The first thing to realise is that the GeForce 9800 parts are built around the same G92 core as the 8800 GT (and GTS), released last October. It’s a powerful GPU, but technologically it’s no longer particularly new or interesting. Indeed, it’s apparent on paper that the GeForce 9800 GTX is only an incremental improvement on its predecessor.
Physically, it’s similar to the two-slot GTS and also doesn’t make too much noise. It has the same 128 stream processors as the 8800 GTS and, while it runs faster internally, the margin isn’t huge: the core clock has been raised from 650MHz to 675MHz, the shader clock is up from 1.625GHz to 1.68GHz and the RAM clock has risen from an effective 2GHz to 2.2GHz.
The practical effect of these increases is as you’d expect: the 9800 GTX is slightly faster than an 8800 GTS, but if a game’s unplayable on the older card the 9800’s extra oomph won’t magically turn it into an enjoyable experience. In Crysis, for example, the 9800 GTX averaged 34fps at 1600 x 1200 with High detail settings, against the 8800 GTS’s 33fps.
Improvement in Call of Duty 4 was slightly more pronounced: it averaged 70fps which is ahead of the GTS’s 63fps and even the 8800 Ultra’s 65fps. However, it was 4fps down on ATi’s 3870 X2. Though it’s still the fastest single-GPU option.
Of course, when it comes to 3D gaming, any increase in frame rates is welcome but it’s the bang per buck that really counts. The instant it appeared it cost more than the $545 3870 X2, but within a week this had fallen to $400. That’s $60 more than a GTS and we’d struggle to justify spending the extra.
Price cuts could easily change matters but most people will be disappointed with the 9800 GTX. Perhaps it should have been called the 8800 GTSX or the 8900 instead as it’s more of an old-technology tweak than a bold step into the future of gaming.
Fast but disappointing card that delivers only small benefits over its predecessors for a significant price premium.