post #1 of 1
Thread Starter 
Source: http://www.custompc.co.uk/news/60209...st-review.html


In the past, ATI and Nvidia have tended to announce a new generation of GPUs with a huge fanfare and lead off with an expensive but powerful, high-end model to showcase the performance of their new technology. It’s hoped that this approach creates a halo effect, so people associate the new series with top-of-the-range performance. However, Nvidia seems obsessed with the £100-200 graphics card market at the moment, launching not only the GeForce 8800 GT range, but also the GeForce 8800 GS, so it isn’t therefore completely surprising that the first GeForce 9-series GPU is a mid-range chip.


The GeForce 9600 GT GPU

The GPU now known as GeForce 9600 GT is codenamed G94 and shares many of the features of the G92 chip on which the new GeForce 8800 GTS and GT GPUs are based. That means there’s PCI-E 2.0 support, two dual-link DVI outputs and various performance tweaks compared with the previous generation G80-based GeForce 8-series cards. The important specifications of the new GPU read favourably as well.

It has 64 stream processors that run at 1.625GHz. The core of the GPU (that is, everything in the GPU that isn’t a stream processor) is clocked at 650MHz, and a 256-bit memory interface to talk to the 512MB of 900 MHz (1.8GHz effective) GDDR3 memory.
This is a big step up from the original mid-range GeForce 8-series GPU, the moribund GeForce 8600 GTS, which had only 32 stream processors clocked at 1.45GHz and a restrictive 128-bit memory interface. Nvidia claims that the GeForce 9600 GT will have double the speed of the GeForce 8600 GTS.

However, this claim is a little disingenuous, since the real mid-range competitors for the GeForce 9600 GT card are the 256MB and 512MB versions of the GeForce 8800 GT, priced as they are at around £125 and £152 respectively. The large number of high-performance Nvidia products available for under £200, now swelled by the 9600 GT, means that choosing what to buy is more difficult than deciding which member of Il Divo you want to shoot first.


The Zotac GeForce 9600GT AMP! Edition card
Zotac has attempted to make your choice clearer by applying a massive overclock to its GeForce 9600GT AMP! card. It has overclocked every part of this card, boosting the core from 650MHz to 725MHz, the stream processors from 1.625GHz to 1.75GHz, and the memory from 900MHz (1.8GHz effective) to 1GHz (2GHz effective).

The question is whether the clock increases will compensate for the GeForce 9600 GT AMP! having only 64 stream processors – well down on the 112 of the 8800 GT cards.
Both 256MB and 512MB GeForce 8800 GTs can handle our Call of Duty 4 test at 1,680 x 1,050 (with 2x AA and maximum AF), with solid minimum frame rates of 27fps and 37fps respectively.

The Zotac falls in between the two cards with a minimum of 31fps, and a respectable average of 46fps. At time of launch, MicroDirect is offering the Zotac for £140, around £15 more than the 256MB GeForce 8800 GT; the extra cash you spend on the Zotac gets you an extra 4fps. The 512MB GeForce 8800 GT offers up to an extra 6fps for an extra £12 over the Zotac.

We saw the same kind of differences in Need for Speed: Pro Street, with the Zotac again offering performance that falls in between the two GeForce 8800 GT cards.

All three managed a smooth minimum frame rate of more than 25fps at our highest test resolution (1,920 x 1,200, with 4x AA and maximum AF), with the 256MB GeForce 8800 GT scoring 26fps, the Zotac 31fps, and the 512MB GeForce 8800 GT 36fps. Again, the extra £12 of the 512MB GeForce 8800 GT buys you a noticeable increase in speed, while saving £15 and going for the 256MB GeForce 8800 GT doesn’t mean having to drop to a lower resolution to achieve a smooth frame rate.

The hazy, tropical landscape of Crysis has proved time and again to be a hostile and unforgiving environment for graphics cards (despite us using High detail settings for testing, rather than Very High), so we were impressed when the Zotac managed a playable minimum frame rate of 26fps at 1,024 x 768 (with no AA or AF). The 256MB GeForce 8800 GT falls just short of being playable, with a minimum frame rate of 24fps in the same test.

However, the 512MB GeForce 8800 GT is far more accomplished than either card at playing Crysis, with a minimum of 32fps, so for an extra £12, you net an appreciable 6fps boost.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t persuade any overclocking tool to recognise the Zotac, and were therefore unable to squeeze any extra speed from it.

We also became a little annoyed at the whooshy fan on the cooler as it ramped up its speed and noise in order to keep the card cool. Reference fans on 256MB or 512MB GeForce 8800 GT cards are slightly more polite. This is slightly surprising, as the power draw of our test PC with the Zotac installed was 289W, compared to 307W with the 512MB GeForce 8800 GT, and 269W with the 256MB GeForce 8800 GT.
Click here to see our full benchmark results (opens in a new window)
The ATI Radeon Competition
Anybody who votes red with their graphics cards (or, more accurately, just a darker shade of green) will be wondering how this Zotac card compares to their AMD/ATI Radeon HD 3850 or HD 3870. It’s the latter that we’ll compare here, as Radeon HD 3870 cards have now slipped to as low as £123 and so are the most comparable on price.

Radeon HD 3850 cards have slipped to as little as £93.
In Need for Speed: Pro Street, a game that slightly favours ATI cards, you can expect your Radeon HD 3870 to run the game at 1,920 x 1,200 at a minimum of 30fps. Not bad at all, especially as the £140 GeForce 9600 GT AMP! Edition card scores only 31fps minimum at the same settings yet costs £17 more. And we’ll point out again that Zotac has applied a massive overclock to this GeForce 9600 GT card, so stock-speed GeForce 9600 GT cards will be slower than the Radeon HD 3870 in Pro Street.

However, the good news ends there, as the Zotac canes the Radeon HD 3870 in our two other test games. Crysis is playable at 1,024 x 768 on the Zotac, with a minimum of 26fps, but not with the Radeon HD 3870, which scores only 16fps minimum at the same resolution.

Call of Duty 4 also makes the Radeon HD 3870 look a touch silly when compared to the Zotac. It can only manage a stuttery 22fps at 1,680 x 1,050 while the Zotac can play the game at this resolution, with a healthy minimum of 31fps.
Unless all you play is Need for Speed: Pro Street, the Zotac card is worth buying over the Radeon HD 3870.

You'll have to make less sacrifices in visual quality and resolution to make Crysis playable with the Zotac, and it can handle Call of Duty 4 at 1,680 x 1,050, unlike the Radeon HD 3870 which can only manage playable frame rates at 1,280 x 1,024. But then the 256MB and 512MB GeForce 8800 GT are worth considering as alternatives to the Zotac anyway – the 512MB version especially, as it’s only £12 more than the Zotac and gets you a significant boost in performance.

CONCLUSION
Quite why Nvidia has released the GeForce 9600 GT at this point is beyond us, as the 256MB and 512MB GeForce 8800 GT cover the same mid-range ground perfectly well. We can only assume that Nvidia is either set to make more money from selling GeForce 9600 GTs than from selling GeForce 8800 GTs, or it wants to convince people into upgrading by deploying the GeForce 9-series name. Either way, the big pre-overclock that Zotac has applied to this card moves it into contention – but only if you can’t stretch to the extra £10 for a 512MB GeForce 8800 GT.

PICs:



    
CPUMotherboardGraphicsRAM
Q9450 or Q6600 Asus Striker II Formula GeForce 8800 Ultra N/A 
Hard DriveOptical DriveOSPower
750 GB Samsung Spinpoint F1 Liteon W/ Lightscribe Direct Disk Labelling Windows Vista Home Premium x32 N/A 
Case
Cosmos 1000 
  hide details  
Reply
    
CPUMotherboardGraphicsRAM
Q9450 or Q6600 Asus Striker II Formula GeForce 8800 Ultra N/A 
Hard DriveOptical DriveOSPower
750 GB Samsung Spinpoint F1 Liteon W/ Lightscribe Direct Disk Labelling Windows Vista Home Premium x32 N/A 
Case
Cosmos 1000 
  hide details  
Reply