Summary: Rather than rely on NVIDIA's reference board design for the 9800 GT, Palit has incorporated a number of improvements into their 9800 GT Sonic, including a 3-phase board design, dual-slot cooling, and OC'ed clock speeds. How does the 9800 GT card perform in comparison to the popular GeForce 8800 GT and a host of other GPUs? Find out in this article!
As a result of the latest price cuts, the most confusing segment in NVIDIA’s lineup is easily the $100-$200 space. Here NVIDIA offers nearly half a dozen different GPUs ranging from the GeForce 9600 GSO up to the GeForce 9800 GTX, and that’s excluding the GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB and the 9800 GTX+!
The GeForce 9800 GT is the latest addition to this crowded segment.
Officially announced on July 29th, the GeForce 9800 GT has actually been quietly shipping inside select PCs from Dell, Gateway and others since late June. Its name implies that it’s based on new technology, but actually it’s based on the exact same architecture that powers the highly popular GeForce 8800 GT. NVIDIA outfits the GPU with the same number of stream processors (112), and the clock speeds are identical to the GeForce 8800 GT: the 9800 GT runs at 600MHz core/1500MHz shaders, while the memory is clocked at 900MHz (1.8GHz effective). The only new feature that has been added to the GeForce 9800 GT is support for NVIDIA’s HybridPower.
With HybridPower, the graphics card(s) can be completely shut off when running 2D applications such as Word, e-mail, or video playback to conserve power. Instead of relying on the graphics card for these operations, graphics duties are handled by the integrated graphics processor built onto the motherboard. Then, when a game or other 3D app is loaded up, the 9800 GT graphics card boots up, taking over for the motherboard’s graphics.
HybridPower can play major dividends with SLI rigs. Previously under all situations both graphics cards in an SLI setup ran at all times, even when the second card wasn’t being used. The only stipulation with Hybrid SLI is that you must have a Hybrid SLI compatible graphics card and motherboard. Currently the only motherboards that support the feature are limited to AMD’s Phenom platform, this includes the nForce 780a SLI, 750a SLI, nForce 730a, and GeForce 8200 chipsets.
The 55-nm question
One aspect that’s a bit confusing about the GeForce 9800 GT is its manufacturing process. Like the GeForce 9500 GT, the 9800 GT is based on TSMC's 65-nm and 55-nm manufacturing process.
The smaller 55-nm process should make the 9800 GT cheaper for NVIDIA to produce (which is important considering NVIDIA’s recent string of price cuts), while enthusiasts are eager to get their hands on 55-nm chips as they consume less energy than 65-nm parts. In our testing with the 9800 GTX versus 9800 GTX+, the GTX+ consumed about 15W less than the 65-nm 9800 GTX.
The 55-nm process didn’t buy us any additional overclocking headroom however.
Other than the manufacturing process, there are no differences between the 55-nm 9800 GT and the 65-nm variant. In other words, clocks and feature set remains the same. The chips are also completely compatible with one another, so if you happen to pick up a 65-nm GeForce 9800 GT today, and a 55-nm card a few months from now, both boards are 100% compatible with one another and have no problems running together for SLI. (The GeForce 9800 GTX and 9800 GTX+ are also fully SLI-compatible with each other.)
We’ve been told to expect the first 55-nm GeForce 9800 GT cards to begin shipping next month in September.
Unlike some manufacturers, Palit doesn’t charge a hefty premium for these extra features either. Their card pricing is typically quite reasonable for what you’re getting. In fact, with its $129.99 price tag, their baseline GeForce 9800 GT is the least expensive 9800 GT card on Newegg right now.
This innovative spirit continues with their GeForce 9800 GT Sonic. Once again the company has come up with a board design that goes beyond NVIDIA’s reference board, with a more powerful 3-phase power system in comparison to the 2-phase power used by NVIDIA on their reference design. By integrating a beefier 3-phase power solution, Palit is able to deliver a steady flow of power to the GPU even at the highest clock speeds. In theory, this could lead to higher clock speeds when overclocking.
Another added benefit from Palit’s 3-phase power is lower operating temps for the graphics board and its underlying components. Excessive heat can prematurely damage or kill your graphics card, so anything you can do to keep heat at bay will only lengthen its longevity.
To further combat heat, Palit has also developed their own custom cooling solution for their GeForce 9800 GT cards. Palit’s heatsink is Orb-shaped and is a dual-slot design made entirely from aluminum. Looking solely at the back plate of the card you may think that it exhausts hot air outside your case, but it doesn’t. The cooler does an excellent job of dissipating heat off the GPU though, even under load GPU temps remained just under 55 degrees Celsius on both our Palit 9800 GT Sonic boards.
Like all Sonic boards, Palit spices up the package by overclocking the GPU and memory. The graphics core is clocked at 650MHz, 50MHz higher than stock, while the board’s stream processors run at 1625MHz. That’s 125MHz higher than the stock 9800 GT specifications. Finally, the memory operates at 950MHz (1.9GHz effective), an improvement of 50MHz over the 9800 GT reference specs.
Of course, if you’re intimately familiar with the specs of Palit’s GeForce 8800 GT Sonic card offering, all this probably looks remarkably similar to you right now. That’s because it is. Spec for spec Palit’s GeForce 9800 GT matches the features previously offered in their GeForce 8800 GT Sonic. Other than the 9800 GT designation, this card is identical to their older 8800 GT Sonic card. The only difference between the two cards that we noticed was in the bundle. Unlike their GeForce 8800 GT Sonic, the 9800 GT Sonic ships solely with one DVI adapter and a 6-pin PCIe power adapter. That’s it when it comes to hardware accessories. The 8800 GT Sonic shipped with a DVI adapter, HDMI adapter, power cable, and a SPDIF cable! For you Lara Croft fans, Palit continues to include a copy of Tomb Raider: Anniversary with the 9800 GT Sonic.
We managed to hit speeds of 785MHz on the GPU/ 1963MHz on the shaders and 1070MHz memory with one of our Palit 9800 GT cards. The other card didn’t go quite as far, topping out at 758MHz GPU/1896 shaders/1050MHz memory.
Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6850
EVGA nForce 790i Ultra SLI motherboard (for GeForce cards)
ASUS P5E3 Premium WiFi AP Edition (for Radeon cards)
4GB OCZ DDR3 @ 1333MHz
GeForce 9800 GTX+
GeForce 9800 GTX
GeForce 9600 GT
GeForce 8800 GT
Palit GeForce 9800 GT Sonic
AMD Radeon HD 4850
300GB Western Digital Caviar SE
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 1
Company of Heroes 1.71
Crysis High – Direct3D
Custom Palit board design: Rather than rely on NVIDIA’s reference board design for the GeForce 8800/9800 GT, Palit has developed their own custom design for their GeForce 9800 GT Sonic. The board has more robust 3-phase power circuitry, faster clocks, and better cooling than your typical 8800 GT or 9800 GT based on NVIDIA’s reference card.
55-nm process: Unfortunately all the GeForce 9800 GT cards that are on the market right now are 65-nm chips; 55-nm GPUs are still about a month away from hitting retail. This means that the 9800 GT boards that are on the market today will consume more power than the boards that will be hitting the market shortly.