Review: Passively cooled card with a 55nm G92b core
A couple of days ago we previewed a first 9800 GT card with a 55nm core made by Sparkle. These chaps were quite aggressive and the company introduced more than 10 different models. However, 9800 GT launch wasn’t such a big deal for graphics enthusiasts, as they regarded this card as nothing but a renamed 8800 GT. Well, they’re mostly right as this card, apart from HybridPower technology and PureVideo HD, doesn’t bring anything else to the table compared to the old 8800 GT.
Geforce 9800 GT’s core runs at 600Mhz, shaders at 1500MHz, and the memory at 900MHz (1800MHz effectively). Just like 8800GT, this card has 112 stream processors and the same 512MB of memory with 256-bit interface.
If you’re looking to save power and scratch a couple of digits from your power bill, then HybridPower is what you’re looking for; but you should be careful, as it will work only when the card is combined with an appropriate Nvidia chipset.
Of course, in order to get HybridPower at all you should make sure that your 9800 GT card has a 55nm core. Graphics processor’s codename will also reveal whether this is the new or the old chip. If specifications list G92b in the name, then you’re good to go, as this is the new die shrink version of the chip, whereas the old 65nm core is called G92a. The same goes for 9800 GTX cards where reinforced 9800 GTX+ features a 55nm G92b core.
Sparkle was one of the few companies that were ready with 55nm versions of 9800 GT cards, whereas the rest were just happy to rename their 8800 GTs and try to sell what’s left in stock. Still, Sparkle also has some G92a 9800 GT models so you should pick carefully.
We received Sparkle 9800 GT card with HybridPower, and the card really is a treat. It’s a passive 9800 GT model with G92b core, but due to passive cooling Sparkle kept the reference speeds of 600MHz/1500MHz/900MHz. Since it’s quite a powerful chip that will consume up to 105W of power (G92a consumes up to 110W), the cooling solution is comprised of a large cooler and 4 heatpipes. The picture below shows a passively cooled Sparkle 9800 GT Cool-Pipe graphics card.
Although passively cooled, Sparkle 9800 GT 55nm has no overheating problems. In idle mode, the cooler will keep the temperatures around 62 degrees Celsius, whereas temperatures under a workload hit maximum 88 degrees, which is only a couple more than reference cooled 8800 GT cards.
We tried to put an SLI bridge connector on the card and we couldn’t do it, as the third heatpipe was blocking our way. Still, that’s not much of a flaw unless you plan on using two passive Sparkle 9800 GT cards in SLI. However, putting this card as a second card in SLI chain won’t be a problem, as you can place the SLI connector on the back with no trouble whatsoever.
The cooler’s heatsink is made of aluminum and it features thick fins and nicely polished edges that won’t be hurting your hands. Anyone who has ever tried to place a large CPU cooler into a smaller case knows that you can get some serious scratches from the fins.
In order for the cooler to do its job properly, Sparkle decided to use 4 heatpipes in order for the heat from the base to be evenly distributed across the aluminum heatsink.
The cooler isn’t heavy, although it does look bulky. Even more so, it’s so light that it only needs 4 screws and it’s mounted the same way as 9800 GT’s reference cooling.
This passive cooler’s base is made of copper, for better heat transfer, and the heatsink is made of aluminum, for faster cooling.
We already said that the only difference between the new 55nm core and the old 65nm is the name. The first picture below shows a 65nm G92a core and the second one of the 55nm G92b core.
The pictures are a bit deceiving so the old core seems much larger. The new B core revision has a die size of ca. 270mm2, whereas the old A revision has ca. 330mm2. The “new” 55nm core has maximum power consumption lower by 5W, and HybridPower will stretch this difference even further.
Geforce 9800 GPU is based on Geforce 8x GPU architecture and it brings the best out of it - unified shader architecture, DirectX 10 API support, but also brings significant improvements (TMU, ROP, PureVideoHD) first introduced on 8800 GT and migrated to 9800 GT.
The following picture shows what “die shrink” means. Sparkle 9800 GT card has a blue PCB, whereas Nvidia’s 8800 GT is painted in standard green. Geforce 9800 GT consumes less energy and has HybridPower, so we see some minor changes in power regulation circuitry.
Both cards (9800 GT and 8800 GT) feature 512MB of memory running at same speed – 900MHz. Memory modules are evenly distributed around the GPU, and Sparkle equipped them with small heatspreaders. Reference 8800 GT solved memory cooling by designing a cooler that will lean on the memory and cool it like that.
This DX10, PCI Express 2.0 card will run in SLI but not Tri-SLI. One SLI connector is in its standard location next to the SPDIF in (not found on the reference 8800 GT). Of course, you’ll need the SPDIF in if you want to use only one cable to route video and sound to your TV. 9800 GT’s outs feature one HDTV/S-Video out and two dual-link DVI ports with HDCP and 2560x1600 support.
Sparkle decided to use Hynix memory that runs at 900MHz on the card, but its default speeds are 1000MHz. Although it’s supposed to run higher than 900MHz, we didn’t manage to clock it higher than 960MHz. Combined with 700MHz core overclock we managed to overclock the memory only by 30MHz.
The card is, just like 8800 GT, powered through one 6-pin PCIe power connector.
Apart from pleasant and quiet gaming and work, 9800 GT supports PhysX and CUDA.
The card comes in a stylish box, just like all the cards Sparkle has sent us so far. The most important information about 9800 GT is written on the box.