Nvidia's new GeForce 9800 GTX 3D graphics chip is the spiritual successor to the GeForce 8800 GTX. That latter chip has been the PC gamers' watermark for excellence since it came out at the end of 2006. The difference this time around is while the 8800 GTX debuted with a $600 price tag, our Zogis GeForce 9800 GTX review card comes in about $330. Whether this card is for you will depend on the number of 3D card slots you have in your PC, as well as the games you play. Single-slot PC owners who play lots of Call of Duty 4 and Bioshock will find a lot to like in this card. Anyone considering SLI, or fans of Team Fortress 2, should look to other options.
|GeForce 9800 GTX||GeForce 8800 GT|
|Price||$300 - $350||$200 - $250|
|Shader clock speed||1,688MHz||1,500MHz|
|Memory speed (data rate)||1.1GHz||900MHz|
The GeForce 9800 GTX is basically a ramped-up version of the less expensive GeForce 8800 GT chip that came out earlier this year. In fact, as you can see from our comparison chart, the two chips aren't that different technically, and their price-to-performance difference makes the 9800 GTX's potential upgrade scenarios complicated.
|1,600x1,200 high quality|
|2,048x1,536, high quality|
|1,600x1,200, high quality|
|2,048x1,536, max. quality, 4x anti-aliasing, 8x anisotropic filtering|
As proven by our tests results, provided with care and diligence by our cohort Sarju Shah at GameSpot, a single GeForce 9800 GTX is faster than a single GeForce 8800 GT when you put them side by side. That's why we recommend the 9800 GTX if your PC has only one graphics card slot (except for players of Team Fortress 2). If your PC is SLI capable, though, we'd strongly suggest you consider picking up two 8800 GTs instead. True, you'd have to spend about $70 more, but we think the dramatic performance gains with two 8800 GTs on Bioshock and Call of Duty 4 show that it's worth it to spend that little bit extra, especially if you have a large monitor capable of playing games at 1,600x1,200 or higher resolutions.
The exception to this scenario is Team Fortress 2. Whether it's the code, the drivers ,or the hardware, we can't say, but the popular online shooter shows a clear preference for
We mentioned SLI above for the 9800 GTX, and it's definitely an option to use the 9800 GTX in a two-, or even three-card configuration. Two 9800 GTX's will cost you about $660, and we'd only recommend it for those with 24- or 30-inch LCD monitors and their high resolutions. The good news is that those two cards are indeed faster than the $600 GeForce 9800 GX2, Nvidia's own two-chip card design that came out just last week.
Of course when you bring up SLI you need to consider your overall system configuration, as well as the graphics cards themselves. Although its performance is respectable for its price, it's actually a bit high maintenance to install even a single GeForce 9800 GTX in your PC. Nvidia recommends a 450 watt power supply for a single 9800 GTX, a 750 watt power supply for two of them in SLI mode, and a 1,000 watt supply for three of them. That's about what we expect these days in terms of wattage, but we're surprised that just one GeForce 9800 GTX requires two six-pin inputs from your PC's power supply.
A typical 450 watt PSU should have the appropriate free connections, and Zogis is kind enough to include the plug adapters, but if one 9800 GTX requires two connections, imagine the mess of cables if you tried to build a three-way SLI system with this card. We're willing to forgive the two-chip 9800 GX2 and its requirement for two power inputs, but we're not quite used to the idea of a 3D card with a midrange price tag requiring two power supply inputs.
Aside from the possible hardware entanglement from such power demands, Nvidia offers some solace if you're concerned about the actual amount of power this card requires. If you own an NForce 700-series motherboard with an integrated graphics chip, this card (as well as the 9800GX2) will support Nvidia's HybridPower capability, which lets your PC switch to the motherboard's integrated 3D chip when you're not gaming or performing other tasks that require a graphics card. Nvidia is still working on the software side of the HybridPower equation, so we were unable to give it a try. But assuming it works, we appreciate Nvidia's attempts at conservation.