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Wednesday, 16 April 2008 10:58

Gainward 9600GT 1024MB likes overclocking

Written by Sanjin Rados

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Review: Almost 800MHz

 

The first Geforce 9th generation card that we got wasn’t a high-end card. It was the Geforce 9600 GT, a card that arrived to the mid-range market segment fully aware of its strengths.

Geforce 9600 GT actually came as a replacement for a year old Geforce 8600 (G84) graphics card. Its fierce competitors are Radeon HD 3850 and HD 3870 cards, and they really pack some nice bang for your buck. Geforce 9600 GT is based on G94, a crippled version of G92 core – the same one that already famous 8800 GT/GTS cards run on.

Although G94 is a crippled G92 core, it still has some aces up its sleeve. A powerful core with 64 stream processors (8800 GTS has 128) runs at 650MHz with Shaders at 1625MHz. However, G94 packs a 256-bit memory interface, a feature that G84 didn’t have, that combined with 512MB of memory makes a lethal duo. Last mainstream generation, 8600GT, had slower 128-bit memory interface that’s now exclusive to low-end cards. Memory characteristics of 9600GT are equal to those on 8800 GT, and even the memory speeds, at 900MHz, are identical.

Let us now concentrate on our today’s menu – Gainward Geforce 9600 GT 1024MB PCX Golden Sample. And yes, this card packs 1024MB of memory.

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Before we move on to 9600GT 1024MB detailed characteristics, we must say that our opinion of Gainward gets better with each card we test. All the cards we tested lately show great overclocking potential, and if you’re not the overclocking type then no worries – Gainward sells factory overclocked cards too. Of course, we’re talking about GLH series (Goes Like Hell), but we can’t forget Golden Sample +MHz, where “+” means that it too can do some serious overclocking.

Today’s guest is visually not that different from Geforce 9600 GT 512 PCX Golden Sample (GS) card that we tested previously, and we’ll use it for comparison with 1024MB version. Both cards come with a “+” suffix, and we know what that means. In order to get better overclocking results on 9600 GT GS cards, Gainward opted for their own cooler, replacing the reference single slot one. Cores on both 9600 GT GS cards run at 700+MHz, whereas Shaders got a 125MHz boost and now run at 1750MHz. The memory also got overclocked and compared to reference 900MHz, it now runs at 1000+MHz.

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You can clearly see from the picture that the cards are not that different at a glance. Both feature the same cooler with two heatpipes and central quiet fan. Geforce 9600 GT 1024MB is the one above. If you take a look on the picture below, you’ll notice that, even with the coolers off, it’s still hard to tell these cards apart.

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Careful observation results in seeing some changes in power components that regulate voltage on the memory. Gainward 9600 GT 1024MB has additional 512MB of memory on the back of the card. They used Samsung’s memory running at 1000MHz (K4J52324QE-BJ1A).

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The memory on the front is cooled with a black heatsink, and the same is done on the back of this 1024MB card. The black heatsink covers the memory modules and makes sure that they’re adequately cooled.

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Display Port is also a new thing that Nvidia offers with this card, but the implementation is left up to the partners. Gainward was one of the first that embraced it, and they managed to squeeze in an HDMI port and two DVI outs. There’s no doubt that’s space well used.

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Geforce 9600 GT also brings some minor improvements in Pure Video 2 engine also found on 8800GT/GTS (G92)-based cards.

Pure Video HD is a video engine integrated into the core, and meant for video processing acceleration. By handling the load of video processing, your CPU is free to perform other tasks. What Pure Video HD engine does is improve the quality of high and low definition video. Managing video is a difficult task for a CPU so it definitely comes in handy when graphics cards handle that task. We can consider this task as HD acceleration but that’s not al. HD video quality can and should be improved, so 9600 GT video engine also brings some post processing capabilities.

This card is capable of real-time dynamic color and contrast enhancement, and you can enable it in your ForceWare drivers. An important improvement for Vista users is that you’re no longer reverted to the basic theme when HD video is played, and you can keep your beloved Aero.

You can see below how the I/O interface on Gainward 9600 GT GS card looks, and note that it packs a DisplayPort next to HDMI.

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With Gainward BLISS 9600 GT GS card, you get an optical SPDIF cable, as well as a regular SPDIF cable that you might need in case you don’t have optical SPDIF out on your motherboard/soundcard. Since this card features HDMI port, you can connect it directly to your HDTV, whereas the DisplayPort will be a feature exclusive to those who own Dell’s 30 inch DisplayPort-ready monitor.

Gainward Geforce 9600 GT 1024MB Golden Sample supports DirectX 10, Shader Model 4.0, OpenGL 2.1 and DisplayPort. It has a quiet dual-slot cooler and can churn out enough muscle to provide pleasant gaming and HD video experience. What sets it apart from the rest of the pack is 1024MB of memory. We’ve always been skeptical towards 1GB cards, but most of them run at reference speeds, anyway. Gainward dared and overclocked the memory to 1000MHz (2000MHz effectively). We’ll see in a moment just how fast this card can go and how it handles the competition.

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Testbed:

Motherboard:
EVGA 680i SLI (Supplied by EVGA)

Processor:
Intel Core 2 Duo 6800 Extreme edition (Supplied by Intel)

Memory:
OCZ FlexXLC PC2 9200 5-5-5-18  (Supplied by OCZ)
        during testing CL5-5-5-15-CR2T 1066MHz at 2.2V

PSU:
OCZ Silencer 750 Quad Black (Supplied by OCZ)

Hard disk:
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 80GB SATA (Supplied by Seagate)

CPU-Cooler:
Freezer 7 Pro (Supplied by Artic Cooling)

Case Fans:
Artic Cooling - Artic Fan 12 PWM
Artic Cooling - Artic Fan 8 PWM


Futuremarks

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Two 9600 GT GS cards scored similarly, but 512MB card was a bit better. Gainward 9600 GT GS cards are factory overclocked, and therefore better than reference 9600 GT. Overclocking Golden Sample cards is easy, and 9600 GT 1024MB at 805MHz scored 11508 marks in 3DMark06.


Overclocking

You probably heard that there are two ways to overclock your Geforce 9600 card. One of them is the standard one, increase the frequencies within the driver or a certain utility; whereas the other one is overclocking the PCIe bus. Regularly increasing bus frequencies should only result in bandwidth improvement, but that didn’t happen with 9600 GT cards. Higher frequencies of PCIe slots will automatically raise the card speed. However, ForceWare driver doesn’t list these changes so you won’t even know that your card runs faster. On the other hand, gaming will score better results. This kind of overclocking can easily be done on certain motherboards that automatically raise PCIE frequencies, and the worst case scenario results in the system not booting because the graphics card can’t run at set speeds.

We managed to push it up to 805MHz using the drivers, and managed to perform all the testing except for Crysis at 1600x1200. We then downclocked it to 792MHz where it ran stable. This is 13% higher overclock on top of already high 700MHz. Compared to reference 650MHz, total overclock amounts to 21%. Memory ran stable at 1069MHz (2138MHz effectively). You can take a look at overclocking results in our tables, and they’re labeled Gainward 9600 GT GS/1024MB OC.

We now move on to overclocking the PCIe bus. Standard frequency is 100MHz so each additional push will affect Geforce 9600 GT results. We first manually set the PCIe bus speed to 100MHz, and then to 120MHz. What happened? Well, the system couldn’t boot properly and kept restarting. 20MHz more on the PCIe bus results in 20% faster card, but our computer couldn’t boot because 9600 GT couldn’t take those speeds.

Step two was trying our luck with 110MHz. This resulted in the card’s GPU running 10% faster, and that went without a hitch. The speed was 770MHz. However, the results we got when using the driver to overclock the GPU to 792MHz were slightly better. On the other hand, this clearly shows that you can use your PCIe bus to overclock the card, without even using your drivers.

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Gaming

We didn’t use PCIe bus overclocking in our further game testing. We stuck to the “old ways” and used the RivaTuner to overclock the frequency to stable 792MHz. No problems arose with the memory either, and it ran at 1069MHz (2138MHz effectively).

Two Golden Sample 9600 GT cards score similarly in Company of Heroes, but 1024MB card has a slight advantage and scores 4% better than Golden Sample 512MB card. Compared to reference card, 9600 1024MB GS card scores up to 12%. Additional 92MHz overclock resulted in beating the reference card by almost 26%.

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Additional memory pays off only at 1600x1200 with AA and AF on, but that still didn’t result in playable fps. Still, overclocked card result was nice, and almost comparable to 8800 GT’s result.

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For F.E.A.R., 512MB will be more than enough. After overclocking, we got up to 10% better results compared with Gainward GT GS 512MB, and up to 17% better than reference 9600 GT.


Conclusion

We tested Gainward 9600 GT 1024MB Golden Sample card that comes factory overclocked to 700Mhz. The memory runs at 1000MHz (2000MHz effectively), whereas the stream processors run at 1750MHz. These are quite high speeds for an 1024MB card, but it’s the overclocking potential that really packs some punch.

Additional memory will rarely benefit current games, but if you do video processing or intend to use it elsewhere where more memory is required – then it should be a great choice. The card offers many outs, and this is the first card that offers DisplayPort, HDMI and two dual link DVIs on one place.

Gainward Geforce 9600 GT 1024MB Golden Sample supports DirectX 10, Shader Model 4.0, OpenGL 2.1 and the aforementioned DisplayPort. It has a dual slot cooler and enough muscle to enable for pleasant gaming and HD video viewing and processing. The price, on the other hand, isn’t its greatest point, but it will be hard to find better 1024MB card at €173.

We recommend this card to anyone who wants the best that 9600 GT cards offer, because not only do you get an overclockable card and 512MB of additional memory, but also DisplayPort and HDMI. 

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Last modified on Thursday, 17 April 2008 08:48
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