Summary: With OC'ed clock speeds, Zalman cooling, and a 1GB frame buffer, Gigabyte's GV-N96TZL-1GI GeForce 9600 GT board is designed to stand out from the crowd. But that's not all, the card also incorporates Ultra Durable features found on newer Gigabyte motherboards. How do all these improvements compare against the stock 9600 GT reference board? Find out in our review!
It's pretty amazing how quickly GPU prices have fallen from year-ago levels. One year ago, a GeForce 9600 GT would've run you anywhere from $170-$230 depending on how highly OC'ed a card you were willing to splurge on. Today GeForce 9600 GT cards sell for half that. As a result, gamers looking for an inexpensive graphics upgrade don't have to spend a whole lot of money to get a card that can delivery playable frame rates at 1600x1200 with high levels of eye candy. $100 is really all you need nowadays.
And what about those of you who picked up a 9600 GT sometime in the last 12 months? Now you can pick up a second card on the cheap for SLI. Once combined together, a 9600 GT SLI setup delivers frame rates that are greater than a GeForce 9800 GTX. Or you can use that second card to run dedicated PhysX.
To appeal to the budget gaming crowd in need of an upgrade, NVIDIA's board partners are working on their third generation 9600 GT cards. These cards are increasingly being offered with 1GB of GDDR3 memory (bigger is better right?), in addition to the supercharged clock speeds and better cooling you'd expect to see from a premium graphics card. Gigabyte's GV-N96TZL-1GI GeForce 9600 GT card is one of the latest 3rd-generation 9600 GT cards to hit the market, and it certainly packs an interesting array of features, including a trio of different display output options.
Ultra Durable VGA
Besides their performance and rock-solid stability, Gigabyte's motherboards are highly regarded for their Ultra Durable features like DualBIOS. One feature they've added just recently to their Ultra Durable boards is utilizing two ounces of copper in the power and ground layers of the PCB. This addition helps the board run cooler while also providing improved signal quality and lower impedance and EMI; all this helps to reduce electrical interference and enhances efficiency.
Besides the Ultra VGA features, the other aspect that helps Gigabyte's GV-N96TZL-1GI 9600 GT board stand out from the pack is its GPU cooling powered by Zalman. More specifically the card is armed with a Zalman VF700-AlCu heatsink/fan unit.
While it's no longer Zalman's most powerful VGA cooler, the VF700-AlCu is still a highly respected VGA cooler. The cooler is a dual-slot unit composed of a mixture of copper and aluminum. An aluminum base dissipates heat off the GPU, which is then carried to an array of fins that are made from copper and to save weight and cost, aluminum. The fins are so long they will eat up the slot directly adjacent to your PCI Express graphics slot, with Zalman employing a dual ball-bearing fan that's responsible for supplying cool air to the cooler.
In full retail form the VF700 ships with RAMsinks and an external power connector that allows you to run the fan in silent or performance mode, although for Gigabyte's application the RAMsinks aren't included and the silent option is disabled; don't worry though as the fan still generates less than 30dB of noise in operation (in silent mode noise levels are reduced to just 18dB for the retail cooler). The VF700-AlCu is a $24 cooler, so Gigabyte definitely deserves some credit for including it on their latest 9600 GT card.
But Gigabyte doesn't stop there. The card is also overclocked from the factory to run at speeds higher than the stock 9600 GT. Whereas the GPU clock on the stock 9600 GT is 650MHz, Gigabyte's GV-N96TZL-1GI core clock frequency is 50MHz higher at 700MHz. The board's stream processors are then clocked at 1800MHz, this is 175MHz higher than the stock 9600 GT. Finally, the board's memory subsystem remains at the stock 9600 GT speed of 900MHz. And don't forget that the board can be had with up to 1GB of Samsung GDDR3.
The final tweak Gigabyte adds to their GV-N96TZL-1GI is display outputs. On the backplate of the card Gigabyte provides one HDMI output, a VGA connector, and finally, DVI. This gives you three different connections to choose from.
To keep costs down, Gigabyte skips the traditional game bundle. Instead the card ships with a driver CD, DVI-to-VGA adapter, audio passthrough cable for running audio over HDMI, and a 6-pin PCIe power adapter. It's a pretty minimal bundle by Gigabyte standards but is pretty much standard fare for this price range of VGA cards.
AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition
ASUS M4A79T Deluxe (790FX)
4GB (2x2GB) Corsair CM3X2G1600C9DHX
Gigabyte GV-N96TZL-1GI 9600 GT 1GB
NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GT 512MB
NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GT 512MB/1GB
ATI Radeon HD 4670 512MB
ATI Radeon HD 4830 512MB
300GB Western Digital Caviar SE
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 1
Call of Duty 4
Ultra Durable VGA: Starting this year, Gigabyte's taking features found in their latest Ultra Durable 3 motherboards and integrating them into their graphics cards. The board's power and ground layers now sport two ounces of copper, while the use of memory modules from Samsung or Hynix should appeal to the overclocking crowd looking to extract the highest clock speed possible from their memory. Other Ultra Durable VGA features have been included in some of Gigabyte's VGA cards for some time now.
Lack of support for dual DVI: With so many video outputs offered on the backplate of the GV-N96TZL-1GI, end users can hook up a wide variety of displays to the card. This has its pros and cons. On one hand, the card natively supports practically every display available on the market without the use of an adapter. But on the other hand, most users looking for a custom 9600 GT card probably don't have a VGA display anymore, and would rather have the option of hooking up two DVI monitors to this card. Unfortunately the GV-N96TZL-1GI doesn't support this.