Review: Golden Sample with loads of potential
Last week Nvidia launched its G94, a new mainstream chip that's behind the new Geforce 9600 GT cards. Gainward went a step further, overclocked it and added a lot of multimedia features that this chip can support. The reference Geforce 9600 GT runs at 650MHz core, 1625MHz Shader and 900MHz memory speed. This was too slow for Gainward so they overclocked it to 700+MHz core and 1000+MHz memory (effective 2000+MHz).
Gainward’s “+” means that additional overclocking is possible, thus Gainward opted for their in-house cooler replacing the reference one. Shader speeds were overclocked to 1750MHz, 125MHz more than reference.
It was about time to see a successor to the year old Geforce 8600 (G84) generation. The old 8600 GT is outdated and Nvidia needed to fill the gap between 8600 GTS and 8800 GT. 8800 GS was a temporary solution since it already got its EOL (End Of Life), and anyone who owned it knows why we said it was just temporary. It used a G92 chip with less shader processors (96) and had the unusual 192-bit memory interface and 384MB of memory.
The Geforce 9600 GT we're looking at today is not based on G92, but rather on the new G94 chip that’s nothing more than crippled G92. It has half the number of Shader processors, 64 in total, whereas the G92 (8800 GTS) packs 128. We can’t help but agree with many enthusiasts that think how the name 9600 GT is not appropriate, and that it might bring about a lot of confusion. Consumers might actually think that it’s part of a new generation of Nvidia products.
Geforce 9600 GT packs less shader processors, so the chip surface, the number of transistors and the price have all been cut down. Nvidia had to increase the frequencies in order to stay in the game and hold on to the data processing power. This process can sometimes be risky, but since the G92 has excellent overclocking potential it is a sure thing. The new chip’s surface is 225 mm2 which is 35% less than 8800 GT’s chip’s surface. The smaller chip is a direct result of less transistors; this chip packs 505 million or 33% less than in G92.
A 256 bit memory interface coupled with 512MB of memory provides additional boost and it comes in handy when encountering today’s complex graphics and high resolutions. The previous mainstream generation, 8600 GT, had a slower 128 bit interface that’s now exclusive to low-end cards. We see that this card is powerful by simply comparing its memory properties that are on par with 8800 GT.
Geforce 9600 GT has a couple of improvements compared to G92 cards, and we’re talking about a better compression coefficient at higher resolutions within ROP units (an important part of the graphics pipeline). DisplayPort is also something that Nvidia features on their cards for the first time, but the implementation depends on the partners. Gainward was one of the first companies that embraced DisplayPort, whereas on the I/O side, they managed to cram HDMI port together with two DVI outs – something we really liked. The rest of the improvements feature Pure Video 2 engine that we also find on 8800 GT/GTS (G92) based cards.
Pure Video HD is a video engine integrated into the graphics core and intended for video processing acceleration. By taking care of video processing, the graphics card’s GPU takes the workload off of the CPU and lets it handle some other important tasks. What Pure Video HD engine exactly does is decode and improve the quality of low and high-quality content. Video processing is a tiresome task for any CPU so this definitely helps. You can and should improve the quality of HD video, and the 9600 GT cards’ engine now features additional post-processing image capabilities.
We’re talking about realtime dynamic color and contrast correction enabled from within the new ForceWare driver. An important feature for Vista lovers is keeping Vista Aero, because it doesn’t revert you to the main theme when HD Video is viewed (a problem you might’ve encountered when using software such as PowerDVD).
With Gainward BLISS 9600 GT GS, you also receive an optical S/PDIF cable as well as an internal S/PDIF cable that you might need in case you don’t have optical S/PDIF out. That means you’re all set for enjoying HD video and sound. Since the card has an HDMI port you can connect it directly to your HDTV, whereas DisplayPort will be enjoyed only by rare users who bought Dell’s 30 inch monitor.
In short, Gainward’s Geforce 9600 GT GS supports DirectX 10, Shader Model 4.0, OpenGL 2.1 and DisplayPort. It features a quiet dual-slot cooler with enough muscle to give you pleasant gaming and HD viewing experience. Let’s move on to testing where we see exactly how fast it is and whether it can handle the competition.