Testing 3D performance was limited to the targeted resolutions of both graphics cards, which include 1920x1200 and 2560x1600. As mentioned in the introduction, the GeForce 9800 GTX provided similar performance to the GeForce 8800 GTX at the resolution of 1920x1200 using our test suite.
Performance at 1920x1200
The biggest difference in performance was in the F.E.A.R. benchmark with 4x AA (antialiasing) where the average frame rate of the GeForce 9800 GTX (68 fps) lagged behind the GeForce 8800 GTX (75 fps) by 10%.
PERFORMANCE AT 2560x1600
Barring a couple of exceptions, similar performance was also delivered at the resolution of 2560x1600. Unfortunately, the two exceptions are clearly noticeable as the GeForce 9800 GTX trailed the GeForce 8800 GTX by 122% (27 vs. 60 fps) in Dark Messiah with 4x AA and by a staggering 328% (7 vs. 30 fps) in Oblivion with HDR and 4x AA.
Performance at 2560x1600
The readings below from the utility Video Memory Watcher provide a clue as to what contributed to the drastic difference in performance between the graphics cards. At a resolution of 2560x1600 with no AA, Video Memory Watcher reported that 322MB of video memory was being consumed.
Oblivion Video Memory Usage - No AA vs. 4x AA
Forcing 4x AA via the driver control panel reveals that a staggering 696MB of video memory was being used in Oblivion. With 768MB of video memory, the GeForce 8800 GTX was able to accommodate the higher quality settings. The GeForce 9800 GTX required additional memory for storage and began swapping data with system memory, thus causing a significant decrease in performance.
2560x1600 - No Antialiasing
Even at the extreme high definition resolution of 2560x1600, antialiasing is a beneficial feature. Since monitors are bound to a physical size and the resolution of current display technologies is limited, aliasing will always exist in some form. Antialiasing also combats artifacts such as wavy lines, moiré patterns, and pixels that appear to crawl or shimmer as the player moves about the virtual world. This would be the case with the settings used in the the above screenshot where the pixels that make up the floorboards on the pier would appear to be crawling and thus causing a distraction to some players. With 4x AA, as demonstrated in the screenshot below, aliasing is virtually eliminated.
2560x1600 - 4x Antialiasing
Although we did not specifically test the performance hit associated with supersampling transparency antialiasing in this review, it is another excellent image quality enhancing feature that consumes additional video memory. In most cases, the enhanced compression technology of the GeForce 9 Series is able to deliver the necessary memory bandwidth, but without additional physical video memory poor performance can be expected when a variety of image quality enhancing features are combined at extreme resolutions.
Half-Life 2 w/Transparency Antialiasing
With the room temperature at 76 °F / 24 °C, the GPU temperature at idle in an open case ranged from 60 °C to 65 °C with the fan speed set at 75% and 25% respectively. Noise from the fan became audible around the 45% mark.
The fan speed control applet in nTune would cause the fan to momentarily run at the set percentage. However, the speed would always revert back to 100% during load. This is more than likely due to an isolated issue as the noise coming from a fully throttled fan would be a major distraction while gaming.
Over the years, we have come to expect a significant increase in 3D performance from NVIDIA's new generation of GPUs compared to their previous generation. Because of this, NVIDIA has been in a position to command a premium price for graphics cards that used their flagship GPU. Even so, gamers were usually eager to buy into the new technology and supplies would temporarily dry up within the first few weeks of a launch.
Barring the uniqueness of the GeForce 9800 GX2, the GeForce 9 Series will best be remembered as the GPU that brought high-end gaming on the PC to the masses. The excitement that surrounded the GeForce 9600 GT after its launch was incredible and it was a great experience to be able to demonstrate that high-end gaming could finally be had at an affordable price. The GeForce 9600 GT was such a success at launch, that AMD immediately responded by cutting prices of their Radeon 3850 and 3870 graphics cards.
The 3D gaming scene seems to be at a temporary stalemate in the evolution of GPUs as the performance gains that we previously experienced are just not there. There are a number of reasons as to why this may be taking place, but that topic is best left to discuss elsewhere. More importantly, NVIDIA understands that innovation is the key to success and if they fail to deliver you can be assurred that the competition will.
The EVGA GeForce 9800 GTX may not be of interest to the high-end gamer, but it certainly is a good value for a new system build or an upgrade from the GeForce 7 Series.
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