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ASUS EN9800GTX TOP Graphics Card
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Date: Jul 25, 2008
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Shane Unrein
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Introduction, Specs and Features

A lot has happened over the past month in the world of 3D gaming graphics: NVIDIA launched the GeForce GTX 280 and GTX 260, ATI introduced us to the Radeon HD 4870 and HD 4850, and NVIDIA tried to rain on the Radeon HD 4800 Series parade by dropping the 55nm GeForce 9800 GTX+. If that weren't enough, we've already seen price drops on the GTX 280 and GTX 260 as well. The latest fight for your pixel pushing dollars is shaping up to be quite a battle, and it's just getting started.

Although the latest and greatest graphics cards are always a hot topic, we're going to focus on one of the established predecessors - a GeForce 9800 GTX (without the plus sign) in this piece. Our sample comes from ASUS in the form of the EN9800GTX TOP. If you are a regular reader of HotHardware (or video card reviews in general), then you are probably already aware that "TOP" is ASUS's designation to indicate that the card comes factory overclocked. "TOP" stands for "Top Overclocking Performance." In this case, the EN9800GTX TOP is overclocked to 755 MHz for the core (reference speed is 675 MHz), 1175 MHz for the memory (reference speed is 1100 MHz), and 1840 MHz for the shader clock (reference speed is 1688 MHz). One interesting note is that this card is actually faster than the upcoming GeForce 9800 GTX+ that we mentioned above, but the EN9800GTX TOP is of course not a 55nm part like the 9800 GTX+. In the table below, you can see how the EN9800GTX TOP compares to NVIDIA's reference GeForce 9800 GTX and reference GeForce 8800 GTX.


ASUS EN9800GTX TOP
more info
  • NVIDIA G92 Graphics Processing Unit
  • 755 MHz GPU Clock Speed
  • 128 Stream Processors
  • 1,840 MHz Shader Clock Speed
  • 512 MB GDDR-3 Memory
  • 256-bit Memory Interface
  • 1,175 MHz Memory Clock Speed
  • Shader Model 4.0 (DirectX 10) Support
  • PCI Express 2.0 Interface
  • 2 x 6-pin PCI Express Power Connector
  • Supports 2-Way and 3-Way SLI Configurations
  • Dual-Slot Cooling System
  • HDCP Ready
  • 2 x Dual-Link DVI, 1 x HDTV/S-Video Outputs
  • NVIDIA HybridPower: Yes


GeForce 9800 GTX
• reference •

  • NVIDIA G92 Graphics Processing Unit
  • 675 MHz GPU Clock Speed
  • 128 Stream Processor Cores
  • 1,688 MHz Shader Clock Speed
  • 512 MB GDDR-3 Memory
  • 256-bit Memory Interface
  • 1,100 MHz Memory Clock Speed
  • Shader Model 4.0 (DirectX 10) Support
  • PCI Express 2.0 Interface
  • 2 x 6-pin PCI Express Power Connector
  • Supports 2-Way and 3-Way SLI Configurations
  • Dual-Slot Cooling System
  • HDCP Ready
  • 2 x Dual-Link DVI, 1 x HDTV/S-Video Outputs
  • NVIDIA HybridPower: Yes
GeForce 8800 GTX
• reference •

  • NVIDIA G80 Graphics Processing Unit
  • 575 MHz GPU Clock Speed
  • 128 Stream Processors
  • 1,350 MHz Shader Clock Speed
  • 768 MB GDDR-3 Memory
  • 384-bit Memory Interface
  • 900 MHz Memory Clock Speed
  • Shader Model 4.0 (DirectX 10) Support
  • PCI Express Interface
  • 2 x 6-pin PCI Express Power Connector
  • Supports 2-Way or 3-Way SLI Configurations
  • Dual-Slot Cooling System
  • HDCP Ready
  • 2 x Dual-Link DVI, 1 x HDTV/S-Video Outputs
  • NVIDIA HybridPower: No

The EN9800GTX TOP comes in the typical large ASUS box with a handle on top. Considering ASUS is trying to be more "green" by reducing the energy use of its motherboards, we'd love to see the compay take another green step and reduce the size of its video card packages. We have to admit, though, that we'd like to see ASUS use smaller boxes for another reason: so they take up less space in the lab as well.


In addition to the card, ASUS includes a setup guide, a CD/DVD wallet, driver CD, utility CD, one DVI-to-VGA adapter, one PCI Express Y-power adapter, and an component video adapter. The included custom ASUS software features the following unique utilities:

  • ASUS Splendid: Watching movies on PC is as good as on Top-of-the-line consumer television.
  • ASUS Gamer OSD: Real-time overclocking, benchmarking and video capturing in any PC game!
  • ASUS Video Security Online: Keep an eye on your home at all times no matter where you are.
  • ASUS Smart Doctor: Your intelligent hardware protection and overclocking tool.

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Closer Look at the EN9800GTX TOP


The EN9800GTX TOP looks like most other GeForce 9800 GTX cards that you have seen, because it follows NVIDIA's reference design almost to the letter. The only deviations from the reference design are the sticker on the cooler and the color of the PCB, which is black.





Like other GeForce 9800 GTXs, the EN9800GTX TOP is a beast of a card. It is longer than a standard ATX motherboard is wide, and it swallows up two expansion slots in a standard ATX case. With this size comes a lot of graphics power, and that graphics power requires quite a bit of electrical power. That is why you see two 6-pin PCI Express power connectors on the EN9800GTX TOP.  Although, in relation to the current cream of the crop, the GeForce 9800 GTX requires much less power.
 



A very cool feature that you should notice is the inclusion of two SLI connectors, which means the EN9800GTX TOP can be matched up with either one or two other EN9800GTX TOPs (or other GeForec 9800 GTX cards) for some dual or triple SLI action. As expected of high-end cards, the EN9800GTX TOP sports two DVI outputs in addition to an HDTV-out connector.

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Test System and 3DMark06

HotHardware's Test System
Intel Core 2 Duo Powered


Hardware Used:
Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 (2.13GHz)

Abit Fatal1ty FP-IN9 SLI
(nForce 650i SLI chipset)

ASUS EN9800GTX TOP 512MB
GeForce 9800 GTX 512MB
GeForce 8800 GTX 768MB
GeForce 9600 GT 512MB
GeForce 8800 GT 512MB
Radeon HD 3850 256MB

2048MB Corsair DDR2-800 C4
(2 X 1GB)

Integrated Audio
Integrated Network

Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 9
(7,200RPM - SATA)


Relevant Software:

Windows Vista Ultimate (32-bit)

NVIDIA Forceware v175.16
ATI Catalyst v8.6
NVIDIA nForce v8.43

Benchmarks Used:
3DMark Vantage
3DMark06
Crysis v1.21
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars v1.5
Company of Heroes
Half-Life 2: Episode 2



Futuremark 3DMark06
Synthetic DirectX Gaming

3DMark06
Before Vantage, there was Futuremark 3DMark06, which has been quite popular for some time now. This version of the benchmark includes not only Shader Model 2.0 tests but also Shader Model 3.0 and HDR tests as well. Some of the assets from 3DMark05 have been re-used, but the scenes are now rendered with much more geometric detail, and the shader complexity is vastly increased as well. Max shader length in 3DMark05 was 96 instructions, while 3DMark06 ups the number of instructions to 512. 3DMark06 also employs much more lighting, and there is extensive use of soft shadows. With 3DMark06, Futuremark has also updated how the final score is tabulated. In this latest version of the benchmark, SM 2.0 and HDR / SM3.0 tests are weighted, and the CPU score is factored into the final tally as well.

We are very close to transitioning away from 3DMark06 since 3DMark Vantage has arrived, but we decided to go ahead and include these results since so many of you are much more familiar with 3DMark06. The ASUS EN9800GTX TOP proves to be the top performer, but there isn't really much difference between the EN9800GTX TOP and the reference 9800 GTX.

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3DMark Vantage Results

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage
Synthetic DirectX Gaming

3DMark Vantage
The latest version of Futuremark's synthetic 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark Vantage, is specifically bound to Windows Vista-based systems because it uses some advanced visual technologies that are only available with DirectX 10, which isn't available on previous versions of Windows. 3DMark Vantage isn't simply a port of 3DMark06 to DirectX 10, though. With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, in addition to support for the latest PC hardware. We tested the graphics cards here with 3DMark Vantage's "Performance" preset option, which uses a resolution of 1280x1024.

Unlike the 3DMark06 tests, the 3DMark Vantage tests actually show the power and potential of two EN9800GTX TOPs in SLI. Additionally, the EN9800GTX TOP struts its stuff in single-card mode as well and beats all of the other cards by a respectable margin. It's interesting to see that the reference 8800 GTX bested the reference 9800 GTX, but it could not defeat the overclocked EN9800GTX TOP.

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Company of Heroes Results

Company of Heroes
DirectX 9 and 10 Gaming Performance

Company of Heroes
Relic Entertainment's World War II era real-time strategy game Company of Heroes was originally released as a DirectX 9 title for Windows, but recent upates to the game have incorporated support for new DirectX 10 features that improve image quality and enhance the game's finer graphical details. The game features a built-in performance test, which which we used to attain the results below. Our Company of Heroes tests were run at resolutions of 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 with 4x anti-aliasing and all of the game's image-quality related options set to high.

In the DirectX 9 CoH tests, the SLI configuration really doesn't get a chance to spread its legs. The single EN9800GTX TOP does make quick work of the competition, though, at 1600x1200.

Fortunately, the DirectX 10 results scale considerably better. These results show the EN9800GTX TOP SLI configuration coming out on top, followed by the single EN9800GTX TOP, which is exactly what we expected to see.

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Enemy Territory: Quake Wars Results

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
OpenGL Gaming Performance

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is based on id's radically enhanced Doom 3 engine and viewed by many as Battlefield 2 meets the Strogg, and then some. In fact, we'd venture to say that id took EA's team-based warfare genre up a notch or two. ET: Quake Wars also marks the introduction of John Carmack's "Megatexture" technology that employs extremely large environment and terrain textures that cover vast areas of maps without the need to repeat and tile many small textures. The beauty of megatexture technology is that each unit only takes up a maximum of 8MB of frame buffer memory. Add to that HDR-like bloom lighting and leading edge shadowing effects and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars looks great, plays well and works high-end graphics cards vigorously. The game was tested with all of its in-game options set to their maximum values with soft particles enabled in addition to 8x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.

Like in our DX9 CoH tests on the previous page, the SLI configuration doesn't get to show off its power in the ETQW test. Interestingly, the reference 8800 GTX edges out the EN9800GTX TOP at 1600x1200. Higher resolutions would probably make this more interesting and maybe even change which card is the winner.

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Half-Life 2: Episode 2 Results

Half-Life 2: Episode 2
DirectX Gaming Performance

Half-Life 2: Episode 2
Thanks to the dedication of hardcore PC gamers and a huge mod community, the original Half-Life became one of the most successful first person shooters of all time. And thanks to an updated game engine, gorgeous visual, and intelligent weapon and level design, Half-Life 2 became just as popular. Episode 2 offers a number of visual enhancements, including better looking transparent texture anti-aliasing. These tests were run at resolutions of 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 with 4x anti-aliasing and 8x anisotropic filtering enabled concurrently. Color correction and HDR rendering were also enabled in the game engine as well. We used a custom recorded timedemo file to benchmark all cards in this test.

The EN9800GTX TOP comes out on top in our Half-Life 2 tests, which isn't much of a surprise considering the other results we've seen so far.

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Crysis Results

Crysis
DirectX 9 and 10 Gaming Performance

Crysis
If you're at all into enthusiast computing, the highly anticipated single player, FPS smash-hit Crysis should require no introduction. Crytek's game engine visuals are easily the most impressive real-time 3D renderings we've seen on the computer screen to date. The engine employs some of the latest techniques in 3D rendering, like Parallax Occlusion Mapping, Subsurface Scattering, Motion Blur and Depth-of-Field effects, as well as some of the most impressive use of Shader technology we've seen yet. In short, for those of you that want to skip the technical jib-jab, Crysis is HOT. We ran the full game patched to v1.21 with all of the game's visual options set to 'High' to put a significant load on the graphics cards being tested.

First thing we'd like to note is that we have yet to figure out why the EN9800GTX TOP SLI configuration performs so relatively poorly in both the DirectX 9 and 10 tests. We're still looking into it, but we wanted to show you the results in the meantime. If we ever get better results for the SLI configuration, we'll update this article.

At 1280x1024 and 1600x1200, the EN9800GTX dominates all of the other cards. It's nice to see that ASUS's overclock leads to an almost 3-FPS boost at 1600x1200. How can you not love factory-overclocked cards?

Once again, at 1280x1024 and 1600x1200, the EN9800GTX TOP performs quite well in Crysis.

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Performance Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: Thanks to its factory overclock, the ASUS EN9800GTX TOP outperformed a stock GeForce 9800 GTX across the board and compared favorably with our reference systems. There are times when the reference 8800 GTX can beat out the reference 9800 GTX, but the EN9800GTX TOP's faster clock speeds give it an edge most of the time. If performance is your bag and you're in the market for a relatively affordable NVIDIA GPU, then you should definitely lean towards an overclocked version of the 9800 GTX, like the EN9800GTX TOP, in order to make sure it outperforms its predecessor.
 


Those of you expecting that the 9800 GTX would smack the 8800 GTX around are no doubt disappointed, but that's not really what the 9800 GTX launch was about. The big news with the GeForce 9800 GTX, besides the GPU's manufacturing process being moved from 90nm to 65nm, was that you'd get 8800 GTX performance at a much lower price (the 9800 GTX launched with an MSRP of $299-349 and can be found for around $200 now). In addition to the better price, you also get PureVideo HD and Hybrid Power support, and a quiter, cooling running card.

If you already have an 8800 GTX, then it's hard to recommend a 9800 GTX to you, unless you want one or more of the new features. Otherwise, we wouldn't hesitate to recommend that you take a look at the EN9800GTX TOP if you can find it for no more than $230. With the GTX 260 scraping $300, we'd be reluctant to spend more than that on any 9800 GTX. If the EN9800GTX TOP is hard to find, as has been the case for some ASUS-made graphics cards lately, then be patient and hope that ASUS releases an EN9800GTX+ TOP, or consider one of AMD's new Radeon HD 4800 series cards.

   
  • Overclocked out of the box
  • Strong performance
  • Hybrid Power support
  • 2-way and 3-way SLI capable
  • Big, dual-slot card
  • Radeon HD 4850 Is Cheaper
 


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