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Asus EN9600 GT review: Asus EN9600 GT

Asus EN9600 GT

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Rich Brown
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Rich Brown

Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness

Rich is the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, KY. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D-printing to Z-Wave smart locks.

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5 min read

ATI's Radeon HD 3850 returned respectability to the $150 to $200 3D graphics card last year. Unfortunately for ATI, Nvidia's new GeForce 9600 GT chip wrests the midrange crown away and knocks out a more expensive contender in the process. Cards that use Nvidia's new chip, like the Asus EN9600GT featured here, will go for about $175, and they deliver generally faster performance than an ATI card that retails for around $200. If you're a home theater PC builder and you have an aversion to internal cables, you might balk; but if you're a gamer looking for a 3D card bargain, you should put the GeForce 9600 GT at the top of your list.

8.0

Asus EN9600 GT

The Good

Faster performance than anything from ATI in this price range; makes most games playable at medium or better quality settings (depending on resolution); box includes all necessary cables and adapters.

The Bad

Still requires audio pass-through cable for audio output over HDMI.

The Bottom Line

Nvidia's new GeForce 9600 GT graphics chip gives the Asus EN9600 GT some of the best bang-for-the-buck we've seen in a midrange 3D card. If your goal is reliable frame rates in the latest PC games, you should pick this card up as soon as you can.

Despite the new 9000-series product line, the GeForce 9600 GT relies on the same core architecture as the new GeForce 8800 GT chip from earlier this year. If you ask Nvidia, you'll get a different story, but our hunch is that the chip graduated to a new number at least partly because ATI recently bumped its own chips up from the 2000 series to the 3000 series last November, despite no major update to the processing core. Keeping up with the Joneses aside, the GeForce 9600 GT might as well be a new card for the vast improvement it brings at its price point compared with the GeForce 8600 GT from last year.

Before we get into the benchmarks, though, we'll compare the core specs of the GeForce 9600 GT with its closest competitor, the Radeon HD 3870. Nvidia originally compared its new chip with the less expensive Radeon HD 3850, but we might as well look at the higher-end ATI chip, because the 9600 GT beats them both.

  Asus EN9600 GT ATI Radeon HD 3870
Price $169 - $189 $199 - $250
Manufacturing process 65nm 55nm
Core clock 650MHz 775MHz
Stream processors 64 320
Memory 512MB 512MB
Memory speed (data rate) 1.8GHz 2.25GHz
Memory Interface 256-bit 256-bit

You can bet it's no accident that Nvidia's pricing for the GeForce 9600 GT comes in right between the $150 Radeon HD 3850 and the $200 or so Radeon HD 3870. And while such small price differences make recommendations hard because of price changes over time, in this case those fluctuations won't matter, because the new Nvidia chip beats ATI in both directions.

3DMark 2006
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,280x1,024  

Crysis (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,280x1,024 (medium quality)  

Call of Duty 4 (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,280x1,024 (high quality)  

Unreal Tournament 3 (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,200 (maximum quality)  

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.

Test bed:
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.

8.0

Asus EN9600 GT

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 9
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