. ATI retains the advantage in adding its cards to a home theater PC because of the less complicated setup. Anything in this price range is overkill, however, if all you're after is a 3D card capable of playing HD movies from your PC.
Otherwise, adding the GeForce 9600 GT to a standard PC is no more difficult than any other midrange 3D card. You need to connect it directly to your PC's power supply via a six-pin connector, and Asus also includes a power cable adapter in the box as well. Because it's a single-slot design, you should be able to fit the GeForce 9600 GT in any standard desktop with a PCI-Express slot. It also supports Nvidia's SLI dual-graphics card technology. For a single card, Nvidia recommends your system have a 400-watt power supply. For double cards, tack on another 150 to 200 watts or so and you should be fine.
Windows Vista Ultimate (32-bit); 3.2GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9775; Intel D5400XS motherboard; 4GB DDR2 SDRAM (2x2GB); 750GB Seagate 7200rpm hard drive; ATI Catalyst 8.2, Nvidia ForceWare beta 169.28, Nvidia Forceware beta 174.12.