We have tested Nvidia’s new graphics card that claims to be the fastest single-chip solution available today. It indeed fulfils its purpose: to bridge the gap between the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB and the GeForce 9800 GX2. It is a high-quality product without obvious defects.
The GPU and memory frequencies of the 9800 GTX are but 4% and 13% higher respectively than those of the 8800 GTS. It’s like with Nvidia’s GeForce 8800 Ultra. Fortunately, the GeForce 9800 GTX is not likely to become a niche product for wealthy enthusiasts because its recommended price is rather low, $349, while the GeForce 8800 Ultra used to cost over $800 at similar level of performance. Here, the tradition is carried on that a flagship product’s performance can be delivered by a performance-mainstream card after one year. It’s quite an achievement for a $349 card considering the extremely high price of the 8800 Ultra.
It is not from the top where the ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2 and Nvidia GeForce 9800 GX2 reign currently that the main danger to the new card comes from. It’s from below, from the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB. Costing $249-299, it is about as fast as the newcomer in modern games. The GeForce 9800 GTX is better by 15-17% in some applications, but the average gap is only 5-8%, which can hardly affect your playing comfort. Being cheaper, the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB is also easier to use because it is smaller and has only one power connector rather than two as the GeForce 9800 GTX has. Even if the retail prices are close to the recommended ones, the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB seems to be a preferable buy. And if the real price of the GeForce 9800 GTX is much higher than the recommended $349, there is no sense in buying it.
By the way, Nvidia’s confused naming system is no good at all. The G92 core should have given birth to a GeForce 8900 or 9800 series. Instead, we have two series of cards based on the same GPU with deliberately incompatible drivers, and a GeForce 8 product is competing with a GeForce 9 one, affecting the sales. It’s even more confusing for the customer. There are three variants of GeForce 8800 GTS selling today: 320MB, 512MB and 640MB. And only an experienced user knows that the 512MB version is the best one. Hopefully, it is just a temporary situation and Nvidia will transfer the entire G92-based line-up to the GeForce 9 series.
From a technical point of view, the GeForce 9800 GTX is quite an odd thing. We know a number of pre-overclocked versions of GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB with better specs that have a short 10-layer PCB with a three-phase voltage regulator, but the GeForce 9800 GTX comes with a more complex and longer 12-layer PCB with a four-phase GPU voltage regulator. We don’t know why Nvidia took the most difficult way while developing it. The 27-centimeter PCB makes the GeForce 9800 GTX unsuitable for compact or short-length system cases. The two 6-pin power connectors are also hard to explain because our tests show that the total load on these connectors is hardly above 60W.
Overall, it is an example of how a good idea may be marred by marketing confusion as well as unlucky engineering solutions. And still, the GeForce 9800 GTX is indeed the fastest single-chip graphics card until the arrival of the GT200 core.
Gainward Bliss 9800 GTX 512MB Summary
As for the specific sample described in this review, the Gainward Bliss 9800 GTX 512MB is a precise copy of the reference card, having all of its good and bad points. It comes with scanty accessories, without power adapters and any HD-related accessories such as a media player or DVI-I → HDMI adapter. This would be normal for an inexpensive entry-level product, but a top-end graphics card should be special, we guess. On the other hand, this may help Gainward market this product at a lower price, which is good because we don’t have any complaints about the manufacturing quality of the card.
- Best performance among contemporary single-chip graphics cards;
- Wide range of supported FSAA modes;
- Excellent quality of anisotropic filtering;
- Hardware HD video decoding and post-processing support;
- PCI Express 2.0 support;
- Sound over HDMI support;
- No compatibility problems;
- Relatively low power consumption;
- Low noise;
- Highly efficient cooling system;
- Pretty good overclocking potential.
- Little advantage over Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB doesn’t justify the price difference;
- Long PCB may prevent the card from fitting into certain system cases;
- Requires two power supply connectors;
- No power adapter, HDMI adapter and software for HD video content playback among bundled accessories.