It seems we're right on time for another pointless release of a graphics card that is slightly better or slightly worse than what is on the market already, whilst carrying with it a price tag pretty similar to that of what's already available. Did that confuse you? - The thing is, these graphics card releases from NVIDIA are becoming nothing short of a joke.
The latest graphics card to come out and confuse everyone is the 9600 GSO, this being 8800 GSs twin brother. I don't mean twin in the sense that they kind of look pretty similar, but in the identical sense. This IS an 8800 GS! The thing is that not a lot of people know about the 8800 GS with limited companies choosing to jump on board (ASUS and XFX); it really didn't get much recognition.
You combine this with the fact that it was kind of slotted in when the 8800 series was getting a confusing revamp where a 512MB 8800 GTS became better than the 640MB and the 8800GT became better than the standard 8800 GTS.
If NVIDIAs plan was to confuse the market, they've done a great job. What's even worse is that the X600 series of cards like the 7600GT and 8600GT have always been pretty horrible cards for serious gamers. Now however, they are more like mid high-end cards. While this might sound good, pricing is all over the place and it's just really difficult to know what graphics card you should get.
I've actually tested the 9600 GSO; I know how I'm going to wrap this up before I even wrote this introduction, and it's a real doozy. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves though, let's find out exactly what the card looks like, what Palit has done with it and if the package stands out in any way.
The flat green box is generally reserved for lower end cards. The 9600 GT series and upwards all use the holographic design, so you immediately get a feel that the card is a low-end model. With GS in the naming scheme, you continue to feel that the card is entry level; not 8400 GS entry level, but 1280 x 1024 gaming only entry level.
The front of the box is a pretty standard affair; FroBot takes up the majority of the box with a sticker being in the bottom right hand corner that gives us a complete run down on the main features.
Turning the box over we have the normal run down of features in a multitude of languages.
Inside the box we have a quick install guide along with a driver CD. Again, keeping with that lower end feel we don't receive Tomb Raider Anniversary Edition which we get with the 9600 GT Palit offerings.
Cable wise we have Component Out cable, Molex to PCI-E and DVI to VGA connector. What was surprising is that we have a DVI to HDMI adapter included in the package, making it not too bad an option for people who are looking for something new to install in their HTPC.
With the package out of the way and moving onto the card itself; pulling it out of the box showed us instantly that it pretty much resembles a 9600 GT. Being the Sonic version, the card carries with it the larger dual slot cooler that goes straight over the top of the core. We also have a plate that covers the memory.
The reference cooler is a single slot one like as seen before that completely covers the card. It's worth noting, as if you're into the 9600 GSO but don't want a dual slot card then you can get a reference model one.
Like the 9600 GT, we have a single 6-pin PCI Express connector towards the back of the card. The top of the card also has a single SLI connector, much like the 8800 GS and the 9600 GT.
The I/O department doesn't hold any surprises like the Sonic 9600GT did; we only find our two Dual Link DVI connectors and standard TV-Out port.
Looking at the card, there really isn't anything out of the ordinary, Palit has just done their typical upgrade to the card to bring it into the Sonic series.
The default clock speeds on the 9600 GSO are exactly the same as the 8800 GS; the core comes in at 550MHz, shader clock 1375MHz and 384MB or 768MB of GDDR3 at 1600MHz DDR. The Sonic version from Palit comes with a 600MHz core and a 1900MHz DDR memory speed.
Compared to the 9600GT that comes with a 650MHz core and 1800MHz DDR memory clock, there really isn't much difference. The main difference between the two cards is that the GSO has a 192-bit memory interface verses the 256-bit one on the GT. The other major difference is the fact that you have 96 stream processors on the GSO while the GT only has 64.
All in all, the cards are quite similar and how they perform against each other will be interesting.
Test System Setup and 3DMark06
Test System Setup
Processor(s): Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 @ 3GHz (333MHz x 9)
Cooling: Corsair Nautilus500 (Supplied by Corsair) with Arctic Cooling MX-2 Thermal Compound (Supplied by Arctic Cooling)
Motherboard(s): GIGABYTE X48-DQ6 (Supplied by GIGABYTE)
Memory: 2 X 1GB Kingston PC6400 DDR-2 3-3-3-10 (KHX6400D2ULK2/2G) (Supplied by Kingston)
Hard Disk(s): Seagate 250GB 7200RPM SATA-2 7200.10 (Supplied by Seagate)
Operating System: Windows Vista SP1
Drivers: Forceware 174.53
We had this really weird problem with the 9600 GSO installed; it wouldn't let us overclock. So, because we had to knock our test bed back down to the default 2.4GHz, we just tested the 9600 GT Sonic against the GSO Sonic today.
Version and / or Patch Used: Build 110
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06/
Buy It Here
3DMark06 is the very latest version of the "Gamers Benchmark" from FutureMark. The newest version of 3DMark expands on the tests in 3DMark05 by adding graphical effects using Shader Model 3.0 and HDR (High Dynamic Range lighting) which will push even the best DX9 graphics cards to the extremes.
3DMark06 also focuses on not just the GPU but the CPU using the AGEIA PhysX software physics library to effectively test single and Dual Core processors.
Straight away we can see that the 9600 GT Sonic comes out slightly ahead of the GSO Sonic.
Benchmarks - CINEBENCH R10
Version and / or Patch Used: Release 10
Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/
Product Homepage: http://www.maxon.net
CINEBENCH is a real-world test suite that assesses your computer's performace capabilities. MAXON CINEBENCH is based on MAXON's award-winning animation software, CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more.
MAXON CINEBENCH runs several tests on your computer to measure the performance of the main processor and the graphics card under real world circumstances. The benchmark application makes use of up to 16 CPUs or CPU cores and is available for Windows (32-bit and 64-Bit) and Macintosh (PPC and Intel-based).
CINEBENCH also sees the 9600 GT come out ahead, but only ever so slightly.
Benchmarks - World in Conflict
World in Conflict
Version and / or Patch Used: 184.108.40.206
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage: http://www.massive.se
Product Homepage: http://www.worldinconflict.com
World in Conflict is a real-time strategy video game by Massive Entertainment and to be published by Sierra Entertainment for Windows (DX9 and DX10) and the Xbox 360.
The game is set in 1989 where economic troubles cripple the Soviet Union and threaten to dissolve it. However, the title pursues a "what if" scenario where, in this case, the Soviet Union does not collapse and instead pursues a course of war to remain in power. It is an intensive new game is sure to put plenty of stress on even the latest graphics cards and we use the built-in benchmarking for our testing.
Under WIC we again see the 9600 GT come out ahead, but it's by very little across the board.
Benchmarks - Crysis
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom time demo
Developer Homepage: http://www.crytek.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.ea.com/crysis/
Buy It Here
From the makers of Far Cry, Crysis offers FPS fans the best-looking, most highly-evolving gameplay, requiring the player to use adaptive tactics and total customization of weapons and armor to survive in dynamic, hostile environments including Zero-G.
Real time editing, bump mapping, dynamic lights, network system, integrated physics system, shaders, shadows and a dynamic music system are just some of the state of-the-art features the CryENGINE 2 offers. The CryENGINE 2 comes complete with all of its internal tools and also includes the CryENGINE 2 Sandbox world editing system.
The intensive Crysis finds both cards sitting very close to each other with no real winner.
Benchmarks - Unreal Tournament 3
Unreal Tournament 3
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1
Timedemo or Level Used:
Developer Homepage: http://www.epicgames.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.unrealtournament3.com/
Buy It Here
Following the formulae that made Unreal Tournament so great the third installment to the series has hit us recently with better than ever graphics. The games uses the latest Unreal Engine which like most modern day games when maxed out puts the pressure on our lineup of graphics cards.
We again see the 9600GT come out ahead, but only ever so slightly.
Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AF
High Quality AA and AF
Our high quality tests let us separate the men from the boys and the ladies from the girls. If the cards weren't struggling before they will start to now.
This is the first time we've seen the GT get any real jump on the GSO.
World In Conflict
With AA/AF on we again see the GSO lag a little more behind when compared to our non AA/AF tests.
Temperature and Sound Tests
With the TES 1326 Infrared Thermometer literally in hand we found ourselves getting real-world temperatures from the products we test at load (3D clock speeds).
There are two places we pull temperature from - the back of the card directly behind the core and if the card is dual slot and has an exhaust point we also pull a temperate from there, as seen in the picture.
The GSO manages to run slightly warmer than the GT.
Pulling out the TES 1350A Sound Level Meter we find ourselves quickly yelling into the top of it to see how loud we can be.
After five minutes of that we get a bit more serious and place the device two CM away from the fan on the card to find the maximum noise level of the card when idle (2D mode) and in load (3D mode).
The noise levels also seem to be slightly up on the GSO.
Power Consumption Tests
Using our new PROVA Power Analyzer WM-01 or "Power Thingy" as it has become quickly known as to our readers, we are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into AC wall socket).
There are a few important notes to remember though; while our maximum power is taken in 3DMark06 at the same exact point, we have seen in particular tests the power being drawn as much as 10% more. We test at the exact same stage every time; therefore tests should be very consistent and accurate.
The other thing to remember is that our test system is bare minimum - only a 7,200RPM SATA-II single hard drive is used without CD ROM or many cooling fans.
So while the system might draw 400 watts in our test system, placing it into your own PC with a number of other items, the draw is going to be higher.
Checking out power, we again see the GSO draws a little more when compared directly to the GT.
This is where it becomes really messy. Performance wise, the 9600 GT Sonic is 0% - 10% faster than the 9600 GSO Sonic, which means a stock clocked 9600 GT is going to perform slightly worse than this card in some instances.
Then there is the price; the overclocked Sonic version comes in at a whopping $5 AUD more expensive than the stock 9600 GT. Now, when you put overclocking into consideration at the price point of a stock clocked 9600 GSO, it's going to come in cheaper than the 9600 GT.
So what you have here is a card that is $5 more than a stock clocked 9600 GT, performing at the same speed or slightly faster (depending on the game). You then also get yourself some extra RAM as well.
What's going to be real interesting is the 384MB which comes in $50 AUD cheaper than the 768MB, and significantly cheaper than the 9600 GT. Increase the clocks on the model and you could be onto a real winner of a card if we get performance similar to a 9600 GT 512MB.
Now, I've openly spoken about the issues I've had with NVIDIAs naming schemes, but this has to be the absolute worst. This card has been released because they're dumping the 8800 GS which never sold. The main reason it never sold? No one knew about it. What they've done in the whole process is kill sales on the 9600 GT. Palit are different; their Sonic version of the 9600 GT offers a wealth of connectivity with display port, HDMI and more. But if you're a supplier holding a few hundred/thousand pieces of 9600 GT reference clocked cards, I wouldn't be too happy at the moment.
What makes it even worse is that when speaking to a manufacturer today, they said that NVIDIA are talking about changing the 9600 GT to the GSO. If that happens we could end up with four models under the naming scheme with RAM options being 384MB, 512MB, 768MB and 1GB; and for further confusion there'll also be two different memory widths present.
While this may quickly become one of the best valued cards on the market, it really is the absolute worst thing when it comes to helping people make their decision on which graphics card to buy.
All NVIDIA is doing is confusing everyone and slowing down graphics card professions. They're being slack; the 9600 GSO, while a fantastic product thanks to its performance to price ratio, is just an 8800 GS. Ultimately though, does this really surprise anyone? The whole 9 series have been nothing more than some strategic name changing that does nothing but confuse people. The good news is that cards carrying the X600 GS naming scheme which were generally horrific for games, are actually now really good. So if this is anything to go by, the 10400GS should perform at about the same speed as the 8800 Ultra.
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