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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  • andylawcc - Wednesday, March 19, 2008 - link

    okay, thanks for explaining. I never phantom myself playing at resolution beyond 1600x1200. It's just cost too much to get "one notch" above 1920x1200 with the extra cost for monitor and video card.
  • Le Québécois - Tuesday, March 18, 2008 - link

    Having 2 8800 GT in SLI, I know there are some games that either don't show any amelioration for SLI(not a problem here) or become really unstable to the point of being unplayable. One title that comes to mind now is Colin McRae:DiRT. I have to disable SLI every time I want to play it. Even some of the fixes suggested on the official nVidia forum don't works for me.

    Now I don't want tech support;)...

    I just want to know what would happen with a games like that and the 9800GX2 (or the 3870 X2 for that matter) since those cards "sli" configuration can't be disable since the driver doesn't see those cards as dual card configuration but rather one single card.
  • Tephlon - Wednesday, March 19, 2008 - link

    Sorry to be kind of off topic by not answering your question specifically- I actually don't own either card and can't comment on their specific operation.
    But your concern is quite valid, in fact the SLI issues seem to become more complicated with the hybrid "two cards in one" solutions than that of a normal two-card SLI setup.

    "...since those cards "sli" configuration can't be disabled since the driver doesn't see those cards as dual card configuration but rather one single card."

    Unless I just missed it in the review, there's nothing to make me believe this is actually true. It's certainly not true for nvidia's previous dual-card, the 7950gx2. While the term 'single card' makes it sound as if it would actually operate as a single card, both the OS and the Drivers see the 7950gx2 twice, as two cards. Within the drivers, you disable SLI the same as if there were two physical cards in the system, sli'd together. It RELIES on this to function at it's full potential... or, in other words, is literally nothing more than just two cards sli'd, only crammed into one slot. Again, there's nothing to make me believe this wouldn't be true for the 9800 GX2 as well.

    This is actually the reason why I can never see myself owning one of these cards, maybe even ever do SLI in general, again.
    One annoyance that I discovered from owning the 7950gx2, is that while it is 'technically' two cards strapped together by SLI, nvidia doesn't consider it as such. It uses SLI profiles, and relies heavily on driver tweaks and support to optimize it's use with games, but if you try to join the SLI Club to get some support/feedback for your card, they tell you you aren't SLI and boot you out the door.
    Nearly every game that came out needed special driver tweaks and profiles to make the game actually run at all, not to mention work correctly using both gpu's. It turned into a "wait 6 months after a games' release for new drivers" type situation. I very seldom could make this $600 powerhouse run a game the way it should right out of the box, or even within the first several weeks of release.
    I spent the majority of my time at lans tweaking sli profiles to try to make a game run instead of playing it. Your investment starts to look really worthless really quick when the guy next to you has a $200 value gamer card of the same generation, and can run the game as good as you because you're waiting on driver updates to make both cards work correctly together for the game.

    In my opinion, it became a situation of getting all the pains of SLI (tinkering/struggling with SLI profiles, etc) with very few of it's perks (blazing speed/high-end gamer respect and support).

    And while my performance seemed decent while the card was the newest, greatest thing, it started to fade the instant the 8 series landed. As new products/sli configurations are released, they become the priority, and my then slightly-dated but serious hunk of technology got thrown under the bus. I swear the support for a game as simple as WoW is worse now for the 7950gx2 than it ever was.
    The cards simply seem to become 'not a priority', to the point where you wonder where your 600 dollars went. This seems to be especially true for these complicated, highly driver/profile reliant 'dual cards'.

    I bought the 7950 GX2 because even though the reviews had phrases like "the card currently doesn't support that feature (but that will be fixed in a future driver)" (sound familiar?), it was scoring well and seemed like a solid, high-end product that would kick some games' asses, and for less than two 7800 GTs could do at the time (by 60 bucks or so).

    I think the 'buy one now and be able to throw a second one in in a year for less' theory is starting be debunked. The card's prices hardly ever drop enough fast enough, and by the time you're ready for a second card, the new series is out with a single card that will out perform two of what you own now... and all without the pain of SLI issues.

    I dunno, for me, I think from now on I'll do the best true single card solution available for the time, and leave all the Dual gpu/sli issues to the people who enjoy configuring their machines more than playing on them.
  • Donkey2008 - Tuesday, March 18, 2008 - link

    "hmmm by hooflung, 6 hours ago - If AMD is competitive at 1680x1050 and 1900x1200 for ~200+ dollars less would the conclusion have been less favorable and start to nitpick the sheer awkwardness of this card?"

    I agree and if you look at the charts carefully (which most people don't), you'll see that the 3870x2 is dead on, if not better, then the GeForce 8800 Ultra (the card it is meant to compete against) in performance at every resolution. Yet the 3870x2 is also hundreds of dollars cheaper and runs at a very similar power threshold.

    Although these tests are not about performance-per-dollar or who has the better value for high-level gaming, they are about who has the biggest schlong. I'll admit that.

    Anyway, there is no way you can love and admire computer hardware as much as frequent visitors to Anandtech without realizing the sheer majesty of different companies raising the bar with truely groundbreaking products (I.E. Intel's Pentium CPU, the original Nvidia Geforce, AMD's Athlon 64, ATI's 9700 Pro).

    Although a very impressive piece of work by Nvidia, this product is not one of them.

    PS - I own and use a 8800 GTS in my home system.
  • karioskasra - Tuesday, March 18, 2008 - link

    Yes, they owned the market for a long time with it, but it's cost to build was high and it was an expensive part

    it's = its
  • AcydRaine - Tuesday, March 18, 2008 - link

    Way to test on a system that nobody has. For sure to show typical results.....
  • Spacecomber - Tuesday, March 18, 2008 - link

    The point of using skulltrail is that it allows both crossfire and sli to be tested on the same system. What better way to compare amd and nvidia multicard solutions?

    The goal of the article is to see how the video card solutions stack up against each other, not to to determine what results you'll get in your particular system.
  • Pemalite - Tuesday, March 18, 2008 - link

    [quote]MD finally pulled out a wild card with the 3870 X2, and rather than putting their money into a large high cost chip, they combined two GPUs onto one board for their high end offering. Even though NVIDIA was first out of the gate with a single board dual GPU product (the 7950 GX2), we haven't seen a similar solution from their DX10 lineup until today.[quote]

    I think that part of the article is a little bit... wrong.
    AMD-ATI were the first to release a single card, Dual GPU solution in the form of the RAGE Fury MAXX. (Released in 1999).
  • araczynski - Tuesday, March 18, 2008 - link

    unfortunately at that price point i don't care how miraculous it is.

    looks like the 8800gtsG92 will be in my box next. unless i hear they plan on releasing an affordable 9800gt/gts?
  • Malory - Tuesday, March 18, 2008 - link

    I had read elsewhere that even for a single card, they had to enable SLI support via the Nvidia console for this card to work.

    Was that the case here? If so I asume that means that games which have no or little support for SLI wouldn't really gain much from this 'single' card.

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