In spite of the differing clock speeds, Crysis performed precisely the same on the ASUS EN9600 GT, the KFA2 GeForce 9600 GT OC, and the EVGA e-GeForce 9600 GT SSC. Meanwhile, the ATI Radeon HD 3870 trailed the NVIDIA pack in Crysis, and the differences in the gameplay experience were noticeable. Of the 5 video cards we tested, the NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT provided the best gameplay experience, but not by a significant margin. None of these video cards were strong enough to let us play at 1600x1200 with high settings, but at 1280x1024, we enjoyed several key settings set to high. Of course, none of them could handle AA or AF either. The only single video card solution we've seen that can, is the new GeForce 9800 GX2.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Playing Call of Duty 4 was refreshing after balancing settings in Crysis. All 5 of the video cards in this evaluation were easily able to play CoD4 at 1920x1200 with maximum in-game settings and 16X AF. The ASUS EN9600 GT, the KFA2 GeForce 9600 GT OC, and the EVGA e-GeForce 9600 GT SSC were all able to give us 2X MSAA at that resolution. Of course, the NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT one-upped all of them, allowing Transparency Multisampling Anti-Aliasing at 1920x1200, or for those with a 30" display, 2560x1600 with no AA.
Unreal Tournament III
Performance in Unreal Tournament III is similar to Call of Duty 4. The game is very well optimized, and performance scales very well for high resolutions, but relatively poorly for anti-aliasing. The 3 GeForce 9600 GT based video cards were all able to run at 1920x1200 or 2560x1600, with the highest available in-game settings, and 16X AF. At 1920x1200, the ASUS and KFA2 video cards were not able to maintain playable framerates with AA enabled, but the EVGA e-GeForce 9600 GT SSC was just barely fast enough to give us 2X MSAA. Of course, at 2560x1600, none of them could handle AA at all. The NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT was faster than the GeForce 9600 GT based video cards, but not enough to be able to allow higher settings than EVGA's device.
The GPUâ€™s Value
Without a doubt, the NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GPU is a great product. It performs very well, it doesn't get excessively hot, and it sips power at full load. Its only problem was price, till we started seeing major drops a couple of weeks ago. Our [H]ot Deals forum goers have been staying abreast of the situation and we have done what we can on our news page to keep our readers in the know on tumbling 9600 GT prices. So with prices pushed down to $125 and $135 levels from major card builders, it has helped separate the 9600 GT from the 8800 GT, which has gotten as low as $160 after MIR, but for the most part remains at the $200 level of pricing.
Looking over at the Red Teamâ€™s offering, the ATI Radeon HD 3870 is still there, but somewhat fallen from grace since last November. Currently a major branded Radeon HD 3870 video card will run you about $180, which is a good deal more than the GeForce 9600 GT, which happens to be the faster GPU. More power for less money; it's not a hard decision.
The Video Cards
The ASUS EN9600 GT is $169.99 USD. It even has a $10 Mail-In Rebate at Newegg right now, potentially bringing the cost down to $159.99. The EVGA e-GeForce 9600 GT SSC costs $20 more, coming in at $189.99 USD. The KFA2 GeForce 9600 GT OC can be found at $125 after $50 MIR. TigerDirect previously had this KFA2 card for $139, but has sold through its entire stock.
Unfortunately, KFA2 offers only a 12 month warranty, but the low pricetag could account for that lacking feature. EVGA, of course, offers limited lifetime warranties on their video cards, and the e-GeForce 9600 GT SSC is no exception. They also offer a 90-day step-up program, so people looking to buy a video card as a stop-gap until something better comes out (like the GeForce 9800 GTX) may find real value in this video card. Also, remember that EVGA's warranty covers overclocking and aftermarket cooling. They won't warranty the actual aftermarket cooling device, but they will warranty the video card if the cooler is attached when the device is damaged. Currently, the only other company offering such a warranty is XFX. By comparison, ASUS offers a standard limited 3-year warranty on all of their video cards, or at least all of those made in the last 7 years. ASUS does not cover overclocking, and removing the factory-affixed cooling device will void the ASUS warranty.
The Bottom Line
Once again, the biggest "problem" with some of the GeForce 9600 GT cards is price. But you cannot expect to get these long warranty periods and "step-up" programs for free. These add-ons simply add cost to the card whether you like it or not.
The ASUS EN9600 GT is less expensive than the EVGA e-GeForce 9600 GT SSC, but it has "only" a 3-year warranty. The EVGA video card costs $20 USD more, but it has a lifetime warranty and a 90-day step-up program. If you feel that service is the most important part of a product, you may find a better value in the slightly more expensive EVGA e-GeForce 9600 GT SSC.
If the bottom line price is most important, you may consider jumping on the ASUS EN9600 GT fast, while the MIR is still in effect and get your GeForce 9600 GT for $159.99 (plus shipping). The best value if you do not want a safety net longer than 12 months is certainly the KFA2.
So when it comes to the GeForce 9600 GT, it has truly turned into a buyers' market. The pricing and feature set has spread out enough that the consumer can dictate everything you want with your video card, or everything you don't. If you find your cost inching back towards to the $200 price level, it is still hard for us to not suggest spending that hard earned cash on one of the many 8800GT that are available for Newegg and TigerDirect.