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Asus EN9800GX2 review: Asus EN9800GX2

Nvidia's new flagship 3D card delivers almost all the performance we expect for its price. We wouldn't blame Crysis fans for waiting to see what's in store later this year.

Rich Brown Former Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness
Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. 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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Rich Brown
6 min read

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 $899 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 Crysis 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.


Asus EN9800GX2

The Good

Faster than Nvidia's older flagship products. SLI on a single 3D card slot.

The Bad

Requires a beefy power supply and two direct connections. Can't hit 60 frames per second in Crysis at high resolutions. We'll believe Quad SLI being worth the investment when we see it.

The Bottom Line

Nvidia's new flagship 3D card delivers almost all the performance we expect for its price. If you can live with "almost," at this price range, then this is a solid PC gaming option. We also wouldn't blame you Crysis fans for waiting to see what's in store later this year.

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 yet. Instead, your alternatives include the GeForce 8800 GTX (which can be found between AU$500 and AU$700, depending on brand and bundle), and the insanely priced, AU$900 and above GeForce 8800 GTX Ultra. ATI currently offers nothing in the AU$700-plus price range, although as you'll see in our performance charts farther down the page the Radeons and certain combinations of other Nvidia cards can still compete with the 9800GX2.

  Nvidia GeForce 9800GX2 ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 (R680)
Lowest current price AU$790 AU$520
Manufacturing process 65nm 55nm
Transistors 1,508 million 1,332 million
Core clock 600MHz 825MHz
Stream processors 256 (per chip) 320 (per chip)
Memory 512MB (per chip) 512MB (per chip)
Memory speed (data rate) 1GHz (2GHz) 900MHz (1.8GHz)
Memory Interface 256-bit 256-bit

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). Also of note, the 9800GX2 requires both a 6-pin and 8-pin internal connection to that power supply.

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.

Unreal Tournament 3
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,200 (4x anti-aliasing, maximum quality)   
Nvidia GeForce 9800GX2
ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2
Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX SLI
Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT SLI
Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX

Call of Duty 4
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
2,048x1,536 (high quality, water low, 4x aa)   
1,600x1,200 (high quality, water low, 4x anti-aliasing)   
Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX SLI
Nvidia GeForce 9800GX2
Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT SLI
Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX
ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2

3DMark 2006
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
2,048x1,536 (4x antialiasing)   
Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX SLI
Nvidia GeForce 9800GX2
Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT SLI
ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2
Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX

Performance wise, we liked 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 and the GeForce 8800 GTX. One minor exception includes Call of Duty 4, 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 512MB cards for under AU$500. You may also need to factor in the cost of an SLI-capable motherboard, which can range from AU$165 to AU$500 or more.

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,200 (high)   
Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX SLI
Nvidia GeForce 9800GX2
Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT SLI
ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2
Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX

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 -- although dual 7950GX2 never really took off properly). 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 AU$899 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 Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts 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