As the G9x series of GPUs slowly trickles into the mainstream, we are very happy to report that NVIDIA has executed a solid post 8800 GT launch: the G94 is very competitive at its price point in the form of the GeForce 9600 GT. That the current generation couldn't outpace the previous generation is a major complaint we had of previous midrange launches. Hopefully NVIDIA and AMD will be able to keep up the competition for all the new introductions we see this year.

The Radeon HD 3850 has been doing fairly well, and we are glad that, for a change, AMD has been able to put the pressure on NVIDIA. The 8800 GT has done a good job above $200, but now we'll be taking a look at what happens when the technology creeps below a threshold that makes it infinitely more attractive to the average gamer.

The GeForce 9600 GT, in addition to finally encroaching on ATI's naming scheme, is fabbed on a 65nm process by TSMC and sports a 256-bit memory bus. The differences between G9x and G8x are small, but even so details were light. Their compression technology has evolved to provide higher effective bandwidth between the GPU and framebuffer. We would love to provide more details on this and the other changes, but NVIDIA is still being a bit tight lipped.

The only other major difference is in PureVideo. The G92 and the G94 both support new PureVideo features that should enable a better, more flexible experience when video players roll out software support for these additions. The changes include performance improvements in some situations, as well as potential quality improvements in others. We have yet to test out these changes as none of the players currently support them, but we will certainly talk a little bit about what to expect.

Here's a look at exactly what we get under the hood of a stock GeForce 9600 GT as compared to the rest of the NVIDIA lineup.

Form Factor 8800 GTS 512 8800 GT 256MB 8800 GT 9600 GT 8600 GTS
Stream Processors 128 112 112 64 32
Texture Address / Filtering 64 / 64 56 / 56 56 / 56 32 / 32 16 / 16
ROPs 16 16 16 16 8
Core Clock 650MHz 600MHz+ 600MHz+ 650MHz 675MHz
Shader Clock 1.625GHz 1.5GHz+ 1.5GHz+ 1.625GHz 1.45GHz
Memory Clock 1.94GHz 1.4GHz - 1.6GHz 1.8GHz 1.8GHz

2.0GHz

Memory Bus Width 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 128-bit
Frame Buffer 512MB 256MB 512MB 512MB 256MB
Transistor Count 754M 754M 754M 505M 289M
Manufacturing Process TSMC 65nm TSMC 65nm TSMC 65nm TSMC 65nm TSMC 80nm
Price Point $279 - $349 $199 - $219 $209 - $279 $169 - $189 $140 - $199

PureVideo HD Enhancements

NVIDIA introduced two new PureVideo HD features with the 9600 GT that will also be enabled on G92 based GPUs as well (GeForce 8800 GT & 8800 GTS 512): Dynamic Contrast Enhancement and Automatic Green, Blue and Skin Tone Enhancements.

Dynamic Contrast Enhancement simply takes, on a frame by frame basis, the contrast histogram of a scene and stretches it out - resulting in artificially increased contrast. NVIDIA indicated that Dynamic Contrast Enhancement is most useful in scenes that have relatively high contrast already, as it is specifically programmed to ignore certain low contrast scenes to avoid completely corrupting the intention of a frame.

Automatic Green, Blue and Skin Tone Enhancements is a longer way of saying automatic color saturation adjustment. When enabled, this feature looks at midtones of most colors and simply boosts their values so that these colors appear brighter/more vibrant. The higher a color's initial starting value, the lower the amount it will be boosted by - in other words, this isn't a linear function. Because it's a non-linear function, you don't end up crushing the colors but instead you get a curve that tapers off giving you more vibrant, brighter colors overall. Like the Dynamic Contrast Enhancement feature, the Green/Blue and Skin Tone Enhancements are evaluated on a frame-by-frame basis.

Video purists will hate these features as they don't accurate reproduce the image that was originally recorded, instead you're getting the Best Buyification of your computer monitor: oversaturated colors and overboosted contrast galore. However it turns out that most users prefer oversaturated colors and overboosted contrast, which is why most TV makers ship their sets far from calibrated. Most PC monitors lack the sort of configuration options to achieve the same effect as an improperly, but appealingly calibrated TV. NVIDIA hopes that its PureVideo HD Enhancements will be able to bridge the gap between how things look on your PC monitor and how they look on your TV.

If you spend a lot of time properly calibrating your TV, chances are you won't want to use these features. Thankfully they can be disabled. However, if you do like similar functions on your TV, then you may just be pleased by what the 9600 GT has to offer.

The Card and The Test
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  • Spacecomber - Thursday, February 21, 2008 - link

    Thanks for the review and helping us to keep up with the latest in video card releases. I'm glad to hear that you'll be going back to include the 8800GT 512MB and the 3850 512MB. It's a crowded field with all of these cards that have come out in the last few months, but I think it is important to try and keep an eye on all of them when making these comparisons.

    It may not be practical at this time, since the 9600GT isn't available for sale, yet, but it would be nice to see a bang for your buck kind of chart for these new cards. I know that anandtech has done something like this in the past. The arbitrary part will be deciding what benchmarks (games and resolutions) to use for this. Still, I would find this interesting to see.

    Any ideas as to what resolutions (i.e., size monitors) that people looking for the $150-$250 card likely might be using?
    Reply
  • Verdant - Thursday, February 21, 2008 - link

    use a midrange lunch right about now, ...mmm Subway Reply
  • fic2 - Thursday, February 21, 2008 - link

    "major complaint we had of previous midrange lunches."

    Do you get fries with those lunches?
    Reply
  • Sunrise089 - Thursday, February 21, 2008 - link

    You guys really needed to test a 8800GT 512 or 8800GTS 512. I understand this is a midrange part, but when it tops the benchmark charts in some games, it's absolutely essential to know what card is actually faster. Looking at the Enemy Territory test for example, one could conclude that this could be the single fastest GPU available.

    PS - For those talking about the "best midrange GPU ever" - forget about it. This card certainly trumps the last-gen midrange, so it's much better than the 8600s, and on par with the 7600s. The 6600s though actually topped the last-gen high-end. 6600gt over 9800pro is IMHO the example of the ultimate midrange card.
    Reply
  • andrew007 - Thursday, February 21, 2008 - link

    It is ABSOLUTELY essential to add 8800GT numbers. Without those numbers I just have no idea how well (or not well) this card performs. It doesn't make sense to not include a card that sells at a similar price and is probably the most popular right now and is currently used as a yardstick. Reply
  • nubie - Thursday, February 21, 2008 - link

    Natch, the 7900GS is quite simply the ultimate mid-range (although I do have a couple 6600GT, and they are really good). I suppose the argument could be made that they are really entry-level High-End, but the prices are mid-range.

    For $95 on ebay and dropping, the 7900GS isn't hard to recommend. With Ramsinks and an aftermarket cooler it can easily hit 650mhz stable on the core with a slight voltmod (some voltmodded Zalman'ed ones are $100)
    Reply
  • Sunrise089 - Thursday, February 21, 2008 - link

    7900GS isn't a bad choice either, but it looses out on 4 counts:

    1) It cost more - as you said, it's entry level high-end by total numbers sold, even if it isn't by percentage of maximum possible GPU cost.

    2) You had to work your way further up the line to clearly beat the last gen - it's most impressive to beat the last top-end card with a card more stages removed from the top part (6800ultra-6800gt-6800-6600gt is more than 7900gtx-7900gt-7900gs)

    3) Perception wise, it has the "high end" naming scheme where the second diget of the name is 8 or 9.

    4) Most importantly it came out much later. This is the essential qualifier of a great card IMHO. The 6600gt beat the 9800pro within a month of the first 6000 series availability. The 7900gs was a later-released part where nvidia had more time to work on economics-of-scale to keep the price down.
    Reply
  • ChronoReverse - Friday, February 22, 2008 - link

    Not to mention the x1950Pro beat the snot out of it. Reply
  • nubie - Thursday, February 21, 2008 - link

    1) Sorry, 8600GT was always more expensive than 7900GS. (no facts of course, I am probably not 100% true)

    2) 7950GX2-7900GTX-7950GT-7900GT-7900GS If you want to be technically accurate.

    3) Pffftthth, as I say, they were available for $130-150, the 8600GT wasn't (isn't??)

    4) Ah, but I really don't care about ATI.

    So in summation, I agree with you, but it is a very close call, facts remain that the 8600GT was only a good buy if you needed the "True Purevideo HD" Full hardware decode, and performance around that of a card $50 cheaper.
    Reply
  • nubie - Thursday, February 21, 2008 - link

    Oops, I almost forgot, the 7900GS is an x1950XTX killer, for about the same price the 7900GS could be overclocked easily to 650mhz and eat one for lunch (as mine has been doing for 2 years now :D), so your 6600GT/9800 analogy is applicable to my 7900GS one. Reply

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