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.
|1,600x1,200 (4x anti-aliasing, maximum quality)|
|2,048x1,536 (high quality, water low, 4x aa)||1,600x1,200 (high quality, water low, 4x anti-aliasing)|
|2,048x1,536 (4x anti-aliasing)||1,280x1,024|
Performancewise, we like what we saw from the GeForce 9800GX2, except on one test. On some tests, the results of which were generously provided by GameSpot, the GeForce 9800GX2 falls where we expected, surpassing both ATI's Radeon HD 3870 X2, the GeForce 8800 GTX. One minor exception includes , where we saw a pair of GeForce 8800 GT cards in SLI mode beat the GeForce 9800GX2 by 9 frames per second on the 1,600x1,200 resolution test. The lesson here is that at lower resolutions, you may see less expensive cards outpace the GeForce 9800GX2. The full benefits of all that graphics processing capability might not necessarily kick in unless you can properly tax it, which can require a 24-inch or higher LCD that supports those demanding high resolutions. If you're not also in the market for a display upgrade, shop carefully and you can get two 8800 GT cards for less than $400. You may also need to factor in the cost of an SLI-capable motherboard, which can range from $60 to $200 or more.
That leaves the big gun, Crysis. On this test, we were disappointed to see that none of the cards or combinations of cards tested by our friends at GameSpot achieved an average frame rate of 60 frames per second. The results were so low that GameSpot didn't even try Crysis in its even more demanding DirectX 10 mode. You can certainly dial down the resolution and detail settings and get Crysis to play reasonably well on the 9800 GX2. You can also argue that anyone who can afford a single 9800 GX2 and a high-resolution LCD might likely shell out for a second 9800GX2, leaving the door open for better Crysis scores down the road (pending 9800GX2 SLI support in Nvidia's driver software). It's certainly possible that Crysis is an anomaly, or that it's so far ahead of its time that no other game will present a similar challenge for years to come. The fact remains, though, that this $600 3D card that's otherwise the fastest thing on the market, chokes on a game that's five months old.
While it's clearly a gaming product, Asus has made its particular EN9800GX2 package relatively easy to use for anyone looking to use its card for PC-based movie watching as well. In addition to the two DVI video outputs, Asus also includes an HDMI output on the back of the card. Nvidia's chips still require you to connect an internal cable to the graphics card from your PC's audio chip if you want to send the sound over the HDMI port along with the video. To that end, Asus also threw in the necessary passthrough cable, and it clearly labels the appropriate port on the card. You'll also find a copy of the real-time strategy PC game in the box, so if you're anxious to try out some DirectX 10-enabled content, you can do so as soon as you get the card installed.
3DMark06/Call of Duty 4
System Setup: Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9775; Intel D5400XS motherboard; 4GB FB-DIMM RAM (2x2GB); 750GB Seagate 7200 rpm SATA Hard Disk Drive; Windows Vista 32-bit; Graphics Cards: Graphics Drivers: ATI Catalyst 8.3; Nvidia ForceWare beta 169.44; Nvidia Forceware beta 174.53
Crysis/Unreal Tournament 3
System Setup: Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650; eVGA 780i SLI motherboard; 2GB Corsair RAM (2x1GB); 750GB Seagate 7200 rpm SATA Hard Disk Drive; Windows XP SP2 Graphics Cards: 1GB GeForce 9800 GX2; 768MB GeForce 8800 GTX; 512MB GeForce 8800 GT; 1GB Radeon HD 3870 X2 Graphics Drivers: ATI Catalyst 8.3; Nvidia ForceWare beta 169.44; Nvidia Forceware beta 174.53