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Old March 18, 2008, 09:01 AM
Misoprostol
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Default nVidia GeForce 9800 GX2 1GB Dual GPU First Impressions


nVidia GeForce 9800 GX2 1GB Dual GPU Video Card
"First Impressions"





Product: nVidia GeForce 9800 GX2
Price: MSRP: $649
Availability: March 18, 2008 - allocated




Introduction

The 9800 has been unleashed! Please note that this is not a re-release of ATi's Radeon 9800, but rather a new sort of "9800" ;)

nVidia has finally lifted the veil on their new enthusiast class dual GPU beast: the GeForce 9800GX2.



As if using the "9800" moniker was not enough, some of nVidia's partners (including eVGA) have even gone as far as to feature the card in red and black retail packaging that is very reminiscent of the discontinued "Built by ATi" cards. The message they're trying to send is unclear, but we are certain it's no accident….


We just got our sample, so this is only a first impressions, and NOT a full review. In the full review we will be re-running all of these tests on the 9800 GX2 with the most current drivers available at that time. The full review will also include our entire benchmarking suite against a wider variety of competitors. For now though, we're a little short on time, so we're going to have to make do with a battle of the heavyweights: The GeForce 9800GX2 vs. the Radeon HD 3870 X2.


Notes about the card

There were a couple of things that bothered us about the setup process, particularly when were just getting started. First of all was the fact that the 9800GX2 uses a 6-pin and an 8-pin PCIe power connector. This in an of itself is not a problem, but unlike ATi's HD 2900XT and HD 3870 X2, the 9800GX2 will not power on with two 6 pin PCIe power connectors plugged in. You MUST use an 8-pin power connector. Those of you with older power supplies, get ready to upgrade or find an adapter.

One neat feature that enabled us to easily troubleshoot this problem was nVidia's inclusion of an easy way to tell if the GX2 is getting enough power. Simply check the LEDs built into the power connectors. Red means that it's not geting an adequate supply (no plug, or 6pin into 8 pin), and green means that it's getting enough power.

There was another problem with the 8 pin power connector on the card and the 8 pin power connector on our Corsair 520HX tester power supply. Every PCIe power connector has a little clip that serves to hold it in place, but not all of them are directly centered on an 8 pin connector, so if you have a 6+2 connector like the Corsair unit we're using, you may have a conflict. The solution we came up with for the sake of running our benchmarks was to cut the clip off, but this is not an ideal thing to do....


you can see the conflict between the clip on the power connector and the video card



Also interesting to us, since we don't have the nVidia launch materials, is the SLI connector on this card. Until we physically saw the card we weren't 100% sure that nVidia would take another crack at Quad SLI, but it looks like now that AMD has managed to somewhat successfully launch Crossfire-X drivers, it's time for nVidia to make another attempt. Hopefully the support is a little bit stronger this time around.



Also of note was the fact that with the drivers on the CD we had to manually enable SLI in the control panel, but with the BETAs we used, this was not necessary. Some complaints have been spotted on the web about this issue, but it looks like nVidia intends to fix it. Also of note about the disc drivers is that Company of Heroes performance was improved dramatically with the BETAs, but nothing else we tested was affected beyond margin of error.





Test Setup and Methodology

All tests were run at highest in game detail settings with V-sync disabled.
Catalyst 8.3 was used for the HD 3870 X2 and the latest BETAs were used for the GeForce 9800GX2 (174.53). You can expect the full review to be using a more mature driver set, but honestly things didn't seem too buggy in our limited testing.


The 9800GX2 was connected to our 24" test monitor via DVI. The HDMI output on the back was not tested. The card came with what looks like a digital pass through cable of some sort, so it appears nVidia might have a trick up their sleeve for enabling digital audio via HDMI.... Stay tuned.

Test Bed:

Asus Maximus Formula X38
Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6850 @ stock speed (3.0GHz quad core)
2x1GB Mushkin XP2 PC2-6400 4-4-3-10 (D9)
Corsair 520HX power supply
Seagate 7200.10 500GB
Samsung SATA DVD+-RW
Windows Vista Ultimate x64 (fully patched)

Test Games:

Company of Heroes (1920x1200 DX10 max everything 0xAA/0xAF)
Supreme Commander (1920x1200 max everything 0xAA/0xAF)
Half Life 2 Lost Coast (1920x1200 max everything 0xAA/0xAF)
3Dmark 2006 (1280x1024 all options default)
Crysis (1920x1200 64-bit max everything 0xAA/0xAF)

Obviously we're not testing either as many games as usual. The reason for that again is that this is a first impressions, not a review. We're keeping things very simple just to give everyone out there some idea of how well this card performs until we've got the time to run our usual battery of tests.

Since the 8800Ultra, there hasn't been an enthusiast-level product released by nVidia and the 9800GX2 has finally come to fill that void. The 9800GX2 feels like a much more elegant dual GPU solution than its predecessor the 7950GX2, and performance looks pretty good compared to its closest competitor: the Radeon HD 3870 X2. The 9800GX2 won most of the benchmarks we ran, but as mentioned before, this is just a first look, and there will be much more in depth testing available once the full review hits. Look to see more games, more resolutions, and more fun….

All of that said, we have gone to the usual lengths to ensure the accuracy of our benchmarks. Every test was run three times, then the results averaged, and all tested games and programs were fully patched.


Benchmarks

3Dmark 2006 Professional


Crysis 1.2


Company of Heroes


Supreme Commander



Half Life 2: Lost Coast







Conclusion

Since the discontinuation of the 8800Ultra, nVidia has not had an uber-enthusiast class video card. The 9800GX2 has come along at a very good time to fill that void. The 9800GX2 feels like a much more elegant dual GPU solution than its predecessor the 7950GX2, and performance looks very favorable against its closest competitor: the Radeon HD 3870 X2.


The 9800GX2 wins most of the benchmarks we've run, but as mentioned before, this is just a first look, and there will be much more in depth testing available once the full review hits. Once we've looked at the card with more mature drivers instead of early BETAs and run a more complete benchmark suite, we'll be able to draw more conclusions, but for now we can tentatively say that nVidia has regained the single card performance crown.


Review by Misoprostol

Last edited by Misoprostol; March 18, 2008 at 01:20 PM.
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