The ATI Radeon HD 3000 series based on the new 55nm RV670 core has shattered Nvidia’s position in the below-$200 sector. Nvidia had very good G92-based models, yet all of them, except for the GeForce 8800 GT 256MB, cost far more than $200, while this exception, having a recommended price of $199, could not be actually obtained in shops for that money. Moreover, the limited amount of graphics memory together with inefficient memory management had a negative effect on the gaming performance of the GeForce 8800 GT 256MB. The Radeon HD 3850 was far cheaper and, as our tests showed, far more efficient at managing its 256MB of local memory whereas the high retail price of the GeForce 8800 GT 256MB made it an opponent to the ATI Radeon HD 3870 which left no chance to the Nvidia card.
The GeForce 8600 GTS could not be viewed seriously as a gaming graphics card due to its very modest performance in modern 3D applications. The gap between the GeForce 8600 and GeForce 8800 series shrunk somewhat with the release of the G92 core but was still too wide. A new graphics core was needed that would deliver higher performance than the G82 and would be simpler and cheaper than the G92. GPU developers usually create mainstream chips by cutting down the existing top-performance cores. The main thing is to hit the balance between the manufacturing cost and the performance of the resulting chip.
For example, the G84 suffered from Nvidia’s desire to simplify and cheapen: with only 32 unified shader processors, 16 texture modules that were actually equivalent to eight TMUs only, and 8 ROPs, the chip just could not be fast. As a consequence, the flagship of the new series was slower than the ATI Radeon X1950 Pro in real applications. With such performance, the new chip’s DirectX 10 support sounded like a joke even then, and we know today how hungry DirectX 10 applications are for hardware resources. In fact, the GeForce 8600 GTS replayed the story of the GeForce FX 5600 which had been replaced with the more successful GeForce FX 5700. And now the GeForce 8600 GTS is substituted with the GeForce 9600 GT, the first member of Nvidia’s new GeForce 9 series.
The new card features a specially developed mainstream core codenamed G94. The GeForce 9600 GT was officially announced on February 21, 2008. The same day we offered you preliminary data about the performance of this new product targeted at the $169-189 price sector. Today we’ll discuss it in detail to see if it is competitive against the ATI Radeon HD 3870 and 3850 whose prices have been recently lowered to $189 and $169, respectively (see this news story for details). The battle for the mainstream segment is going to be fierce.