The 9800 GX2 Inside, Out and Quad

The most noticeable thing about the card is the fact that it looks like a single PCB with a dual slot HSF solution. Appearances are quite deceiving though, as on further inspection, it is clear that their are really two PCBs hidden inside the black box that is the 9800 GX2. This is quite unlike the 3870 X2 which puts two GPUs on the same PCB, but it isn't quite the same as the 7950 GX2 either.

The special sauce on this card is the fact that the cooling solution is sandwiched between the GPUs. Having the GPUs actually face each other is definitely interesting, as it helps make the look of the solution quite a bit more polished than the 7950 GX2 (and let's face it, for $600+ you expect the thing to at least look like it has some value).

NVIDIA also opted not to put both display outputs on one PCB as they did with their previous design. The word on why: it is easier for layout and cooling. This adds an unexpected twist in that the DVI connectors are oriented in opposite directions. Not really a plus or a minus, but its just a bit different. Moving from ISA to PCI was a bit awkward with everything turned upside down, and now we've got one of each on the same piece of hardware.



On the inside, the GPUs are connected via PCIe 1.0 lanes in spite of the fact that the GPUs support PCIe 2.0. This is likely another case where cost benefit analysis lead the way and upgrading to PCIe 2.0 didn't offer any real benefit.

Because the 9800 GX2 is G9x based, it also features all the PureVideo enhancements contained in the 9600 GT and the 8800 GT. We've already talked about these features, but the short list is the inclusion of some dynamic image enhancement techniques (dynamic contrast and color enhancement), and the ability to hardware accelerate the decode of multiple video streams in order to assist in playing movies with picture in picture features.

We will definitely test these features out, but this card is certainly not aimed at the HTPC user. For now we'll focus on the purpose of this card: gaming performance. Although, it is worth mentioning that the cards coming out at launch are likely to all be reference design based, and thus they will all include an internal SPDIF connector and an HDMI output. Let's hope that next time NVIDIA puts these features on cards that really need it.

Which brings us to Quad SLI. Yes, the beast has reared its ugly head once again. And this time around, under Vista (Windows XP is still limited by a 3 frame render ahead), Quad SLI will be able to implement a 4 frame AFR mode for some blazing fast speed in certain games. Unfortunately, we can't bring you numbers today, but when we can we will absolutely pit it against AMD's CrossFireX. We do expect to see similarities with CrossFireX in that it won't scale quite as well when we move from 3 to 4 GPUs.



Once again, we are fortunate to have access to an Intel D5400XS board in which we can compare SLI to CrossFire on the same platform. While 4-way solutions are novel, they certainly are not for everyone. Especially when the pair of cards costs between $1200 and $1300. But we are certainly interested in discovering just how much worse price / performance gets when you plug two 9800 GX2 cards into the same box.

It is also important to note that these cards come with hefty power requirements and using a PCIe 2.0 powersupply is a must. Unlike the AMD solutions, it is not possible to run the 9800 GX2 with a 6-pin PCIe power connector in the 8-pin PCIe 2.0 socket. NVIDIA recommends a 580W PSU with PCIe 2.0 support for a system with a single 9800 GX2. For Quad, they recommend 850W+ PSUs.

NVIDIA notes that some PSU makers have built their connectors a little out of spec so the fit is tight. They say that some card makers or PSU vendors will be offering adapters but that future power supply revisions should meet the specifications better.

As this is a power hungry beast, NVIDIA is including its HybridPower support for 9800 GX2 when paired with a motherboard that features NVIDIA integrated graphics. This will allow normal usage of the system to run on relatively low power by turning off the 9800 GX2 (or both if you have Quad set up), and should save quite a bit on your power bill. We don't have a platform to test the power savings in our graphics lab right now, but it should be interesting to see just how big an impact this has.

Index Techical Specs and The Test
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  • dare2savefreedom - Thursday, March 20, 2008 - link

    i just wanted you guys to know that your doing a poor job.

    I checked toms,guru,techpower and they all kick your butt.

    Techpower even took the card apart

    things you should do next time:

    1) more Fing pictures - did you really review the card?
    2) use a amd 4400 and see what happens - real world check - this would be different from everyone else since everyone else did an overpriced intel cpu test.
    2a) test with an realistic price range intel processor core2 8400 or 8200
    3) put rulers in the pictures
    4) try thief 2 for an old game check, somebody on the forums is complaining about nvidia drivers
    5) where da fear bench?
    6) bench at least 1 racing game.
    7) stop playing with your mac and do the review.
    8) where the pci scan listing,i dont get an idea of how the card appears - is it hidden from pci scans that there are 2 boards
    9) a good artist copies a great artist steals
  • DoctorDeath - Wednesday, March 19, 2008 - link

    I bought two 9800GX2s from for $562 each and even without good drivers these cards start to shine after 1600x1200. I sold my three 8800Ultras to by them and i am not sorry that i did. When the new quad drivers are release next week they are going to make a big diff in performance. My 2nd machine has two 512 8800GTS's and to be honest they do not come close in performance. Both machines have 780i boards and overclocked QX9650s and the same 4Gbs of memory,even the same 1200w power supplys.So people that are saying the the GX2 is the same as running 512 8800GTS's are wrong,and the performance proves that.
  • gochichi - Wednesday, March 19, 2008 - link

    While the 8800GT may be great, the GTS 512MB adds just enough that you feel like you went absurdly overboard without breaking the bank.

    I just purchased a very nice but basic Quad-Core processor based Dell. If I wanted to go absolutely crazy without pitching a wonderful computer away, I would go with this ultra mega card (and a power supply definitely).

    I think it's very wise of NVIDIA and ATI to offer something up for the people not willing to go through the hassle (or apparent hassle) of SLI. I mean, I know people that don't know much and they ask me about stuff... and sometimes they just want to splurge on something. They don't necessarily want to build a gaming rig from the ground up.

    We are very unique in our obsessions with computer parts and sensitivity to their price. Look at how well Apple is doing. Most people have more money than they have hardware expertise.

    $599.00 really is quite "reasonable". At least it TROUNCES the competition, it's not like it's close in terms of single slot performance. Compare that with buying two 8800GT's, replacing the motherboard, hoping everything pans out, re-certifying Vista (if it's even possible from an OEM version of it... literally OEM like Dell, Gateway, etc). Etc... this seems like you spend money (of which you may have much readily available, it's completely wrong to assume that money is tight for everyone) slap it in (change of power supply which messes this up, and I think this is a very big obstacle, as big as the price) and it pretty much "just works".

    The black case is very elegant, very desirable looking. Does average joe still want a MacBook Air, or does he want an 9800GX2 and a MacBook? You know what I'm saying here? It's not like we don't buy frivolous stuff ALL OF THE TIME. I have a pair of $250.00 jeans... I am absurd. I just bought YET ANOTHER computer... I am absurd. (Aren't you as well? Do you burn up $200.00 of fuel each month instead of taking the bus?) I don't see why pick this wonderful piece of hardware out as particularly absurd. Like I said, not requiring SLI is huge. SLI = expert/geek and/or SLI= Extremely overpriced computer with glowing lights.

    After seeing these benchmarks, there is a part of me that knows that this won't be beat out in a couple of years... so why not just buy it and get it over with. I am kind of in the market for a card... why not add $400.00 to the budget and experience "too much" for a change.

    And then I come back to reality, a reality where every game except Crysis will run fantastically on 1920x1200 on the very high-tech, slick, modern, efficient, 9600GT or "splurging" for the slightly less elegant 8800GTS 512 which is only a handful of dollars more than the standard 8800GT. This reality includes 8GB of RAM for merely $150.00 (and yet I don't have 8GB of RAM). Main reason I'm bending more towards 9600GT is that I really don't want to mess with a new powersupply.

    I'm telling you all right now. If this 9800 GX2 wonderfulness were something small, and silent that you could just plug into a USB port (imagine here, try to think like normal people for a minute) and it would accelerate the crap out of games... it would become a best selling video card even at $600.00.

    You know what's really absurd? That we read about cards that are less outstanding than this card. I mean this card is a "Ferrari", it's never lame to gawk at a Ferrari. Sadly, I spend most of my time learning about the specs on the next Corolla.

    Buying this card may not be so awesome (for me at this particular time) but in terms of reading it is definitely awesome. I'm more of a daily commuter type.

  • instant - Wednesday, March 19, 2008 - link

    Somehow I feel it would be fitting to include the 7950GX2 in the test of its successor.

  • AnnonymousCoward - Wednesday, March 19, 2008 - link

    Page 2 says "Windows XP is still limited by a 3 frame render ahead), Quad SLI will be able to implement a 4 frame AFR". Is this the same as the setting that used to appear in the nvidia control panel called "max frames to render ahead"?

    That setting causes input lag. I use RivaTuner to force it to 1 frame, because at the default of 3 frames, games like Oblivion, Mythos, and Hellgate (and probably many others) have input lag at high resolutions! Does Quad SLI require 4 frames of rendering ahead / buffering? If so, forget it!
  • dare2savefreedom - Tuesday, March 18, 2008 - link

    i dont get it you guys are mac lovers so maybe you could counterculture or think different:

    How about instead of showing exactly the same stuff that every other hw site shows why don't you guys show the 9800gx2 with a amd x2 4200 or something or amd x2 6000

    i can justify spending 500 on a video card because i know it's worth it but 1000 on a intel cpu that you guys usually bench with it not something that gives me value - i could sli 8800gtxs for that 1000 for a cpu.

  • Le Québécois - Tuesday, March 18, 2008 - link

    The main idea is to remove as much limitation for the GPU as it is possible so you can have an idea of how it really perform when "nothing" else slow it down.
  • andylawcc - Tuesday, March 18, 2008 - link

    the chart only shows results in the highest resolution setting, in which, the ATI 3x 3870 fails behind both 9800GX2 and 9600GT SLI. However, the 3x 3870 leads the 9600GT SLI for the majority of the time in lower resolution.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, March 18, 2008 - link

    You don't normally buy a $600 video card to play at 1280x1024, or for many even 1920x1200. For this type of GPU, I think 30" LCDs are going to be reasonable. Which is to say that I don't think a lot of people are going to buy one of these, because it's so expensive, but if you have the money for a 9800 GX2 you probably have the money for a 30" LCD. Regardless, we have the resolution scaling charts for people that *do* care about other resolutions.

    Note also that there are some oddities in the results - i.e. 9600 GT SLI really shouldn't even match the 9800 GX2 in any situation, considering it has less memory bandwidth, half the number of shaders, fewer ROPs, and a lower core speed. And yet it does come out ahead in some of the tests in this article. We're still investigating that; the GX2 should actually be a lot closer to 8800 GTS 512MB SLI performance - i.e. faster than 8800 Ultra SLI in many cases.
  • coldpower27 - Wednesday, March 19, 2008 - link

    9600 GT SLI would have greater ROP power as your still dealing with 16 ROP per board wit 256Bit interfaces each. The additional ROP power comes from the higher Core speed in that setup.

    Should this card be faster then 8800 Ultra SLI? That setup has more memory bandwidth due to greater memory interface and higher memory clocks, and more ROP power due to having 2 sets of 24 ROP blocks. From reviews I have seen, 8800 GTS 512 SLI is about equal to 8800 GTX SLI, with GTX SLI winning as you get to higher resolutions.

    All things equal I would expect this card to slot somewhere between the 8800 GTS 512 SLI setup and the 8800 GT SLI setup. For the most part that is the case, I see it is indeed faster the the 8800 GT SLI looking at the TechReport results, not too sure on the 8800 GTS 512 SLI.

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