The graphics card market has been heating up in the recent past. After a succession of wins for nVidia, ATI was finally able to put together a competitive answer in the form of the HD3850 and 3870. Not to be left behind, nVidia has launched the first of the 9000 series.
And it's not a high-end, extremely expensive part. Rather, it's the 9600GT, the successor to the 8600GT. We tested the Asus EN9600GT. The GeForce 9600GT is built using a 65nm process and sports a 256-bit memory bus. The 9600GT's core runs at 650MHz, while the 512MB of GDDR3 memory runs at 1.8Ghz.
The 9600GT's 64 stream processors are rather less than the 112 found in the 8800GT, however.
The card looks very similar to the 8800GT, with the same physical dimensions. The single slot design and sole PCIe power connector make it easy to plug into mid-range systems.
The 9600GT draws about 95 watts (W) under load, which is not too much. A 400W SMPS is good enough. Heat and noise levels are quite low, and the improvements made to the PureVideo HD feature mean that this might make a nice card for a powerful HTPC. A nice touch is the inclusion of an S/PDIF connector on the card.
Asus supplies the little wire that you need to hook this up to the S/PDIF connector on your motherboard. ATI's solution of putting an audio chip on the graphics card for HDMI is perhaps more elegant, but this works as well.
We tested this card on our upgraded test rig. We used an Intel Q6600 Quad Core processor on the new Intel DX38BT motherboard, paired with 4GB of DDR-3 RAM, and a 150GB Raptor. Since this card is intended to compete with the Radeon 3850, we tested against that. The 3850 is hampered a little, since it has only 256MB of RAM. We also tested it against the 8800GTX and the Radeon 3870X2, but since those cards are not directly comparable, we've kept them out of the ratings. The 9600GT did quite well in 3D Mark 2006, getting a score of 10211 3D Marks, as compared to 9945 for the 3850.
In our gaming tests, the 9600 GT maintained a healthy lead over the 3850, averaging between 20 - 40 percent faster. We tested Crysis, Unreal Tournament 3, Company of Heroes, World in Conflict, Supreme Commander, and our old stalwarts: Doom 3 and F.E.A.R. We tested at 1680x1050 for the most part, except for Crysis - 1024 x 768, Doom 3 - 1280x1024, and F.E.A.R - 1024x768.
Crysis was quite playable at 1024x768 with settings set to High and 8X Anti-Aliasing. If you switch AA off, then the frame rates rise to 36, which is eminently playable. The 3850 managed 20 and 29 frames under the same conditions. Unreal Tournament 3 was very smooth, running at 54 frames with all graphics sliders set to maximum. The 3850 lagged behind with 54 frames. In the rest of the games a similar story unfolded.