The Games of Christmas '08: GPU Performance Part II

by Michael "SKYMTL" Hoenig     |     December 23, 2008

The Competition: Nvidia Cards

Over the last, year, Nvidia’s position in this budget market was all about measured reaction. The 9500 GT was released without much fanfare but when ATI answered with the 4600-series the jolly green giant went into reactionary mode by re-releasing the 8800 GS as the 9600 GSO. We could go on an on but in the end; it seems like whenever ATI came up with a new card, Nvidia was ready to answer with one of their own. This has caused a fair bit of confusion in the market since in their haste to match up their cards perfectly with what ATI had to offer, Nvidia’s line-up became muddied with overlapping pricing and performance figures. At this point, their line-up has pretty much ironed itself out and as you will see, there seems to be a little something for everyone.

9800 GT 512MB

I would like to introduce you to the artist formerly known as the 8800 GT: the 9800 GT. Yes folks, this 9-series card is the exact same one we reviewed well over a year ago without any changes other than its magical transformation into the 9800 GT. There were some rumours a little while back of 55nm cores being installed on these cards but after we took a close look at a number of 9800 GT cards from various manufacturer, it was proven to be nothing more than hyperbole. This is the highest-end Nvidia card we are testing here and with an average price of just under $160, it is a bit more expensive than the competing HD 4830. It has stood the test of time quite well considering it still sells in huge volumes but can its performance still match its retail prowess?

9600GT 512MB

After the HD 3870 was released at a slightly lower price than the 8800 GT, Nvidia realized that they needed a card which was close to the now-9800 GT in performance but was priced a bit lower than the HD 3870. Yes, it sounds confusing and at the time it certainly was but the 9600 GT is still alive and kicking at a new sub-$130 price point. Its specs are quite close to that of the 9800 GT but it makes do with 48 less stream processors which has the potential to cramp its performance somewhat. Truth be told, ATI’s HD 4830 competes with this card as well as the 9800 GT considering its price straddles the two quite well. This also brings up a good point about the existence of the 9600 GT in general: it is within spitting distance of the 9800 GT price-wise so its performance better be up there too.

9600 GSO 384MB

The 9600 GSO is truly the bastard child of the Nvidia lineup with an oddball memory allotment and more versions than you can shake a stick at. This card started out as the 8800 GS but since it wasn’t getting much face time, Nvidia decided to rename it and hope for the best. In this article we have the “original” 9600 GSO / 8800 GS equipped with 384MB on a 192-bit bus but there are also…wait for it…versions with 512MB on a 256-bit bus, 768MB on a 192-bit bus and even the odd one with 1GB of memory on a 256-bit bus. Confused yet? Well, I know I was which is why you are seeing the version which is most readily available. Heck, I could do a whole article just covering the myriad of 9600 GSO cards on the market these days.

All in all it seems that in the rush to compete with the HD 4670, Nvidia went way overboard and is only confusing the market even more. That being said, the GSO seems to have some interesting specifications which could actually make it more attractive than the HD 4670 from a purely gaming standpoint. A 192-bit wide bus may make up for some of the initial performance impact of its limited memory allotment. Even though this is the least expensive of all the 9600 GSO variants, pricing looks to be an average of about 20% more than ATI’s HD 4670.

9500 GT 512MB

At the tail end of Nvidia’s lineup in this article comes the 9500 GT. Much like the 9600 GSO we talked about earlier, this card comes in a vast number of configurations from 256MB all the way up to 1GB with both DDR2 and GDDR3. As a happy medium, we decided to pick up the 512MB GDDR3 version since it seems to be readily available and should show us the upper-end of 9500 GT performance.

The 9500 GT used to retail for the almost same price as the HD 4670 but as we saw, it was destroyed by ATI’s budget card and thus Nvidia was forced to lower their price...a bit. All in all, this is the lowest-end Nvidia card we will be testing in this article.

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