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MSI GeForce 9600 GT Review - Page 1 of 1

INTRODUCTION

Up for review today is MSI's N9600GT OC, based on NVIDIA's GeForce 9600 GT. The N9600GT T2D512 OC comes with 512MB DDR3 RAM, enhanced clocks, and specialized cooling. There is a full array of NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GTs available now with several like the N9600GT OC having received performance enhanced tweaks such as increasing core, shader, and memory clock speeds. However, MSI has gone one better and provided increased cooling for the GPU at the expense of taking over an additional case slot. This is nothing new now and we have become acclimated to losing a slot for the sake of performance in many instances.

Whether or not this is acceptable depends on the performance gained over the standard 9600 GT, not to mention the competition's solutions in the high performance realm for mid-stream video cards. The MSI N9600GT T2D512 OC graphics card uses a slightly overclocked GeForce 9600GT (G94) GPU at 700MHz (650MHz default). The 512MB of DDR3 RAM is clocked at 950MHz (900MHz default) and the shader clock is at 1680MHz (1625MHz default).

MSI N9600GT

MSI is no stranger to graphic cards, especially high performance cards and they have gone one better on the cooling of this particular card. To enhance cooling a custom heatpipe VGA cooler has been employed. This does necessitate a two-slot solution which exhausts the heated air generated by the card out the rear of the case. This in itself is an acceptable feature rather than having the case's airflow configuration have to deal with the additional heat to expel from the case.

I like the racy design of the bright red-tinted semi-clear ribbed plastic shell encasing the card and the larger fan and heatpipe-assisted heatsink for cooling.

SPECIFICATIONS

Chipset: NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GT
Bus Type: PCI-E 2.0
GPU Clock: 700 MHz
Shader Clock: 1680 MHz
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Memory Type: DDR3
Memory Size: 512MB
Memory Speed: 2.0GHz
Memory Bandwidth: 60.8GB/sec
Thermal Solution: FANSINK
Minimum Power Supply: 400 Watt / 6-pin connector
Outputs: TV Out - HDTV, VGA - 0, DVI - 2
Dual-Link Support: Dual
HDMI: No
Max Supported Resolution (Digital): 2560 x 1600
Max Supported Resolution (Analog): 2048 x 1536
Turbo Cache Technology: No
RoHS: Yes
HDCP: Yes
NVIDIA-SLI READY: 2 way
Low Profile Compatible: No

MSI N9600GT T2D512 OC Features
* HDMI with Audio Integration Solution (Optional)

The NVIDIA GeForce 9 Series graphics card supports HDMI with audio integration solution. With a DVI-to-HDMI adapter and an extra signal cord through the bracket, audio source from sound card (S/PDIF) can be integrated into HDMI interface by simply plugging the cord into the pinhead located on graphics card.

Only 1 single HDMI cable is required while streaming audio and video data to flat-panel display devices, such as Plasma/LCD TVs, or projector.

* NVIDIA Unified Architecture

Fully unified shader core dynamically allocates processing power to geometry, vertex, physics, or pixel shading operation, delivering up to 2x the gaming performance of prior generation GPUs.

* Full Microsoft DirectX 10 Support

World's first DirectX10 GPU with full Shader model 4.0 support delivers unparalleled levels of graphics realism and film-quality effects.

* NVIDIA SLI Technology

Delivers up to 2x the performance of a single GPU configuration for unequaled gaming experiences by allowing two cards to run in parallel. The must-have feature for performance PCI Express graphics, SLI technology dramatically scales performance on today's hottest games.

* PCI Express 2.0 Support

Designed to run perfectly with the new PCI Express 2.0 bus architecture, offering a future-proofing bridge to tomorrow's most bandwidth-hungry games and 3D applications by maximizing the 5GT/s PCI Express 2.0 bandwidth (twice that of first generation PCI Express).

PCI Express 2.0 products are fully backwards compatible with existing PCI Express motherboards for broadest support.

* Giga Thread Technology

Massively multi-threaded architecture supports thousands of independent, simultaneous treads, providing extreme processing efficiency in advanced, next generation shader programs.

* 128-bit Floating Point High Dynamic-Range (HDR) Lighting

Twice the precision of prior generations for incredibly realistic lighting effects -- now with support for anti-aliasing.

* NVIDIA Quantum Effects Technology

Advanced shader processors architected for physics computation enable a new level of physics effects to be simulated and rendered on the GPU -- all while freeing the CPU to run the game engine and AI.

* NVIDIA ForceWare Unified Driver Architecture (UDA)

Delivers a proven record of compatibility, reliability, and stability with the widest range of games and applications. ForceWare provides the best out-of-box experience for every user and delivers continuous performance and feature updates over the life of NVIDIA GeForce GPUs.

* OpenGL 2.1 Optimizations and Support

Ensures top-notch compatibility and performance for OpenGL applications.

* Dual Stream Decode Acceleration

Hardware acceleration for HD picture-in-picture enables a complete HD movie playback experience

* 16x Anti-aliasing Technology

Lightning fast, high-quality anti-aliasing at up to 16x sample rates obliterates jagged edges.

* Edge Enhancement

Sharpens movie images by providing higher contrast around lines and objects.

* Dual 400MHz RAMDACs

Blazing-fast RAMDACs support dual QXGA displays with ultra-high, ergonomic refresh rates - up to 2048x1536@85Hz.

* Dual Dual-link DVI Support

Able to drive the industry's largest and highest resolution flat-panel displays up to 2560x1600 and with support for High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP).

* NVIDIA PureVideo HD Technology

The combination of high-definition video decode acceleration and post-processing that delivers unprecedented picture clarity, smooth video, accurate color, and precise image scaling for movies and video.

* Discrete, Programmable Video Processor

NVIDIA PureVideo is a discrete programmable processing core in NVIDIA GPUs that provides superb picture quality and ultra-smooth movies with100% offload of H.264 video decoding from the CPU and significantly reduced power consumption.

* HDCP Capable

Designed to meet the output protection management (HDCP) and security specifications of the Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD formats, allowing the playback of encrypted movie content on PCs when connected to HDCP-compliant displays.

* High-Quality Scaling

Enlarges lower resolution movies and videos to HDTV resolutions, while maintaining a clear, clean image. Also provides downscaling of videos, including high-definition, while preserving image detail.

* Integrated SD and HD TV Output

World-class TV-out functionality via Composite, S-Video, Component or DVI connections.

Supports resolutions up to 1080i/1080p, depending on connection type and TV capability.

BUNDLE

Bundle

What came in the box

  • DVI to D-Sub adapter

  • S to S TV-out Extended Cable
  • HDTV / Video-out Connecting Cable
  • Internal SPDIF Cable
  • DVI/HDMI Adapter
  • MSI Installation CD
  • Quick Install Guide

Not a robust bundle of accessories but nevertheless interesting with the DVI to HDMI adapter that could come in very handy. With a DVI-to-HDMI adapter and an extra signal cord through the bracket, audio source from sound card (S/PDIF) can be integrated into HDMI interface by simply plugging the cord into the pinhead located on graphics card. This is all that is required to stream audio/video signal to a Plasma or LCD TV.

Dual Slot Solution

With the extra cooling and expelling heated air out the back of the case the card requires a 2-slot solution. Increased temperature generated at overclock settings were controlled adequately so so for me giving up the extra slot is acceptable for the performance gained.

N9600GT OC Cooling

MSI has incorporated their own cooling enhancements, namely a fan with blades of a design to promote air flow and at the same time a casing that assists the fan design to help reduce tuberlance and noise. The cooling system does a good job as the highest temperature I recorded in the benchmarks with my handheld temp gun was 52.4C in Crysis benchmarking.

INSTALLATION

Installation was no problem in the Antec P-180 case. Even with taking over two slots there is plenty of room for additional x16 PCI-E video cards. The P-180 does mount the PSU at the bottom and this requires the auxiliary power cord to cross over the PCI-E slots to make the motherboard connection. Fortunately, I have enough slack to re-route the cord if additional cards are installed. I do have handy an extension for the PC Power & Cooling power cord, if needed.

Test System

  • Intel Core2 Quad Q6600 - 2.4GHz - 4MB L2 Cache @ *3GHz, *1333MHz
  • MSI P7N SLI Platinum motherboard
  • Patriot PC2-6400 800MHz (4-4-4-12) 2x2GB DDR2, 4GB kit
  • Western Digital Raptor X w/16MB cache, 10,000 RPM, 150 GB SATA HDD
  • MSI N9600GT T2D512 OC, 700MHz / 950MHz DDR3 / 1680MHz
  • PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750 Quad power supply
  • Gateway FPD2485W LCD monitor
  • Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2 / DirectX 9.0c

* The Q6600 was clocked at 1333MHz using the default '9' multiplier for an effective clock of 3GHz with the system ram at 800MHz.

Test Applications

  • Aquamark 3 - v3.0
  • 3DMark2006 - v1.10
  • F.E.A.R. - v1.08
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl - v1.0003
  • Crysis - v1.2.1
  • Call of Duty 4:  Modern Warfare v1.5

OVERCLOCKING

The N9600GT OC came 'out-of-the-box' with timings of 700MHz on the GPU clock, 950MHz on the memory clock, and 1680MHz on the shader clock. This compares to the 'stock' NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GT clocks of 650MHz/900MHz/1625MHz respectively. Overclocked but conservatively compared to other factory overclocked cards currently available. I left the shaders at the 1680MHz and first concentrated on the GPU and memory clocks. The card was responsive and stable in all testing at settings of 740MHz on the GPU and 1100MHz on the memory.  After running multiple tests without any problems I decided to up the GPU clocks although I have been told there is not much 'headroom' above 740MHz. I stopped at 800MHz experiencing only some stability problems with 3DMark2006 at the 1920x1200 resolution. I was however able to make sufficient runs through the benchmark at this resolution to post an average score that just broke the 10K mark which I would relate as a very respectable score for the 9600GT. Still, locking up in 'FireFly' a couple of times is two times too many and unacceptable. Further efforts need to be made here but first let's see what we've got.

Highest Overclock and Related Temperatures

Above recorded temperature of 51C was taken during testing in F.E.A.R at 1920x1200, 4xAAA / 16xAF running at 800/1100/1680. Temperature did exceed this reading later when running at an overclock of 775/1060/2100 in Crysis where the maximum temperature read 53C in nTune monitor.

In addition, I frequently check surface temperatures using a portable hand-held Raytek MiniTemp MT4 infrared laser thermometer. This unit gave me a reading of 52.4C as a maximum temperature during testing in this review.

NVIDIA's nTune utility software program was used to capture the displayed overclock settings and temperature reading.

Above is the listing of performance settings and temperature graph provided by nTune. (I updated to the new NVIDIA nForce System Tools v6.01 shortly after these initial overclocking results were taken.)  With a maximum recorded GPU temperature during testing of 53C (nForce System Tools), 52.4C (hand-held thermometer) hottest spot located on the back surface of the card, it was evident that MSI did a good job with the N9600GT OC's cooling solution.

nForce System Tools v6.01 (Profiles)

With a considerable amount of 'tweaking' I found a stable overclock with shader clock at 775/1061/2100. I could have saved some time with the new NVIDIA nForce System Tools as to my surprise by activating and running 'optimal' selection for graphic card timings revealed a 787/1065/2117 set of clocks. While stable in most games the 1920x1200 proved to not be entirely stable in S.T.A.L.K.E.R and Crysis so I stayed with the 775/1061/2100 overclock timings. In S.T.A.L.K.E.R overclocking was not needed while in Crysis it did add a few frames and every little bit helps in that game.

SYNTHETIC BENCHMARKS

Aquamark3

Multiple runs were made of the benchmark and final results were an average of those runs for both the overall score and the graphics score.

Aquamark 3 Results
Q6600 @ 3.0GHz

MSI N9600GT OC

Aquamark3 results revealed little difference with less than a 2% increase with overclock settings in both the overall and graphics score. The benchmark ran stable throughout all tests even with the maximum 4xAA / 8xAF applied at higher resolutions.

Additional tests with the Q6600 clocked at 3.2GHz did yield almost a 7% on the overall score with a 177.19 FPS result. Likewise the graphics score recorded 34206 or better than a 6% increase in performance with the card at default clocks.

3DMark2006

All recorded tests below were obtained with the Q6600 running at 3.0GHz. At 3.2GHz the results increased only about 1% through each of the different test settings.

With this benchmark Shader Models 2.0 and 3.0 are used exclusively for all vertex and pixel processing while the engine builds the shaders for each material in HLSL (high level shader language) and compiles in runtime by the GPU drivers. Results are shown at the different resolutions with default clocks and then at the overclock settings of 740MHz on the GPU and 1100MHz on the memory. An additional overclock result was recorded with the GPU clocks increased to 800MHz and memory clocks to 1100MHz. The shader clock was not overclocked over the default settings of the N9600GT OC except for the last test with the GPU and memory overclocks 'tweaked' and the additional MHz added to the shader clock which provided a significant increase.

3DMARK06 - Results

At the lowest resolution of 1280x1024 the overclocking the N9600GT OC gave a solid increase in performance results both at 740/1100 and 800/1100. However, once I began tweaking and overclocking the shaders a new performance field opened up. At 775/1060 with the shader clock at 2100MHz the 3DMK06 score jumped to 13,451. I am beginning to like this card with the extra headroom MSI has provided. Now for some gaming results.

GAMING BENCHMARKS

F.E.A.R.

F.E.A.R. in-game benchmark applies stress with application of soft shadows, volumetric lighting, particle effects, and parallax mapping. I set all in-game selections to 'Maximum' and turned on all available effects such as 'soft light' for running the benchmark with N9600GT OC. The game has high resolution textures both bump mapped and parallax mapped and actually stress the card much more than the benchmark in many instances so a minimum of 40 FPS is needed for smooth play.

Three resolutions (1280x1024, 1680x1050, 1920x1200) were used with antialiasing (AA) and anisotropic filtering (AF) settings of no AA/AF and 4xAA/16AF applied as indicated in the bar chart below. The N9600GT OC was run through the benchmark with default clocks (700/950), overclocks on the GPU and memory of 740/1100 and 800/1100. Each setting was run a minimum of three times and an average of the runs was recorded as the final result.

F.E.A.R - Results

MSI N9600GT OC 700/950

F.E.A.R. does take its toll on graphic cards when the resolution is increased and antialiasing along with anisotropic filtering applied. With in-game settings maxed-out the N9600GT OC yielded an average result of 34 FPS for 1920x1200 with 4xAA and 16xAF applied. While this result was consistent during each run of the in-game benchmark an average of 34 FPS with minimum frame rates dropping to 20 FPS is not sufficient for smooth gameplay. In my experience average frame rates do need to be well above 40 FPS for playing F.E.A.R. With the AA turned down to 2x and the AF at 8x the game played smoothly with frame rates well above 40 FPS average.

F.E.A.R - Results

MSI N9600GT OC 740/1100

Overclocking the GPU and memory card to 740/1100 increased performance in this benchmark about 7 FPS with no antialiasing and no anisotropic filtering applied. With 4xAA and 16xAF overclocking still was below 40 FPS.

F.E.A.R - Results

MSI N9600GT OC 800/1100

While additional overclocking the GPU and memory did improve scores at the 1280x1024 and 1680x1050 resolutions when 4xAA and 16xAF was applied the frame rate took a nosedive below the 40 FPS mark at 1920x1200 resolution. Again, with no AA/AF applied frame rates were good at the higher resolution but like lower resolutions only acceptable performance was achieved at 2xAA settings or lower. Still, at the present price-point the performance is significant to previous experiences with 8600 series in this game.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

With the MSI N9600GT OC I just skipped the first two rendering modes in the in-game setup and went strictly with the 'Full Dynamic' Lighting selection.

The "Buildings Demo" benchmark was used for testing the N9600GT OC in this game. Three resolutions of 1280x1024, 1680x1050, and 1920x1200 were used with in-game settings maxed-out. A minimum of three runs through each benchmark were made with an average recorded as the final result.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R - Results

Buildings Timedemo

All in-game settings @ maximum

I used "Full Dynamic Lighting" mode (this enables 'Lighting Distance' and 'Shadows Quality' in Advanced menu) in the BASIC menu screen and set quality to MAXIMUM (this enables 'Sun Shadow' in Advanced menu). In the ADVANCE menu I set the 'Vision Distance' slider to approximately 100%, 'Objects Detail' to 100%, 'Grass Density' to a full 100%, 'Textures Detail' to 100%, 'Anisotropic Filtering' to 100%, 'Antialiasing' slider to 100%, activated 'Sun Shadow', activated 'Grass Shadow', set 'Lighting Distance' to about 100%, activated 'NPC Flashlights', and set 'Shadows Quality' slider to 100%. At these settings the above results were taken from the recorded in-game timedemo.

The N9600GT OC breezed through the benchmark with no problem at default settings. Game experience was excellent with this card. Gameplay temperatures were 37C at idle with a maximum recorded temperature of 53C using the NVIDIA nForce System Tools monitor.

CRYSIS

Trying to get high frame rates in this game is difficult with high-end cards let alone a mid-stream card. Again, resolution settings of 1280x1024, 1680x1050, and 1920x1200 were used. I ran the custom timedemo in both 'High' and 'Medium' in-game settings with the results identified the charts below.

CRYSIS (Demo Island) - Results
Q6600 @ 3.0GHz

MSI N9600GT OC

Settings: HIGH

Settings: MEDIUM

The difference in frame rates between running the game with High settings compared to Medium settings is considerable. The difference at 1280x1024 resolution was a 45% reduction in FPS running with High settings as opposed to Medium settings.

CRYSIS (Demo Island) - Results
Q6600 @ 3.0GHz

MSI N9600GT OC

Settings: HIGH

Settings: MEDIUM

The spread in FPS difference stayed consistent even with the GPU and Memory clocks bumped up a bit. Still a solid 45% drop in frame rates going from Medium to High in-game settings for the 1280x1024 resolution.

CRYSIS (Demo Island) - Results
Q6600 @ 3.0GHz

MSI N9600GT OC

Settings: HIGH

Settings: MEDIUM

Differential scaling remained constant between the in-game settings no matter the overclock. However, with the 775/1060/2100 I did experience a 10 FPS increase in performance at 1280x1024 going from 60 to 70 FPS. Not quiet as good at 1680x1050 but climbing up to almost 12 FPS more when running at 1920x1200. Crysis will play smooth and responsive with a 60 FPS-capable card like the N9600GT OC.

CALL OF DUTY 4: Modern Warfare

The game was benchmarked using FRAPS in the opening cut-scene for each resolution used. In-game settings are identified below.

Call Of Duty 4 In-Game Settings

Call Of Duty 4 - Results
Q6600 @ 3.0GHz

MSI N9600GT OC

This game plays well throughout all the resolutions with the N9600GT OC.

CONCLUSION

MSI has packaged the N9600GT T2D512 OC in a sleek good-looking semi-transparent red cover. Performance for a 9600 GT is good with MSI's overclocked settings but I was surprised to find the amount of additional headroom for overclocking. While it should be noted that MSI set the factory overclocks for this card for durability and product life based on their tests, I just cannot quit playing around with the clocks. Overclocking the GPU and memory has become pretty straight-forward but now add the streaming processor and you have three settings to juggle to find the 'sweet spot.' With this card it is entertaining, or should I say a lot of fun.

The cooling setup for the card is excellent with a low noise fan and a dual heatpipe-assisted heatsink all in a sleek, graceful package for a two-slot design video card. The price/performance ratio for this card is going to be tough to beat. Add an additional N9600GT OC in a SLI setup and the performance should be exceptional.

I have no problem giving the N9600GT T2D512 OC the NVNEWS 'Grand Slam' award simply for just 'going one better.'

Back to nV News

Last Updated on April 21, 2008


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