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XFX GeForce 9600 GT XXX Review - Page 1 of 1

INTRODUCTION

NVNEWS received XFX's rendition of the NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GT presented as the XFX 9600 GT 512 DDR3 XXX Alpha Dog Edition. This is no simple reference-type card although the box in no way embellishes what exactly is inside. If you look closely at the packaging you will notice that it is an 'Alpha Dog Edition' currently XFX's top of the line series along with the 'XXX' which implies some serious tweaking has already been done on the card to enhance performance. You might also notice, if you look closely, the little 740MHz sticker on the box. Definitely some serious tweaking!

Recently we looked at the MSI enhanced version of the GeForce 9600 GT, the N9600GT OC with a special cooling package just for the 9600GT. While this XFX version of the GeForce 9600 GT does not display a cooling solution as supplied by MSI on their overclocked card you will notice upon picking the card up that it has some heft. A close look found that under the cover the card sports a solid copper heatsink. Definitely one up on the stock design. With the clocks upped from the stock design of 650/900/1625 to 740MHz on the GPU core, the DDR3 memory up to 1000MHz (2000MHz effective), and the shader clock increased to 1850MHz we should see an overall improvement in performance.

TechPowerUp GPU-Z v0.1.9

SPECIFICATIONS

Chipset - NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GT
Bus Type - PCI-E 2.0
GPU Clock - 740 MHz Shader clock - 1850 MHz
Memory Bus - 256-bit
Memory Type - DDR3
Memory Size - 512 MB
Memory Speed - 2.0GHz
Thermal Solution - FANSINK
Minimum Power Supply Requirement - 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

Features:

* 128-bit floating point High Dynamic-Range (HDR): Twice the precision of prior generations for incredibly realistic lighting effects—now with support for anti-aliasing.
* Built for Microsoft® Windows Vista™: NVIDIA's third-generation GPU architecture built for Windows Vista give users the best possible experience with the 3D graphical user interface in the upcoming operation system (OS) from Microsoft.
* Dual 400MHz RAMDACs: Blazing-fast RAMDACs support dual QXGA displays with ultra-high, ergonomic refresh rates--up to 2048x1536@85Hz.
* Dual DVI Support: Able to drive the industry's largest and highest resolution flat-panel displays.
* Dual Link DVI: Capable of supporting digital output for high resolution monitors (up to 2560x1600).
* Full Microsoft® DirectX® 10 Support: World’s first DirectX 10 GPU with full Shader Model 4.0 support delivers unparalleled levels of graphics realism and film-quality effects.
* High-Definition H.264, MPEG-2 and WMV Hardware Acceleration2: Smoothly playback H.264, MPEG-2, and WMV video—including WMV HD—with minimal CPU usage so the PC is free to do other work.+
* 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 and delivers continuous performance and feature updates over the life of NVIDIA GeForce® GPUs.
* NVIDIA® Lumenex™ Engine: Delivers stunning image quality and floating point accuracy at ultra-fast frame rates.
* NVIDIA® nView® Multi-Display Technology: Advanced technology provides the ultimate in viewing flexibility and control for multiple monitors.
* 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® SLI™ Technology: Delivers up to 2x the performance of a single GPU configuration for unparalleled gaming experiences by allowing two graphics cards to run in parallel. The must-have feature for performance PCI Express graphics, SLI dramatically scales performance on over 60 top PC games.
* NVIDIA® SLI™ Technology: Delivers up to 2x the performance of a single graphics card 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.
* NVIDIA® unified architecture with GigaThread™ technology: Massively multi-threaded architecture supports thousands of independent, simultaneous threads, providing extreme processing efficiency in advanced, next generation shader programs.
* OpenGL™ 2.1 Optimizations and Support: Ensures top-notch compatibility and performance for OpenGL applications.

Minimum Recommended System Requirements

* 512MB of System Memory
* CD or DVD-ROM Drive
* 100MB of available hard disk drive space for basic driver installation
* Microsoft Windows Vista. or XP Operating System
* PCI Express-compliant motherboard
* PCI Express x16 slot
* 400W PCI ExpressR-compliant system power supply with a combined 12V current rating of 26A
* One 6-pin PCI ExpressR supplementary power connector -or- Two 4-pin MolexR supplementary power connector
 

A Closer Look at the XFX 9600 GT 512MB DDR3 XXX ALPHA DOG EDITION

The packaging is substantial providing excellent protection for the card and contents. XFX included the game 'Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare' on DVD which makes for an impressive bonus.

Bundle

What came in the box:

  • (2) DVI to D-Sub adapters
  • DVI to HDMI adapter
  • HDMI audio input cable
  • S-Video cable
  • S-Video to composite dongle
  • dual 4-pin molex to 6-pin PCI-E power adapter
  • XFX 9 Series Installation CD v.171.16
  • Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Game (Full Version on DVD)
  • Quick Install Guide

The connections for output are there with an assortment of adapters available in the package. The card carries some weight for its size primarily attributed to the 'solid copper' heatsink. One thing I like about XFX cards is the continued use of a stiffening plate/bar that runs the length of the card.

Dual DVI and S-Video Connections

The XFX 9600GT XXX Alpha Dog Edition is physically true to design aside from the black PCB, colorful metal cover that neatly covers the high performance fan and large copper heatsink.

XFX 9600GT XXX ALPHA DOG EDITION

 

Test System

The following test configuration was used in testing the P6N SLI Platinum:

  • 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
  • XFX 9600GT XXX Alpha Dog Edition, 740MHz core/1000MHz (2000MHz effective) DDR3 memory/1850MHz shader clock
  • PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750 Quad power supply
  • Gateway FPD2485W LCD monitor
  • Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2 / DirectX 9.0c

Test Applications

  • Aquamark 3 - v3.0
  • 3DMark2006 - v1.10
  • F.E.A.R. - v1.08
  • Crysis - v1.21
  • Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare - v1.5

Notes:

All benchmarks and game tests used at the time of this review contain the latest versions and/or patches available.
The comparison 9600GT used is the MSI N9600 GT OC, 700MHz core/950MHz (1900MHz effective) DDR3 memory/1680MHz shader clock.

SYNTHETIC BENCHMARKS

Aquamark3

AM3 is still good for checking overclock stability of graphic cards as well as system overclocks. In the following test run at the benchmark's default settings for graphic cards you can see that there is no difference in performance. However, earlier I had setup a 3850, 512MB, ATI card and recorded a 171.42 FPS run through the benchmark. Of course, this was with a 3.6GHz overclock on the the same system with the same components. The result comparison below was run with the system as identified in the test setup for this review running at 3.0GHz with the factory-overclocked 9600GTs running at their respective default (out-of-the-box) clock settings.

Aquamark 3 Results

Results are in FPS (frames per second) higher being better.

3DMark2006

3DMark06 is influenced more by the CPU test results now in the overall 3DMark score than before. 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. This makes for an up to date stressful benchmark for the latest graphic cards/systems. All the tests results obtained and recorded in the graphs below are with settings identified with the Test System previously identified.

3DMARK06 - Results

The performance differential remained constant at all resolutions. The XFX 9600GT XXX Alpha Dog Edition capitalizes on the increased clocks.

3DMARK06 - Overclock Results

Increasing the clock settings further put the cards on more equal ground as the maximum overclocks I used only gave a slight edge to the MSI 9600GT. Both 9600GTs easily broke the 13K mark at 1280x1024 and the 10K mark at 1920x1200.

GAMING BENCHMARKS

F.E.A.R.

The in-game benchmark was selected to stress the XFX 9600GT XXX Alpha Dog Edition at resolutions of 1280x1024, 1680x1050, and 1920x1200 with maximum applied antialiasing and anisotropic filtering, 4xAA and 16xAF settings respectively. Each setting was run a minimum of three times and an average of the runs was recorded in the graphs below as the final result.

F.E.A.R - Results

INTEL Q6600 @ 3.0GHz

MSI P7N Platinum

4GB Patriot PC6400 @ 800MHz

XFX 9600GT XXX  (740/1000/1850)

MSI N9600GT OC (700/950/1680)

Results are in FPS (frames per second) higher being better.

Still, there was no definitive separation in performance between the 9600GTs except for the 5 FPS edge at 1280x1024 with out-of-the-box clock settings. Further overclocking did not bring the 1920x1200 resolution FPS into the acceptable average 40+ FPS for this game. But simply lowering or turning off the AA application did allow for actual smooth gaming experience at this high resolution.

CRYSIS

Crysis is definitely the most stressing game on the market at present. The graphics are excellent throughout. I ran the in-game provided benchmark at both High and Medium overall settings at the resolutions identified in the graph boxes below.

CRYSIS - Results

In-Game Settings: HIGH

Results are in FPS (frames per second) higher being better.

This game severely taxes the 9600GT as both cards suffered at resolutions above 1280x1024. The XFX 9600GT XXX did maintain a slight performance edge with its higher default clock settings.

CRYSIS - Results
In-Game Settings: MEDIUM

Results are in FPS (frames per second) higher being better.

Running the game at the Medium settings is another story as gameplay at 1920x1200 is possible without much problem.

CRYSIS - Overclock Results
In-Game Settings: HIGH

Results are in FPS (frames per second) higher being better.

Upping the clocks to the maximum fully stable settings did help but the verdict is still the same, High settings are a little too much for the 9600GT to handle efficiently.

CRYSIS - Overclock Results
In-Game Settings: MEDIUM

Results are in FPS (frames per second) higher being better.

Again, upping the clock setting produces improved performance for both cards in this game at Medium settings. I could tell no difference between the cards in gameplay. This was true at any setting I tried the only tell-tale sign that gave away which card was installed in the case was the discernable fan noise generated by the 9600GT XXX.

CALL OF DUTY 4: Modern Warfare

For COD4 the resolutions remained as previously used and the in-game settings identified below.

CALL OF DUTY 4 - Results

CALL OF DUTY 4: IN-GAME SETTINGS

Results are in FPS (frames per second) higher being better.

At the default setting of each card the game was smooth with excellent visuals. The XFX 9600GT XXX maintained a very slight performance advantage.

CALL OF DUTY 4 - Overclock Results

Results are in FPS (frames per second) higher being better.

Overclocking the cards above default clocks gave a minuscule performance advantage to the MSI 9600GT but well within the margin of error at each resolution.

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

I selected full dynamic lights rendering mode for testing the XFX 9600GT XXX in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. With the exception of antialiasing all in-game settings were turned on or run at 100%.

From the tests so far the 9600GT XXX Alpha Dog Edition has performed extremely well for a mid-stream/value card but this test will prove how much more performance it posses over the card it replaced, the GeForce 8600GTS. The 8600GTS would not run this game at these settings.

To benchmark I used the in-game 'Buildings' timedemo (Agroprom Research Institute) and used FRAPS to check the results. I found that the recorded frame rates between the in-game demo and FRAPS was within 1-2 FPS. The resolutions selected remained the same as throughout the review at 1280x1024, 1680x1050, and 1920x1200. A minimum of three runs were made through the benchmark at each setting with the selected result usually being the second run. The minimum frame rates are displayed along with the average FPS at each resolution.

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

Results are in FPS (frames per second) higher being better.

The results are exceptional when compared to the results obtained with the 8600GTS cards I have used. I took the time to sit down and play a one hour plus session on two different occasions and found the gameplay to be very smooth at the 1920x1200 resolution on my 24-inch LCD monitor. Recorded temperatures did exceed the 60°C mark but only maxing briefly one to two degrees beyond that mark. Most of the time it was a steady 59°C.

SLI

Using the MSI P7N Platinum I ran through some benchmarks with both cards mated in an SLI configuration and ran through COD4 and Crysis gaming benchmarks.

The results in COD4 gave a 36% increase to the best overclocked 1280x1024 result, a 31% increase at 1680x1050, and better than a 40% increase in FPS performance at 1920x1200.

SLI in Crysis, a game which really put the 9600GT XXX to the test, put a little zip in the 9600GT's step by upping FPS scores by 25% at 1280x1024 with 'HIGH' settings, over 31% at 1680x1050, and an increase of better than 36% average FPS at 1920x1200.

SLI - Results

CALL OF DUTY 4

CRYSIS - Island Demo

Results are in FPS (frames per second) higher being better.

Well, I can't leave out 3DMark2006. Using the XFX 9600GT XXX's in an SLI combination in this synthetic benchmark upped the its 13,339 recorded overclocked score to 16,960. Along with the overclocks on the GPU, memory, and shader clock in SLI I did bump up the Q6600 from 3.0 to 3.2GHz.

3DMK06 Scores with SLI 9600GTs (740/1050/2100)

Intel Q6600 @ 3.2GHz

Running a pair of 9600GTs in SLI gives enough performance increase in many games and benchmarks to equal performance of high-end cards while still staying well below the cost of those high-end selections.

CONCLUSION

The GeForce 9600 GT's popularity is still growing and for good reason. When it was introduced in February it was received with mixed reactions. The initial clock timings were not impressive and the performance was good but not something a person would give much consideration to in replacing their 8800 series card for. But manufacturer's like XFX quickly resolved this by making the performance of the card more attractive by utilizing the headroom which was found inherent in the 9600 GT.

The XFX 9600GT XXX Alpha Dog Edition is an outstanding example of a factory-overclock or enhanced GeForce 9600 GT. The card has an increased core clock of almost 100MHz, a 100MHz increase on the memory, and a shader clock of better than 200MHz. What is furthermore exciting is more performance can be had without hard or soft modding the card. I easily increased the performance by just tweaking the clocks and finding a stable 'sweet spot' between the core, memory, and shader clocks. The card actually attained a solid 800MHz core and 1115MHz memory clock that did jump the performance in 3DMark2006 benchmarks, however, when bringing the shader clock into the equation and adjusting the core and memory to find a good stable running combination I also found I could further increase this benchmark's score. It did not stop with just a synthetic benchmark for this performance advantage carried over solidly into gaming as well as overall performance. This with a labeled 'mid-range' or 'mid-stream' value/performance video card. True, running at 1920x1200 resolution with all the eye-candy on puts a definitive strain on the card but the SLI option with two of these cards running in tandem can be an 'eye opening' experience in games.

The facts are the XFX 9600GT XXX Alpha Dog Edition is a nice looking card and the one-slot design and overall physical dimensions should give you ample room for a matched set in your case.

The only distraction I found with the XFX 9600GT XXX Alpha Dog Edition is the fan noise is noticeable in 3D. The only downside I found is that it is a mid-range performance card and a resolution 1920x1200 with limited applied antialiasing is probably the limit for a single card gaming solution. Still, that puts a lot of fun in gaming on a 24-inch LCD monitor.